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On my soap box… about body shaming

Image: Instagram/Beyoncé

Wait one second while I hoist up my big pants – but why is it necessary to trash talk ourselves and other women? Whether we are debating the rights and wrongs of Beyoncé’s Insta pregnancy announcement (despite the 10million likes), slagging off a celebrity for losing weight or looking at our reflection lamenting the mum tum that hangs before us – it’s time to stop.

It’s all too easy to blame Don Draper and his cohort of ad men for our negative outlook. Yes, they need to get with the program, but we need to look a little closer to home. We often view the person looking back at us in the mirror like we’re the booby prize in the fashion and beauty lottery. We don’t quite meet the standard for looks, legs and glamazonian loveliness.

I’m not suggesting we don’t all judge ourselves because we have been brainwashed that skinny + beauty = successful and desired. But aren’t we better than that? Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement, certainly thinks so. Embrace: A Documentary is the result of her global journey whereby she interviewed women from different cultures, backgrounds, size and shape – 91% hated their bodies. It’s a powerful film that will be screened at the Odeon Maidenhead (as well as other UK venues) on Monday 6 Feb, hosted by Henley-based Image Consultant Jo Haley.

Jo speaks passionately about what Taryn and her body image army are trying to achieve: ‘Women often look at their bodies and see the scars of childbirth, weight loss or ill heath and think it’s bad. But why not turn that negative into a positive? You have produced a life, reached a goal or survived an illness. We should celebrate that.’

In 2013, Taryn posted a before and after photo heard ‘round the world, which received more than 3.6 million clicks on Facebook overnight. But it wasn’t the type of transformation you’d probably expect: Her before photo shows off her carved out ‘perfect’ body on stage in a figure competition, while her after shot shows her body once it evolved back to its natural shape. Her point: Here’s a woman who achieved a “(near) perfect” body — and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. She now maintains a healthy weight, enjoys life and has fallen in love with her curves. And Taryn wants to empower others to do the same.

‘It’s a shame that so many women’s self-worth is determined by a number on a scale,’ explains Taryn. ‘Back in the day when I thought scales were my best mate, I would weigh myself every day, naked, after my morning wee, before breakfast. Weighing myself was part of my morning routine; just like having a shower or brushing my teeth, I never forgot to do it. From the moment I stepped onto the scales, I was judging if I was fat or thin, good or bad, or had succeeded or failed.’ (Been there, done that too). ‘But your health cannot be determined by a number. And don’t you think it’s a little odd allowing a number to dictate your mood for the rest of the day? Ditching my scales was incredibly liberating. I was amazed at the sense of freedom that throwing away one small object could do for me. And I encourage all women to do the same.’

Of course there is the thorny issue of who’s setting the standard that we are clambering to live up to? It is rare to find a brand that wants to be represented by the fantasy not the reality. Peddling the idea that one is better than the other. Naturally skinny, naturally curvy, why would you want a faceless boardroom bandit dictate how you feel about yourself? There are plenty of ‘real’ people out there who stand out because they are confident, happy in their own skin and celebrate their individuality.

British Vogue’s outgoing editor Alexandra Shulman has been lobbying designers for 10 years to provide clothes in larger sample sizes. To be more representative and for women to see that fashion is not only for skinny minnies. Despite her considerable influence very little has changed in that time. Last month British Vogue put a plus-size model on its January cover. Not to patronise, but because the Ashley Graham is relevant, has lots to say about the fashion industry and body image and empowering women. Perhaps Graham’s greatest kick-ass accolade is that every time someone tells her she can’t do something, she proves them wrong. Ballsy.

Of course, rarely do body positive triumphs come without caveats, and Graham’s first Vogue cover is no exception. In her editor’s letter, Shulman revealed that brands were reluctant to provide clothes for the Patrick Demarchelier cover shoot. She praises Stuart Vevers of Coach for stepping up to the plate and drags (though not by name) those that “flatly refused” to contribute.

Image: Cover of British Vogue/Patrick Demarchelier

Shulman remarks, “It seems strange to me that while the rest of the world is desperate for fashion to embrace broader definitions of physical beauty, some of our most famous fashion brands appear to be traveling in the opposite – and, in my opinion, unwise – direction.’

In an image obsessed world with photoshop apps to swipe away our imperfections (we’ve all done it), it is hard to look at ourselves and see things you love, especially when you’re sleep deprived, you feel ill, you’ve failed to get into your favourite jeans or you’ve overheard remarks about your looks. People judge. Sadly that’s never going to change. But what we can do is brush it off and stop judging ourselves and each other by the fantasy standards set by Mr Draper and co.

If Beyoncé or any us us mere mortals want to put our bumps out there – good on you, shout it from the rooftops. If mums want to wear an incy-wincy teeny-weeny bikinis whether they have the body of Davina McCall or not, give her a high five. Let’s tell each other we look good in something when we’re out shopping. Be happy, be healthy… but play nicely. And if you’re free, go and see Embrace: A Documentary.

Embrace: A Documentary, hosted by Jo Haley Image Consultant, Odeon Maidenhead Mon 6 Feb at 6.30pm 

(There are screenings all over the UK throughout February and March)

Find more ideas here


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