Monday, 27 April 2015

Dear Jamelia & Protein World.....

Dear Jamelia and Protein World

Well, it’s been quite a week for us all, hasn’t it? Last week you each, in your own distinct way, claimed that championing a particular body ideal is good for the health of the nation and were both, in a number of distinct and unequivocal ways, told to fuck off.

Putting aside whether only slim people should be able to buy clothes, or feel comfortable on the beach, or whether the presence of overweight people in mainstream culture can in fact ‘promote’ obesity, I thought I’d take the opportunity to dispel a misapprehension you appear to be labouring under: Let’s be clear - body shaming does not work. In fact, if your goal is to improve wellbeing (as opposed to becoming the next Katie Hopkins/peddling your product respectively) you have probably had the opposite effect to the one you intended.

By the time I was twelve years old, I was already almost six foot tall and a size fourteen. I loved sport and I ate healthily. I was (and continue to be) simply a big girl. In those days, the high street was nowhere near as progressive as it is today. ‘Trendy’ shops, the ones my friends wanted to visit on a Saturday, only catered up to a size 12, if you were lucky. You would have loved it, Jamelia. I started to avoid saying yes to hanging out with the girls, because I knew it would involve endlessly traipsing around the shopping centre, telling my friends they looked lovely whilst ‘guarding’ the bags outside the changing rooms because nothing fit me. I began to understand that fashion wasn’t for big girls like me, that this was a world from which I was excluded.

According to your logic, the misery of not being ‘normal’ should have motivated me to diet. Fortunately, it didn’t, because dieting at that age might have stunted my growth, caused osteoporosis, anaemia, lack of concentration and subsequently poor grades. I did, however, start to develop an ‘us and them’ mentality. I always felt I was orbiting outside society’s parameters. I stopped playing sport because it drew too much attention to my ‘abnormal’ body. I didn’t think physical activity was for ‘people like me’. I started to think that the body rules everyone else was abiding by didn’t really apply to me. The world didn’t want me to be proud of my body, so why shouldn’t I spend Friday night shovelling Maltesars into my mouth? Inevitably, I started to gain weight.

There is an interlude in my story, one in which I was scouted by a model agent, developed a severe eating disorder and dropped a dramatic amount of weight. Even then, because of my broad shoulders, large bust and wide hips the smallest I could attain was a size 10 (despite regularly being hospitalised with dehydration and suffering from malnutrition). High fashion continued to brand me ‘plus size’ and once again I was operating outside what my environment had deemed as ‘normal’.

…But less of that. It took a long time for me to embrace my body type, to rediscover my love of exercise and to realise that I deserved to look after myself. Today, I am right back where I started at a size 14 (16 sometimes – quel horreur!) – The way my body is naturally supposed to be. I am content in the knowledge that should I fall pregnant, be injured or become ill or (god forbid) age, the now diverse high street will still cater to my needs. It is partly this knowledge that lets me be kind to myself, not yoyo diet (and therefore ensure future weight gain) or panic and fall into my old ways.

I am now entirely at home with my body. In fact I love it. So, Protein World, your ‘are you beach ready?’ advert has absolutely no effect on me whatsoever (other than thinking it shows a distinct lack of imagination and probably belongs in 1995). Yet I can see how anyone vulnerable or struggling might feel differently. I know my twelve year old self would have done. Of course, advertising like this has existed pretty-much since capitalism was invented - that’s part of the problem.

No one has ever claimed health is not important. Yet you can’t make broad assumptions about people’s health based on their shape and size. And even if you could, Jamelia, this shouldn’t impact their right to buy clothes. Unless of course you are proposing that smokers, drinkers, drug-takers, people who live in cities and who are excessively stressed shouldn’t be allowed to shop on the high street, either? In which case I think our economy would probably collapse. Mind you, there’s nothing like living in Third World conditions to ensure rapid weight loss…..

Our bodies are not commodities and we should be allowed to embrace fitness, fashion and beauty on our own terms. It is by empowering people of all body types to do this that you truly have a positive impact on their health.

Regards

Natasha Devon

Journalist & Body Image Campaigner who has interviewed dozens of global health experts; or
‘Fat Feminist with a Bee in her Bonnet’ (Protein World Customer).



Saturday, 3 January 2015

Stuff

Dear Blog Readers (and people who have stumbled across this page because of boredom induced by what should, owing to the placement of Christmas Day this year, be a magical uber-holiday but has now become a bit tedious, if social media is to be believed).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

So, I was getting a little frustrated by the constraints placed upon me, having to restrict my musings to sporadic Twitter updates or a specific ‘angle’ for various publications and then I remembered – I have a blog! It’s a blog that has been neglected for a while, admittedly (following the preposterous waste of everyone’s life that was that ‘feminism’ inspired shit-storm during the summer) but I thought there was no better time than now to pour some clarity on a few things, just in case you’re interested:

Here is my news (from the very specific spectrum of my take on reality):


1. Body Gossip

I am no longer a Director at Body Gossip. I resigned my post for a few reasons, many of which are too complicated (and probably tedious) for me to go into here. The main reason, however, was that I felt body image was too narrow a remit to contain the sort of work I wanted to do.

Body Gossip gained official charitable status last year, which means everything the organisation does must be directly related to its mission statement – to increase body confidence. Having worked in more than 200 schools and colleges, now, I’ve been really privileged to meet and speak with thousands of young people. Travelling throughout the UK for the past 8 years has allowed me to connect some dots and to realise that body confidence is inextricably embroiled with so many other huge, meaty issues including self-esteem, mental health and socio-political factors.

I did, however, devise and create Body Gossip’s Education Programme and don’t really trust anyone other than myself or my team to do it justice, at this stage. For that reason, we have agreed with the Trustees at Body Gossip that we will continue to exclusively deliver Body Gossip classes, as subcontractors. Who is ‘we’ I hear you cry? I’m glad you asked….


2. The Self-Esteem Team

Nadia, Grace and I have been working together delivering and evolving the Body Gossip Education Programme for a couple of years, now. Whilst we all share the same ethos and vision, Grace & Nadz each bring something unique and wonderful to the project and are both, in their own way, able to establish a fantastic rapport with young people. I was very lucky to have found them (and ‘stalked’ them until they agreed to work for me, apparently. I still maintain it wasn’t stalking. Just friendly persuasion). Last year, we decided to rebrand as The Self-Esteem Team.

We have attended more conferences and interviewed more experts than I can actually remember or count and are now pleased to offer a range of classes for schools and colleges on mental health, self-harm and eating disorders, as well as body image.

Between the three of us, we have worked with more than 40,000 students, from a huge range of backgrounds, throughout Britain, as well as some of their parents and teachers. We are petitioning the government to recognise how important health and wellbeing is within schools and the direct impact it has upon both academic and personal potential. We were absolutely delighted to be given an award at Parliament in November recognising our services to education.

About once a week, we get an email from someone saying ‘when are you going to do something for adults?’, which is why we’re also working to give our message a broader platform. Since that platform involves media, and they are notoriously secretive about these sorts of things, that’s all I can really say at this point (how infuriatingly cryptic am I? I’ll be posting Facebook statuses that say ‘YOU REALLY HURT ME YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!’ next).

In the meantime, Nadia is busy blitzing social media with online positivity, SET style (which quite often involves the creative use of swearing, I should warn you). We’ve already gained a fantastic online community of like-minded individuals and we’d invite you to come and join us on Facebook (search The Self-Esteem Team), Twitter (@_SelfEsteemTeam) and to check out our website www.selfesteemteam.org.

The extremely talented Grace has also put together this short video, which sums up everything we do, with music and attention-grabbing brightness - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1RStmXbDNo.


3. Cosmopolitan

Exactly a year ago, I was given my own column in Cosmopolitan, at which point I danced around my flat like a tit for about three hours, in celebration. Anyone who has ever met me even a little bit throughout my adult lifetime has probably heard me rave about this magnificent magazine, my passion for and loyalty to it knowing absolutely no bounds, even before they awarded me their Woman of the Year award in 2012.

I write for a number of publications, but I’m proud to call Cosmopolitan my home. For me, it represents a place where feminism is fabulous. It’s a supportive community of women who care about social issues AND shoes. If Cosmo were a person, it would be your best friend, squeezing your hand and whispering ‘you go, lady!’ before you do a boardroom presentation or reassuring you that you look beautiful during a night out.

My column was called The Last Word and was a 500 word rant on the last page of the magazine about pretty-much anything that took my fancy. Over the course of the year I tackled topics including the internet, pubic hair, the word ‘slut’ and….uhm…. Roald Dahl.

This year, I’m ever more excited (cue more dancing) because I have a new home in the middle of Cosmopolitan, with a monthly section called ‘Natasha Devon’s Confidence Revolution’. Every month I’ll bring the reader investigations, interviews or opinion pieces designed to help them enhance their lives through the savvy use of realising they are amazing.

My first ‘Revolution’ is out now, in the February issue (which has Khloe Kardashian on the front). For Cosmo-related updates follow me at @Cosmo_Tash.


4. My book(s)

Next week my book ‘Fundamentals: A Guide for Parents & Teachers on Mental Health & Self-Esteem’ officially hits the shelves. It will be available in Waterstones, Foils, from independent retailers and on Amazon and is published by John Blake Books.

I co-authored the book with Lynn Crilly, who is a counsellor and mother. We had previously collaborated on her book ‘Hope with Eating Disorders’ which has had an incredibly positive response from people throughout the globe, who commented on her refreshing ‘no judgment’, pragmatic approach to mental health.

Lynn’s sections in Fundamentals are more in the traditional self-help style, looking at a range of mental health and self-esteem issues, what they mean and what can be done to tackle them and she writes for an audience of parents and carers. My sections look at the wider social causes and implications of these issues, from the perspective of my dual experiences in education and media. I’ve written them in my own chatty, empassioned, slightly sweary style, predominantly for teachers and the people who work with them.

Fundamentals is unusual, in that it has two distinct voices – usually books that are co-authored converge into one narrative. Those who have read the book so far, however, say that’s their favourite thing about it. Whilst Lynn reaches out with love and understanding, I rant about how we can make education and society better and fairer for all. The best review I have heard so far says:

“Reading this book is like being given a stroke on the arm and then a slap in the face!”

You can order a signed copy (and find out more about Lynn) at www.lynncrilly.co.uk .

In recognition of the book’s release, we have given a donation to charity Young Minds, currently in danger of having their Parent Helpline closed. Find out more here: http://www.youngminds.org.uk/news/blog/2365_fundamentals_a_new_book_on_nurturing_self-esteem

This summer, the Self-Esteem Team are teaming up with Lynn and John Blake again to release a second book, aimed at young people themselves. Watch this space.


5. Controversy (in the form of Katie Hopkins)

The second instalment of Katie Hopkins’ documentary ‘To Fat and Back’ airs tonight. I have stuck by my promise to Cosmo readers and haven’t watched it, so I can’t say for certain that it was a catastrophe of misinformed awfulness. But it probably was.

In any case, I got the gist – indeed it was almost impossible not to, since Hopkins has been everywhere over the past few months, spouting her nonsensical claptrap. I’ve even faced her myself in a couple of radio interviews on the topic.

Here is what I have learned about body image:

- All bodies are different;
- It’s lifestyle, not looks, that denote ‘health’;
- Despite this, we make great, sweeping, inaccurate assumptions about people’s lifestyles based on how
they look;
- There’s a lot of money to be made in messing up people’s relationship with their bodies;
- If you tune into and trust your body it will tell you what it needs;
- How inclined we are to look after our bodies is often a reflection of our state of mind;
- Leading a healthy lifestyle is a lot harder for some people than it is for others;
- Trying to solve Binge Eating Disorder by giving someone a diet sheet is like giving a drug addict a piece
of paper with ‘DON’T TAKE DRUGS’ written on it;
- Physical health can be improved with more understanding of mental health.

The above represents everything Katie’s body manifesto strives against. In recognition of that, The Self-Esteem Team developed a hastag, which has now gone viral #ThingsIdRatherDoThanWatchHopkins.

Partaking in this hashtag is an opportunity for you to show solidarity with people who recognise the complexity of body image and obesity, to show-off about how witty you are, to make others laugh and to have a chuckle yourself. It’s not an opportunity to bully Ms Hopkins.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.


6. People I’m loving right now

On a brighter note, here as some people and organisations enhancing my life right now:

Deborah Coughlin (@Deb_rahCoughlin) – Former editor of the Feminist Times and now writing all kinds of sense for the Independent.

Vicky Beeching (@vickybeeching)– Songwriter, Social Commentator, Christian, Lesbian, Beacon of Awesomeness. Can often be found on Radio 4.

The Trews (@rustyrockets) – Russell Brand’s daily Youtube videos designed to get us talking about politics, the media, the environment and how we can achieve generalised Global Fairness.

ASOS (@ASOS) – The UK’s most magnificently inclusive fashion emporium, stocking as it does sizes 2 to 28.

Curvy Kate (@curvykate) – It’s bras, but not as you know them…. And their annual Star in a Bra competition invites customers to model their products (Self-Esteem Team are judging this year YAY!).

BeReal Campaign (@BeReal_Campaign) – An amalgamation of charities and organisations promoting body confidence in Britain.

Models of Diversity (@ModsOfDiversity)– Model agency using a wide range of shapes, sizes, ages and races to encourage more diversity in fashion.

Educate & Celebrate (@EducateCelebrat) – Okay so I don’t know a great deal about this one, other than it’s a charity that aims to make schools LGBT friendly, but I met founder Elly at an event yesterday and she’s ace.


If you’ve made it this far – Congrats. I wouldn’t read a blog this long.

Hope 2015 is fantastic for you and please do get in touch with The Self-Esteem Team to let us know how we can make it even better.

Natasha