This is an online interview that I was invited to participate in conducted by a student, Grace Tuomala for a project she is undertaking. As a Body Positivity Activist, I think it is very important to continue to spread the message and take part in intellectual conversations about this very critical topic.
What does “Body Positivity” mean to you?
Body Positivitiy is the ability to live in one’s body freely, without being shamed or marginalized by society.
It is about loving and caring for your body. It is the full acceptance of one’s physical state.
How did you first learn about it, and how do you apply it to your life?
A major perspective shift took place when I experienced what I like to call the “Ashley Graham Aha Moment”.
One day in my early 20’s I came across a model named Ashley Graham, and I realized that she was a plus sized woman who wore US size 14/16; the same size I did, and if she could be beautiful and sexy so could I.
This is also when I discovered the Body Positivity Movement on Instagram and realized that there are millions of people across the globe that exist in bodies like mine, and that my body is good just the way it is.
I spent most of my life feeling very uncomfortable and ashamed of my body due to societal conditioning and constantly trying to change myself to fit in, and in that moment I realized there was nothing to change. I could wear beautiful clothing and feel good about myself just the way I am. Then I decided I needed to help others recognize this about themselves, and I dedicated my life to this cause.
Have you ever struggled with negative body image, and if so, what did you do about it? Have you ever witnessed or been a victim of body-shaming?
The society that I grew up in is very focused on thinness and highly values women who are petite. I have always been a bigger person, and I was constantly body shamed and told I needed to lose weight by those closest to me. I internalized this and felt very poorly about myself for many years. I suffered with bouts of bulimia and anorexia in an attempt to change my body to fit into societal standards. I spent many years hating myself and struggling with a negative self-image and low self-esteem. It turned me into a constant people-pleaser, to try to get people to like me. I always felt like I was not good enough. You can refer to these posts on my Instagram where I share two stories of traumatic body shaming I experienced in the past:
I have also existed in a very strong diet culture, where people are constantly obsessing about every morsel of food they eat and labeling foods as good or bad. Obsessive exercising. People who are absolutely terrified of putting on weight, people who constantly comment on other people’s weight, and shame or make cruel fun of those who have gained it.
Do you believe in the concept of “HAES” (Healthy At Every Size)?
Yes I do. I believe that one’s health is not directly related to the size of one’s body. There are also different types of health, mental, physical and spiritual. I believe that someone can be healthy at every size, and also just because one do not exist in a healthy body does not mean that a person should be shamed or marginalized for it.
Do you feel that the Body Positivity movement is inclusive of ALL people, or are there still certain groups that are being left out and need more representation?
I think from a media perspective, at the moment, women who have the “right” kind of curves are the ones being celebrated (for example in Sports Illustrated etc.)
Women who are larger but have large breasts, flat stomachs and hourglass shapes are the ones that are being represented. I think that ALL people should be portrayed and celebrated in the media (various ages, physical sizes, abilities, women with small breasts and large hips, women with straight hips, varying sexual orientations and races). I believe that all of us deserve to feel happy and comfortable in our bodies, and on this planet. All types of people should be exhibited in the media and portrayed in a positive fashion.
Your Instagram page says you are a model (and rightfully so – you’re gorgeous!). How did you become a model? Do you ever feel like you aren’t taken seriously because you’re more “curvy” than traditional models?
Thanks for the compliment! You can refer to my recent blog posts where I share the magical story of how I started my Instagram and became a plus sized model. Right now I work predominantly with global fashion brands, modelling their clothing on Instagram and now of course my website/blog, but I hope to get signed with a modelling agency in Manhattan. I am currently working on that. I work specifically within the plus sized realm, so I cannot comment on not being taken seriously because I stick within my genre. However, I can say that when I tell people I am a model they look at me confused until I say curve or plus sized. I think on a societal scale, it is still difficult for some people to process that a larger person can be a model or be admired and viewed as something beautiful/ a standard of beauty. This is something I seek to change.
Is there anything you would want to change about the Body Positivity movement (such as its message or how it is portrayed by the media)?
Like I said earlier, I think in the media different types of bodies should be celebrated.
The Body Positivity movement was created to promote larger bodies and served as a safe place for people who have been marginalized and shamed because of their physical state. Skinny/ straight sized women took it over and started using the hash tag BOPO and turned it into something that it is not. This rightfully caused a lot of upset and commotion in the community. People have been working to lay claim and bring it back to its original purpose.
The bottom line for me is this:
Our bodies are the homes of our souls. They are the place we live in during our time on this planet. It is complete insanity for us to punish our bodies and try to change them and spend precious time hating them because they do not look a certain way. It is denying reality.
All of us should feel safe and comfortable to simply exist, and should not be abused, marginalized, excluded or shamed simply for the shape and size of our bodies.
At the core, this is why I do the work that I do. This is what I wish to change. To break down the cruel and damaging attitudes that exist in society towards people with larger bodies and to create a far more inclusive definition of beauty.