EDIT: here’s a link to Womankind Worldwide, a charity that you might like to donate to this Christmas. A huge amount of help is needed and doing a little bit is better than nothing.
This blog post has been on my mind for somewhere between a few days and a few years. It’s going to be a little piece written for women, by a woman who loves women (I love men too, for the record, but this is not about them).
I’m going to write it as a ‘flow of consciousness’; much like all my blog posts really, as I very rarely plan them, or go back and edit – the result will hopefully be that it’s entirely honest, and possibly even a bit intimate as I share details about my own life and my own thinking. It might also get a bit hippie-dippie in places, and for that I make no apologies, because this stuff is important and probably has its roots in emotions and values.
I’m aware that this blog has a big-ish following from all over the world, possibly because it features a lot of nakedness, but also because there are a surprisingly large number of people out there who appreciate art, beauty and the striving for its recognition (after all, the internet is not short of other supplies of nakedness for nakedness’ sake; I like to flatter myself and my followers that you are after something more interesting).
Those of you who are linked to me on facebook may have an inkling of what I’m waffling towards… Although it’s been on my mind on and off, the final trigger for this post was a message I received recently from a very young, beginning model, who thought she was troubling me by getting in touch (I am never troubled by hearing from other models! I love it!) and wanted to tell me that, although she’d been considering starving herself towards a tiny bodily ideal for fashion work, she had since seen my artistic portfolio and thought better of it. Seeing my work (image after image of a UK size 10, rather than the 6-8 fashion standard), made her re-think things and feel better about herself, such that she is content with the way she is. Honestly, it made my day to hear that.
So here’s the thing….
I have noticed, more and more, over the last few years, that I have better body confidence than the majority of women. I am happy with my physical body in a deep way, and in a way that I find is increasingly unusual. I wish other women had my confidence. I’m going to write some thoughts down in the hope that you find something in it, even just a small thing, a single phrase or thought process, that might make you feel better about yourself in a long and sustaining way.
– Immediately, I want to point out that I do NOT think I’m perfect. I could easily point out multiple ‘flaws’ – ones that you may or may not have noticed about me yourself – if I felt there was any benefit in doing that. I’ve written about this before in previous articles. Every person has areas of their body that they would change or ‘improve’ if there was a magic wand with no catch. I want that to go without saying, because it’s so incredibly obvious.
– I’m aware that this is a very self-indulgent piece of writing, but my aim is going to be to talk through why, exactly, I think I have this confidence, in the hope that perhaps a few other women might see things in a new way that will enable their own confidence to expand. I love women. We’re very important. (That’s probably the crux of my argument, right there, but I’ll carry on regardless).
Some scattered thoughts I hope your own brain will make into a coherent structure for me (Thanks for that!)
Perhaps my contentment with my physical body has a lot to do with the fact that it comes NOT from my physical body. It comes more from my knowledge of the deep truth that I am a member of womankind, and in turn a member of the wonderful group called humankind. How can you not respect and honour yourself once you know how amazing that is?
As women, we have a lot of intrinsic power. We have a lot of worth – equal to that of men – and are incredibly valuable. We are not objects to re-mould, criticise or apologise for. No mistakes were made when each of us were created; we were supposed to be how we are. There is a huge amount of freedom in that knowledge.
Although this shouldn’t be the case, the amount of respect we receive from men can often be limited by the amount of respect we show for ourselves. If I go around telling people I’m not worth something, then why would another person believe that I am (unless they are more spiritually evolved/generous than I am)? This is an important point in so many areas of life, as well as in modelling (that’s modelling both an artistic endeavour and as a business one). You must respect and honour yourself before you expect another person to, and you must show that respect in tangible, positive actions such as boundary-setting and saying ‘no’ to things you’re not comfortable with, without it becoming a huge drama. If you are not getting the respect you deserve, you must remove yourself from the situation.
Thinking back to some memorable points of life at which my body became a ‘thing’ to be considered, I’d say my first memory is (and it’s a cliché!) at a ballet class. I began ballet at the age of 3, but I think I was about 6 when (and I have a clear memory of this) we were told, ‘pull your tummies in’. Dancers will know that many movements and balances can’t properly be performed without engaging your core muscles at the same time, but of course the implication was also to appear slim by minimising the natural curves of the stomach. Girls do become aware of their bodies and its relationship to conceived notions of beauty, with all the ‘shoulds’ that come along with that, from a very young age. This isn’t a terrible thing, necessarily, but I feel lucky that I grew up with a mother with strong values (despite her own battle with her weight) and who celebrated my curves (which appeared early), and so any fascination thereafter with being skinny was never very deep.
Now, I never ever ‘suck in’ my stomach for photographs, though I hear most models do. I do engage my core muscles frequently though – it helps to balance – and that may be a small part of the reason my abdominal muscles often appear very defined. I don’t ‘try to look thin’; I aim to look like the best version of myself (and to balance when on my toes!).
In secondary school, aged 13 or so, a boy in my class took it upon himself to rate the bottoms of all the girls in the row of desks in front of him, throw scrunched-up balls of paper to get their attention, then, when they turned round, held up a number. The fact that tight trousers were in fashion made his job easy. I got 10 out of 10 (and some commentary feedback), and that marked the beginning of my awareness that men found my curves sexy. Seeing as life is much easier if you go with reality rather than object to it, I decided to take my curves as a strength rather than a fault to be worked on. I’d like to think that if the opposite had been true, i.e. that I had been praised for being ‘skinny’ or ‘slim-hipped’, I would have felt the same way rather than fighting it. The truth is, obviously, that multiple and conflicting notions of beauty can and should simultaneously hold.
I strongly believe that if anyone – whether it’s a friend, lover or photographer – hints or jokes that you are overweight (or underweight), you should feel sorry for them, firstly for their rudeness, a terrible affliction, and secondly because they may be rather narrow-minded. (Of course if there are proper concerns about your health at stake then that may be a different matter.)
Never compare yourself or allow yourself to be compared to other women. Photographers who mention exactly what another model would have done (in their imagination) in the same location as soon as you arrive there are the bane of models’ lives. This happened to me once and was deflating – hardly inspiring! – but it’s not uncommon from the stories I’ve heard. I suspect a photographer/artist would be quite put out if a model casually said at the beginning of a set, ‘Oh, if xxxx was shooting this with me, I bet s/he’d already have set up that light over there and angled it slightly differently…’ Comparisons can be toxic. Celebrate individuality, the person right there in front of you, and your own self for what it is and the beautiful things it can do and is doing. Your authenticity is creative. Forget about everyone and everything else.
Meanwhile, although I don’t find the following rude or offensive (models have to be thick-skinned and objective, after all), if a photographer points out that, in a pose where I’m twisted or bent over, there is (God forbid!!) a small fold of skin, say at the waist, I would smile and adjust my position, but inwardly wonder what is so terrible about the proof that a body is stretching or bending and not made of plastic or rubber. This happens to the skinniest models out there, because if it didn’t, it would be because you could not bend. Similarly (and girls I’ve mentioned this to outside of the industry are amazed by this), I have seen models of all shape and sizes (from ‘average’ to ‘fashion-model-thin’) up close in the nude, and I have to this day never seen a woman without any cellulite at all. We all have it, even if it’s very very slight and invisible under most lighting conditions.
The desire to be strong and healthy is much more admirable, positive and attractive than the desire to diminish yourself or binge. I enjoy the feeling of being toned and fit, so that is what I strive for and that can really be the only proper motivation for changing your weight if you feel it needs to be changed. External motivations will mess with your head and self-esteem, and your self-esteem (and head) is worth protecting. I feel grateful that dance and exercise are enjoyable to me, and that I tend towards healthy (and always vegetarian) food anyway, because dieting sounds to me like the most boring thing in the world (I love cooking and hate denying myself).
People reading this might think, ‘it’s OK for her – she looks pretty good so of course it’s easy for her to feel good about herself’. I hope I can get across that this ISN’T where my self esteem comes from, and that if it did, it would be a very hollow version, brittle and breakable at the slightest critique (don’t forget, there is a lot of critique in this industry both online and in person; did I mention models have to be very thick-skinned?!). I sometimes wonder, though, if this is linked to the self-respect idea; that you get what you put out. I respect myself so others naturally show me respect. I ‘market’ myself with the assumption that I might be aesthetically appealing, so people respond as though this may be the case. The most plain Jane can improve her attraction instantly, merely by believing that she is attractive. How can she do this? By understanding that she is a woman, and that women are amazing, and worth appreciation.
I can’t not mention the impact a tiny little book I was given when I was growing called ‘The Goddess Within’ has had on me. I wish I could remember who gave it to me. Compiled by River Huston, it’s a cute 4-inch-square book with beautiful pictures and quotes from prominent women on each page, in categories of ‘the attitude’, ‘the look’, ‘knowing’, ‘loving’ and ‘living’. These are some quotes that stood out to me at the time (I actually pasted some to my wall) and which I still love:
‘I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.’ – Rita Mae Brown
‘I am tough, ambitious, and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, OK. I can throw a fit. I am a master at it.’ – Madonna (admittedly I mostly just find Madonna annoying, but I love this quote.)
‘I never practise, I only play.’ – Wanda Landowska (I think I once declared this to my piano teacher. He was probably un-amused.)
‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt
‘Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Our goals should be health and stamina.’ – Emme Aronson
‘Women should try to increase their size rather than decrease it, because the bigger we are the more space we take up and the more we have to be reckoned with.’ – Roseanne Barr
‘Elegance does not consist of putting on a new dress.’ – Coco Chanel
‘Don’t deprive me of my age. I have earned it.’ – May Sarton
‘Don’t compromise yourself; you are all you got.’ – Janis Joplin
‘People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.’ – Rebecca West
‘We make ourselves up as we go’ – Kate Green (I adore this quote and it’s on my website in the ‘adorned’ gallery, as well as being at the beginning of a novel I’ve written.)
‘The brother that gets me is going to get one hell of a woman.’ – Aretha Franklin
‘When one is pretending, the entire body revolts.’ – Anais Nin
‘Loving, like prayer, is a power as well as a process. It is curative. It is creative.’ – Zona Gale
……….OK, I have no idea what I’m doing with this blog post anymore, or if I’ve achieved any of my aims (if you liked it, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you are welcome to share it) or if I’ve just bored you all in the process of trying, but I will leave it here, after listing a few resources/links that I swear by and recommend. No one grows in a vacuum; take a look if you want to take hold of your power and see things on a different level of honouring and valuing yourself for who and what you are. Life is too short not to and your happiness is too important.
– ‘Women who Run with the Wolves’ – not really a light read, but very ethereal and whimsical as well as earthy and gritty. I made an important life decision after something in one of these chapters clicked for me, and have felt better ever since.
– ‘A Woman’s Worth’ – I haven’t actually read this yet but am looking forward to it arriving in the post soon.
(because I love this topic; it’s heterosexual-based because I am; I’m sorry if that doesn’t relate to you; hopefully the principles are universal)
– ‘The Tao of Dating‘ – I only found this quite recently, but wow, this man is wise. Chase the fulfilment, not the person. 🙂
– ‘Why Men love Bitches’ – Another one about dating and about being the best version of yourself for your own benefit. It’s hilarious, full of practical advice and not as annoying as it sounds.
– Baggage Reclaim – this blogger has annoying habit of writing ‘you’ when she means ‘yourself’, but other than that, it’s amazing.