I have been in the beauty industry for ten years now and have spent the entire time educating my clients that they are beautiful the way that they are and encouraging more confidence in themselves. Then the pandemic hit, and I couldn’t get that face-to-face contact with them so moved my business online and began to train other makeup artists to build body positive businesses. That opened me up to a self-journey I could never have expected. I have sought therapy for my disordered eating behaviours and studied in Positive Psychology and eating disorders, read every book I can get my hands on about body image, confidence and self esteem and listened to podcasts and experts in the subject. It has led me to writing my own book, The Body Confidence Masterplan and working with women and beauty businesses to help create a more body positive world around us. But one thing my mind monkey, Regina keeps popping up with is “people will think you are doing all this because you can’t be arsed to lose weight!”
So, I found it very interesting this week when I was listening to a podcast, The Diary of a CEO with Stephen Bartlett (who I adore and fangirled all over when I met him at Ideas Fest this year. He was interviewing James Smith after the release of his book How to be Confident. I had seen the trailer on Instagram and got the impression that James was a controversial character which I love, and he was known for his direct talk from his role in the fitness industry. Always open to learning and especially from outspoken people who love to challenge I tuned in whilst driving to and from doing a bridal party’s hair. I found myself nodding along to so much of the podcast and thinking “wow, I really like this guy. He isn’t as much of a dick as I was expecting, he is just very direct.” They moved onto the subject of Monogamy and James talked about a situation that arises often where people who can’t achieve something themselves then go on a mission to convince the world that the system is wrong and they are right. So, someone who is unable to be in a loving relationship due to things that have happened in the past will go the opposite way and take a stance that one person for life is wrong. And then he used the example of plus size models who have failed to lose weight become body positivity advocates and try to convince the world that the system doesn’t work. (Not direct quotes) And I have heard other people who say body positivity is just telling people its okay to be fat. You get the jist.
I would say the single biggest thing I have learned whilst I’ve been reading and studying this subject is that our relationship with food is extremely complex and for lots of people very emotional. I’ve also learned that we live in a society that is scared of fat. We try to avoid it because there is lots of stigma attached to it about the type of person you are. Bodies are objectified and people make instant decisions about you based on how you look. So, people want to look thin because thin is seen as best. The health service blames anything health related on weight. Low weight is seen as healthy. The list goes on and on. But the basis is we are told we should be thin because that’s best but its not as simple as some would lead you to believe.
The majority of industries that offer “help” to achieve the “perfect image” that will solve all your problems are driven by profit. Personal trainers can’t earn a living if nobody wants to change their body size or shape. Diet companies can’t sell you products or get you paying for weekly weigh ins without you “failing” at eating a healthy diet or weighing yourself and being motivated. The beauty industry offers a fix for every apparent body flaw you could imagine that they couldn’t sell if you don’t look in the mirror and find something wrong. So, is the battle between those industries and plus size models or body image activists because they are discouraging people from spending their money?

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The body positivity movement started as a way to be inclusive for women of black origin to have their bodies accepted and has grown and changed. Its also really important to recognise that being body positive or body neutral isn’t about just the size of a body. It advocates for all types of bodies to be a voice for those living with disability, living in trans bodies, living with different coloured skin, living in an older body and everything in between. Its using your voice where others aren’t confident to. Its teaching that you are more than just your body and your body image.
A lot of the (mostly women) that I see who are promoting the messages are recovered from eating disorders (some more severe than others), have spent their life being bullied for their image, have been in the spotlight having their image constantly pulled to pieces, are living with some sort of uniqueness or difference to their body which has left them open to staring, mean comments or inaccessibility to simple life services or they have experienced the ways your body can grow and change throughout your life through motherhood, ageing, illness etc.
The connecting thread to all of this is that their mental health has suffered as a result of their body image issues. So, they are campaigning to change the narrative on how bodies are viewed because they want to help others avoid the mental health issues that can come as a result.
The way I see it is you have two choices when you are unhappy with your body image: – you either spend a lifetime dieting, working out hard, paying for clothing, treatments and any other thing that brings you a little closer to the image you want to obtain. Or you make peace with your body. You choose to see it as the outer packaging for the heart and soul inside. You choose to work on your mental health and heal your relationship with food. You choose to push back against the image narrative that keeps women focused on their appearance rather than their abilities. And you choose to offer an alternative route for those who are heading for eating disorders, self-harm, self-loathing, low self-esteem.
My own personal experience has seen my levels of fitness and “healthy eating” vary massively. Ive literally bounced from a size 10 -18 since I was 20 inbetween training to be a police officer, cycling for charity from London to Lichfield in two days, running a half marathon, having two babies, getting married, getting over post natal depression, being mega stressed owning a beauty salon with no breaks. I came out of the first lockdown into a gym membership that I loved and was working out five times a week, eating a real variety of food including green smoothies, fish and all the good stuff I know I should. But struggled to move the numbers on the scale. And the internal battle blew up my head and I ended up in therapy when I couldn’t actually eat food without my brain having one of two conversations with itself. Either “you are such a failure at this, you shouldn’t be eating this.” Or “if you can eat this well now then why can’t you do it all the time.” I felt superior on days I ate healthy and like an absolute idiot failure when I went off plan. I had friends on conventional diet plans saying I shouldn’t be eating avocados because they are to high in calories and trainers telling me they were full of healthy fats that benefitted my body and brain. It made me unwell in my mind. I hit a wall. I got some help. And I had no choice but to make a different choice and work on my relationship with food, relearning to listen to my body for being hungry and satisfied, not using food to deal with my emotions. Health and movement are still important but having a quiet mind with two young kids and a business to run is most important.
I wonder if it’s actually that body positivity activists have realised that health means much more than how fit you are or how ripped your muscles are. It’s more than the tests the doctors can take on your body. That the health of your mind has to take priority in order for you to exist.

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I’m desperate to discuss the idea with James in detail because he seems to be a very emotionally intelligent guy and obviously has a very successful fitness business. He breaks down a client’s pain points to get to the crooks of why they want to lose weight and tone up, so he obviously has the ability to understand that these desires are emotionally driven. I am intrigued to see if he considers that a person’s relationship with their body and food in the opposite direction of weight loss and gym going is complex too. I believe there is a way that the fitness and beauty industries can do more to understand the issues of body image and disorders and how they can use their skillset and knowledge to merge the two and make a difference. What do you think?
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