Friday, 16 May 2014

Body Image, Self-esteem and Selfies

This week I was invited on BBC Radio Manchester by Elizabeth Alker. Her shows coincided with the launch of The Beauty Project; a festival put on by Selfridges to start the discussion around what beauty is with pioneering talks and interactive debate. The in-studio guest was Ilona Burton, a mental health and eating disorder campaigner, and I was adding my two penny worth on the phone. Introductions aside, talk turned to how negative body image affects mental health and self-esteem.

Conversation ranged from photoshopping and rise of the selfie to fast fashion and Kate Moss. Kate Moss? Why yes - during the show I talked about my own body image issues in puberty. I grew up in the 1990s with heroin chic models like Kate Moss plastered on the side of buses and billboards heralding the launch of CKONE perfume. Androgyny was in, curves were out. And after developing a text book hourglass figure no-one told me that having curves didn't mean I was fat...I thought I was fat and so began the battle. This lasted into my twenties when I started to celebrate my curves. Who can I thank for this? Kim Kardashian. That Kardashian Clan may not be everyone's cup of tea but they've done a hell of a lot to promote a healthy body image when it comes to curves.

I think we all suffer from negative body image occasionally. How did I get my head around my own personal conundrum? Well, realising that curves look better when they are shown off I started to experiment with tighter clothes: pencil skirts, more jersey fabrics, and I started belting dresses. I also honed my style. When it comes to your wardrobe, wearing things that are true to yourself, cutting through the noise of fashion on the High Street and embracing your style wholeheartedly can make a HUGE positive impact on your body image. Like I said on the show - getting dressed should be joyous and awesome and celebratory. When you get dressed you are saying to the world "this is who I am!" At huge risk of sounding cheesy, making sure your clothes are authentic and reflect the inner 'you' will always be a winning formula. No point wearing a suit when you want to dress like a cheerleader.

We are living in a highly visualised society: Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram are all social platforms which rely heavily on pictures and videos to translate our life experiences into an easily digestible format. And those pictures can be easily altered by applying the kingpin of image mastery: Photoshop. I couldn't agree more with Tina Fey when she says of Photoshop "Give it up. Retouching is here to stay." (see pages 157 - 161 of her awesome book Bossy Pants for the full argument.) Accepting that the images we see have pretty much all been tinkered with brings you to a place of disassociation with the images produced. I work in fashion and read about 10 fashion magazines a month. Do I feel the need to hit the gym and eat alfalfa sprouts after reading? No. I know the images aren't real - it's like reading a Disney story to me, to be appreciated but not believed.  But if you still feel affected by what you see then unsubscribe from the emails and newsletters that clutter up your inbox and stop buying the magazines that promote an unhealthy or unrealistic body image.

Finding positive role models (thanks Kim) is also a wonderful way of realigning yourself. I dedicated a Pinterest board to awesome, real women. Feel free to use it when your eyes need some reality. Click here to be transported. 


Check out Elizabeth Alker on You Tube by clicking here

And to follow her on Twitter click here

Get involved in The Beauty Project by clicking here

To follow Ilona Burton on Twitter click here

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