I’m not sure if it was Piers Morgan’s comments on that Little Mix video. Or maybe it was the email I got from a stranger telling me to “put some clothes on“. Or perhaps it was the article I read saying we should all stop talking about our bodies. Or maybe it was some of the discussion I’ve seen on social media around the topic of body confidence and people sharing their own feelings about their bodies… either way, I’m starting to get the impression that we just can’t win.
If you love your body as it is and want to share pictures of it, you are an attention seeker. If you share pictures of your skin online you are only doing so for the male gaze. If you want to talk about your own body image experiences you are trying to speak for all people. If you don’t feel good in your body you are failing at body confidence. If you are a size 20 woman celebrating your body you are promoting obesity. If you are a size 12 woman celebrating your body you are denying your own thin privilege. If you share a photo of yourself – whatever you look like – and say you are happy with the way you look you are perpetuating the idea that your appearance is the most important thing about you.
It’s a minefield.
I get it. Body image is a deeply personal issue. We all have a body and we all have an attitude towards our body – whether that’s a positive, negative or neutral one. And then we all have our own particular ideas around nudity and what we feel comfortable seeing. For example, for some, the picture of me with my kit off in the photo above will signal overt sexuality, while others will see at as a plea for attention. Some will view it as an attempt at click-bait and some will think it’s just plain inappropriate. But the real reason I’m naked in this picture and sharing it on the internet? It’s simply because I’m completely over being told how to feel about my body.
For me, sharing photos like that one is a tiny act of rebellion after years of feeling like my body wasn’t quite good enough. Like many women, I’d been conditioned to want to change my body in some way, look at cellulite, smaller boobs – whatever – as “flaws”. And so, after years of trying to hide these parts of myself or change them, it’s an empowering feeling owning them and celebrating my body in all its natural glory.
I’ll tell you what I’m not doing with this photo. I’m not trying to speak for all women and tell every person on the planet how to feel about their own body. I’m not denying my privilege as an able-bodied, average sized, straight white woman. I’m not saying that my body is the most important thing I have to offer. I’m not using nudity to sell anything. I’m just simply choosing to love my body, as it is, right now. That is all.
I feel really strongly that there should no shame in any person celebrating themselves whatever it is they want to celebrate. Of course I know not everyone shares this view – this is why trolls exist – but I’m never going to be the person trying to shut someone else down because they’ve dared to give themselves a bit of love. I’ll be the first to high five someone’s parenting wins or work successes too – I’m not just talking about bodies here.
The thing is, as human beings we are made in many different ways. Society has been structured to favour people who look a certain way, but this doesn’t mean that if you do look that way you are a) automatically happy in your body and b) agree with the structure and values that put you in that position of privilege in the first place.
It also doesn’t mean that we have to be at war with anyone who doesn’t look like us, to assume that they are trying to speak for us, to put them in a position of shame for daring to speak their own truth – whatever that truth may be.
Over the summer my Instagram feed was full of women on holiday, sharing snaps in bikinis, talking about learning to love their body. This was a joyous thing to see, after so many years of conversations with other women about dieting or the things they wanted to change about their body. But I also had messages from girls and women – and men, actually – saying they felt ashamed for NOT feeling that way, for still wanting to diet, for not loving their body. And of course, those feelings are valid too – ALL feelings are valid.
Either way, I’m just bored of the shame around women and their bodies – both from men in positions of power and other women. If we feel good about our body – before we’ve done the diet or had the plastic surgery – that is not a bad thing. If we don’t feel good about our body that is not a bad thing either. If we want to share a photo of our skin that is not a bad thing. If we don’t want to share a photo of our skin that is not a bad thing either. It’s a personal choice, personal subject and one that, ultimately, no one has the final say on.
These are the things I believe, in no particular order: every person is worthy of the same level of respect, compassion and love regardless of how they look. No person should ever feel ashamed for owning their story. Our appearance is NOT the most important thing we have to offer the world. There is liberation in feeling at peace with your body. The amount of money someone earns is as irrelevant to me as their dress size, the colour of their skin or their sexuality, when it comes to my friendship. And, finally, Little Mix’s Strip is a pretty banging tune.