Recently I have been infatuated with the body positivity movement happening online, predominately, from what I can observe, on Instagram. I stumbled across one of the key opinion leaders in this movement, Megan Jane Crabbe aka @bodyposipanda, whilst falling into an Instagram rabbit hole. As I embarked on the usual insta-binge, browsing perfect toned bottom, to neatly placed jug of flowers to perfect scattering of cushions to bowl of some kind of aspirational grain with an egg on top, and so on, there she was, a smiley curvy woman in a bikini. It was a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot, but in this pic her ‘before’ picture was thin and her ‘after’ picture was, well I wouldn’t say ‘fat’, but certainly voluptuous. She was ruddy gorgeous. Her commentary posted with the image, was about how the ‘before’ girl was miserable and unhappy and, how she loved herself in the ‘after’ image, was happy here and loved her belly rolls. In fact there was a whole dance happening called #donthatethe shake featuring women of all shapes and sizes just dancing and celebrating their bodies. I was fascinated and eagerly hit up the hash tag, tumbling further and deeper into this #bopo universe, gobbling up comments and greedily following as many body positive accounts I could get my insta-paws on.
I was hooked!
For those who haven’t had a look yet, the #bopo movement is in short, a group of (predominantly) female influencers with large followings who share pictures of themselves and their bodies, and celebrate how they have reached the holy grail of acceptance, love and joy for who they are and what they look like. They have no desire to diet, lose weight, change their nose, adjust their skin colour, hit the gym 7 times a week or any of that, they just really enjoy and like being who they are. They celebrate their flaws and embrace their perfectly imperfect bodies, and encourage others to think and feel the same. They despise the commercial world’s presentation of typically one body type (white, thin, toned etc), not so much because of a dislike for that woman or particular body shape, but more about the lack of diversity and the immense push from popular culture to achieve one version of perfect, one version of healthy and one version of ‘attractive’. (I hope I captured that correctly and did the movement justice; to be honest once I dug under the layers there seemed to be a few different angles – fat activism being one avenue and I am not sure I’ve got my head around it all in perfect depth yet, but broadly I think, and hope that reflects the ethos!).
When I write about body positivity, this concept of self-acceptance, love and contentment, it sounds pretty straightforward, obvious and like the and most natural thing in the world to do, but I know that many of you reading this, like I am writing it, will find the very concept of this ideology completely radical. To me this feels like a mythical place, a place that does not feel real, achievable, or even worthwhile trying to pursue.
And that reaction made me think; ‘well that’s a bit bloody weird’.
It’s weird because it means we have arrived at a place in our culture, where body loathing, insecurities and the continual quest for self-improvement, to reach some mythical body goal unobtainable to many, is so deeply embedded inside us, that there is a need and place for a whole movement against it. It feels completely alien to many of us to think about living in a permeant state of physical self-acceptance.
I pondered on this a lot, potentially for way too long actually as such deep thinking, amidst having one child with chicken pox and the other starting a new school, wasn’t the best timing, but you can’t pick a ponder when they come on you, can you now? I found my own reaction on studying this movement a study in itself. There I was a fairly confident, independent, some might say strong woman, (unless you’ve seen me watching Titanic that is, gets me every time he falls off that bloody door, which btw there’s totally enough room on for both of them. FFS move over Kate!!), but, I couldn’t help staring mouth wide-open, eyes-popping out my head with sheer fascination, curiosity, and if I’m honest, a touch of confusion by what on earth these women were saying and doing.
Again, I was hooked.
This notion of body positivity is of course not new, you see brands like Dove and the likes who have been trying to do something similar for a while, but you give it a hashtag, some influencers who capture the essence, and the power of a platform like Instagram which enables you to consider and study alternative images, and suddenly it takes on a new lifeform. What spiralled from this discovery led me take a long old look at myself and dig into my relationship with my body now, in the past and consider the future. As I have recently moved to a new house (yep, still haven’t shut up about that yet), I found myself doing the usual ‘get-distracted-by-box-of-photos-for-an-hour-when-actually-meant-to-be-throwing-out-toys’. Growing-up in a digital age means my personal collection of photos is the most random bunch of images anyone could possibly acquire. There are no albums, no structure, no collections, no real groupings, just a mish-mash of periods of time and moments where I’ve obviously gone, ‘crap I don’t own any pictures, lets print a bunch’, thrown in with some framed gifts, and randomly acquired prints from the early 90s before digital cameras and mobile photography were a thing. What results, is a pretty hilarious and emotional higgledy-piggledy visual trip from youth to adulthood (alongside the evidently gradual improvement of photographic devices), it is a literal matt to gloss trip from the 90s to the 00s and beyond with big chunks over or under represented.
I was struck by several things in these images, in most of the pics pre-kids, I look, well pretty hot actually, kinda like, maybe, I wanna snog her, hot. A lot of the time, (and perhaps these are the just the ones I chose to get printed), I am toned, quite athletic in some periods, my legs are up to my arm pits, my hair always sun kissed, and I am pretty much always happy, having fun, out and about. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I look pretty wild a lot of the time and am far from picture perfect (make-up skills back then simply are not what they are for the youth these days, over dose of Heather Shimmer anyone?), but I look healthy, fun, free.
What I am most definitely not, is fat.
But during these times, mostly I disapproved of my body, I always thought I was over weight, and what I see now as uniquely curvy, interesting and defining features, I thought were an ‘issue’, something to hide, get rid of, sometimes cover-up but ultimately to ‘lose’. I had a disproportionate number of petite friends with washboard stomachs and beautifully feminine shoulders and necklines, and I constantly felt huge sizing up next to them. In hindsight, I see this was a ridiculous thing to do; I was, and still am, broad shouldered, quite muscly and have always been strong, favouring more ‘traditionally masculine’ sports; I swam butterfly, got mega into boxing and have always loved circuits and those types of intense classes, looking back, I can see that in the progression and development of my body into my late 20s, (we’ll skip over the early-podgy-uni-alcopop days, we all had them, and luckily they weren’t too lingering by the looks of things). I’ve never carried much weight on my legs or bum, but have always had a ‘thing happening around the middle and hips, stuff just gathers there (and when I say stuff I mean custard and Freddo Frogs), but comparing myself to entirely different body shape was of course a pointless exercise.
I was not fat. I see that now.
In short I now see how utterly bizarre the relationship with my body, and many others around me was. It was the Kate Moss era, the birth of the size zero, the ever-shrinking Spice Girls, and the dawn of ‘heroine chic’. It was pretty much normal to mess around with your body – puking, starving, taking laxatives, over exercising, bingeing, eating one food group, yo-yo dieting, or whatever the latest body-fuck-up was, and when I look back, it feels like there was always someone close-by doing something like that, it wasn’t unusual. Actually I’d say it was kinda normal. No one talked about it much, but many a campaign to get to ‘thin’ would be happening at any one point. Looking back at pictures in the haze of discovering the Body Positivity movement was quite strange for me, I can’t help but feel frustrated and sad for all the time I spent worrying, stressing and messing around with my body and for all the negative energy that was spent on thinking I was fat all the time. What an entirely pointless use of time.
Now don’t get me wrong as I unpick things here, obviously I’m not anti-weight loss, and post-kids this all becomes a bit of a different story, I’ll come on to that. I know from personal experience that losing weight and changing your body shape can have a wonderful effect on health, physically and mentally, I guess it’s understanding more about the reasons behind it and where it’s coming from, the context of the goal you’re setting that matters – trying to become another body shape that is outside of your own physical parameters for example, is simply ludicrous behaviour and often this a goal built into the subconscious even if we don’t acknowledge it and that’s the problem. I will never have a narrower set shoulders, longer torso, a longer neck (god damn it!).
These subconscious goals and pressures are of course nothing new and despite an increase in diversity of body types presented in the media, it’s certainly not something that died out with my generation, if anything it’s on steroids now as the intensity of growing-up under the spotlight of social media brings its own unique pressures for teens. I do worry about this a lot having a daughter, a son also, but this is more prevalent in girls, and I have already started to make a conscious effort to be body positive in front of her, to not say negative things about my own body and to leave them both at home when I am going to H&M (due to regular cursing, and ‘woe-is-me’ moments in the changing rooms and ‘ do they make their sizes for actual children’ flip-outs. Also so I can just shop in peace). I talk to them both about beauty – with the little one, she loves to do my make-up and parade around like a pop-star (I may have allowed her to watch way too many Taylor Swift videos on You Tube), and she often equates things she likes to beauty. I try and talk to her about what makes something beautiful and expand her vision of what this means. She’s only 3, but it starts right here, this is where the coding and programming happens, every word, glance, gesture matters and I’m very aware of that. Sometimes she’ll put her head on my tummy and say it’s a squishy pillow and I’ll tell her it’s a very clever tummy because it used to be her house and it’s comfier to live in a house that’s soft and squishy.
I’m probably not really allowed to say that I have a ‘post-baby body’ anymore, given that it’s been almost 7 years since my first pregnancy. In which case, according to the world, there is really no reason why I shouldn’t have popped back into shape by now, it’s a hell of long time to get your body shit together. Even if there was another pregnancy somewhere in the middle, 7 years is ample time to sort yourself out, get back into those jeans everyone brags about and be able to walk into any kind of retailer that sells ‘cool’ clothes without feeling like an actual elephant. Right?
Easier said than done innit?
I never really did any ‘popping back’ after child-rearing. Aside from popping back to Waitrose for more Gin. But there was certainly not the jean popping back in.
So I’m back to where we started, I still feel like I am fat. Like in my youth. Except now photographic evidence suggests that I actually am. I don’t look at photos in the same way as I look a the ones pre-kids and if I’m honest, I’m incredibly disappointed by how I haven’t got back anywhere near to the body I had before the kids. As soon as I saw that line of joy on the pregnancy test, I did accept very early on that bodily things were about to change forever, I’m not vain or naive enough to think they wouldn’t and I really don’t mind a few mum-scars; they are of course, more than worth it. But I did hope things wouldn’t change quite as much as they have. It’s certainly not for want of trying either – I don’t know any other mum who has exercised as much as me post-babies, I went to every ruddy class, walked up every hill, breast-fed them both like a dairy cow, and even stopped eating custard and Freddos (for at least a couple of weeks). I even had a bloody abdominoplasty for gods sake after half my stomach continued to protrude out from my belly button two years after our second was born (sorry, I know it’s gross, but it really was). Post kids, everything kind of just seems to have slowed down, gone south and nothing really came back up for air again.
Which brings me to where I am today, stuck in that mind-set which body positive activists would call an epidemic; the continual feeling like of trying to get somewhere with my body, feeling like the ‘before picture’. There is a vision, but it’s not one of reality, that ship sailed out long ago on a slippery placenta. I know I can still change some things, but there’s absolutely no going back to the pre-kids me, and that’s something I need to work harder on being at peace with.
As the #bopo movement has spread, ‘insta-mums’ have also started to share pics of their real mum-bods and encourage others to do the same. This is a wonderful, beautiful thing and I hi-5 each and every last one of them. It’s a refreshing antidote to the ‘back to jeans baby body’ that’s dominated headlines and magazines over the past few years becoming the subconscious, or conscious goal for so many mothers. My problem I though, I look at all these images thinking how lean and goddamn hot they look in comparison to me! I still can’t look at them without finding something awful to cross-compare about myself to! Which is perhaps this a key outtake of this ponder, it’s impossible, or at least for me anyway, to get any true perspective on how I actually look until I reach a higher level of positive acceptance, or enlightened feeling of Body Positivity. Hmmmmm.
I realise this probably isn’t how this post should end. This post should end with me launching into a paragraph about how I’ve fully embraced the revolution, how I can see now that the media shows us only one singular way of being, equating a physical shape to happiness and fulfilment, pushing women on this constant mission for a size, a number, a gap in our thighs or whatever the latest thing is. This post should end with me saying a big screw you to all that kind of bull shit. It should probably end with a smiley picture of me in a swim suit doing a fist pump.
There is no picture of me in a swim suit doing a fist pump.
Actually. Not sorry.
I can’t yet put to bed that niggling voice saying: I promise I will do that when I lose a stone. Yep, I will absolutely, 100% do all of that when I’m a stone lighter. Definitely. I will! Just that one stone, a few more crunches and I’ll be there. I will so bloody be there, swimsuit and all. Hashtag body positivity! Woohoo! Not even one filter. Not even a one-piece! A two-piece! It’s only a stone, I’m not that old, I’m fit! Come on, should be able to whip that off pretty quickly. Ok good plan, let’s go with that. I’ll do it then. 100%. I’m in. Just not right now.
SO I am sorry you lovely, beautiful BoPo ladies, I feel I have failed you because your whole point is that when you get that stone off, you just move onto the next thing that needs ‘fixing’. It’s the essence of what you’re saying, that we don’t allow ourselves to say, ‘I’m ok now’, but that there is always an ‘after’ to strive for.
To end on a more positive note however, one thing I have got out of this #bopo deep dive is that I’ve replaced a lot of the people I follow from the #fitspo universe, with #Bopo influencers, (it was hard to write that without laughing and feeling like being in some sort of Black Mirror parody skit), and I can confirm it’s had an instant uplift in my feelings and mental health and generally has made me feel much better about myself. (I also started following more cat accounts which had a similar effect). I would recommend thinking carefully about who you follow on Instagram, if you use it a lot. We mindlessly scroll content that infiltrates our minds every day, regularly, so we should put thought into what we want that content to be, and the impact we want it to have on us.
I will keep trucking with being part of the Body Positivity movement and supporting and cheering those on it, and whilst I know it may seem that I have ended on a bit of a bum note by failing to reach full enligh-tum-ent yet, (I may not have abs, but by god can I bust out a pun when you need one), but it has made me stop, think and if nothing else simply calm the fuck down a bit about all this body shiz.
I would love to hear your thoughts and if you’d like to not see me in bikini then you can follow me on Instagram here @emmaworrollo