Trigger warning: body image and diet culture.
I don’t really talk about body positivity much. It’s because I’m of a generation where I have a lot of unlearning to do. Also, I’m bored with it. I know that’s very privileged but I’m kind of jack of seeing these rad, beautiful bodies with these captions that point out all the perceived ‘flaws’ followed by how the poster is ’embracing’ them. Just once I want to see a not thin woman post a bikini pic without pointing out that she doesn’t look like a supermodel. I’ve posted one bikini shot ever on Instagram about 3 years ago and the whole caption was about how I struggle with my weight and body perception. Why couldn’t I have just posted the damn photo and said something like ‘Holidays bitches!!! #blessed #youwishyouwerehere’ instead? Why did my more visible than usual body on the beach require an explanation? To people who weren’t even there? Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to be done around body acceptance and even more work to be done around fat stigma but maybe a good place to start is by ceasing to explain our bodies away and just let them exist? Maybe?
Before anyone tries to cancel me, I have no fully formed thoughts about body positivity or diet culture. It’s all awful and heavily tainted with my own experiences. I love the theory of body positivity but the practice of it escapes me. I spend a lot of time fighting with my body. I struggle. I struggle with trying so hard and looking like I don’t try hard at all. I struggle with the concept that I will never, ever be a size 10 no matter how hard I try… and believe me, I’ve tried. I do genuinely love my body but I do wish I didn’t have to be quite so good to it. It’s extremely finicky. Like an overpriced, fussy Persian cat who hates everyone. I also struggle with my privilege. I’m by no means thin but I do (currently) have straight size privilege. I can go into regular shops and most of the largest sized clothes will fit me. I don’t have to worry about (most) chairs supporting my weight and people aren’t visibly annoyed when they get seated next to me on planes. However, I also struggle with other people’s privilege. Like people who were a size 10 their whole lives without even trying and then gain ten kilos when they turn 30 because their metabolism conks out on them and are now (shock horror!) a size 14 and they’re all of a sudden ‘fat’ for the first time in their lives. I truly don’t want to invalidate anyone’s feelings but unless you’ve said no to a Tim Tam when you’re 11 years old because the largest size uniform at your school already doesn’t fit you, I’d say you’ve had it pretty good.
I’ve been close to a size 20 in the past and it’s not fun. Especially as a teenager when I was at my heaviest. Going shopping with friends was a nightmare. They’d all go into the popular jeans shops and try on these teeny-tiny clothes and I’d just stand there waiting for them, knowing that not so much as an oversized t-shirt would fit me. I grew up choosing clothes that were ‘flattering’. Not clothes I liked, clothes that made me look the thinnest I could possibly look. My legs were sunburnt to a crisp before my year 12 formal because I read that a tan makes your limbs look thinner. The thought of eating bread, rice or noodles has horrified me since 1999 and horrifies me to this day. I was The Duff in high school. Literally, no one worried about me stealing their boyfriends because it just wouldn’t have happened. I’ve spent a lifetime being told directly and indirectly that my body in its natural state isn’t good enough and I have to try to change it. I’ve also been consistently rewarded both directly and indirectly when I have managed to change it.
It’s a lot to unpack and a lot to unlearn.
I’m not equipped to talk about body positivity or diet culture because I suck at the former and I’m still deeply embroiled in the latter. I’m okay with this. It’s a work in progress.
That’s what Poductivity is all about. Finding problems that are blocking us from progress and learning how to set fire to them. So we can spend our mental energy on more important things. Like literally anything else.
This week’s guest is Jennifer Atilemile, she’s an Australian model who is now based in New York and has just been signed with a major lingerie brand (can you guess which one? It’s revealed a bit later in the show!) as one of their first size-inclusive models. To be honest, when her publicist first sent me her press release I didn’t really get too excited about her – not in a mean way, I just wasn’t particularly jazzed to interview a model for no particular reason. Then I checked out her Instagram (@jenniferatilemile) and I realised she’s freaking ace. She’s an inclusion activist for people of colour, mental health stigma and body positivity (although in this interview she does explain why that term is problematic).
In this episode we chat about finding your path, the pressure to look a certain way, what it’s like living in New York and being vocal about what you believe in even when it might cost you your career.
I’ve been consciously trying to follow people who don’t make me feel like garbage on Instagram (like @meg.boggs and @sofiehagandk) and Jennifer’s Instagram is fast becoming one of my good and safe places on the web. (The web? What is it 1992?).
I was going to sound like a condescending twit and say I wish I was as smart as Jennifer was when I was in my early 20s but honestly, I wish I was as smart as her now.
In this episode, we talk about
- The pressure to conform
- How to walk away when something isn’t serving you
- Showing up as yourself and not apologising for it
- Taking that leap of faith
- The dangers of cancel culture and how it can stop people from learning and growing
- Supporting people/companies who were/are late to the party on inclusion
- Her magic morning combo of F45 and croissants
If you want an honest, open chat about body non-conformity and a whole bunch of other important stuff, this episode is for you.
The best bits from Jennifer?
‘I hate all of the terminology in modelling – plus-sized, straight-sized, curve model – it’s all awful.’
‘I thought I couldn’t be pretty and smart or pretty and opinionated – I had these outdated ideas of what a model should be.’
‘When you put your heart and soul into something and you don’t see immediate results, it can be really disheartening.’
‘I can’t stand cancel culture. I think it stops us from learning and growing.’
‘Flattering is a very problematic term.’
‘I have people say to me – if you’re plus size that what does that make me? – and I don’t ever want anyone to feel that way about anything I do.‘
‘When I first started modelling I was like – I’m a plus-sized model I can eat whatever I want! – that’s a lie.’
Want more from Jennifer?
You can find her on Instagram @jenniferatilemile
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