Please note: Original, and condensed, piece was printed in The Sunday Post on Sunday 27th January 2019.
Q: Was body image and pressure to look a certain way ever something you struggled with in the past?
A: I struggled with general body dissatisfaction from about the age of 8 to the age of 33. Pretty much my whole adolescent and adult life to date.
I have always been bigger than average and due to living in a culture which demonises 'fat', I had always thought my body was wrong, or bad, or ugly. There is an external pressure which all of us, especially women, deal with every day but for me that external voice became internalised very early on and the demons became the voices inside my own head. Those voices were amplified when I heard insults or when I talked with people about how we hated parts of, or our whole body or when I would actively compare myself with other 'better' bodies.
I lived with daily low level anxiety about my body and the fear of what others thought about it, and in turn, what they thought about me as a person because of my body. It really affected a huge amount of my life.
Q: Why did you start your project?
A: The Chachi Power Project actually turns two this week! I started it in Jan 2017 because I had recently had a change of perspective about my own body and I wanted to organise an event which might help my friends and colleagues feel happier in their bodies.
I thought it would be a project I'd do for a few months between jobs but now I've turned it into a business and do workshops and talks and events all over Scotland. It's the best thing I've ever created. Not only has it helped and educated others but being immersed in the body confidence and Body Positive world has helped my own new mindset solidify greatly.
Q: Are you shocked or surprised by the figures in the survey?
"72% of women said how they feel about their bodies will affect whether they feel happy or sad"
A: This figure doesn't surprise me in the slightest. I commend the 28% who move independently from this pressure. That could be because they have grown up in a very nurturing non body negative environment (rare considering the daily negativity that exists but there are reports that say the biggest influence on body image is from our parents mainly and then peers and then external pressure) or they have worked hard to educate themselves and unlearn the inherent negativity in our culture. If you catch me after certain workshops I run I'd say I'm surprised that figure of 72% isn't higher.
"39% of those surveyed have negative thoughts about their bodies every single day"
Up until I was 33 this was my experience every day, multiple times a day. Again I'm not surprised and in some circles I'm surprised this number isn't higher. It also breaks my heart to even write that.
"More than a third cancelled plans because of how they felt about their bodies"
Again, I'm not surprised to hear this. I've been there. I've said no to eating out with friends or a partner because I was on a diet because I hated my body. I've been crying when trying on outfits because nothing looked good on me and ended up cancelling going somewhere. I despair at the moments and memories I have missed out on.
(Personal note on self belief: Now I could turn up in a bin bag and everyone would be so lucky I was in the room. What a change of thinking eh?)
"91% feel social media puts pressure on women to look a certain way"
Definitely. But only if you are following the wrong people...
Q: Do you think it’s a particularly modern problem? Or have women always worried about their bodies?
A: It's natural human behaviour to compare and compete with others so I presume we have always been comparative and perhaps envious to some degree but when you research further into gender norms and behaviour it gets sinister.
The fact is (as much as I hate it and I'm fighting to undo this) that in our culture a woman's success is measured by her beauty and a man's success is measured by his power. Now couple those gender norms with capitalism fuelling diet culture and warping beauty standards to the extreme.
Heap on pervasive media and advertising and then put social media which is specially designed to encourage addictive behaviour in the palm of everyone's hand and we have a recipe for disaster.
And that disaster is almost global negative body image.
Q: 1/3 said they felt less body positive as they get older – is this something you noticed or has working to campaign for body positivity helped?
A: One thing to note here is the way the terms 'Body Confidence' and 'Body Positivity' get mixed up: Body Confidence is how a person feels about their body and Body Positive, or Body Positivity is the term used to describe how all bodies have a right to exist and be treated equally irrespective of disability, size, shape, gender, colour, age or health status.
Now the Body Positive Movement does encourage individuals to have a more affirming attitude towards their own bodies but in the main, it is fighting for the respect and acceptance of all bodies. The terms get intermingled easily but I just thought it would be good to clarify...
A lot of people say that the conclusions I have come to about my body are something which would've come naturally with age. We apparently learn to care less as we age and become more comfortable in our skin. But then I've spoken to a lot of people whose bodies have changed due to giving birth or Menopause or other things and they struggle massively with the very natural alterations humans go through. Personally I know I would've continued on my anxious path for a lot of my life had I not had a shake and made a commitment to change my mindset.
I've also run focus groups with women in their 60's and 70's and the feeling of dissatisfaction is very real with the majority. It goes to show how pervasive this idea of what our bodies 'should be', is.
Q: What advice would you give to the 72% of women who say they feel sad or unhappy because of their body?
A: First I would say: the way you feel about your body is very common, and mainly, it's not your fault. Learn about The Beauty Myth, read about Capitalism and how it has fuelled beauty ideals, educate yourself about fatphobia and how it affects all of us. But if you want a few easy steps to kick all this off: unfollow the people who make you feel 'less than' on social media. Follow true Body Positive accounts (including me: @chachipowerproject) instead.
And the thing which has rewired my brain: stop saying negative things about your own or anyone else's body out loud. I promise this will be the single biggest impact you can make on a journey to being happier in your own skin. It doesn't stop the thoughts from popping into your brain initially but without giving those thoughts fuel (as well as not allowing your negativity to affect the people, especially young ears, around you) then you will start to change the way you think. Stop giving negativity extra fuel. Stop stop stop.
If you'd like to find more about The Chachi Power Project then visit the website or follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.