Hood Magazine April 2019 Issue: Wellness Credit: @hoodmagazine_ Instagram
An abridged version of this interview was first seen in Hood Magazine's April 2019 Edition. Find out more about Hood Magazine and where you can pick up a copy here.
What was your aim in setting up The Chachi Power Project, and why did you think it was necessary?
In truth I always thought The Chachi Power Project would be a stop-gap between jobs. I was made redundant from a job I loved in Dec 2016 because the company was struggling a bit. I had been doing a self development course down in London and the next undertaking was to be a ‘Project which was to positively affect a community in your life and culminate in an event of some sort’. I'm the sort of person who relishes stuff like that so I thought: Great! This will keep me occupied till I find a new job!
Since I’d had a recent change of mindset towards my body I decided to start a body confidence project. “It’ll last about 4 months, I'll hold an event, I'll raise some money for charity, I'll help a few of my friends be happier about their bodies and then I'll get a job. And wouldn't that look good on my CV (Look how resourceful Danielle is with her time)?”
But as we all know... things don't always go as planned. Which isn't always a bad thing...
How has the project been received?
The project was so well received and I'd unknowingly ignited a hard-to-dampen passion which I'd never really had in relation to a ‘career' before.
I held my big event: 'Chachi Live: The Power of Loving Your Body' in May 2017 and the feedback was unbelievably positive. I started to receive messages from online followers and people who had come to the event and they were heart-warming outpourings of love, desperation, confusion, sadness, joy and mainly: need.
It was clear people needed something. I'm not such an ego-maniac to say they needed me, but there was definitely a need for something new: a new way to think about themselves, a new way to talk about and relate to their bodies, a new way for us to think about all bodies.
I sat there thinking: "I don't want to stop doing this" so I didn't and by August 2017 I was registered as a Sole Trader and The Chachi Power Project was my full time gig. And it is the best thing I have ever created.
Have you struggled with body confidence previously? If so, how did you change that? And if not, where does your confidence stem from?
Until I was about 33 I had terrible body image. The daily voices in my head would tell me that strangers in the street knew I was disgusting because I was fat which obviously meant they thought I was lazy and worthless. I now realise that voice affected so much of my life. The choices I made, my confidence, the way I let people treat me, the relationships I had and the way I treated myself, it even warped what I saw when I looked in the mirror.
But only now I do I realise that’s so normal. Loads of people experience that crappy voice to varying degrees. And it affects so much of our lives. When you think about the time and energy you have spent obsessing about your body or the way you look or how you are perceived by others… well you probably could’ve built a multinational company in that time or grown a garden or gone on 1400 dates (which you were too scared to go on).
I didn’t recognise how loud that voice was until I did the first part of that self development course down in London (Landmark) and it helped me disappear that voice in 2 weekends.
One: It made me release that my life is made up of: the things I do and say, how I interact, who I meet and what I create. In other words, and weirdly this came as a shock to me, I realised that my life is not my body, my body is just an incredible tool for me to live my life.
Two: Taking on (or making up) what other people think is futile and unimportant. They have their perspective because of their education and experiences. And so that perspective has got nothing to do with me. So whatever they think, unless they say it out loud, I don’t have to deal with. And when they do say it out loud, it’s still their perspective and that’s coloured by all the toxic racist, fatphobic, insecurity driven crap in our society that they have had to deal with as they grew up. Even when I do know what they are thinking I still get to decide whether their perspective matters to me.
Properly recognising those two things was a lightbulb moment for me. I was looking in the mirror at my aunts house and thinking: “Wow, I have been so tough on you (my body) for so many years and you are the greatest thing I have ever been given.” It was like a 10 tonne weight lifted off my shoulders. It was a release: I didn’t have to think crappy thoughts about myself anymore.
Why do you think women still struggle so much with body confidence?
One thing I realised when I started the project is… it’s not my fault that I had been thinking that way about my body.
I had been surrounded by a homogenised beauty ideal since I was born. I had realised from about 5 years old that women and girls have to be ‘beautiful’. And that means being thin, small, white, able bodied, big boobed, clear skinned, reserved, polite, straight haired and smiley.
That if we aren’t those things then we don’t get picked.
And while I was a few of those things I didn’t match up enough and I probably wouldn’t ever. So it didn’t take long for my self esteem to plummet and for me to give up on this body which was never going to be good enough.
So when I started this body confidence project and created an account online for it I fell into the world of Body Positivity. And in truth I had no idea what Body Positivity really was.
Body Confidence and Body Positivity are not the same thing. Body confidence is how confident you feel about your own body and Body Positivity is a political movement which fights for the acceptance and respect of all bodies. It is a Movement which will educate you on the various intersections of how different bodies are oppressed in our society: whether you are female or fat or black or disabled or old or all of those things. And it helps you recognise what causes those oppressions: whether it’s capitalist fuelled diet culture, patriarchal beauty standards, fatphobia, racism, abelism, ageism, sexism… etc.
It is not our fault that we feel this way about our bodies. But it is our responsibility to undo that toxic messaging which we have been fed our whole lives. Well.. that’s if you want to be happier in your own skin which I’m sure most people want to be.
How new/ old an issue do you think this is and what are its root causes?
This isn’t a new issue. Our brilliantly evolved brains have had us competing with other’s for thousands of years to help keep us ahead of the pack. Our brains are attuned to negatives because that sort of thinking helped us survive. But because of this technically progressive society we currently live in our brains were never meant to deal with the level of information overload that we currently do.
We aren’t supposed to be comparing ourselves to people across the world and we should be focussing on negatives like steering clear of sabre toothed tigers, not how big my arse is in that new dress.
Our non-life threatening negatives (like how we look and what people think of us) have started becoming our main focus because our lives aren’t in peril every moment of every day.
Just recognising that alone can help you gain a bit of perspective and then you can tell your brain to “RELAX BUDDY”.
From your conversations with women, how big an impact do you think poor body confidence has on lives? Does it extend into impacting on what women will achieve, into their work lives or into their hobbies and personal lives? A number of the women I’ve spoken to this month (strong, successful, intelligent, professional women) admit they dread swimming. They won’t take their kids swimming and will always consider how they will look while doing certain activities before signing up for something. How commonplace do you think that is and how do grown women change their own body image?
People say body confidence isn’t that big a deal, we all live with it every day, it’s so normal.
But only till you don’t have it anymore, do you realise how that way of thinking affected EVERYTHING in your life. Lack of body confidence is a pervasive little bugger. It affects how we speak up, how capable we think we are, how we expect to be treated, how we present ourselves, how we use our time, how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.
It’s so common for issues to hold us back from playing sport, giving presentations, attending or speaking up at events. Even eating in front of others because we are concerned about being judged. It breaks my heart when people can’t take their kids swimming because they are paralysed with fear about how they might be perceived.
I think it would be good for people who have body image issues to take some time to recognise how much of a big deal it might be playing in their life… and then start doing something about it. And here are my top tips:
Practice some much needed self compassion. Start being kinder to yourself in the mirror. Use gentler words like soft or round or rippled rather than gross or ugly. Use affirmations if that is your bag: Shouting ‘You are Beautiful’ into the mirror every day seems ridiculous and futile but I tell you: your brain is squishy, it can re-mould and this is a great way to help it do that.
Start learning about the Body Positive Movement. Follow better people on-line. Unfollow the arseholes that inspire shame and comparisons. Get right in amongst the Movement and educate yourself. You are all welcome to be part of it.
Don’t buy the sucky mean magazine’s, don’t hang out with the toxic aunties, don’t let people talk about your body. Your energy and your body is sacred. Start treating it with respect and demand other’s treat it that way too.
Don’t be sucked into the diets that promise you happiness. Peace is better than happiness and diet’s are just another battle. Stop bringing more battles into your life. Look into ‘Intuitive Eating’ to get a better handle on your relationship to food.
And here is the golden nugget… if you do nothing else, heed these words: Stop saying negative stuff out loud about your own or anyone else’s body. Stop putting that energy out there, stop taking part in those shitty bonding conversations about how your cellulite is worse than your friends. Stop gaining a second of pleasure by badmouthing someone’s clothes or hair or body type. It’s just adding to the toxicity we already experience. This is the one act which is your sure-fire way to re-wire your brain.
That doesn’t just affect older women - You recently spoke at the Scottish Parliament about the way body image affects drop-out rates from girls in sport. Can you tell me a bit about that?
I was asked to be on a panel recently by the Young Women Lead Committee organised by the YWCA and Scottish Government to help understand why there are massive drop off rates of girls playing sport at school age.
The saddening evidence I collated is primarily to do with body image and self esteem issues connected to girls rapidly changing bodies throughout puberty and the culture of bullying, or threat of bullying, which takes place alongside it.
Also reported was the inordinate and perpetual pressure to be presentable and perfect thanks to social media and interestingly how diet and celebrity culture as well as social media has altered our idea of why we should take part in sport or fitness in the first place.
We’ve lost the idea that sport is about mental and physical wellness and team building and FUN and that’s been transplanted with ‘squats help my butt get bigger and burn off bad calories’. That sort of thinking means ‘sport’ moves very far away from 'fun'.
The young women in the committee are collating all of the findings and will be raising awareness amongst MSP’s and hopefully it will lead to something being put in place to tackle this drop-off.
How impactful do you think projects like yours, and others such as #Iweigh and #Effyourbeautystandards, are having in changing that conversation?
I think campaigns are great and people should follow them but I think it’s also important to vary your intake of information. That’s why I recommend the Instagram accounts that I have below.
Feed your brain with lots of positive messaging, diverse bodies and excellent voices within the movement and I swear it will change your life.
How close do you think we are to turning the tide?
I am stuck in my own wee bubble. It’s a shock to me nowadays when I hear people being mean about themselves or someone else’s body or when I hear people chat about diets. So I need to be careful not to take my foot off the gas. I have definitely impacted the people around me but I have to keep remembering that there are a lot of other people who need to hear this stuff.
Danni’s top Body Positive Personalities to follow online
Here's who you should follow!
First of all! Me! Danni Gordon: @chachipowerproject
Megan Jayne Crabbe: @bodyposipanda
Virgie Tovar: @virgietovar
Michelle Elman: @scarrednotscared
Stephanie Yeboah: @nerdabouttown
Imogen Fox: @the_feeding_of_the_fox
Dana Suchow: @danasuchow
Harnaam Kaur: @harnaamkaur
Chidera Eggerue: @theslumflower
Rebekah Taussig: @sitting_pretty
The Everyman Project: @theeverymanproject
Shoog McDaniel: @shooglet
If you'd like to know more or you'd like Danni to speak at your next event then send her an email here.