Your body is your own temple
New year new… self-love?
As a new year begins, many of us make resolutions. I’m going to do more of this, less of that. Some resolutions are related to our bodies. Related to what we don’t like about them and to what we really want to change.
Monica Martins chats with body positivity and body image advocate, Danni Gordon, and with Intuitive Eating Coach and Body Positive Yoga Teacher, Gillian McCollum, about eating, body, and why if you have any new year resolutions about change related to your body, those should be loving your body more.
- Gillian, can you explain what intuitive eating is about?
Intuitive Eating is defined as a flexible style of eating in which you learn to reconnect with and trust your body’s internal sensations of hunger and satiety to gauge when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat. It’s a process of rejecting the rigid, prescribed ways of eating taught to us by diet culture and fostering kindness and compassion to reduce feelings of guilt and ethical dilemma around your food choices. Intuitive eaters enjoy a wide variety of satisfying foods and move their bodies for pleasure, not to compensate for food.
- So, you are not a diet-health practitioner, correct? What is the exact difference between that and what you do?
The conventional weight-normative approach to health is very weight centric, believing weight loss and weight control is key to good health. This approach often outsources eating behaviour to diets and meal plans, stripping us of confidence and eroding trust in ourselves to internally regulate our behaviour.
I’m a non-diet health practitioner and work under the Health At Every Size (HAES) model of care.
HAES is a weight-inclusive movement that supports people of all sizes in addressing health directly by adopting healthy behaviors rather than focusing on weight.
- Danni, what does exactly a body positivity and body image advocate do?
Hiya! Well really, we come in all forms and what is good to know is… Everyone can be a Body Positive Advocate! The Body Positive Movement is a political movement which fights for the respect and acceptance of all bodies. Specifically, focusing on bodies which are most marginalised in our society such as; larger bodies, older bodies, people with disfigurements, people who sit out-with the gender binary, disabled bodies and people of color.
I, perhaps, go that one step further than most because I started The Chachi Power Project in 2017 and as part of the project I hold events, give talks and blog about how we can fight against things like fatphobia or how we can achieve a bit more equality in society.
Really everyone gets to be a part of the Movement and an advocate for it, if they want to be. If you do, it just means you have to recognise the very real social inequalities and take small or large actions (however much you feel comfortable) to undo them. Sometimes that could be making sure your event has accessibility requirements for all people who might attend and sometimes that’s telling your grandma not to fat-shame your auntie Jo anymore.
I also blog and do a lot on social media focusing on how we can undo the internal criticism a lot of us have for our own bodies. I believe the toxic pressure which comes from external messaging has now been firmly internalised by a lot of us and we all give ourselves far too much of a hard time. So, I also talk about ways we can undo that messaging and learn how to be more forgiving, kinder and more connected to our own bodies.
- And how can you help people who wish to work with you?
In a huge variety of ways really. I started The Chachi Power Project in 2017 and have given talks and workshops in offices and in schools and at wellbeing events. I tend to discuss with the event organisers what specific topics relating to body image might be useful to the people in attendance and work the content around that. I also run independent workshops every so often collaborating with people I respect which focus on Body Image and Self Care. In the past I have run a couple of retreats and I’m thinking of running another in 2020 if people wanted to come along. The best thing to do is get in touch with me and we can chat over email, a coffee or Skype about what your needs are and come up with a plan of action!
- And you, Gillian, can you let us know how can you help people who wish to work with you?
I help women overcome binge eating and emotional eating, bringing them back to a state of peace and sanity around food and weight. I do this through my one-to-one private coaching programme, which is available worldwide by video or phone.
- Was there something that happened in your lives, that made you both take this professional path?
Gillian: For almost all of my 20s and 30s, I was a chronic yo-yo dieter, binge eater, and overeater. I used dieting as a proxy to health and as a way of controlling an increasingly stressful corporate job. Discovering yoga led me on a path of body acceptance and quitting dieting allowed me to pursue health on my own terms. These seemingly small changes actually transformed my whole life and now I have the pleasure of helping others find their path to food and body freedom.
Danni: I suffered from terrible body image from about the age of 8 till I did a few very helpful self-development courses in 2016 in London when I was 33. The problem was that I never knew my body image was so bad because everyone around me was exactly the same since negative body image has become so normalised in society. I only noticed how much it affected every aspect of my life like my relationships, my confidence, my work life and my self-esteem when I came out the other side and discovered that I didn’t have to feel that way anymore. It was the most refreshing and life changing epiphany I’ve ever had and has affected a huge amount of my life. Then in 2017 I started The Chachi Power Project because I knew that if I have had this change in attitude then perhaps, I can help other people do it too.
- Now, Danni, I know that body image is something that young people, especially girls and women, struggle a lot with. In your opinion, what are the main factors that contribute to this?
The message about what is a ‘correct’ or a ‘good’ body is everywhere. The noise about how we ‘should be’ is deafening and comes in the form of advertising, film and TV. Diet culture pervades every conversation we have including how we bond as a gender. When you start to recognise it, you will notice the focus on bodies is everywhere, and now that I am three years into my project, I realise that protecting ourselves and our children against it can seem like a full-time job.
Really it’s down to patriarchal beauty standards working hand in hand with capitalism and it’s a bunch of people up high, behind the scenes, telling us we will only be happy if we look a certain way and if we buy their ‘stuff’ to achieve that very unattainable body. It’s exhausting for all of us but those people up-high like it when we are battered into submission because we become weak, suggestible, puppet-like and desperate.
- And what do you think that governments and the media for example, could do about this?
The Government need to start protecting us and our children from that messaging. We need toeducate those who work with children (and parents) about media literacy and the dangers of diet culture so they improve their language around our young people.
We need to make sure body diversity is top of the agenda in advertising campaigns so we can start to normalise all the bodies we see on screens and in media so that they match up with the bodies we see in everyday life. This well help to normalise what we are ‘allowed’ to be, as well as reduce the stigmatisation that fat people, disabled people and people of color experience constantly.
Currently the fundamental (and toxic) message is: ‘no matter what you look like you need to improve and keep improving to an unreachable goal’ and when people consistently hear that message, they consistently beat themselves up. It makes people give up on themselves, it disassociates them from their body and their body’s needs and causes a breakdown in mental and physical wellbeing. People are in a perpetual state of feeling guilty and like they aren’t doing well enough. They have a messed-up relationship to their body and food and they constantly punish themselves and their bodies in a myriad of ways because they think they are a failure.
If we flip the messaging to: ‘you are allowed to exist just as you are, you are allowed to like your body, perhaps even love your body (!) regardless of how it looks and how it works.’Then people do start being kinder to themselves and other people with different body types. They reconnect with their body; they start listening to their body and both their mental and physical wellbeing improves. This change in attitude has a knock-on affect to so many aspects of their life that they may never have foreseen, but it is powerful, and it is possible.
- In your experience, have you ever been approached by members of public sector organisations or even the media, to help them to tackle this issue?
Gillian: I’m sometimes asked by media to comment on Intuitive Eating and anti-diet wellness, mainly as a counter argument to the mainstream weight-normative approach of weight = health. Especially in January when dieting is rife!
Danni: Yes. I’ve been asked to speak on the Kaye Adams BBC Scotland radio show to discuss body image and I was invited on BBC Scotland’s The Nine News programme to discuss the impact of Barbie on our nations young people. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority asked me to speak at Scottish Parliament about the media’s impact on our collective body image and I’ve also given evidence in Scottish Parliament about body image issues which might prevent young girls from participating in sport at school age. I’ve featured in a number of newspaper and magazine articles giving my perspective on various issues stemming from the Body Positive Movement including fertility, male body image, self-love, disordered eating, body confidence, body hair and self-care. I’ve also been grateful to have been interviewed on a number of podcasts which has spurred me on to creating my own podcast in 2020!
- And what brought you to work together, and what do you do?
Gillian: I was asked to join Danni for a couple of her recent Intuitive Eating dinners in 2019 in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where we would bring like-minded folks together to explore a non-diet approach to food and body. Danni will be collaborating with me in March for my first workshop and will be joining me to record some new material for my coaching programme.
- How can we find more about what both of you do?
- Just to finalise, what message would you like to send our readers, as we just started a new year and at this time, it’s normal for people to have lists of new year resolutions?
Gillian: By the time most women come to me they claim they’ve ‘tried it all’ but truly they’ve only ever tried dieting (in its many different forms) in an attempt to feel in control around food and happy with their body. I’d like people to know that there is an alternative approach to pursuing physical health and mental wellbeing which doesn’t involve achieving a specific weight and body outcome.
Danni: Here is what I want to say/ ask every single one of your readers: Hey beautiful, how are you? Are you ok? How do you feel? Do you feel at peace? Are you connected to your own needs? Are you connected to your body’s needs? If not, then what do you think might rekindle that connection? Perhaps meditation, perhaps intuitive eating, perhaps re-assess the New Year’s Resolutions you probably have in place already (does hitting the gym at 5am 5 times a week sound familiar?) and maybe see if there is another way to bring your mind and your body joy and energy. To move it and nourish it without punishing it and yourself.
And mainly… if any of this interview with me and Gillian resonates with you then why not dip your toe into the world of Body Positivity. Follow us online and we will introduce you to some interesting people, interesting concepts and as cheesy as it sounds we might be able to set you on a different ‘body beautiful’ path, the one you never foresaw, or ever realised you needed. But it’s a new one, and a happier one. We promise.
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