An Open Letter to Young People

Dear Lovelies, (and you are just that … lovely)

I’m writing this to you as a teacher, a friend, a body positive activist and as someone who has been a teenager (and a fully grown assed lady) with serious body issues. I want to talk to you about my experience, my history and my present in the hope that it may make some small difference, even if it’s to just one person.
Let me explain a little bit about me. My name is Gemma and from a very early age I was aware of my body. At the age of 6 I remember being told I was “too fat to…(insert activity here)”. I associated my weight with being “good” or “bad”. Thin = good. Fat = bad. I was over compensating for my parents’ divorce, thinking that if I was thin enough (good) everything would be ok. It wasn’t and I wasn’t ever going to be thin. I’m just not built that way.
Fast forward to age 10. I’m now attending Slimming World with my mum. This would then set in motion a life time of yo-yo dieting and a disordered relationship with food. Forever quantifying things as “good” and “bad” including my food, my weight, my clothes size, and so on. At secondary school I knew friends with eating disorders, but we never spoke about it and more importantly, we were never spoken to about it either. Now days, if we were at school, me and some of my friends would have had at least one or more conversations with the Safeguarding Lead in our school, and I wished we had. It might have made us see that between my yo-yo dieting and obsessive self-hatred and my friends’ need to starve and or purge, we were actually all suffering with bigger issues than just ‘FAT’.

DIETS! SCHMIETS!

Do you know why the diet industry is worth over £2 billion!?!? Because they do not work! All these new fangled get-thin systems are designed to make money. Think about it, if there was a miracle diet we’d all be doing it, we would all lose loads of weight and there would be no money to be made. Just let that thought linger… What do these companies gain from their products actually working? Nothing! The diet industry relies on repeat customers and those who have “fallen off the wagon” to come crawling back. And I just can’t help but be suspicious of the re-branding of Weight Watchers to WW either. This move has obviously come about from pressure from the Body Positive movement. The idea of watching someone’s weight, is in itself quite controlling and has serious negative connotations, but as the BBC states, “the Chief Executive was unable to explain what the letters WW stood for”. I can’t help but be somewhat cynical about the newly branded ‘WW’ claiming that they are focused on well-being and staying “relevant”. They are staying “relevant” because it serves their giant multi-million dollar business model. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they are changing to be more person-centric. I just want to point out here that I am not saying that “diets” and eating well do not work, because I have friends and family members that have successfully changed their lifestyle and lost weight as a result, but I do want you to be wary of these programmes. I learnt at a very early age the shame and fear of ‘weigh-in’ day, the “never mind try again next week” and the feeling that my life was ordered into these 7 day slots and what I subsequently chose to eat in those 7 days (whether I was a good girl or a bad girl). The pressure can be immense. So eat healthily, move your body, enjoy your body, but never fear your body. Do not feel that you need to give these people your money to ‘buy’ your dream, you have it in you to listen to your body and treat it as it needs to be treated. Educate yourself on nutrition and find exercise that suits you and most importantly, exercise that you enjoy doing. Also… the cynic in me wants everyone to watch this space to see what Slimming World’s next move is…

Celebrity Endorsements…hmmmm….

The endorsements by ‘celebrities’ of so called ‘weight-loss’ products such as teas, pills and powders are all designed to sell you false hope. They prey on your insecurities, in the hope that you will spend your hard earned cash, pocket or birthday money, just so you can ‘look’ like them. Be wary of anything that looks too good to be true… it probably is. Think about the Kardashians and the Jenners, they are worth billions. They have nutritionalists, trainers and surgeons on hand, not to mention the magic airbrushing in magazines (I’ll get to that later). My point is, my Sweet, Sweet Thing, you should not trust anything designed to turn you into a “better you” that means changing your appearance. That includes ‘cellulite creams’ and ‘gels’, surgery, scrubs, rubs, bleaches, suck-you-in pants etc. You might not believe it yet but you are already a pretty perfect version of you!

Alien Life-form

The danger we fall into, especially when we are younger, is that our body becomes alien to us. One minute we’re tearing around in nothing but a pair of wellies, without a single care in the world and then the next minute there’s… boobs, bumps, curves, hair, broadening of bits, hormones, mood, spots and on top of that… GCSEs!!! What maniac thought that one up? Let’s take young people at their most vulnerable and put them under immense pressure! This is why you need to give yourself a break from the body hate, the fear of shaming, of shaming others or of making constant comparisons. I bet you cast your eyes across the room, playground, school field or worse, social media, with ‘Terminator’ like vision. Scanning and evaluating other bodies, thinking up all the reasons why everyone is better than you, damning words appearing in your vision in luminous red letters. You may even hit on a target that you deem “unattractive” or “fat” and that might make you want to shame or judge. But Hey! this ‘terminator’ like vision can be switched off or at least rewired, perhaps by viewing all bodies as beautiful, including your own? Don’t shoot down the compliments with your self-protective laser beam, take them on board like a boost of power.

Social media is the devil… But it doesn’t have to be…

Words like ‘Body Dysmorphia’ didn’t exist when I was at school, it was perfectly ok to call someone “FATTY” or “Skinny bitch”. But also the internet was in its fledgling state. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat weren’t even a figment of someone’s imagination. We now have to face a whole new world of challenges from seeing all the “thinsperation”, “before and afters”, celebs posing at home looking flawless, the bloody sponsored weight-loss posts (teas) etc. Incidentally, “thinsperation” makes me so furious it makes me want to peel my own face off. Change your feed, follow more positive hashtags #bodypositive #bopo #healthateverysize #I_weigh (Jameela Jamil’s campaign to “see how amazing we are beyond flesh and bones”) etc. Get on board with seeing different bodies (i’ll pop up some people to follow at the end of this section). But most of all STOP making comparisons. Most people use Instagram as a showcase for their best pictures and often these are overwhelmingly filtered. Check out Rankin’s “Selfie-harm” series of photos. It’s frightening and fascinating.

People to follow: the Militant Baker, Jameela Jamil, aBearNamedTroy, Winnie Harlow, Ashley Graham, Elspethfit, fattyboomtatty, bodiposipanda, Khrystyana… there are loads, I could go on forever!

It must be exhausting having to constantly be in your own head, scratch that… I KNOW it is exhausting being inside your own head. But social media shouldn’t be what defines you or rules your life. You are more than just a pretty picture. Don’t get me wrong… I bloody love a selfie, but I do it for me not for anyone else. And remember any cruel words that might be said, on-line, to you, are not real, they are said by insecure people hiding behind their computer screens. Their words say a hell of a lot more about them than they do you.

Shameless ‘Selfie’ taker regardless of whether I look a million bucks or rough as!

Airbrushing in magazines and blatant body shaming from, what I like to refer to as, “Trash Mags” is rife. There is continual, conflicting and confusing advice from magazines telling you to be ‘body proud’ and then advertising the latest diet or pointing out what dress size Gemma Collins is this month. Or worse, having blatantly photoshopped images of already stunning models, making us crave an unobtainable ideal. It’s not real. But YOU are! And you are bloody fantastic. You are a bloody miracle!

Talk about something else… Anything else!

Do me a favour, “Dear Heart”, one day, with some friends, ban all talk of food, diets and body image and compliment each other, tell each other why you love them, what they are good at and the best bits of their personality. Ban all talk of being “good” or “bad”/ “fat” or “thin”. Talk about books, plan adventures, watch a film, laugh, cry, be silly, have a pillow fight, dance, sing, play fight, draw, create, pose, prance, but for heaven’s sake please, PLEASE realise your worth.

The scales DO NOT define you.

The size on the label in your clothes DOES NOT define you.

The amount of followers on Instagram DOES NOT define you.

The likes on a tweet or Facebook post DO NOT define you.

Whether you had a salad for lunch or not DOES NOT define you.

The cruel words someone once said (that maybe still rings in your ears) DOES NOT define you.

You are YOU and you are stronger than you think and more loved than you know.

Be safe out there Lovelies, and that means protecting yourselves from those Big Bad Wolves. Never face anything alone and promise me, not me now but my teenage “me” and her friends, that you’ll be kind, always, and if you ever need it …. Ask for help.

With all the love and Body Positivity that I can spread,

Your Friend,

Gemma xxxx

By the way, did I tell you…? You are AMAZING ❤️

 

 

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