So, let’s think back to that Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve (or Steve) were having a great time swanning around in the nude for a while, wiggling their willies and boobs all over the place, and then that stinky snake convinced them to eat the apple. Then suddenly they decided it was a much better idea to dress in impractical leaves, as some sort of avant-garde fashion statement. Soon after, the Victorians came along with their industrialisation and prudishness and made everything even worse (I may have skipped out a teeny tiny section in the history of the human race there). And now we find ourselves here: that pesky snake is the media, religion, our brains, or anything else that tells us that our bodies are shameful and that we should cover them up. That snake has been ruining our happy vibes for far too long, and now is the time to stop it from strangling our lives and hissing poisonous words in our ears.
There are millions of articles about body positivity, self care, loving yourself out there in the internetosphere, and everyone tells you what you should think, but often no-one ever seems to tell you how to change your mind and massage your grey matter into better shape. So here are some things that have helped me to re-program my brain. Some may resonate and some may not. Information has to come at the right time to you for it to be helpful, so take what you want from it, leave the rest, or come back to it later.
“Bants” are pants
Taking the piss out of people doesn’t make you or the other person happy. It’s a lazy way that we are taught to build bonds. Like the boy who fancies the girl in the playground and calls her names (dude, just be vulnerable and tell her you like her). But it can do irreparable emotional damage. Steer clear as much as you can. The odd (hilarious, it MUST be hilarious) gentle pisstake is fine, but no more. If in doubt, just don’t do it. I’ve seen the harm it can do first hand, the change in someones face, the slight grimace, the hurt, when their friend has made the same cruel statement about them for the umpteenth time, disguised as a joke. Just have nice chats and be kind. Not ripping the piss out of someone isn’t going to ruin your fun. And if someone is doing it to you, shut it down, in the kindest way possible. If it ain’t nice, think twice.
The body swap exercise
As an exercise, to build empathy, let’s imagine a sort of Freaky Friday body-swap scenario (if you’ve not seen this get ready for some epic Linsday Lohan (remake) or Jodie Foster (original) action). Take a look around you and really try to imagine having the body of the first person that you see. Imagine their curves, bulges, hair, pimples, pricks and the texture of their skin. Now try to think of parts of their bodies that they might feel shameful about: it’s not hard is it? We naturally pick at others as much as we pick at our own, without a second thought, and this sucks. Doing this helps me to remember that we are all suffering here and in this together. It makes me think about how it would feel to inhabit another body, and reminds me that the grass is never greener on the other side.
Learn to take a compliment. Btw, you look hottttt AF today.
I’ve seen many a person bat away a compliment. I’ve also batted a few away myself. But now I realise how absolutely precious they are, and how rare and beautiful. If someone says something nice to you, don’t push it away, hold it close like the treasured thing that it is. Say “thank-you” and take that positive energy, absorb it into your bones, your blood vessels and your sinews. Feel the power of it make you feel strong and stand up tall. We are all in this together and we all need to be lifting each other up, whether, male, female or anywhere in between, we are all suffering and hurting from the betrayals of toxic capitalism. They don’t want us to be happy, because happy people don’t buy things. So rebel, and say something nice to someone today.
Befriend your trolls
I watched the Jesy Nelson, of Little Mix fame documentary on iPlayer. She was extensively cyber bullied, told to kill herself, that she looked like a monster, a toad and a freak. These things are difficult to ignore when so many people are saying them, but the fact is our brains are wired to follow the behaviours of a group. Where a few lonely, angry people start something, others will follow. It doesn’t mean that they believed the things that they were saying, she just became an easy target. It’s important to take a social media hiatus once in a while, but as a young person, if you are cut off from that world, you’re akin to Shakespeare’s Romeo, banished from Verona’s walls (the drama, babes).
If you can’t switch off, you need to learn to block out, ignore, not care and feel pity for those who have nothing in their lives apart from to make hurtful comments. Understand the psychology of it and use your powers of empathy to try to understand the reasons behind it. The people who say these things are probably feeling isolated, frustrated and hurt. Just imagine the state of mind you would have to be in to lash out at someone that you didn’t even know on the internet? If you can, try connecting with the trolls and speak to them about their lives and their problems. Figure out why they are saying these hurtful things.
However, oftentimes the trolls don’t exist as physical beings, but have taken up residence in your mind, whispering all of the things someone could potentially say about you. Those imaginary trolls can be just as real. In this case you can still regain power over them. Use your imagination and creativity to try to picture them as accurately as you can (you can even try drawing them and the things that they say), figure out their origin stories: think about why they exist in the first place. Did they spring up when that guy in primary school told you that you had Werewolf brows? How weird is it that one flippant comment can create so many mind trolls? Enough is enough, it’s time to have some honest conversations and send them packing.
You create your own reality
Everything we see and feel is just information from our sensory inputs, that is then interpreted (and often corrected) by our brains. There is no one definitive reality because we all see the world differently, that is a fact. What’s orange to you will look slightly different to someone else. It’s the same with concepts such as fat, thin, ugly, and beautiful. They are all subjective and open to interpretation.
Your personal perception of things is completely different to the next person’s. Only you get to make up the rules in your head. And only you can change them, switch them, and rewrite them whenever you want. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Society has written the rules, the standards of beauty (that are constantly changing), but you don’t have to follow them, because they aren’t real.
As Alanis Morisette sings: “IIIIIII recommend walking around naked in your living rooooooom… I certainly doooo”
Draw the blinds, crank up that heating and dance around naked. It’s could just be a small step, just around your bedroom, getting used to being nude, not hiding from yourself. Really look at every fat fold, every mole, every blemish, every stretch mark and think to yourself “this is OK, this is normal, and my body is perfect just the way it is”. Who has the authority to tell you what a perfect body looks like? Or what’s right and what’s wrong with any aspect of your life? Literally, no-one. It’s your decision what you allow to go into your brain and subsequently, what comes out. Train your brain to think: “that’s not for me”, when you see an advert or post that makes you feel that you aren’t good enough. Follow body positive artists, and people who bring you humour and joy. Good stuff in = good stuff out.
Listen to Lizzo
I first saw Lizzo in a tiny pub in Brighton, supporting Harmar Superstar in 2013. When I saw her perform I was transported to a realm of joy that I had not experienced before (the intoxicating substances consumed, may have also had a teeny tiny part to play). And I was like “what the fuck is she doing playing here?” (perhaps change of career to “music talent-scout” is in order). Who would have thought, after our first encounter, that 6 years later she would be the talk of Glastonbury in 2019, getting “16 million thousand” people chanting (to themselves) “I love you, you are beautiful and you can do anything”. If you’ve not seen it, watch her Glastonbury performance (that she describes as part TED talk) and give yourself an instant hit of glorious self-love.
Encourage change in your own way
My illustrations, with their pubes, winkies and boobs, may seem shocking to some, but they invite critical thought and consideration. Why are people offended by a massive bush? It’s only a drawing. Some squiggly lines on a piece of paper. In my own small way, as an artist, I’m trying to change things. I try to show bodies as they are, with my Pants Portraits, I encourage people to show their stretch marks, scars, tattoos, hair and all. I also try to show a variety of body types in my illustrations. I consider it to be my responsibility as an artist. This is especially due to the whiteness and slimness shown in most stock illustrations, on huge sites such as Adobe Stock and Shutterstock.
I depict joyful nudity, without shame, and perhaps that’s the most shocking thing of all. Because every single one of us has felt some sort of shame about our bodies at some point in our lives. Whether it’s through teasing, trolling or through reading an article about how you should have a thigh gap, or should beware of “arm vagina”. Our bodies are wobbly jiggly, full of folds, covered in hair and scars, and nothing will change that: it should, in fact, be celebrated.
The boundaries are there to be pushed and this is the only thing that will initiate change. I don’t want to live in a world where people are ashamed of their bodies. Where they don’t go in the water because they think that they have to stay covered up. I want to live in a world where people are strong, and step out, and jump in. Where even if someone did say something, they would know that was that person’s unhappiness spilling out, and had nothing to do with them. Where they wouldn’t let that comment even prick the surface of their skin, let alone stab through to their hearts.
Look at your body as the piece of art it is, totally unique and with something to say. It bears the scars of your life, reminds you of things that you have gone through, it’s an original, never to be repeated, masterpiece. Whether you have a few lockdown bulges, like I do or are buff as fuck, one is not better than the other, and we need to remember that. Get naked: nude ain’t rude.