I recently came across the lovely Unsung Lilly via Instagram. They’re a UK based band who have just launched their #JustBeCampaign. They’re hoping to raise enough cash so they can go over to America do a tour of ‘self acceptance’ including themed music workshops. Brilliant!
I was delighted when they approached me about doing an interview and posting the results on their blog. Check out the chit chat below:
So Leyah, we came across your amazing work via twitter as you were active in tweeting about Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#EDAW2014). Can you tell us a bit more about what you do?
Well, about a year ago now I launched The Body Confidence Revolution (TBCR) which is a body positivity blog that celebrates bodies of ALL kinds. I come across a lot of people and/or campaigns who claim to promote body confidence but yet only speak for a certain body type. By doing this, you exclude a large percentage of people. Thus eliminating the whole point of trying to make people feel good about themselves. What’s the point in bashing one to bring up the other? Body confidence and body positivity means EVERYONE feeling at home in their own skin instead of trapped in it. Therefore, The Body Confidence Revolution displays real life in ALL its forms. Both genders are represented (although it’s a little bit harder to find stuff for men as it is women), it shows people of all ages which I feel is SO important – we’re not ALL in our twenties! All ethnicities are represented as I feel there is still an element of inequality when it comes to that area. Then there’s things like ‘cellulite’, stretch marks, pregnancy, scars, skin conditions like vitiligo, amputees and disabled models and everything else in between that make us amazing as individuals.
I use social media as well to promote TBCR and generally speak about relevant stuff. I like to keep track of all of the relevant news stories relating to body image and share them with my followers. I like to gauge their reactions and get people talking about it. I use it to share inspirational quotes, images and thoughts too. I also host #BodyConfidenceHour on Twitter. This is an hour of total body positivity. I feel this is a very important thing as there is SO much negativity floating around on social networks. I see so many people not just putting themselves down but also putting other people down. It’s not good and I’m trying to change it. I come up with the agenda for #BodyConfidenceHour, sometimes with help from my followers, before it’s then posted on TBCR. I love doing it and it’s gone from strength to strength since I started doing it in May last year. I’ve had participation from well known figures and brands including Aerie who recently started their own #aerieREAL campaign which was awesome.
I also model to advocate my own message. The thought behind it is, if I’m not scared of my body then hopefully I can bring out the same feelings in other people.
Why do you think Body Confidence is such an important subject to be discussing?
I suffered a lot at the hands of my own body image and self esteem from a very young age. I was subject to bullying from around the age of six or seven which had an adverse effect on the way I saw myself. I was always taller than everyone else, including the teachers in my Primary School. I developed very early on and so had the body of a woman when all of the other girls were yet to hit that stage. I stuck out like a sore thumb basically. I looked to magazines for solace. Big mistake. At that point, there wasn’t any emphasis on displaying bodies and/or girls of different shapes and sizes. I would flick through page after page after page looking for just one model who had a body even remotely like mine. I never found any. Eventually, the subliminal message crept its way into my brain and I started to think ‘why don’t I look like that? Everyone else does. Is there something wrong with me?’ At this point I wasn’t aware of Photoshop and its capabilities, the fact that models are hired BECAUSE of the way they look, this including the fact they are very slim and that a lot of them probably aren’t feeding or looking after themselves properly and are quite possibly ill.
From my own experiences, I know first hand how it feels to hate your body. To always be comparing yourself to other people, wishing you looked like them instead of you. There are so many aspects to the subject but to me, it simply boils down to; spreading positivity instead of negativity. Magazines, retailers and designers using models of all shapes and sizes. Photoshop being banned from publications all around the world. Children and young people being educated about the fashion and modelling industries and being taught about the different forms we come in. I have a ten year old cousin and the thought of her going through what I went through scares me to death.
We have found it hugely inspiring to hear feedback from people who have found our ‘Just Be’ message has helped them, do you have any stories of how your own work has helped individuals?
What I do isn’t a be all and end all. I don’t promise people that if they come to me and visit TBCR that they will instantly love themselves. I simply provide a platform which represents everybody, share a few pearls of wisdom and spread positivity in the hope that people will have a rethink about the way they see themselves. I do get a lot of tweets and emails though from people telling me that what I do has really had an impact on how they view themselves and how they think about certain things. I had an email from a 14 year old boy who shared his story with me which was very hard to hear but he also told me that TBCR has really given him a stepping stone to feeling happy in his own skin. It makes it all worthwhile when people take the time to write to you.
There’s a lot in the media about ‘redefining what beauty is’ – do you think this is important and how do you think we can all go about doing that?
I would say it’s important in the sense that we really do need to change what society defines as beautiful. Everybody has their own preferences in terms of what they’re attracted to but in terms of the fashion industry, magazines and mainstream advertising (to name a few) beauty only comes in one form. It doesn’t. Beauty comes in ENDLESS forms. We need to stop shaming things like ‘cellulite’ and stretch marks for example because these are real things that real people have. Just because you can Photoshop something out doesn’t mean it’s not real. These things tell a story about that person and what they’ve been through or achieved in life. I think that’s pretty beautiful.
How have you personally developed your own body confidence?
I was bullied from a very young age and it’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now. There are times when I thought I was really happy in my own skin but looking back now I know I wasn’t. I think I was just trying to convince myself that I should be. People always ask me how I got so confident and how I got over my own self esteem issues. I struggle to pin point when it all changed for me. I think the best way I could put it would be ‘growing up’. As I got older I started to learn. I learnt about Photoshop and how the majority of things we see in the media are indeed edited to within an inch of their life and that only models of a certain size are booked for magazines/shows/advertising. I learnt that a lot of models are actually ill and have pushed their bodies to the limits. I learnt that actually, bodies come in more than one type and that that was a lot more interesting than the relentless portrayal of every single woman on the planet being over six feet tall and a size eight. Yes there are women out there who are naturally slim and tall, but not every single one of us is! A culmination of these things coupled with support from friends and family helped me become the confident person I am today. I am by no means finished on my own confidence journey though. I am still learning but as I’m doing so I’m trying to help other people do the same.
Where can we keep in touch with you? (website, twitter etc.)
You can find The Body Confidence Revolution here: bodyconfidencerevolution.tumblr.com
(if people want to be featured they can submit their own images, quotes, videos etc. using the tab at the top!)
I’m on twitter @IAMLEYAHSHANKS and TBCR has its own account too @BConfidenceRev.
I’m also on Instagram – iamleyahshanks.