Celebrating Natural Beauty On IWD: The Pioneers Of Body Positivity
I’m one of those women you’d label as having ‘problem’ skin. What this often means in the beauty industry is that my skin didn’t look flawless and smooth like the airbrushed models in their adverts. To me, it meant I was in a constant battle with myself and spent considerable money on these miracle solutions promised by various commercial beauty products. None of them worked of course. You see, I know what it’s like to be locked into an impossible struggle to try to look the ‘right’ way. To feel embarrassed that my skin was not as it ‘should’ be.
Eventually, I realised none of these heavy chemical products were working. In fact, they were making my skin worse. So I went back to the family kitchen and started experimenting. Taking what I had learnt from my great great grandmother, who was a herbalist, and my mother, who was an aromatherapist, I made my own face cream, from all-natural ingredients with no nasty chemicals. And did I get my happy ending? Well, my skin got healthy again and I started an all-natural skincare business that’s helped other women care for and love their skin too. But it’s SO much more than that. It was about learning to love my body instead of being at war with it. It was about breaking ties with an industry that invested a lot of time and effort into making me feel unworthy. And it happens to so many of us so much of the time.
That’s why, this International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating the women from the past 10 years who have pioneered body positivity and radical self-love. It was so heartwarming to learn about these amazing women and listen to their inspiring messages of acceptance. Personally, I’m an advocate of natural beauty care and I hardly ever wear make-up or high heels but if that’s not your way then that’s ok too. As long as we find our own ways and don’t allow others to make us feel any less than what we are - beautiful.
International Women’s Day 2022. Here are some other beautiful women who have been resilient rebels of commercial beauty standards:
Radhika SanghaniThirty Things I Love About Myself. But Radhika, like so many women who speak in public about women’s rights and advocate for a more inclusive, equal society, gets a hard time online. It’s not easy to talk passionately in public, especially as a woman, without a fierce backlash and all too often it’s not what you’d exactly call intelligent debate, so much as it is nasty name-calling. You would think that, given this, Radhika would shirk away from drawing further attention to herself, but no. A few years ago Sanghani decided to talk about her nose on social media. Yes, her nose. You see, Radhika doesn’t have the small straight or buttoned nose that is considered preferential. Revealing how this was something she’d struggled with in the past, she announced her intention to learn to love her nose.
“I made a conscious effort to ditch the idea of beauty standards and love my face the way it is. I felt so free and that’s what inspired me to do this campaign - I wanted other people to get that same feeling and realise big noses can be beautiful.” - Radhika Sanghani, Insider.
Social media campaigns can seem trivial but posts such as these, that turn into movements, are sometimes the fastest and most effective way to disrupt social norms. What’s more, they allow others to see those, like Radhika, who are brave enough to take pride in the bodies they have and that’s inspirational.
Presenter, actress and activist, Jameela Jamil has been on a journey ever since she entered the spotlight as a T4 presenter back in 2009. That’s why Jameela is so relatable - she's consciously ‘making it up as she goes along,’ and she’s not afraid to make mistakes, or to warn you that she’s certain to make more. This is what enables Jameela to tackle serious issues of inequality and injustice and to invite some amazingly insightful voices onto her podcast. Giving those who both have a platform and are subject to being 'othered', a space to share their stories.
Her podcast was inspired and named after an Instagram account Jameela set up called ‘I Weigh’ where she set out to create “a movement... for us to feel valuable and see how amazing we are, and look past the flesh on our bones.” The idea was inspired by another social media post featuring celebrities with their physical weight written across their bodies. This outraged Jamil who was driven to wonder what women really weigh - their accomplishments, their intentions, their ability to overcome, their uniqueness? Or, whatever they feel best sums up their impact on the world. But definitely not their body weight!
Some days Jameela is incredibly glamorous and loves to play with clothes and make-up, other days you can find her in PJs with unwashed hair and no energy to care. She lets the public see both sides and declares herself unashamed of either. Yet, she’s also unafraid to stress that the journey getting to this point was not an easy one. With a troubled relationship with her body and other traumas, she’s a true example of how we can change both our perceptions of ourselves and of a world that doesn’t always treat us well. Testament to this journey is Jameela's commitment to keep learning, keep putting herself out there and stay open-minded.
Listening to her podcast is a bit like having those long chats with friends that seemingly set the world to rights. One day she’ll be condemning internet trolls and the next she’ll be exploring if we should take a more forgiving and empathetic approach. She’s as delightfully inconsistent as we all are and being in the spotlight does not impact on her right to be so. She’s human and totally imperfect, but Jameela knows that being perfect isn’t aspirational, not when you know the true measure of beauty.
Lizzo breaks the mould and challenges so many preconceived ideas. The body positivity movement has always been a controversial one since it conflicts on occasion with the health industry, mostly in regards to attitudes to obesity. There are several problems with this - the first being the theory that shaming smokers helped drive people to quit and that shaming ‘overweight’ people will do the same. The difference is that smokers, whilst ostracized on occasion, do not receive the daily abuse and bullying that larger-bodied people do.
In addition, whilst there is a direct correlation between smoking a cigarette and cancer, it’s not so straightforward with physical appearance as a measure of health. Lifestyle and body size is not an exact science. We all know people who eat excessive junk food and stay slim and it’s not always fair to assume that those who appear ‘overweight’, overeat. In fact, the first time I saw Lizzo perform (on TV) I was blown away by her energy and physical fitness.
The other important point is that, as Lizzo points out, body positivity is only a movement because body negativity is the default. Feeling negative about ourselves does not have a positive impact on health. In fact, it is when we love ourselves that we’re most likely to give our bodies the nurture they need.
Not only is Lizzo a beacon of female empowerment, with her ‘boss-up’ lyrics and on-stage strut, but she is a pioneer of body positivity. Proving big can still mean fit, big can be beautiful and that body-shaming is driven by a beauty industry that benefits from perpetuating your self-consciousness.
“They’re selling you an idea of yourself that you haven’t quite yet achieved. So your whole life you’ve been told to blend in with other people or ‘buy this to look better,’ so you never really feel complete.” - Lizzo
Lizzo is first and foremost a singer and performer. It is absolutely not her job to represent the body positivity movement because she is of a body type you don’t often see making it in the music industry. However, this powerful woman speaks with such clarity and insight about the senselessness of body shaming and the impossible ideals that the beauty industry imposes on women, that I don’t think Lizzo will mind being also crowned a pioneer of natural beauty.
Can an Instagramer and Youtuber make-up tutorialist be a pioneer of natural beauty? In my opinion, using make-up does not exclude you from self-love and authentic empowerment. Firstly, if wearing make-up makes it easier for us to go out into the world with increased confidence and pride then it’s worth the cost and effort. Secondly, there is something very natural about playing with our appearance. We do it from a young age and we’ve done it since the dawn of time.
A few years back though, Em Ford used her YouTube channel, My Pale Skin, to post her first video. A video that drew attention to some of the vilest Instagram comments Em got when she posted photos of her face without makeup. With ‘imperfect’ skin. Turning the make-up mirror on the trolls, Em didn’t have to say anything at all. She merely quoted the hate. Took off her makeup and exposed the inner ugliness of a toxic portion of humanity.
One of the most revealing aspects of Em’s study was that when she posted pictures of herself wearing make-up she received criticism for being inauthentic, misleading and promoting impossible beauty ideals. What this highlights is that there’s no binary good and bad side when it comes to the decisions we make for our bodies, women are bound to be critiqued whatever we do. Even by those who claim to be liberal ambassadors of self-love. You have to wonder if it’s really even about beauty standards so much as it is about silencing women.
Em’s powerful video gained her a lot of social media love and won her some lifelong fans. It’s a few years old now but is still circulated today as an example of the way that certain dark corners of the ‘beauty police’ and the body positivity are both responsible at times for shaming women.
If you’ve been watching Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, then you may have seen US congresswoman Ayanna Pressley open up about her experience with alopecia. Not only is her story incredibly moving but it’s incredibly inspiring for so many women. There are many different types of alopecia and many different causes. Most commonly hair loss affects men. However many women also suffer from hair loss and, being that women have such a woven historical relationship with their hair, held up as always by societal ideas of beauty, alopecia is a subject that carries some taboo. According to dermatologist, Crystal Aguh, 50% of black women experience some form of hair loss. Much of this can be a result of undergoing treatments as a result of more natural hairstyles being viewed as 'unprofessional'. When Ayanna lost all of her hair this is what she struggled most with - speaking on the congress floor for the first time as a bald woman. Yet, over time she has come to accept her hair loss, choosing not to disguise it but to embrace her baldness, redefining not only her style but also the way that women are expected to present themselves professionally, even if that means faking it. If there’s one place not to fake it it's on the congressional floor. As a woman in the public eye, Ayanna has become an inspiration and even a role model for women who have suffered or are suffering from alopecia. Breaking the stigmatism and rejecting the shame.
“I want to be free from that secret and the shame that secret carries with it.” - Ayanna Pressley (on revealing her condition).
Happy International Women's Day to all the determind women out there learning to or suceeding in loving themselves. May you alway know your true value and be forever beauty industry rebels!