I have been involved with BodyGossip since 2013 when I became one of their ambassadors, and constantly admire the overwhelming amount of work that is put into an organisation which works to empower each individual to work the best version of themselves. BodyGossip is a now registered charity whose aim is the aim of self-love and after spending my whole life lacking in the particular category, I remember BodyGossip being the first organisation of its kind which helped me to adapt a different approach to the way I and many other young people viewed themselves and their body. Through their innovative campaign, BodyGossip spread across the country, with the launch of the BodyGossip education programme which is run by the Self-Esteem Team, organising excellent workshops in schools as well as in 2013 organising our first #bodylove flashmob, on London's Southbank, a simply inspirational and incredible event to have been a part of.
In October 2014, co-founder of BodyGossip Ruth Rogers launched The Canvas, a brand spanking new café and creative venue based just off of Brick Lane, in Hanbury Street, London. The café is designed not only to build a stronger community for London residents, but to encourage those who attend to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Events run at the café such as positivity workshops (next one will be held on the 10th February 2015 at 6:30pm - which I will be attending), TED talk showings, film screenings, and much more. Plus the café is rather literally a blank canvas - you can write on their walls and everything!
Natasha Devon, founder of the brilliant new Self-Esteem Team, who work in collaboration with BodyGossip and YoungMinds and work to educate young people on self-esteem and how to improve it as well as reducing stereotypes and stigma surrounding body image - gave an absolutely insightful talk to parents and teachers at The Canvas about young peoples body image and self-esteem. I live-tweeted the event along with my wonderful friend and activist Kat Cormack and we took many insightful ideas and approaches to guide young people into feeling more positive about themselves and their bodies.
Natasha discussed the ways in which marketing companies are consistently endorsing not just their products, but endorsing a negative self-esteem of their audiences and a strong sense of inadequacy with ourselves. We have, as Natasha cleverly puts it, 'commoditized the body'. She produced an extremely insightful outlook on a famous Loreal haircare advert, promoted by Cheryl Cole, but noting the clever way in which Loreal had hidden the disclaimer r.e Cheryl Cole's hair actually formed of 'natural hair extensions' (whatever they are). The placement of this disclaimer, deliberately to the right hand side of the screen (where audiences typically will not initially read from) alongside the minute text and three second sustainment of this disclaimer, drew my immediate attention to Natasha's point. It's obvious that marketing companies must sell products - but the extent to which they go to to do so, by lying and then slyly covering their tracks, by falsely advertising what isn't reality, shocked me more than it ever had done before, following Natasha's talk.
Natasha suggested that young people/students NEED to be questioning these media messages that they are being bombarded with on a daily basis, often without realising it (on the school bus, billboards, TV advertisements, Facebook advertisements, all of which take three seconds to absorb in its entirety). We are used to absorbing adverts as a natural process, but very many of us rarely take the time to really understand the true message that is being sent out to us, not look beyond the exterior of the advertising industry. Natasha encourages parents to take a few minutes out of the day to sit and reflect on these messages as opposed to simply inhaling this multitude of false messages, to outline to young people the reality of what they witness within the media.
I completely agree with Natasha's point that 'beauty, fashion and fitness are amazing ways to express yourself, if you are expressing yourself' and that is an extremely important statement directed particularly at students who are of an age where they become absorbed into an industry as well as through their peers where they feel pressured into enhancing and changing parts of their body. Although I begun to develop an eating disorder from the age of 12 years old, at the time the emphasis on girls wearing make-up and having perfect bodies was only ever really applicable to the popular girls. Now, it really is everywhere, and it particularly strikes me that upon talking to one of my family friends 13 year old daughters a few weeks ago, she proceeded to call herself ugly and felt like she wasn't good enough compared to her friends. This poor girl really hit home for me the way that I felt at that age, and even prior to that - but for her, the pressure to be perfect has multiplied by about 1000. I never grew up with social media, nor did I grow up in a world where girls wanted to be supermodels by the time they reached the peak of teen-hood. Yet I still came under the full force of an eating disorder, and it terrifies me to wonder how hard this is affecting secondary school students of today. It's extremely difficult to tell students who long to fit in with their peers that actually, standing out and being the best version of yourself is the best way to be, but it really is true and is a message we should be quite literally drilling into young people. 'How we feel about how we look affects how entitled we feel' is a particular point which stuck by me after this talk. Young people often believe they are unworthy of success in life due to bombardment of negative thoughts over the way that they look, and there is simply no correlation between the two. Beauty is unachievable, and the reason behind that is that it doesn't truly exist. Beauty is subjective, but also should not focus on the external. The way you look has no effect on how entitled to life you are, and students need help to ensure they draw a fine line between these two constructs.
Natasha also addressed the idea that students should learn to change the way that they receive compliments, and actually, this is not just applicable to students but to all of us: 'We value people for their loyalty, kindness, humour - not for their weight loss, great legs or new handbag, but we never tell them' and I myself am guilty of this and I'm sure many of you are too. If you learn to recognise your peers for the external superficiality as opposed to the internal, the external qualities such as weight loss and a perfect stomach become the qualities by which one defines oneself. Why do we not instead go up to our friends, our family, our colleagues, and tell them how much we value them? How much they make us smile, how much their loyalty is valued and what great friends they are? Because somehow, we've been modelled into feeling as if commenting on one's external self is the only way to ever give a true compliment, and this is simply not true. We all need to not just learn how to give great compliments, but also to receive them as opposed to complete dismissal. If someone gives you a compliment regarding your generosity, instead of simply telling them that they're wrong, accept the compliment and thank them. Absorb compliments in as much the exact way as you unwillingly absorb the advertising industry. Natasha says: 'Some people wear make-up because they are celebrating their face, and some people wear make up because they are apologising for it' and the more we learn to give and receive compliments, especially about one's inner self, it allows an internal confidence to shine through which radiates not just the way you feel about your personality, but all other aspects of yourself.
During her question and answer session, Natasha says: 'Your body is the only thing in your life which you will ever truly own' and if I'm honest, this is something which I forgot. I'm so used to belittling my body that I often forget that it is mine and it's not something I can return to New Look in exchange for another. I spent the entirety of my teenage years treating my body with such disrespect and looking upon it in disgust that I forgot that my body was something that I possessed and owned and actually had the capability to be proud of. And as secondary school students reach puberty, they need to be taught to respect their bodies and their capabilities and embrace them, not to view them as an enemy and something to strive to disguise from society.
The talk was inspiring, informative, humorous and very cleverly put together. Natasha took topics that I already knew much of yet allowed me to think of them in new and insightful ways. This talk was a fabulous introduction to many more talks and programmes that will be taking place in the upcoming future at The Canvas, which as I attend I will blog about it due course!
Natasha Devon was also selling copies of her brand new book, Fundamentals: A Guide for Parents, Teachers and Carers on Mental Health and Self-Esteem, a joint collaborative with the wonderful Lynn Crilly whom many of you will recognise. Descriptions of the book include: 'A self-help book for people who are fed up with being patronised by self-help books. This guide will give you pragmatic, relevant advice on how to nurture self-esteem and discuss and deal with mental health issues, delivered with positivity, humour and realism'. I will be posting a book review on my blog in due course (after I have assorted my mountain of University related reading!) so please stay tuned, yet after this talk, I'm already extremely self-assured that this book is going to be just as interesting and insightful. If you would like to buy a copy (and I suggest you do!), I'll post a link here.
Group shot! Including Natasha Devon and Nadia Mendoza, 2/3's of the Self-Esteem Team, Jillian, a BodyGossip ambassador, myself, the lovely Ruth Rogers of BodyGossip and owner of The Canvas, and my good friend, inspiration and fellow activist, Kat Cormack! Twitter links to people involved in the event can be sought by simply clicking on their names!
Myself and my good friend Kat Cormack, who currently works for an organisation called BuddyApp which uses digital media to provide support to local therapy services. She is also a strong mental health activist and has previously worked with the NHS and volunteered so much time to mental health charities, more specifically YoungMinds, to make changes in the field of mental health.
My signed copy of Fundamentals by Natasha Devon and Lynn Crilly, a counsellor and author of Hope with Eating Disorders!
Natasha Devon answering a Q&A for parents and teachers.
Kat looking beautiful infront of one of the canvas walls in The Canvas - the walls invite you to answer questions such as 'What's on your Bucket List' and 'What makes you happy' simply by grabbing a pen and writing your answers on their walls! Incredibly innovative and creative and adds such a personal touch to the venue.
Whilst I strongly urge you all to give The Canvas a visit as well as to purchase Natasha and Lynn's new book, I also hope that this blog was interesting and informative and helped you gain a different approach into the methods we should be using to teach young people to rock their own version of gorgeousness and to be themselves, and themselves only.
Until next time!