In Stylist’s Body Politics series, award-winning body confidence coach and @ScarredNotScared founder Michelle Elman sits down with women we love to discuss their journey to feeling comfortable in their own skin. Here, writer and mental health campaigner Bryony Gordon shares how giving birth changed her relationship with her body – for the better.
Most people would not have the confidence to run a marathon, let alone run a marathon in their underwear as Bryony Gordon and Jada Sezer famously did. However, it turns out that was not always the plan for the dynamic duo: in fact, they were training together when they came up with the idea just a month and a half before the actual race.
“We were talking about how gym kit really sucks you in and is actually quite flattering” Gordon explains. “We wanted to make a statement about body acceptance and show that bodies come in all shapes and sizes.”
But where did the confidence come from? Well, Gordon says she’s no different to the rest of us. “I don’t necessarily have body confidence,” she says. “I have the same thoughts as everyone else but what I do have, is I don’t have the energy to engage in self-loathing.”
Whenever Gordon experiences a negative thought about herself, she works to turn it around with gratitude – something which hasn’t always proven easy in the past. However, she says this changed when she gave birth to her daughter Edie. “Giving birth really changed the relationship with my body because I realised that bodies are pretty incredible,” explains Gordon, “and I wasn’t self-conscious in the same way I was prior to that.”
It’s common that parents often want their kids to possess and experience the body positivity that they themselves were never exposed to as children. Gordon, however, emphasises the need to help yourself first. “You’ve got to stop trash-talking yourself,” she points out. “Kids are sponges and so it all starts with you.”
Gordon goes on to stress that Edie was her impetus and states that she can’t want body confidence “for my daughter” without it existing in herself first. Through her social media, she tries to lead by example by refusing to edit her own images and being vocal about her own body and mental health. In fact, she was one of the 16 mental health accounts the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose to follow to highlight mental health, and she uses this as an example of how we can use social media for good.
When asked if she worries about her daughter with social media, Gordon admits: “Of course, I worry but I also think this is the most incredible time to be a young woman. You can’t stop people from thinking the things they think or stop bad things from happening but what we can do is foster an environment where people feel comfortable to talk about the bad things, rather than covering them in shame.”
In terms of Instagram, though, the author and advocate loves it and finds it to be a hugely positive tool in boosting self-confidence. However, she stresses that it’s all about who you follow on the photo-sharing site.
“There are so many people and finding their communities there and feel less alone and a lot of my body confidence has come from social media and seeing different bodies,” says Gordon. “Social media tends to have more diversity than traditional media. I love Instagram, I find it fun. I’ve never found it difficult ever.”
In terms of the comments, Gordon adds that she has found she has to detach from the positive comments as well as the negative ones. “For me, the most important thing is to remember that it’s not about the likes or followers or the people saying ‘you are amazing’, because we are all amazing”.
Gordon’s new book You Got This, which talks about self-acceptance, is aimed at teenagers and children. Why? Because she believes that “body confidence and our issues with it start long before we know it”. Using the example of periods and the silence around it, she notes: “When we are taught to feel shame around the very core elements of our bodies and not talk about them and be quiet about them, it makes you feel ashamed more generally about yourself. It’s not only just seeing beautiful photoshopped people, it’s also being taught to be ashamed of our bodies at a biological levels.”
Recalling how the conversation around periods shifted while she was in Uganda, Gordon adds: “They celebrate periods and they teach boys about it in school. It’s not hushed up in the same way we do here.”
Looking forwards, though, Gordon is hopeful for the future.
“We are going to get there!” she enthuses. But how do we get there? Well, according to Gordon, “we need to stop feeling like we have an obligation to find bits about our bodies that we dislike. We need more diversity.” And in terms of how we can all join the fight for change, Gordon repeats her one vital piece of advice: “Stop trash-talking yourself!” Because, as RuPaul, famously tells us in every single episode of Drag Race, ‘if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anybody else?’
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
- We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
- We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
- We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
- We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
- Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.