This Saturday just gone I attended a conference that my university ran, called Inspiring Women. It was run last year too, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it. Similarly, this weekend, I didn’t really have the time if I’m honest (deadlines are looming…), but I can’t even put into words how happy I am that I made the time.
The conference ran several talks (of which I managed to catch the end of one, and one entire talk) and a collection of workshops. I attended the Body Image workshop. The workshop was run by a lecturer in phycology from the University, and not to go into too much detail (I plan on having a full blog post on it coming up), we looked at what the “ideal” woman was, our “body image peeves” (the things invented to sell products, and bits of bodies magazines zoom in on- think “cankles” “dark underarms” etc.), and also how we can begin to make a difference in the body image talk that we actively engage in.
What was most beautiful about this conference was that all of the women there were building each other up. It’s become a bit of a cliché phrase I know, but when talking about bodies people weren’t bashing them: there was no “oh, a real woman is X/Y/Z”. There was a recognition that there is a difference between what a woman who is flesh and blood can be (and there is a huge range of shapes, sizes, complexions etc.), and what a woman made out of pixels and photoshop can be. Unfortunately the latter is usually marketed to us as realistic.
The entire day was women empowering other women. And it is this that has made me choose the above quotation. To feel empowered, to feel safe, to feel confident- women all have to work together. It can’t (and shouldn’t) be a case of whispering to your colleagues and friends about how a woman looks when she walk past, and you don’t think she should be wearing leggings. In fact, this is a true story from one of the girls in the workshop: her reply to the friend who tried to engage her in that talk was that she thought the woman in leggings looked pretty damn great. This was probably my favourite anecdote of the day.
Strong women create other strong women. The sense of community at this talk was astonishing, and I can only hope (and do my bit to contribute towards) that one day it will be a social norm to talk each other up instead of down.
With all this said, I now want to set you a challenge for the week: talk women up and not down. This is going to involve you…
a) Giving genuine complements to the women in your life. It doesn’t have to be on appearance, it can be on anything (but don’t use the “You look fabulous honey! Have you lost weight?”. This isn’t talking up, its implying that they looked grim before they lost it, and its very unhelpful). In fact, it doesn’t have to be to family and friends- it can be to the woman on the checkout, or the shop assistant etc.
b) STOP engaging in negative body talk. Don’t whisper about people behind their back, don’t say it to their face either! If you have a genuine issue with someone, don’t make it about appearance. And on top of that- and much harder, I know- don’t talk negatively about your own body.
In short, just be fucking kind to each other. Good luck with the week ahead guys, and know that I’ll be partaking in this mini challenge as well. And next year, I’ll be setting aside my entire day for this conference…