Body Positivity Gave Me My Voice Back

I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember. However, I don’t think I really understood the scope of what feminism was until I was an adult. It was in my adulthood, during my first steps into academic, that I began to understand how pervasive misogyny was, and how much I had experienced it in the modelling industry.

The way models are treated is by and large, not particularly acceptable. Similarly, to how women are treated in the film industry, modelling boasts this idea that you should be grateful anyone gives you a shot, you should be so thankful that you would do absolutely anything.  When Karl Lagerfeld criticized the #MeToo movement saying, “I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. It’s simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything”, I wasn’t even slightly surprised. The body of the female model, because it is seen publically, is presumed to be public on all accounts. It is commodity, and things are not only this way due to the staggering amount of sexual harassment in the industry, but also due to the premise which most of the industry is based upon: making women feel like shit so they buy things.

Models are there to be booked for jobs, and these jobs will be for fashion, beauty and all manner of advertisement. Even at the height of my eating disorder, I was being pressured to get thinner and thinner, it was the only way I would get jobs (I was told). On the outside, thinness was something desirable. Companies wanted thin models to make women who weren’t models think that whatever product these thin models were advertising could make them thin. But beyond that, it felt like a form of control. Severe anorexia sort of puts you in a strange state of existence; like that bit in Fight Club where he has insomnia, and the world feels like it’s there and not there at the same time. When you deprive your body of one of the basic things it needs to survive, things just don’t work as well, you become less focused, you are consistently tired, and you cannot think straight. This is obviously very specific to my own experience with an eating disorder, and there are many different types, but in terms of anorexia and the modelling industry, I think they capitalized off their starving and very young models. 

It is perhaps easy to see in hindsight how the whole modelling world was misogynistic. So much of it doesn’t care about women, their bodies, their minds, their rights, their well-being. The strangest thing was, it was often female agents who were particularly critical, especially of model’s bodies. It was like they were stuck in the same odd cycle everyone else was stuck in, not really taking into account how damaging they were being to impressionable young women. This is why Instagram became a huge eye-opener for me. Suddenly, there was this platform that agents didn’t control, you didn’t have to be skinny to be seen, you could be whatever you wanted. I found Body Positivity on Instagram years ago now: before it was diluted, before big brands capitalized off of it. It was just a group of amazing women doing amazing things, their goal to help people. I can honestly say I don’t think I would have had the resolve to recover from my eating disorder had I not found this community. This is why it is so important to me now.

My own Body Positive account hit its 2-year anniversary in January: the first shoot I did post-recovery was actually for Neon Moon. It was nerve-wracking to put myself out there in what felt like my authentic body. It was not a starved body, not a body I was consistently trying to change, just my body. They told me I couldn’t model because I was fat. Fat was, and is, a dirty word in the modelling industry in case you had any doubt. Do not let those campaigns fool you: they have a long way to go until they are fully inclusive. I am not exactly living in a marginalized body, but to agents and casting directors, the way I look is somehow a curveball. They live in a weird fairy world.

The Body Positive community gave me a voice when I didn’t have one and gave me the opportunity to be myself. If you are thinking of modelling, please be careful, and know your worth. Don’t let agents body shame you, make sure you are paid for your labour and expenses, and above all: Do not let them make you feel like you are less valuable because your body does not fit a certain mould.

Essie
x

We believe that the most important opinion of your body is your own. If the mainstream doesn’t think you’re fabulous, fuck em’.

Hayat - CEO & Founder, Neon Moon