Friday, 30 October 2020

Blackness and Body Image

The Body Confidence Cards HoMe(dition)!


Whether you find value in awareness days and months, they certainly inspire discussion and sometimes reflection. October is the power house of awareness events for me - World Mental Health Day, Breast Cancer Awareness and Black History Month.

A focus on Breast Cancer was a bit part of my journey to Body Confidence and Black History Month has been a massive focus for me in 2020 at work and with the cards. 

One of the things I was keen on with the deck was that it be as diverse as possible, in terms of the design eg the font's readability, the images (given what images I could find/afford!) and the language. So, the original deck represented a broad range of people and left space for others to tell a story. Also, the 'Facilitator' (teacher) guide has a section on how to use the cards to amplify a diversity discussion, however...

...As I was reflecting through BHM, I started to consider what it would mean to do a High on Melanin (HoM)edition of the cards - not for BHM alone but beyond. I considered the challenges associated with blackness and image/body confidence that I and others experience everyday. Some experiences are universal but others are more pointed to the black experience.

What is different in the body image space is that black bodies have largely been considered: 

  1. less valuable (eg in the US a black person was considered less than 1, 3/5th to be precise), 
  2. more resistant to mistreatment (beatings and brutality in general, historically: medical experiments on black women, currently: data on death in childbirth) and 
  3. less beautiful re our natural features - see the powerful video below.

There is already much written on the subjects above and how blackness underpins issues like fatness*, the need for a "Crown Act" and how black women were the founders of the Body Positivity movement (which has now been highjacked into the mainstream), and I wanted to reflect some of this in the cards. *see Sabrina Strings: "Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia".

With this in mind, the HoMe(dition) features all black and brown bodies, shows different hair and skintones (though more could be done I know), has three different alphabet cards on our hair, lookism and the Western ideal and sets out to challenge a few stereotypes such as showing a softer side to black men. 

Once again, the exercise highlighted an issue with access to images (https://damsonbelle.blogspot.com/2020/06/nude-shoes-and-images.html), and I don't claim to have represented everyone, but I do hope the new deck starts a conversation about specific issues. 

The cards will be printed soon and I can't wait to hold the new deck and be part of the discussion beyond Black History Month 2020.
Message on SM or Email me at denise@thebodyconfidencecards.com to pre-order!

I see you!
Denise πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž



W: www.bodyconfidencecards.com
I: bodyconfidencecards_db
T: @_BodyConfidence
F: Body Confidence Card Club





Thursday, 1 October 2020

Hair, part one!

Hair there? A poem - of sorts!  

Last month was #NationalAlopeciaMonth but I wasn't ready. Today, is #National PoetryDay. It's given me a nudge to share this - it's part of a bigger story and has been sitting on my phone for a bit.

Here goes...

Could it be?
There's something coming through
Where smooth and empty once was.
No, don't begin to believe Denise.
We've been here before.
Hope.
Belief.
The not really promises.
But the maybes 'this product will work'
There'll be some growth
There is some growth
But, sigh. Oh no,
Then and again, it was a brief, false hope
No real change, not for long anyway
Back undercover - a new wig or piece
And then, a new place
Heard a new maybe 
Not really a promise but a confident "you'll see"
That where there once was liitle or no growth
There might possibly be some
Where there was nothing
There might now be something
Progress, could it be?
Shoots, like stubble
Not getting too excited, but a quiet yippee
Some hair, my hair
Covering where the bald patch used to be.
It seems true, it seems real,
Maybe. This time. Just maybe.
Maybe it will grow
Really grow
Into a crown
Recreate the beauty that society sees
Hair
We're beautiful with or without it right?
But how most of us long to be, 
with A full head of hair
Flowing or big
Eyelashes, eyebrows, hair - our own
Not that it should matter, but it does
Either way, we're beautiful
Aren't we?
It shouldn't define me.
Whatever happens, hair today or none tomorrow
I won't let it define me, I'll be. I am.
Fine.


Hair all lost, hidden, all yours, I see you!
Denise πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž



www.bodyconfidencecards.com


Monday, 17 August 2020

The Seven Stages of Body Confidence

Our bodies - the Home of a lifetime.

In 2012, I published "Seven Stages of Style" (https://damsonbelle.blogspot.com/2012/06/seven-stages-of-style.html) and it remains one of my most read blogs to date. I've recently reflected on how this might apply to Body Image and so I've adapted it into the blog below!

According to Shakespeare in “As you like it”, there are several stages of 'man' – infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and second childhood.  

Here’s my take on how Shakespeare’s stages might relate to body image, not literally but as a seven stage principle that we may work through. These stages are not about solely about age in years! - you may skip some stages entirely, rattle through others, and some may merge.

Here are some things to consider as you go through this:

1. Warning: As I type this I'm sad at how much negativity is 'forced' on us at various stages, and you may be too reading this. However, at every stage, there is always an up-side so focus on and amplify that... and it ends well (see what I did there?!)

2. Disclaimer: This is personal opinion/reflection; not a scientific study. 

3. Note: This is fairly general. I recognise that there are factors which aren't detailed here like race, disability, trauma, family history. I'd encourage you to think about that in case it helps your reflections. 

4. Reminder: Your body is ALWAYS worthy... of care, at the very least. Take care.

5. Read '4' again and keep it in mind as you read on...

  • Stage one – Infancy:
Image: Pixabay

Technically this term covers up to the age of two. At this stage, it is unlikely that body image issues will show up in 'us' as the focus is on having our basic human needs met. However, those around us may already be describing and relating to us in ways that link to personal and societal perceptions based on our looks. This may in turn impact our parents and how they 'see' themselves and us. The current sad trend of showing an 'ugly' baby to get a shocked reaction is proof of this.

🌞The bright side: People are generally nice to babies and toddlers. They themselves are usually focused on learning to walk and talk, and discover how their bodies work over how they look. We are also usually well shielded at this stage. And parents: (you) have a miracle to focus on!

  • Stage two – Childhood:
And boom, here it starts. Whilst kids should be focused on play, friendship, learning, growth at this time, there are studies that suggest children as young as three are starting to think about their bodies, negatively. I'd suggest that school and family have a vital role to play at this stage, as social media and peer factors probably come into play more strongly later on. Having said that Molly Forbes points out that the 'baddie' in Disney films, for example, is portrayed as fat and/ ugly so managing what children watch, as well as the language they hear around them is important.

And as if low self esteems and poor body image were not enough, evidence suggests that actual eating disorders are on the rise in this age group, though small mercies it's still not 'common': https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/anorexia-younger-children-may-be-increasing/

As adults it is important we don't start to perpetuate the negatives and that we actively challenge the stereotypes. We need to watch what we do to our kids, who we let in/influence them, and watch what we say and do around children. 

How do you show up around the children around you?

🌞The bright side: We can catch it early, and there is plenty around to help us navigate body image at this age. You can still (largely) influence and redirect children, eg chose the things to watch, what they are read. Most children will still be more interested in how their bodies work and are quite fearless and playful for much of childhood. Harness that. Damn it grown ups - be childlike in this respect!

2016 - 
https://www.pacey.org.uk/news-and-views/news/archive/2016-news/august-2016/children-as-young-as-3-unhappy-with-their-bodies/
2019 - 

Image: Cottonbro, Pexels

  • Stage three – Our teenage years:
By this stage, a young adult may have been carrying around body confidence issues for nearly a decade. If you know/remember, or have read, anything about the teen years you'll know this is a tough time to navigate for many reasons (and backed by science about a teenagers brain development). Social media and peer pressure, puberty, hormones will all play a part in amplifying body image issues even if these haven't been present before. Often, but not always, eating disorders rear up at this stage.  In my experience (sadly) whilst bullying may have been an issue before now, teens can be pretty mean to each other, and it can be the worst time for bullying with the number one thing people will target inevitably being appearance. 

During the teen years, though, people often 'come into their own' - brain growth stabalises and how a person looks at 13 can change significantly by 19, along with their lifestyle moving through school to higher education or work. 
(* remember the reminder)

🌞The bright side: This is perhaps the age where energy most goes into addressing body confidence issues, with targeted resources and PHSE a key (although not mandatory) part of the national curriculum. Also, in the teen years there is access to social media - whilst it is often seen as part of the problem, SM gives you choice: you can chose/be directed to a wider range of bodies and views than can be presented in the mainstream media. 

If you're a teacher or someone who works with young people, you should check out this workshophttps://www.freefromdiets.org/body-happy-kids-workshop

  • Stage four – The (early) work years: 
Even here, body image &/ confidence plays a part, though by now we may have learnt to mask it a bit. Again, there is evidence to suggest that society's stereotypes has an impact. Our looks such as facial features and weight, affects our careers - what we go for, get, what we are paid and how we progress. If we have always had a challenging perception of ourselves, the chances are that these are deeply internalised by now and only serve to further hold us back/down. 

However, we probably have a more honed group of friends by now, more money, more choice and more voice (if we can find it and use it). The challenge is how we use the likely 'more' we have and how much of our 'rebellious teen spirit' we've held on to. 

🌞The bright side: All the 'more' mentioned above whereby we're at least faking it on our way to making it. Hopefully too, we're simply focused more on life itself than the body we're living that life in... 

                 What's the bright side of this stage in your opinion?


  • Stage five – Settled lifestyle time:
In my experience, we are a little less focused on our own bodies now – maybe because as partners or parents, we focus more on how others (eg our kids) feel rather than ourselves. It may also be a time when we are more sidetracked by practicalities like bills, home and work. This doesn't mean that our body image issues have gone, that they no longer have an impact on us... just that they are less likely to be front stage.

However, based on a number of conversations, I also think this is the time when past/latent issues are most likely to creep up. It's possibly when we get frustrated about what we settled for... the 'midlife crisis' stage. We've time to think, ruminate, ask 'what if' and 'why'. Like our teen years, we can go for the 'easy target' - ourselves and what we look like (compared to what we think we should/could look like). It can also be when others start 'preaching' about their changes and try to dictate what you should do too, often under the guise of advice, care, help, concern. 
TIP: Do you. You are not a teenager anymore!

🌞The bright side: If you're in the settled phase of your life, we can turn that rumination into reflection - now might be the time to reflect, discuss body image with less fear/need/care, embrace who you, get on the road towards better self care/self esteem, challenge what you've held that is no longer serving you. Just a thought!

Image: Marcus Aurelius, Pexels

  • Stage six – Body Confidence Maturity?
It's not just about what we do now, it's why we do it. It's the time when we are hopefully freer-thinking, and not just doing things because work, society, partner, parent, other is telling us what to think, feel, do about/with our bodies. 

This is the one where we peak, wherever that mean or needs to be for us. Not everyone will need/get to love, appreciation may be the place that represents our maturity. As I said at the beginning, our bodies have always been worthy. Maturity is when we embrace that.

🌞The bright side - reaching and maintaining a fairly even keel at this stage is the brightest of the bright sides. 

  • Stage seven – Old age/second childhood:
Oh to reach this stage - I'd say if you've come 'this' far I hope you're able to embrace your body for all it has done and still does despite what you may have done to it over the years. Better yet, perhaps you're more than grateful and a total 'Baddie'+!* It's brilliant to see older bodies increasingly celebrated in the media. This stage doesn't mean that long-held body issues have all gone, but it is likely your perspective has changed. 

🌞The bright side:  See above. 


Image from 'Advanced Style' google search


So does this resonate or ring true for you (or someone you know), what stage are you at, and... Are you happy there?*

Wherever you are, I see you!
Denise πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž




*Please let my cards help you through the stages. www.bodyconfidencecards.com 
Dx

Thursday, 30 July 2020

A lighthouse for small ships?!



Making my ordinary story count.


There are some incredible and high profile (deservedly so) people in the Body Confidence space, and they all seem to have a big story. 

Lately, I've been a feeling a bit challenged, not about body confidence issues themselves (this time *wink*), but about my place in this space. As well as the cards, I've got a few other ideas but I've been hesitating about all of it really. Hesitating to really and boldly promote my cards. Hesitating to get to the other ideas. Hesitating to even finish my near complete website.

That Marianne Williamson quote - Imposter Syndrome - Humility - Not my place? 

Whatever it is it's not great in itself or in role modelling terms! It's not in keeping with what I'd tell others to do, and it's possibly doing a disservice to someone my offer could be useful to. 

I recently shared an image that included the phrase "I appreciate my averageness..." it was my way of calling out my own thinking, and yet even in doing that, the idea for what is now this blog was destined to remain just an idea.

And then: a conversation with my cousin, a comment I made which reminded me of this video (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story/transcript?language=en) and a song that popped into my head - they all nudged me.

I could ramble on about the detail of all the elements above but I'll skip that and share that I've distilled my thoughts into this.... 

My USP is that, whilst I don't have a headline story, I do have lots of relevant stories. We all do. My small, fairly average, ordinary stories are my platform and I'm here to share them in order to help. 

I believe I am representative of loads of women, women who feel and are pretty ordinary. As if ordinary is a bad thing. Many (if not most/all) of whom are harbouring small and/ underlying body image issues as they go about ordinary lives. Many of whom compare themselves to the big story owners and play down the value of their own narrative, views and gifts.

My ordinary is my story, and rather than a hindrance to being in the Body Confidence space, I'm starting to see and appreciate how my average may actually be a lighthouse to others. Because not all body image issues roar and rule, many just whisper and niggle. And whilst it's easy to let the low vibration remain, it doesn't mean it should.

So, over the next few months, I'm going to be working on how I can show up and shine up for those who feel that they don't fit into the 'big story' space either.

I see you!
Denise πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž







Sunday, 28 June 2020

Nude shoes and Images...

Urm, How do I start this one?


Well, the title came pretty easily but the intro for this post didn't. In fact, writing this post in a succinct/safe/sensitive/sensible way isn't coming easily. But here we go...


Before I begin - a question:

Q: When you read "nude shoes" in the title, what first came to mind?
If you've no immediate answer or you're worried it's a trick question - do an internet search on "nude shoes" and hold that thought for a paragraph.

You see this post is about a couple of thoughts on blackness. Two things, highlighting the cost of it - Financially. Visibly. Emotionally. 

It is likely to come across as a bit small in the grand scheme of things. But, being honest, I've been reflecting on some small points in between a lot of reading, researching, listening and conversing on the big points. 
What I've come to is that whilst some of my thoughts have been on smaller things, they are an illustration of the frustration. The small things are part of the big thing.  


Nude shoes...


You see, your answer to the question about nude shoes immediately indicates (most likely) whether your ethnicity is black or white. (I am not going to say race here, just go with it).

If you are white, you maybe thought of Duchess Catherine, maybe it wasn't much of a thought at all. And if you searched I'll bet you saw a lot of pink coloured shoes. Not too bad for you, right.
If however you are black, you are more likely to have recognised that the search would be a little harder. And a little more costly. 
It's a simple point but it says a lot - nude shoes if you are black are often found in the 'tan' category. They are less likely to come up top of a search. They are more expensive. And it's the same with tights, hairstyles, (albeit decreasingly) make-up and underwear. Just a simple search for relative basics highlights issues of accessibility, cost, language, representation and more. Remember the debates on ballet shoes and even plasters!
Even allowing for demographics, some of this just doesn't stack up (especially geographically).
*The result: the situation feels disadvantageous and unfair*


...And images


So it was also with the images for the Body Confidence Cards.


I set out purposefully to have cards that were diverse. I knew I wanted to have different ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, weight representation, sexual orientations and even hair colours covered so set out to find an array of images that brought balance and fit to the overall message of the deck. 


I think I did ok. But, on reflection the cards are safer than they could have been, and not every one is visibly represented. The reasons I think, partially with hindsight, are these:

1. I wanted the focus on the message, not the blackness of the message bearer (me) 
2. I wanted to make a statement about diversity but not scream and stage it. And this is the point that challenges me and has me asking if I could have done more.
3. At the time I knew and considered this: That in part, crudely put, there was a cost element to making the pack more diverse. I couldn't as easily access or afford images of plus-size and black people or those with a visible disability or disfigurement for example. Such images are harder to get on free sites. They are limited. Like brown 'nude' shoes, those images exist but the choices are less and to get them costs more.
*The result: Some people are seen less, and feel less seen*

The pictures, therefore, may be a little safe but many allow for interpretation and I am pleased that the words allow for a discussion to go where you want/need it to go. And, all is not lost I will be adding some more diversity related content to the 'Teachers Guide' too, so these reflections have been important. That will be my next contribution to the conversation. And I am going to be bolder in future image choices as much as possible.



πŸ’­  What will your next step be?


Back to the point!


So, the point of this blog is to, in a small way, highlight that some of small things tell us a lot about the bigger issue. If you've never had to look hard for nude shoes or images that positively and broadly represent you, I hope this has been a simple but useful illustration. And if you get what I mean because this has been a challenge for you, I just want you to know that I see you and feel you and will do better for us. Because you matter, we matter, I matter. 


Fairness and representation matters. Removing barriers and easing access matters. Black lives, and black bodies matter. (And read up on why this doesn't dismiss all, but it's not all for now)


Taking just the example of nude shoes and images, I ask... Financially - don't penalise. Visibly - see, show diversity. Emotionally - feel (for) me, support me. 






I see you!
Denise πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž










Sunday, 10 May 2020

More than a month of Meme's...

...And what I gave energy too instead


I hesitated to post this blog, but it's got to go.

In a crisis, humour well used can be an incredible plus and Lord knows I've needed to laugh in the last month plus (like most of us).

Lots of the things I've laughed at have been about parental sanity on the home-school front and Zoom fails in a work capacity. But what I haven't found relief in, has been all the weight gain memes... 


...I know, it's just banter right? Wrong. Banter is too close to bullying in my book - the line between them, wafer thin.

There are several issues with weight gain memes including - they're often upsetting to those who are already larger than society deems acceptable, it's triggering to those who have/have had disordered eating, and that it suggests that weight gain is somehow worse or funnier than things like my hair falling out and my skin getting dry and sore.

I know that for some the fear of weight gain is a big, real, legitimate issue and that's the point - it's a genuine concern to some and therefore shouldn't be such an easy, thoughtless share for a laugh for others.




I am mindful that I have the privilege of being in a smaller body, so my concern might be deemed odd. However putting myself in someone else's shoes - 1. it's about being sensitive and 2. it's about trying to be an ally.

I am also aware that some people have used the memes to be self-deprecating, perhaps to get the joke in before someone else does. That makes me sad. Times are tough enough without feeling the need to further push or punish ourselves.

πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž

So, rather than comment on every meme post  - to save my energy and yet do something - I decided to put forward positive things over fighting over negative things. I even pushed past personal discomfort and self-doubt posted a few videos*

The subjects I covered included nourishment, movement and more to post encouraging messages and to gently push back on some of the narratives I was seeing.

Blog here: https://damsonbelle.blogspot.com/2020/03/seven-days-in-isolation-with-bcc.html

                                                                               πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž

Nothing I did will change the world but I do hope that I made a few people reflect on what they'd been posting and more importantly helped a few people feel a little less anxious about putting on weight. And I hope this blog has that affect too. 

As one of my video's points to* - its about making a genuine, personal choice though: if you're sure that you do want to do the uber-fitness thing for example, go ahead; but, if not consider this... if we can't chill a little, and eat the damn cake if we want to, when in a pandemic lockdown no less when can/will we?



Let's get through this #TogetherApart.

Best wishes
Denise πŸ’žπŸ’žπŸ’ž




To find out more, get in touch via the social media channels etc below or go to * https://www.facebook.com/groups/2653606204690681/

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Seven Days in Isolation with the BCC...

...And does it really matter?


Given such challenging times, I asked myself if the body confidence agenda and cards had a place in the conversation.

When I accepted the answer was yes, I set off on seven days of sharing something to keep people positive in between all the bad news and instead of all the messages that were making me feel like I had to do a five mile run every day and develop abs in a week!

Each day the 'challenge' set was based on the Body Confidence Cards. More fundamentally they were about taking care of our mental health and emotional wellbeing, and not all focussed how we look or feel about our bodies as such.

The topics were:
  • Eating Happy
  • Dressing Up
  • Thinking about Messaging
  • Moving our Bodies for joy
  • Getting Creative
  • Self-care
  • Reflecting on and Thanking our Bodies



Being stuck, aka safe, at home in isolation will have a different impact on everyone and that's ok. For some it will mean time to do good things, but for others it may be a time of negative rumination. The posts suggested only good things, so to answer the question 'does it really matter?' - Yes. Yes it does because at this point in time, we all need to fix our eyes on the light even in the darkness.

It started as an offer to others, but in reality it turned out to be an act of self-care as I got alot from positive thinking and sharing something each day. I've kinda missed it today, but it's been nice to reflect and I'll no doubt have to think of something else over lockdown. Watch this space!

To find out more, get in touch via the social media channels etc below or go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/2653606204690681/


Let's get through this #TogetherApart.
Best wishes
Denise x