fat shaming will not work

How To Get Over Fat Shaming Right Now

Fat Shaming will not help cure the Obesity Crisis.   We need to remove the social stigma associated with obesity.  We’ve proven that making it easier for people to talk about stigmatized health conditions is enormously beneficial.  But we still have the barrier to break down in terms of obesity.  This week is National Obesity Awareness Week in the UK.  Hence I’m debunking some of the myths associated with the attitude towards obesity.

Fat Shaming Won’t Help

fat shaming is not the answerI despise any kind of body shaming whether it’s fat shaming or skinny shaming.  It’s bullying and downright harmful.

Fat shaming someone who is obese is unlikely to encourage anyone to change their lifestyle.   People who respond positively to being shamed are relatively uncommon.  If you doubt this my recommended reading is Gretchen Rubin – The Four Tendencies.

Fat Shaming is more likely to reinforce their feelings of low self-esteem and may lead to more comfort eating.

I was overweight as a teenager and was bullied for it.  I’d been underweight until I was 6 years old and had a tonsillectomy.  My parents so overjoyed that I was at last enjoying food encouraged me to eat and eat.  While my own unhealthy relationship with food then later manifested itself as anorexia, this had nothing to do with being bullied for my weight.

 

It’s Just A Matter Of Calories In Versus Calories Outfat shaming not simply calories in and calories out

It’s easy you don’t need to be fat you just need to consume less calories than you burn (Calories In V Calories Out  – CICO)

This is a more insidious attempt at fat shaming.  Implying that people merely need to eat less and stop being lazy.

Dr Jason Fung states before 1980 we didn’t count calories.  He argues that we ate without knowing how many calories we consumed. We expended calories without knowing how many we burnt.  He argues that myths perpetuated about CICO benefited the US corporations who drove these messages for the purpose of their own bottom line.

Is this a cynical view or simply reality?  This week I read that McDonalds, Taco Bell and Wendy’s had spent $1Billion on advertising targeted at Black and Hispanic youth.  If this wasn’t bad enough  they’d all pledged to support healthier lifestyles to deprived groups.

 

Fat Shaming Is the Same As Skinny Shamingfat shaming not the same as skinny shaming

No it’s not!

As above I don’t condone any form of body shaming.    But skinny shaming is not the same as fat shaming.  I have friends who are naturally petite and get upset when they are told – you must have an eating disorder.  But this is not the same as the every day discrimination and humiliation levied at obese people in every aspect of life.

Michael Hobbes – Huffington Post Highline Article ‘Everything you know about obesity is wrong’ . He cited how one reader told me that unsolicited diet advice from strangers feels overtly worse than direct comments about weight.   Another said she leaves the room when her colleagues start talking about their new diets.  This is because it’s only a matter of time before a woman smaller than her describes herself as “huge.”

 

Let’s Get Children More Active And They’ll Lose Weight

Well I would never disagree with more activity.  There are incalculable benefits to more activity including:fat shaming we must educate children

  • More face to face social interaction;
  • Team sports and events improving their people skills as well as exercise benefits;
  • Improved sleep patterns with reduced screen time;
  • Emotional wellbeing of being outdoors particularly in nature.

Interestingly a number of international studies looked at healthy eating and more activity within children.  They found that while the combination didn’t have a massive impact on weight academic results improved.

But we do need to educate and help children from an early age without creating issues regarding food.  My own mother was a habitual dieter.  She had a relationship with food that consisted of deprivation followed by indulgence.  She loved food but was on a diet whenever her weight crept up again.  Of course her body suffered.  Her disordered eating had, at the very least, a sub-conscious impact on my own relationship with food.

 

Featuring Large Models Glamorises Obesity

No it doesn’t.diversity representing society on the catwalk

I’m a huge advocate for diversity on the catwalk and within the media to represent Society.  It’s vital that people don’t feel discriminated against. They should be able to relate to what is on the catwalk and in the media.

The outcry in October 2018 over Cosmopolitan’s Cover featuring Tess Halliday last year got the fat shaming brigade ranting and raving.    Led by Piers Morgan whose argument was that the cover made it acceptable to be obese.

Everyone deserves to feel positive about themselves.  Equally everyone should have access to education, information and support to lead a healthier lifestyle.

What we need to do is create a culture where fat discrimination is ostracized. People are encouraged to have a positive attitude towards their own bodies, which is fundamentally the aim of the body positivity movement.

Summary

We need to de-stigmatize obesity in the same way we’re creating a culture that allows us to talk about Mental Health.

Last summer an electrician visited my house and the conversation turned to photography. He shared with me his passion for photography and painting.  When I asked if he’d always enjoyed being creative he said he’d never tried it until he started to use it to help with his mental health.   How many complete strangers (particularly men) would have opened up like that even a year ago?

Obesity isn’t simply about physical health it’s equally about mental health and emotional wellbeing.   We have made fantastic progress with regard to mental health let’s replicate that with obesity.

 

Like to feel more confident about your body?  Why not take a look at my 3 top tips to be body positive by clicking on the link below.

 

 

 

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Looking Good, Feeling Great Workshop For A-T Society

A-T Family Day Looking Good Feeling Great

I’d never heard of A-T until earlier this year when I’d been invited to take part in a workshop for the A-T Society.

The workshop was entitled ‘Looking Good, Feeling Great’ for a very special group of people.  It was part of the Society’s Annual Family Weekend.  It was humbling to be inspired by so many amazing people.

Colour Analysis For The A-T Society

What Is A-T?

Ataxia-Telangiectasia, (or A-T), is a rare and complex genetic disorder.  A-T gives rise to increasing physical disability, while deficiencies in the immune system can lead to frequent colds and infections and the gradual emergence of lung problems.  There is an increased risk of cancers, particularly leukaemia and lymphoma.

So who gets A-T?

A-T is caused by a defect, known as a ‘mutation’, on a particular gene, known as the ATM gene. A child born with mutations on both copies of the ATM gene cannot produce a protein, called the ATM protein, which is important in many processes in the body’s cells.   The parents are unknowing carriers.  When they both carry this mutation, the chances of a child developing the condition are 1 in 4.

 How does A-T manifest itself?

Ataxia means that a child’s co-ordination may be impaired.  Balance is affected and while they may be able to walk, they may often be wobbly and fall over.   Increasing impairment means that many end up in a wheelchair.

Their speech and swallowing may also be affected.  It can be hard to pronounce words and may struggle to eat.   Deterioration may continue until they are about 10 years old.

They may also develop other symptoms such as involuntary spasms. Postural issues and spinal problems are also common.  Then there is fatigue, suffered by many with A-T because the muscles are working so hard to compensate for co-ordination and balance problems.

There are different variants of A-T and sometimes people are not diagnosed until they are adults.

Looking Good, Feeling Great Workshop

Living with A-T has many challenges and the A-T Society does a fantastic job of supporting families and carers as well as those suffering from A-T.

So when I was asked if I would take part in the workshop I welcomed the opportunity to get involved.  The idea of the workshop was to offer those living with A-T the chance to have a pampering session, culminating in a photo shoot as individuals, not defined by their condition.

 

I was offering colour analysis, so that everyone taking part learnt the best colours for them.  Colour analysis has many benefits, not only does wearing  the right colours make you look healthy but it also means people look directly into your eyes when you are communicating with them.  Given how A-T impacts speech this is a massive help for those living with A-T.  Many of the girls taking part love shopping and so they really appreciated the handbag-sized swatches they could take with them for their shopping trips.

Each participant then had a chance to have their hair and make up done, before joining Frances the photographer. Frances had set up a studio area so that she could take photographs of everyone as the amazing awesome people that they are.

Looking Good, Feeling Great Workshop for A-T Society

As Saturday Approached

I don’t mind admitting that as the weekend drew closer I had a tight knot in my stomach.  It was fear of the unknown mixed with a nervous excitement of being part of something incredibly special.

But my worries were unfounded and instead I found the whole experience to be amazing.  It was great to have a small influence on someone’s life that will make a big difference to them.

As I worked with each of the participants I learned a little about their amazingly strong characters.  I started to understand how despite their frustrations and challenges they really know how to ‘get on with life’.  The stigmas they face from some people who simply don’t understand or are embarrassed.

One amazing woman is undertaking a Sky Dive later this year to raise money and more awareness for the charity.   Another lady was telling me about her love of swimming and visits to the gym.

One young man was really excited about his forthcoming trip to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix.   I learnt about special wheelchairs for dancing and trips to shopping centres.

There was a real upbeat energy in the room with lots of love and banter.  Most of those attending (apart from those recently diagnosed) attend every year. They have fun and as one woman told me ‘it’s my opportunity to ‘feel normal’.

The A-T Society

The A-T Society is clearly held in very high regard by those living with A-T along with their families and carers.  Not only does the Society offer support and practical advice, it tirelessly fundraises and commissions research.  It is completely funded by grants and donations.

If you would like to find out more then visit the A-T Society’s website.

 

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Image Bri Mansys

#DisabilityFight4FashionRight

Welcome to Part Two of my interview with Gemma Flanagan.

In Part One we looked at Gemma’s story and how from being an active young woman travelling the world for her job, she ended up in hospital completely paralysed.    How she was in hospital for almost a year and has had to come to terms with life in a wheelchair.

In this second part of the interview we explore the work of Models of Diversity (MOD).  Angel and her team are challenging the perceptions of beauty as portrayed by the fashion, beauty and media industries.  They are campaigning for change, inclusion and equality.

In this second part we will explore the campaign #DisabilityFight4FashionRight.

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

I will share with you how important the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign is, not simply for people with disabilities who want to make a career of modelling.  This campaign has a much wider impact offering inspiring role models to others.

Beauty is diverse across the full spectrum of Society.  There are many beautiful men and women who would not fit into the conventional and frankly outdated sense of what is defined as beauty by the fashion, beauty and media industries.

CH: MOD is more than simply fighting for acceptance of disability on the catwalk and is having some great wins – would you please share some of these with us?

GF: For a start diversity embraces much more than just disability. It includes ethnicity, age, size, height, non-binary gender.

Yes we are having some fantastic wins and that we have some businesses and brands we’re talking to. Unfortunately there are a lot who are not so enlightened and so it’s slow progress.

We are in discussion with various brands and some are really embracing what we’re doing. Top Shop are meeting with us and discussions are ongoing.   Jack Eyers is part of this Men’s Fashion Week for TopMan.

Male Disabled Models seem to be more readily accepted and I think that’s because of the association of War Veterans.

CH: Is the UK different from other countries in its approach and acceptance of diversity in the fashion industry and if so how?

GF: The UK is certainly behind other countries. Take the US as an example

There is certainly more diversity in New York Fashion week. In February this included our own Jack Eyers who was on the catwalk. The first amputee to feature in New York Fashion Week.

US Brand Nordstrom takes a more inclusive approach using models who would be considered diverse in all of its shows.

The UK does lag behind not just the US but other countries in Europe.   Our culture is much more reserved. We seem to be more awkward about embracing and celebrating diversity.

Image by Chio Photography

Image by Chio Photography

CH: Is there any sense that the fashion industry will use diversity simply to gain public approval, be seen as ‘doing the right thing’, an act of tokenism?

GF: Sadly there are indeed acts of tokenism. With a ‘hey look at us’ approach and the media attention dies and life returns to the way it’s always been.

We want it become just normal practice.

Our message is very clear.  We are passionate about not having special treatment.

We don’t want to be taken on as models because we are disabled, or due to our ethnic origin etc.

We want to be accepted as models because we have the attributes required for a model: Beauty, confidence, we are professional, able to take direction.

What we are campaigning for is not to be treated differently and to have a level playing field.

 

CH: Of course the campaign that MOD is fighting for is so important for anyone who wants to work in the fashion industry, but what are the effects for people outside the industry

GF: With over 80% of people suffering from body confidence issues it’s so important to celebrate beauty in all its forms.

Before my illness I was size 8, toned and tall. GBS has meant that my body shape has gone through many changes.

I know how seeing someone that I could have related in a role that is all about being visible would have helped me to get through an incredibly tough time in my life.

Our campaign is much more than the modeling industry. We want retailers to think more about Diversity.

  1. How many mannequins do you see in wheelchairs?
  2. Disabled changing facilities are often used as storage space?
  3. Which retailers provide a lower counter facility for wheelchair users?
Image by Tim Los Hemmingway

Image by Tim Los Hemmingway

CH: As an Ambassador for MOD and its campaign for Diversity can you tell us a bit about the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight and what you want to achieve?

GF: To put it simply we are 4 disabled women addressing exclusion of disability in Fashion.

We want to see fairness and equality. We do not want to be shamed or excluded.  We wear clothes, so why shouldn’t we be represented in the Marketing and Advertising campaigns that the industry generates?

Our #DisabilityFight4FashionRight Campaign is simply to ask the Government to Enforce & Regulate strict guidelines to the multiple areas of this industry.

On September 18th 2015 we launched our petition at the House of Lords.   We met with Baronness Benjamin and Baronness Hussein-Ece who were happy to add their support to our campaign.

We have until 23rd March to get 100,000 signatures for the Government to consider this for Parliamentary debate.

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

 

CH: Are people being supportive? How are you raising awareness of the campaign?

GF: We had a great response when we launched. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

We are starting launching a UK tour on 30th January and we’re hoping that this will generate more publicity.

It’s actually harder to get the disabled community engaged, their concern is that we’re trying to make money out of disability – nothing could be further from the truth!

None of us get paid for what we do!   We are all volunteers. A lot of modeling shoots and fashion shows are done to generate publicity – we don’t earn from them.

However, as our #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign is for equality, this will include embracing engaging models on equal terms.

DisabilityFight4FashionRight Tour

CH: How can we support Models of Diversity?

GF: Please, Please sign the petition.  We want as many people as possible to see the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight  campaign and have a chance to support us.

To get this out to as wide an audience as possible we are asking for everyone to SHARE this campaign.

Please put a link on your Facebook Profile, Twitter Feed, Instagram and wherever you hang out online.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who does sign for #DisabilityFight4FashionRight as you are supporting inclusion and fairness.

*Part 1 – read more if you missed how Gemma’s life changed almost overnight – from traveling the world to lying paralysed in hospital.

 

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Image by Paul Cummings Photography

Gemma Flanagan an Inspiring Model

Gemma Flanagan lived a life that many would envy.   Travelling all over the world, partying in some exciting cities and getting paid it!

Gemma was a member of BA’s cabin crew until 2011 when her life changed forever.

Within a week of starting to notice slight tingling, Gemma ended up in hospital completely paralysed, where she stayed for almost a year. Gemma had been struck down by Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)*1, a condition that affects only 1 in 100,000 people.

I met Gemma last year when Angel Sinclair invited me to provide clothes for her Models of Diversity Catwalk Show in Shepherds Bush Market.

In this 2-part interview you can learn about Gemma her amazing courage and positive attitude.  In this part we talk about her illness and recovery.  In part 2 we will discuss the amazing work that Models of Diversity Does and how you can help.

Gemma Flanagan

 CH Hi Gemma can you please introduce yourself and your current role, plus your really exciting news!

GF: Hi I’m Gemma Flanagan I’m the Assistant Director of Disability for Models of Diversity. When I’m not campaigning for Models of Diversity (MOD) I am a fashion model, but this is also an extension of my role for MOD.

I’m so excited that I got engaged at Christmas!! We went to look at our first wedding venue last night and it made me realize just how real it is now!!  We are just celebrating our fourth anniversary.

 

CH: Your life changed forever in 2011 – what happened?

GF: I was on a stopover in Vegas and realized that I wasn’t feeling quite right.

My feet started to feel strange.  I had pins and needles and my legs felt heavy – Sounds daft but I put it down to the 6” heels I’d been partying in!

On the return flight I felt really tired and thought I’d been overdoing things.   I was due to report for my next flight to Nairobi 2 days later.

I made it out of the door and on to the street (in full uniform!) only to collapse in the street. I struggled to get up. The weird thing was that I was in no pain. I just couldn’t walk.

Gemma Flanagan Before & After GBS

 CH: Presumably you didn’t make the flight to Kenya?

GF: Hardly! My flatmate took me to a WalkIn Clinic – not surprisingly they were really unsure what to do with me!  So I ended up in A&E and was admitted to hospital for tests.

It was then that things started to get a bit scary as they mentioned stroke, meningitis and tropical diseases as possible causes for my symptoms.

The doctors confirmed the diagnosis as GBS* after a lumbar puncture.

From that point things deteriorated really quickly – within a week of being admitted to hospital I’d lost my swallowing reflex and was totally paralyzed. I was literally trapped within my own body.

 

 CH: How frightening it must have been to go from being an able bodied person to being completely paralyzed?

GF: The doctors kept telling me that it was a mild case and I was really calm.

However, I did get a bit hysterical when I’d been in hospital for 4 days and a friend who was visiting asked what was wrong with my face.

My face had totally dropped on one side. It sounds so vain but that was the point I got a bit upset!

I was moved to Intensive Care (ICU) for two weeks, when the paralysis kicked in.  This was despite the fact that I still didn’t think I was ill enough to warrant being there!!

After 2 months it stopped deteriorating and I was transferred to Liverpool. In January 2012 I entered rehabilitation.

Image by Matt Jamie

Image by Matt Jamie

 CH: What did the rehabilitation involve?

GF: It was tough with 6 hours per day of therapy.

As the nerves start to recover they become hypersensitive. This involves a burning sensation so intense it’s like an electric shock you can’t move away from.  I was in a lot of pain and trying to cope with this and 6 hours of therapy per day was not easy.

I had to learn to swallow, talk, write and partly walk again.   Not exactly what I’d planned to be doing aged 27!   I was in rehabilitation for 7 months.

I left the amazing Walton Neuro Centre on crutches and was told that it was highly likely I’d make a full recovery.   I missed the bit where they said it would take time!

CH: At what point did you realise that life was never going back to the way it had been and how did that make you feel?

GF: For 18 months after leaving hospital I refused to use a wheelchair. I believed that I would get better if I kept pushing myself.

Unfortunately I was my own worst enemy and have irreparably damaged my spine and skeletal system. It means that I now need to use a wheelchair full time.

Over the last 2 years the doctors have been telling me that I’m not going to get better.   It took me another year to accept the fact, so it’s been a long time.

Last summer I went through a grieving process as I came to terms with the changes in my body.

But I’m one of the lucky ones! Not everyone survives GBS!

Image by Andy Green

CH: You are now diverting your energy into an incredibly worthwhile cause can you tell us a bit about that and how you became involved?

GF: I needed a purpose in life and have been lucky that I’ve found that with Models of Diversity (MOD)

Since meeting Angel Sinclair in 2012 I have been an ambassador for MOD and recently been promoted to Assistant Director of Disability.

I have so much to thank Angel for as she helped me realize I could be glamorous and get back in front of the camera. It had an amazing effect on my self-confidence and self-esteem.

As a model Angel realized that in order for changes to be instigated someone needed to start raising awareness.   Angel founded MOD in 2008 and has been campaigning for change ever since.

In Part 2 of my interview with Gemma we explore  Models of Diversity and their tireless efforts to campaign for change in the fashion, beauty and media industries.  We will look at the Petition they launched at the Houses of Parliament in September and the race to get as many signatures as possible before March 23rd.

 

*1 Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)

GBS is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.  The peripheral nervous system is found in the feet and other extremities of the body.

GBS can affect anybody. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The syndrome is rare, and only about 1 in 100,000 people are affected.

No one yet knows what causes GBS or sets it in motion. What scientists do know is that the body’s immune system begins to attack the body itself, causing what is known as an autoimmune disease.  It can spread to the body’s organs and that’s when fatalities can occur.

The disorder mutates differently in each case which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.  Some sufferers make a full recovery, others like Gemma are left managing pain and suffering mobility issues for the rest of their lives.

 

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