On April 5, 2014, women and their allies from all over the world convened at the University of Arizona for the inaugural Body Love Conference. Kicked off by Tucson’s own Jes Baker of the Militant Baker blog, the Body Love Conference sought to educate, advocate, and provide a safe space for those identifying as women, and their allies, in order to revolutionize the way bodies are perceived.
“The way we view our bodies determines the way we participate in the world.”
Throughout the conference, participants attended workshops conducted by speakers comprising women of all sizes, women of color, transgender women, and aging women. Each workshop carried variations on the same message: the critical importance of empowering women through providing access to a supportive community and education on body acceptance. It is clear that whatever thoughts you have had about yourself and your body image, someone else has had them too. You are not alone. Below is a cross-section of four of the 33 Body Love Conference presenters, who spoke out against the power of body shame by showing us that all of our bodies are normal — and normal bodies are lovable.
Jade Beall, the Tucson artist behind A Beautiful Body Project, photographs bodies of all types in their unaltered states, including gestational, post-birth, and even post-cancer. Her work serves as a truth-telling device firmly planted opposite the Photoshopped, smoothed-over, whitened photographs of post-birth bodies on the covers of magazines that have slowly tricked us into believing they are normal and anything else is wrong. Beall’s work incorporates stretch marks, breastfeeding, sags, folds, and wrinkles to educate and illustrate what the human body truly looks like as it undergoes the normal events and processes of life.
Sonya Renee is the founder of the Body Is Not an Apology social movement. Sonya teaches self-love and rising above the shame that is so engrained in anyone with a female body to love the bodies that they have. The crux of Sonya’s movement lies in her statement, “The way you feel about yourself isn’t about you.” She promotes that when bodies are attacked physically, emotionally, verbally, and in other ways, those bodies are disempowered. Sonya states that these body attacks are a form of terrorism wherein dramatic acts are perpetrated against bodies so that people live in fear (e.g., bombing abortion clinics, abuse, rape). Sonya calls for a shift in our collective and individual mindsets. Her call to action involves the Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 Us (RUHCUS) — a three step, 30-day process of healing from body attacks. Sonya promotes the critical importance of reclaiming one’s own power by making our experiences public. Public experiences lessen the shame and serve to educate and heal those who have been through similar experiences.
In her brief 40-minute workshop, Debra Metelits (who is the glorious age of 62) identified the very real feelings of uselessness, invisibility, and marginalization that women feel as they wrinkle, gray, and sag. Debra quickly uprooted the feelings of shame and self-consciousness that are inherent to a woman speaking aloud her true age. One by one, women sitting around a conference table rose without hesitation to speak their age out loud — banishing the fears surrounding their age. Debra drove home that sharing, community, and transparency are what will end the disempowerment systematically passed down to women of all ages.
Finally, Jennifer Tress — founder of the You’re Not Pretty Enough Project — shared her efforts to raise our collective self-esteem relative to our physical appearances. Using storytelling through a series of videos, real people relate their stories of not feeling like they are good enough as they are. Jennifer’s project serves as an important link in the message that you are not alone in how you feel. By sharing these videos, Jennifer opens up for discussion the reasons behind why we talk to ourselves in a negative light, the sources of self-loathing, and how to break the cycles of self-negativity.
Normal is so many things. Normal is wanting and eating a cookie. Normal is transgender. Normal is people of color. Normal is aging. Normal is rolls and sags and cracks and creases. Normal is fat. Normal is skinny. With more than 7 billion people on the earth, it is impossible to encapsulate normal in one paragraph; but it also explodes well beyond the narrative shaped by a collective few who put what they want us to believe is normal on the cover of a magazine. When a supportive community is formed, we are able to take away the power of shame and hurt by bringing normal back up to the front. Going back to founder Jes Baker, she summed the conference up succinctly when she said, “The way we view our bodies determines the way we participate in the world.” As the body positivity movement gains traction, we will begin to transform our understanding of what is normal.