CN: Body image
I’m Dhillon Ahira, a teenage activist and artist from London who does a lot of work surrounding body positivity.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity is loving and feeling comfortable in your body.
Why is it so important for your mental health to love your body?
Your body is your home. If you can’t love the home you live in, how can you live contently? It is your tool for interacting with the world and it is important that you practice self-love to confidently function in this world. Too many people, girls especially, spend too much time worrying about their body image and suffering from low self esteem, resulting in self destructive behaviours such as punishing exercise regimes and diets. In situations like these, you no longer view your body as a vessel to be nourished, but as a tool for looking a certain way. All this time and negative energy could be transformed into positive energy and channelled into things you love, instead.
Of course, body positivity is an issue that many individuals come into contact with, not simply young women. There is definitely a large stigma surrounding young men with eating disorders and many trans or non-binary people may encounter body dysmorphia in a wider sense. This is something that could also be helped a lot through better representations of certain identities and body types in the media.
What do I do as a body positivity activist?
Body positivity is probably my main activist area and I have created and run body positivity workshops – one at an event, some at my own school and some at a different school. A lot of my art is centred around body positivity: it is about embracing your body’s menstruation (if you menstruate!), embracing your curves, your body hair. I’ve also created a book called You Are the Beholder, in which I have illustrated my top favourite twenty anonymous quotes from people at the workshops that I ran, almost all girls, speaking about their bodily insecurities and how they manage them.
When did I get involved with activism?
I think the first spark was lit when I was about thirteen and was about to start shaving my armpits, and my mum told me that I didn’t need to if I didn’t want to. This was the first time I had ever heard anyone in society tell me shaving is actually a choice. And then I started reading about it and getting really interested in body positivity and in general learning about why it’s important for girls of this generation. It is especially prominent when you’re a teenage girl, or sadly even younger, when you begin to hear all your friends constantly talking about how much they hate their bodies. I definitely started to feel the same way and that made me angry. There are so many young girls with eating disorders now: according to recent statistics, 13% of women have suffered from an eating disorder by the age of 20.
Why do I think more and more young women suffer from poor self-esteem?
There is a study that examined body image after the introduction of television in Fiji in 1995 and it found that after three years with TV, the girls who watched it the most were 50% more likely to describe themselves as ‘too fat’; 29% scored highly on a test of eating-disorder risk. So we can definitely blame the media for this. Capitalism convinces girls and women we are not good enough, in order to sell us stuff. There is so little representation of average-sized women, which is ridiculous – let alone curvy women, hairy women, women of ethnic minorities and trans women. This leaves girls who do not fit a very narrow, cisgender, white, skinny ideal feeling alienated from their own bodies. Not only that, but even the people we actually do see don’t really look like that. The supermodel Cindy Crawford once said ‘I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford’, because the photos we see are airbrushed, taken from certain angles and the models wear a lot of makeup and often starve themselves before shoots. When there is a standard this unrealistic shoved in our faces everyday, we can’t help but feel worthless since girls are taught that our value lies in our looks. Which is, obviously, a misogynistic lie.
What can people do to improve their body image?
As I mentioned before: don’t hold yourself to this ideal! We should all dress however we feel most comfortable and happy and remember that what you see in the media is not an accurate representation of how women really look. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad or any of those terrible ‘thinspiration’ type accounts. Follow accounts that make you feel good about yourself and represent you.
For example, some of Instagram accounts are quite good: if you’re looking for representation of all body types then follow @allwomanproject; if you’re looking for representation of disabled people follow @mamacaxx; for body hair positivity follow @marcharrismiller; for Muslim representation follow @halima. There’s so much out there that you can find and I can tell you from experience that seeing pictures everyday that represent people like you makes you feel so much more beautiful and accepted.
The second thing you can do is remember that our bodies are beautiful for what they do – our value does not lie in how we look. We are taught as girls that our bodies exist to appease the male gaze, but they actually exist to serve functions for us. Most of us can hear voices and music with our ears, can walk and travel with our legs and create beautiful things with our hands, can smell our flowers and can see this weird, wonderful world we live in – all of that is far more beautiful than any Barbie could ever be. I mean, did you know that our hearts try to beat in time with music?
Next, try and remember what you love about your body. When you’re having a day when you feel negatively about yourself, remember something that makes you unique and beautiful.
See the positive in the negatives. When I say this to the people in my body positivity workshops, people always come up with great ones. Some of my favourites are:
These ones are in the book I briefly mentioned earlier called You Are the Beholder, based on a quote by the actor Salma Hayek, who says “People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realising that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look including inside ourselves”. I think that’s a really important thing to remember.
Dancing is also very liberating, it forces you to connect your body to your mind in the most creative way possible. Not only that, but it’s a form of exercise which is proved to make you happy by releasing endorphins.
Next, don’t compare yourself to people – there’s this post on Instagram I saw which was kind of cringeworthy but true: “fairy lights are beautiful and so are flowers, and they look nothing alike.” So, don’t shame other people’s looks: you are only doing that because you feel insecure about yourself. It is extremely toxic to be taking comfort in other women’s insecurities by putting them down. Remember that each individual is beautiful in their own way; it cannot be measured by a number or by how close you look to a misogynistic, Eurocentric beauty ideal.
And that leads me on to my final suggestion, which is to be proud of what makes you not fit the social standard. It’s cool to not look like everyone else: your body is special to you.
So why would you want someone else’s face or body?
(You can buy my book for £3 by messaging me on my art Instagram @dhillonahira).
Featured image and all artwork by Dhillon Ahira