What does representation have to do with body image? What's body positivity, and what's body neutrality? Are you fat-phobic? Do your words and use of the word "fat" inadvertently feed into fat culture?
In this week’s episode, body positivity expert Emily Lauren Dick delves into all of these questions and more.
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[00:00:00] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Hello, all. Welcome to Know Them, Be Them, Raise Them, a show to help busy, mindful, and growth oriented moms stay informed and inspired as they navigate their daughter's tween and teen years. I'm your host Carmelita Tiu. Join me each week as I talk to experts, authors, moms who've been there and read a curated selection of articles on occasion, with the author's permission of course.
[00:00:27] If you like what you hear, be sure to follow or subscribe, tell a friend and follow @knowberaisethem on Instagram or Facebook.
[00:00:37] So this week's episode runs a little longer than usual. I had a runaway conversation with Emily Lauren Dick, a body image, expert, and activist who is committed to making girls feel comfortable in their own skin.
[00:00:50] Her book, body positive, a guide to loving your body is the number one resource for young adult women who desire to redefine and understand true beauty. Emily believes that educating young people about body image, teaching resiliency and normalizing real bodies is critical in combating negative thinking and improving self-esteem.
[00:01:13] Emily holds an honors bachelor of arts degree in women's studies and sociology, and is also a self-taught professional photographer who has photographed hundreds of women, including all of the young women in her book, Body Positive.
[00:01:27] So, as you can probably tell from prior episodes, I'm keenly aware of the important role that body image plays in our lives, as well as our daughters' lives. And while I have a sense for what body positivity is, I wanted a deeper dive on the topic. Our conversation took off from there. Take a listen.
[00:01:50] Welcome Emily. I'm really excited to have you here. So, um, before we jump into some more pithy questions, I'd love to hear what motivated you to write this book. What kind of got you started on this journey.
[00:02:03] Emily Lauren Dick: Well, um, it's funny. It took me until, uh, I was in university actually studying women's studies and gender and all that fun stuff. And I realized that there was sort of names and theories to the feelings I had had my entire life about my body image. And I was like, why has no one talked about this before, you know, all I had learned about growing up was, you know, how to lose weight, things like that, but no one ever talked about the struggle that we have with our body image issues and that, you know, It's normal to have them, first of all.
[00:02:42] And, um, and that there's reasons that we have body image issues and it has nothing to do with the health and, quality of people that we are, it has more to do with selling things. Um, and the historical representation of what the ideal is. So I really wanted to make that information accessible to younger people and, uh, make it really easy to understand.
[00:03:09] And it kind of inspired me to make a book with lots of images and also give different perspectives from other people. Because, you know, my experience is going to be a little bit different than someone else's. And I think it's really important that we sort of frame all of these things and really, you know, it's, it's an introduction to body image and body positivity.
[00:03:31] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Ah, I love that. It's funny as you were talking, when you said it's normal to have these issues and that it's something that you didn't know about until, like, you had to actively seek it out. Um, I had this image of seeds, right. And if our children, our seeds of our daughters are these little tiny nuggets of potential, but the rain that comes is poisonous or the ground that they're in, you know, it doesn't have all the nutrients that a plant needs to thrive. They could easily, without knowing that, see themselves as the problem, but those images, the media messages, that's actually a huge part of it. So I am super grateful that you're doing this work.
[00:04:15] Emily Lauren Dick: That's a great analogy. I love that.
[00:04:18] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: You mentioned body positivity. How do you define that? What does that exactly mean? For the listeners who maybe have heard it and maybe think they know what it is, I'd love to hear what your kind of perspective.
[00:04:29] Emily Lauren Dick: Definitely. So body positivity really is this idea that all bodies are good bodies. It's, it's as simple as Um, you know, I think it has to do with the fact that we are all worthy of love, respect, but also that all bodies are, are beautiful.
[00:04:45] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Um, yeah, not just what you see in a, uh, through an Instagram filter and not what you see in a magazine, but all ranges, all sizes, all colors, all abilities. That those are all beautiful. Oh, that's so great. And I've also heard this term body neutrality. So how do those relate?
[00:05:05] Emily Lauren Dick: So body neutrality is sort of a newer take on, you know, kind of stems a little bit out of the body positive movement. It's an in-between place for people that, you know, understand and want to recognize that their bodies don't define their worth, but without the pressure of having to love the way that their body looks because they're affected by society and all the things that they've gone through, they, they don't feel that the word body positive can explain sort of how they feel about their bodies, right? But I think at the end of the day, we all kind of got a strive towards body positivity. Um, But it's really a personal preference in, in which you choose, but it is knowing that all bodies are good bodies, you know?
[00:05:51] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: I kind of appreciate that place of compassion, like meeting someone where they are, or meeting yourself where you are and not feeling like you have to feel excited and 100% in love with how you look and every part of you. Uh, so, so it seems like that term might allow for that kind of fluidity
[00:06:09] Emily Lauren Dick: Exactly, gives us all a little bit of space to explore that side of things.
[00:06:15] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: So how would you say that we can encourage our daughters and, and within ourselves, how can we learn to love the way our bodies look just as they are?
[00:06:27] Emily Lauren Dick: So really, I think representation is key to all of this. Um, because naturally we're going to compare ourselves to what we see in the media, right? So the more representation that we see, the easier it's going to be to accept ourselves, because we're going to see qualities that we recognize in ourselves.
[00:06:48] And that's why I photograph 75 different women for my book, because I wanted everyone to see someone that sort of reminded them of themselves, whether it was a certain feature or the way their body looks, because really, you know, when we feel recognized, when we feel it accepted, acceptable, we feel validated.
[00:07:09] And I think that really gives us a lot of power, but obviously that is something that is starting to change, but it's, it's a process because, the way that media and advertising is set up to, you know, make us feel insecure so that we buy their products. Um, but the thing is like it's extremely profitable to be using body positive advertising, you know, techniques. So why, why not go that route? If people are craving to see real bodies and, and people that look like them in the media?
[00:07:43] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: It reminds me of, in two past episodes. One, I was, speaking with Lacey Clark, who talks about self esteem and self love for young women, but her journey and, and the reason that she also started something to help women was because all the media images of people that she was supposed to identify with, they didn't resonate with her. She
[00:08:03] They they weren't
[00:08:04] that she wanted to be. Yeah. And similarly, one of my other guests, her name's Neysa Page-Lieberman, she's a curator and she does a lot with art, especially art in public spaces and monuments and, uh, creating an awareness around how does that subconscious, that subtle messaging impact people that don't look like that statue of a, a white man on a horse.
[00:08:28] Emily Lauren Dick: exactly. Well, you know why, we want to change things for future generations, right. That's what has led us down this path. And, uh, that's where we need to head, you know, we can't just focus on building resiliency in girls to handle this issue. We need to actually change the fact that there is an issue as well.
[00:08:49] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: I completely agree. Like we can't put it all on our daughters to cope. We need to also change the fact that yes, what we're feeding them or what society is feeding them may not be healthy.
[00:09:00] Emily Lauren Dick: Exactly.
[00:09:01] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Uh, so in addition to fighting for more representation, are there tactical things that you'd encourage and maybe this is covered in your book so feel free to reference that?
[00:09:12] Emily Lauren Dick: Absolutely. There are so many different things, but I think one of the biggest things is to stop focusing on appearance in itself. Um, so obviously I believe that that we need to see representation and that all bodies should be seen as beautiful, but also we have to separate the conversation away from appearance because talking to your child about their non-physical features,
[00:09:36] recognizing that things like their kindness, their intelligence, is what's more important is going to build self-esteem just in itself and, you know, It separates this idea that women and girls get their value from being beautiful.
[00:09:53] So I think that's really, really an important thing. Um, another thing is modeling your behaviors as a parent, um, after what you hope to see in your child. So my big motto is fake it until you make it because, you know, obviously it's, it's something that I don't, I haven't met a woman that had doesn't struggle with her body image, but in front of our children, we, we can't let them see that side of things.
[00:10:23] Um, because then they'll start thinking those thoughts about themselves that they'll see if you say, you know, you need to lose weight, they're going to think that about themselves. And we really need to push away from that type of thinking. Um, the other thing too is, some women, some parents, their body image issues really affect them living their daily lives.
[00:10:47] So, your children will notice if you don't put on a bathing suit when you go to the beach, because you're self-conscious and you, you got to focus on making those good memories and creating those healthy ways of thinking for, for your kids.
[00:11:01] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Yes. Role modeling, Um,
[00:11:03] Emily Lauren Dick: the biggest
[00:11:04] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: important. Yeah, yeah. It's funny over time and I'm sure many women can relate to this, but I feel like between my friends or family members, I can see differences in how we approach life based upon how our mothers tackled it. Like we've inherited issues
[00:11:24] Emily Lauren Dick: it plays a huge role.
[00:11:25] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: yeah. And, and reminding ourselves, if there are things we want to pass along to our kids, or not, that we have to step into those, like you said, fake it till you make it. Even if it doesn't resonate, like
[00:11:37] Emily Lauren Dick: right.
[00:11:38] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: stop the cycle. Yeah. I have a friend who has struggled with body image and she remembers her mom always struggling with hers. So even if there wasn't a dialogue necessarily between her mom and her, it was something that informed her understanding of her body and her relationship to her body.
[00:11:59] Her body was always something to be dissatisfied with, that betrayed you, that you, restricted.
[00:12:04] Emily Lauren Dick: That wasn't good enough, right? Yeah. We have to be kind to ourselves, but to others as well. And that will make such a difference on how our children feel about their own bodies and, um, another thing too, I'm going off of sort of that dieting idea, like with us, you know, having moms that grew up going on weight Watchers and different types of diets and stuff like that.
[00:12:31] Um, I think this idea that there is morality attached to food is really problematic for raising children, you know, junk food, bad food, things like that. Labeling foods that way actually leads to bingeing and restriction. And it can also turn into eating disorders later on in life or earlier on in life.
[00:12:53] So really teaching kids to eat intuitively, which is just listening to their hunger cues, and having bits of everything really. It's just finding that balance and not saying, oh, that's bad. You know, all foods have nutrition, just some have different types of nutritional value.
[00:13:10] This whole idea of, of health is really challenging in today's society because we think of health as being thin. And, we think of health is doing food a certain way. And really it's subjective, it's individual to each person. And it's something where, you know, we really have to learn to tap into our intuition, listen to our instincts and, and follow that lead.
[00:13:40] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: A question that came up as you were just talking was, you know, this tie between health and fitness, right? How can we promote healthy habits? Um, exercise, healthy eating, this idea of wellness, which has so just blown up.
[00:13:57] Um, how do we promote that without promoting thinness and diet culture? I mean, I can sort of think of some obvious things, like you said, maybe not focusing on appearance, but, uh, Yeah.
[00:14:10] What are your thoughts on, on that line?
[00:14:12] Emily Lauren Dick: So I really think we have to think about it as what makes us feel good mentally and physically what makes us feel good? Not what do we think or what we're told will make us look good. But really what makes us feel good? So for some person it might be going for a run, for another person it might be doing yoga, for another person that's just walking, you know, to get the mail, like it, it doesn't have to be this big, this is the way we exercise. You have to go to the gym, you have to do this. Um, really whatever makes you feel good and whole as a person. You know, it has to do with. Obviously movement.
[00:14:51] It's good to move our bodies, but everyone is different. There are some people that can't move their bodies in ways that another person can. So really it's that subjective: what makes you feel good?
[00:15:02] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Hmm.
[00:15:03] Emily Lauren Dick: Same thing with our mind, what are we putting in, in our mind? What are the thoughts that we're consuming?
[00:15:08] What are we telling ourselves are we being mindful? Are we being grateful? Those are things that will affect your overall health. And then of course what you eat as well. As long as we're not fixated on, you know, you can't have this, you can have this. Sometimes pizza is what you need to feel balanced and healthy and good.
[00:15:32] And sometimes you feel like a salad and that's okay.
[00:15:35] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: And as you were talking about pizza, I was thinking sometimes you just want to enjoy that flavor. at which I think is sometimes lost in the conversation around health is, you know, of course you want to see your food as fuel, but I know that enjoyment and pleasure is also something that I get out of certain types of food and within reasonable amounts it's not a bad thing. Like tying back to what you were saying. There's no bad food.
[00:15:59] Emily Lauren Dick: That's actually one of the principles of intuitive eating, right? It's finding joy in eating and food. And you know, sometimes it's about the community aspect and sometimes it's about just having alone time, whatever it is to you you'd know. Um, but it absolutely, it's not just fuel it's experience. It's joy. It's pleasure. It's all of those things.
[00:16:21] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Um, there were a couple questions about fatphobia and fat talk that I wanted to touch off
[00:16:29] Emily Lauren Dick: absolutely.
[00:16:30] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: I had not heard the term fatphobia, but reading it made me realize, oh, I totally know what that means.
[00:16:36] I think
[00:16:37] Emily Lauren Dick: Everyone does it's so embedded in who we are. So really fatphobia is the fear or hatred or discrimination against fat people, fat bodies. It has to do a lot with systemic oppression of people because of their size. Um, And it's incredibly common. Even the idea that we think being fat is unhealthy is an example of fatphobia.
[00:17:03] So it doesn't necessarily mean you have to be like, "I hate fat people," but it's just, if the word fat even makes you cringe, a bad word. Um, then that is fatphobia, you know, and it takes time to really dismantle, your thoughts about that. Even for me, it was like, Oh, I never thought about it that way.
[00:17:24] So it takes a conscious effort to tackle some of the things that you think, our feelings or the, the belief systems that you've held, um, that don't actually make sense. And that, that are, you know, discriminatory against fat people.
[00:17:42] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: I never really thought about until relatively recently, but how the word fat is being used, it can really kind of inform and reflect upon you and, and maybe your kids, what their thought process is around this word. Because in and of itself it can be neutral, right? If you, I...
[00:18:04] Emily Lauren Dick: it's an adjective, it's just a description. Right. But we don't treat it that way in our society.
[00:18:10] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Right. Kind of like the term gay, when being hurled as an insult, can tell like, that need that kind of behavior. That kind of talk be, you know, shut down or, shut down as... that makes it sound like no
[00:18:25] Emily Lauren Dick: It's being misused. Yes. It's being used with the intention that it's a bad thing, is oppressive and harmful. There's a term called fat talk. It was coined by, uh, socio-cultural anthropologists and it's sort of like become ritualistic in the way that we communicate as a society. So you might hear, uh, a girl say to another, "oh, I'm so fat." You know, "I feel so fat." "I feel, ugh." Um, and the response might be, "You're not fat. You're beautiful." and that both sides is problematic because first of all, fat's not a feeling.
[00:19:05] Fat's a description. there's nothing wrong with being fat. And, you know, the problem is that we, we think that there's something wrong with being fat as a society. Um, but also it's really that, we think of being fat as a problem to be fixed. So we need to, to teach people the correct words to use when they are feeling maybe insecure about their bodies, when they're experiencing body dissatisfaction. You know, sometimes it's just a matter of saying, like, I feel really bloated today or I'm having a bad body image day. So replacing the sentence from saying, oh, I feel fat to really what's going on in your body that's making you feel not good. Um, and then it separates fatness from a negative feeling or experience. So we really need to teach people, girls, especially the language, able to express themselves and express their body image concerns.
[00:20:07] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: yeah. I'm really glad you touched on like it, cause, you're right. If a girl is saying, I feel fat, there's something that needs to be expressed and you don't want to tamp down that expression, but empower giving them the more appropriate or more accurate terminology that won't inadvertently feed into this thin culture, dieting culture, fat bad culture. That is so interesting to me. Are there other examples of different phrases or words swaps that we can use?
[00:20:38] Emily Lauren Dick: You know, often, kids will be teased because of fatness and sometimes, especially with kids that are actually fat, um, I've often heard, well, what do I do when my kid comes home and someone's called them fat, and really it's saying, first of all, there's nothing wrong with being fat.
[00:20:58] Why, do you think that being fat is a bad thing. Right? Ask them questions. Um, because you're teaching them to think critically about what it is they're saying. And then they can sort of learn that, oh yeah. Well, fat isn't so bad. You know, there, can be thin people that are, are mean and, and things like that.
[00:21:19] Um, So really fat is not a feeling is my, my number one, one and being fat is, is just an adjective. Right? So even if someone calls you fat, so what like accepting, accepting the fact that, um, that, that comment is not a problem.
[00:21:39] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Almost teaching them, like, it could mean the same thing as a color. There's no judgment around, your shirt is red. So Yeah. I love that. I love
[00:21:48] Emily Lauren Dick: Or even saying, I think you're using that as a word to try and insult me, but, uh, there's nothing wrong with being fat, you know, giving them a little explanation depending on the age. Right.
[00:22:00] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: I'm curious, you know, at what point do health concerns have validity? How do you, or do we talk about a potential link or correlation between weight and health?
[00:22:14] Emily Lauren Dick: So there's a couple of things to unpack here. So one of them being, one thing we have to recognize is that a lot of the studies that prove there's a link to being fat or what they call obese, um, is that a lot of these studies are funded by diet companies. They want the research to say this. Second thing is, there is always going to be correlation, but can they prove causation?
[00:22:47] There are no diseases, illnesses out there that only affect fat people.
[00:22:54] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Hmm.
[00:22:55] Emily Lauren Dick: Um, the other thing is there's a lot of newer studies coming out, newer research that's being done that is sort of finding the opposite, you know, the idea that we think, oh, fat people don't live as long. Well, there are studies that are coming out now that are actually saying, well, actually fat people live longer lives and things like that.
[00:23:15] So, a great resource actually for this conversation is on Instagram, @ thefatdoctorUK or fat doctor UK. Um, she's a doctor who specializes in dismantling a lot of these beliefs that, if you're fat you're not healthy.
[00:23:36] Um, the other thing to think about too is, you know, health doesn't determine our value as people.
[00:23:44] So there are plenty of people that have no choice over, you know, illness, struggling with cancer. They're not healthy people, there, there are things that people struggle with. But does that mean that they should be treated in a way that, you know, we're disgusted by them? The way that fat people are thought of, as if it's something that can easily be fixed.
[00:24:07] And then there's this whole conversation of sort of what causes someone to be fat. And, you know, a lot of the times we receive this message that fat is something that we can fix by a diet or this or that. A large reason why we are fat has to do with our genetics. And that is one thing you can't change.
[00:24:28] We all sort of have this plateau on how much weight we can lose and how much weight we can gain. I would say that, you know, people who often say, well, I'm concerned about your health because you're gaining weight, things like that. Well, are you really, are you thinking about appearance only? Because you can't see health, you really can't, there are a bunch of medical tests to do to determine if someone's healthy or not. And at the end of the day, does it really matter to you?
[00:24:56] So that's why we need to challenge the attitudes first and change, you know, how we think of, people and in this world.
[00:25:05] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: Yeah, I like to wrap up episodes with an affirmation or maybe a favorite quote of yours. Do you happen to have one that you might want to share?
[00:25:15] Emily Lauren Dick: Absolutely. Um, it's something along the lines of, "Your first thought is what you've been taught to think. And your second thought is what you have chosen to think." So we all need to do our research. We all need to sit back and think about where certain attitudes and beliefs come from and really decide if it's a good thought to have, if the way we think about people, if the way we talk to people is really a good thing in the end.
[00:25:48] Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host: There was a lot of ground covered in this conversation with so many insights. Here are my top takeaways.
[00:25:58] Number one. Body image issues are common and normal. They stem from media messaging and historical representations of what the ideal is. Having body image issues. Isn't a reflection on our actual beauty or how good we are.
[00:26:13] Number two. Body positivity is the idea that all bodies are good bodies and are beautiful, worthy of love and respect. Body neutrality is a term for an in-between place for people that want to recognize that their bodies don't define their worth, but don't feel the term body positive explains how they feel about their bodies right now.
[00:26:35] Number three. We have to keep pushing for representation of a wide range of physiques abilities, skin tones, et cetera. The broader the representation, the more likely we'll see our own qualities being normalized and recognized. And the easier it'll be to accept ourselves.
[00:26:52] Number four. To encourage our girls to love their bodies the way downplay the focus on appearance and recognize their non-physical features like their kindness work ethic and talents. Also take note of your behaviors as a parent model your behavior after what you hope to see in your child.
[00:27:12] Number five. Promoting health without promoting diet culture and thin culture can be really challenging. So try to think about and encourage your daughters to think about what really makes us feel good. Not what we think or what we're told will make us look good, but really what makes us feel good?
[00:27:33] What kind of movement? What thoughts? What food, what amount of rest works for you physically, emotionally and mentally.
[00:27:42] Number six fatphobia exists. It's the fear or discrimination against fat people and fat bodies automatically thinking that fat equals unhealthy is an example of fatphobia. And fat talk. Basically using the word fat to connotes something negative perpetuates fatphobia. Instead of saying, I feel fat try. I feel bloated because fat isn't a feeling. It's a neutral adjective. You is more accurate than. Use more accurate terms to better describe what you're going through. Terms that won't inadvertently feed into thin culture or diet culture.
[00:28:22] Number seven. You cannot see health. Being quote, unquote fat does not mean someone is unhealthy. Choose to question the attitudes that are so pervasive and damaging, and approach others with more compassion and kindness.
[00:28:39] A big, thanks to Emily for giving us so much to think about. Body positivity, neutrality fatphobia fat talk and more. These are all things I will be thinking about for a long time and certainly bringing up with my daughters.
[00:28:52] To learn more about Emily, you can visit happydaughter.com. Or follow her on Instagram @realhappydaughter.
[00:29:00] You can also find her book, Body Positive, A Guide to Loving Your Body on the happy daughter website or on Amazon Barnes and noble or any other booksellers. These links are in the show notes as well.
[00:29:11] A heartfelt thanks for listening. Your time is precious and I'm always honored to share some of that with you.
[00:29:17] If you found something helpful or insightful, remember to follow and leave a review on apple podcasts and Spotify.
[00:29:23] If you're on Facebook or Instagram, follow @knowberaisethem for inspirational quotes, tips and reminders to help you show up for yourself and your daughter, the way you want to and feel free to DM me with episode, topic, ideas, comments, or feedback. I love hearing from y'all. Again, I'm grateful for you.
[00:29:38] And here's to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.