Thunder thighs. Mum tum. Tuckshop lady arms. Far from a biological predisposition, our modern tendency to criticise parts of our own body is instead an ugly by-product of a media-saturated world. Something that the October 2018 cover models and founders of body-love movement, AnyBODY, are on a mission to change.
West-Aussie models and body confidence activists Georgia Gibbs and Kate Wasley sat down with us to talk the impact of social media, health at any size and beauty with no boundaries. Because – in the words of WH&F – it’s not a look, it’s a lifestyle. Katelyn Swallow and David Goding tell their story.
On the 23rd of January 2017, 22-year-old Aussie model Georgia Gibbs posted an innocent Instagram photo of herself and fellow model and friend Kate Wasley, 23, posed in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A few minutes later, the image was bombarded with negative comments about their differing body sizes, along with accusations of image tampering.
“People were calling me anorexic and Kate fat, and assuming I had Photoshopped my friend bigger to make me look ‘better’. It was really upsetting for us both and so against everything we believe in,” says Gibbs, who started modelling at the age of 16 in her home city of Perth.
“And so our brand, AnyBODY, was born shortly after.”
Launched on the 8th of March 2017 – appropriately, International Women’s Day – the @any.body_co Instagram account had over 5000 followers by close of business day one, and clocked over 20,000 followers after the first 10 days. Today, more than 206,000 follow Gibbs and Wasley, who post professional images of themselves, selfies of women with varied body shapes, inspirational quotes about self-love, and healthy living and beauty tips. AnyBODY has also provided the girls with a host of dual modelling contracts for big brands such as Cotton On Body and Cooper Street.
Wasley attributes the brand’s rapid success to a public and industry that craved body diversity – and a marketable icon to represent it.
“I can’t believe how fast AnyBODY blew up! Although [Georgia] and I are really only two people of different sizes, I truly believe that incorporating a range of sizes, races and genders in advertising and across social media will help thousands of women worldwide when it comes to feeling comfortable in their own skin,” says Wasley, who began her modeling career in 2015 after being discovered by a local model search.
“We decided to preach to people that healthy can come in a range of sizes. Because of the way social media is these days, I think a lot of women lose perspective on what body diversity is. I think a lot of people get sucked into believing that you should look a certain way, be a certain size, and have no cellulite or stretch marks. It’s unrealistic and we want that to change.”
The media’s negative influence on people’s – particularly women’s – body image isn’t a recent concern. According to psychotherapist Natajsa Wagner, media influence can be traced back to illustrations from the 1930s that depicted women with curves, while the ’40s and ’50s saw the female bust and glutes become the focus.
“Mattel created the Barbie doll with unachievable and disproportionate body parts, and in 1966, in the environment of an emerging super-media, we had the world’s first supermodel in Twiggy. She was a sharp contrast to Marilyn Monroe, and over time we learnt that thin was the new ‘ideal’ body image. So, although women come in all shapes and sizes, the overarching truth is that only one type of body is [portrayed as] ‘ideal’,” says Wagner.
By the age of 17, women have experienced a quarter of a million beauty- and body-oriented advertisements, and continue to be exposed to an average of 400 to 600 depictions of ‘beauty’ every day. The emergence of the smartphone and social media platforms puts these images in our pockets, and the way we engage with social media makes these often digitally altered and filtered depictions seem all the more ‘real’. According to research by Trilogy, six out of 10 women believe that people expect online photos to have been retouched or have a filter applied, yet 61 per cent of Australian women do not see the use of a filter as a form of retouching. Additionally, one 2014 study published in Body Image found a direct correlation between poor self-image and the number of hours spent trawling Facebook, due to body comparisons with peers and celebrities alike.
Dr John Demartini, author of The Gratitude Effect, believes our tendency to compare and judge our own body based on individuals who we deem more ‘attractive’ is the primary cause of negative self-perception. “In today’s social media-obsessed world, many people feel pressured to pursue a physical, one-sided, false perfection that is simply unattainable,” he says.
In other words, it’s not a biologically determined position to think of our body negatively; rather, our body image is influenced by a range of outside factors, fuelled by a visually obsessed (and self-obsessed) society. For Wasley, this tendency to compare herself to others led to a host of mental and physical issues in her younger – and leaner – years. While now sitting happily at a comfortable size 16, at her thinnest (size 10/12) she was mentally exhausted.
“For me, my biggest barriers [to a positive body image] were comparing myself to others, whether that be my friends or ‘fitspo’ girls I followed on social media. I had such an unrealistic idea of what I should look like and that resulted in not feeling good enough or worthy of love,” she says.
“I stopped going out with friends because I had such bad anxiety about food and alcohol. I didn’t want to be seen as the ‘fat’ friend – although, looking back now, I was very fit and toned. It’s amazing how you see yourself when you feel insecure; my view of my own body was totally warped. If I can help even one person work their way out of that mindset, I’ll feel accomplished.”
Gibbs expresses a similar memory of juvenile body dysmorphia.
“I remember being 16 and being unsure of who I was, being unhappy with how I looked and spending so much time comparing myself to other people. It really ruined my ability to love myself for all my other talents outside of physical appearance. Barriers to my own self-love definitely came from setting unachievable goals – such as wanting to look like a celebrity who was the complete opposite to me, therefore setting myself up to fail – and comparing myself to others on social media,” she says.
An extension of the same debate is the complex interplay of health, genetics and lifestyle on how the body appears – especially considering Australia’s worsening obesity epidemic, not to mention the ever-increasing occurrence of eating disorders. Gibbs’ mother was a personal trainer and her father a CrossFit instructor, so healthy food and exercise were integrated into her life from an early age – but both were seen as tools for optimal performance rather than to create a particular body shape. Early in her modelling career, however, Gibbs’ naturally curvaceous silhouette and muscular lower body were often criticised by an industry set on slim.
“I’m predisposed to having a small waist, bigger quads and broad shoulders. But through training, these features are definitely exaggerated and other areas built on and changed too,” says Gibbs.
“I’ve always had to overcome hurdles about my appearance. But over the last few years – as I’ve built a brand around myself of wellness and self-acceptance – it’s been amazing to see clients accept me for who I am and now embrace the ‘love AnyBODY’ message.”
Wasley, on the other hand, comes from a paternal line of tall and built physiques, and first became conscious of her health at age 17.
“I was never self-conscious [growing up]. I knew I was on the bigger side, but I honestly didn’t have a problem with it until I started to compare myself to other girls. Maybe it was about the same time I became interested in boys…who knows. But I remember not having a clue where to start,” she says.
“I feel like I’ve finally reached a place of contentment and balance, which I’m truly grateful for! I eat healthy and exercise, and I’m a size 16, and I feel if I were to stop [exercising and eating well] completely, I’d maybe sit at a size 16/18 naturally – but my body would look different, if that makes sense.”
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” – a sentiment the AnyBODY team echo. Gibbs and Wasley encourage women to see good health as encompassing the physical, the mental and the spiritual. It’s about balance, the ability to move freely and think clearly, and it’s highly individual.
“Health is so much more than your physical fitness,” says Wasley. “To an extent, I don’t believe you can judge how healthy a person is based on their weight and physical being. For example, when I was at my thinnest, people were asking me left right and centre for fitness advice; I suddenly became the ‘fit friend’, running 10km multiple times a week and avoiding alcohol. If you looked at me, I was the picture of health. But what no one knew was that I was dealing with disordered eating, I was isolating myself from social events and my friends, and I was so miserable and hated how I looked. I wasn’t healthy at all.”
WH&F head trainer and Creating Curves founder, Alexa Towersey, agrees.
“As a society, we need to redefine what we think ‘healthy’ looks like. The reality of the situation is that body dysmorphia exists at both ends of the spectrum. We naively live under the assumption that a size 10 is making healthier choices than a size 16 based solely on their appearance, and without even taking into consideration age, ethnicity, genetic makeup or hormonal profile. It’s the underlying relationship with food and exercise – whether it’s positive or negative – that we should be paying attention to,” she says.
Toeing the line between adopting a positive body image and striving to reach your health and fitness goals is not always easy. But for the AnyBODY brand and for a fair chunk of body image experts, striving for physical change isn’t necessarily a negative thing; wanting to create a healthier, fitter body that exudes confidence can be a noble goal and set you on a journey that invigorates, rather than sabotages, your self-esteem. The important thing is to understand why you are wanting to change, says Wagner.
“We’ve all experienced feeling uncomfortable in our bodies: we know when we feel physically fit, healthy and comfortable in our clothes and we know when we don’t. Wanting to make changes to positively impact our health isn’t wrong,” she says.
“However, when you start to define your level of self-worth and value by how you believe your body should look, the desire to improve your body or work towards a better level of health has gone too far. Do it for the endorphins; do it because you’re looking after your body and challenging yourself. There is a huge amount of research now that shows exercise to be one of the most uplifting tools we have and makes us feel good about our current body shape.
“A positive body image means a person is able to accept their body as it is with respect and admiration. Living with a positive body image means you have the ability to utilise your own self-esteem, maintain a positive attitude and are emotionally stable. Because of this, you’re able to filter through the messages from the media, your peers and family, and remain steadfast in how you feel about your body.”
While Wasley and Gibbs admit they’ve had to work hard to become body-positive, the duo hope the AnyBODY brand can help more women accept their appearance and feel empowered in their journey to good health; and, for them, this starts with a greater diversity of body shapes and sizes being represented on the catwalk, in advertising, in clothing sizes and in the media. Already, key brands have taken their cue, with Cooper Street releasing their ‘curve range’ inspired by the movement. Future plans for AnyBODY centre on launching their Skype for Schools program, tackling teenagers’ self-esteem, body confidence and personal development issues, while Wasley is looking to one day complete her Health Promotion degree to further advance the cause. But, in the interim, both Gibbs and Wasley offer one piece of solid advice: quit the comparisons and learn to love you – for you.
“Today I feel fantastic about my body the majority of the time. I still have my bad days because, well, I’m human – but they’re now few and far between. I think it’s the way I deal with it now that has been my biggest achievement. I focus on things I love about myself instead of dwelling on what I dislike. I have health and fitness goals now rather than weight or size goals,” says Wasley.
“Loving your body is an individual journey that’s completely different for everyone. But my top tip is not to compare yourself to anyone – especially on social media – because often you’ll be comparing yourself at your worst to someone at their best. Just remember you are worthy of love, no matter what you look like. There are people out there that love you for you, and don’t give a crap about what you look like. Those are the people worth keeping around.”
ALL FEATURE photography: Cotton ON Body