I hope everyone had a very happy Christmas and a wonderful weekend, with minimal post-celebration guilt (if you’re still struggling, check out these six tips).
Today, I’m happy to present an interview with body image expert Julie Parker of the fabulous blog Beautiful You. Below, we talked about her work, tips for building a healthier body image, myths about eating disorders and more.
1. In your bio, you write that you’ve worked in the body image and eating disorder field for over ten years. Tell us more about your work and yourself.
I started out my career as a counselor and soon noticed many girls and young women coming to me for issues related to self-esteem, body image and eating disorders. I chose to read and study further and quickly found myself incredibly passionate about wanting to be a body image advocate and do more for those who were desperately suffering. This eventually led me to working for The Butterfly Foundation – Australia’s largest charitable foundation that supports people with eating disorders and negative body image. I have also experienced my own body image and self-esteem battles and can very much relate to the wide reaching issues they can create and sustain in someone’s life.
2. What led you to start Beautiful You?
While I am very privileged to have a ‘voice’ in the eating disorder and body image field with work, I wanted to share more of my personal thoughts. I wanted Beautiful You to be a space that was inspirational and life affirming, but also challenged the many insidious and exploitative practices that detract from us having positive body image and self-esteem.
3. What are some of your tips for building a healthier body image?
Love yourself as you are. Stop believing your life will be perfect if you are thin. Don’t weigh yourself. Don’t diet. Seek ways to lead a balanced life. Enjoy food. Find a physical activity you love to do. Never compare your appearance to someone else. Become media savvy and literate. Embrace size, gender, age and cultural diversity. Recognize your absolute uniqueness.
4. Magazines are often filled to the brim with tips on how to lose weight, eat less, exercise more. What are some of the silliest (and/or worst) tips you’ve encountered?
Some of the diet and weight loss concepts that exist are actually so dangerous I can’t bear to give them space. I have seen ones involving tapeworms, fasting for days and invasive surgery. They are horrendous and can very easily lead people into life threatening mental and physical disorders.
5. Speaking of the media, thin images and tips on getting slim are everywhere, so oftentimes, it’s tough to ignore them. Even I sometimes find myself being lured into the thin ideal. What can you suggest for navigating all the advice and becoming a smarter consumer?
I think the most important thing to remember is that being thin will not miraculously bring about things such as happiness, confidence and the partner of your dreams that you may be searching for. Nor will it necessarily give you a more positive body image or greater self-esteem. This is the great ‘fantasy’ that continues to perpetuate the thin ideal in our current culture. We are sold being thin as the only possible body type that means someone will be happy, successful and attractive. This is of course completely untrue as it is possible to be content, beautiful and have great body image at any size.
6. There are tons of myths about eating disorders. Can you talk about several myths that you find are particularly pervasive?
There are many myths about eating disorders, as there are with other mental illnesses too. I think the two most pervasive, though, are 1) that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice and 2) the media is entirely to blame for their development.
No one would ever wish a horrifying mental illness upon themselves and to say that this is what people with eating disorders do is entirely untrue. It is also a dangerous thought process as it prevents the wider community from developing compassion and understanding for those living with the illness.
With regards to the media, while there is no doubt the thin ideal and particular media constructs can negatively impact someone’s self-esteem and body image, it is not the sole reason someone develops an eating disorder. There are many other factors that contribute to an eating disorder developing and, while individual to each person, may include genetics, dieting behaviors, interpersonal relationships, trauma and perfectionist thought patterns. In my experience of working with people experiencing an eating disorder, it has always been a combination of these varying factors that sees the illness develop.
7. Any body image-boosting books that have inspired you? What are your favorite resources on the web?
My favorite resources on the web can be found on my web and blog roll at www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com I have read many wonderful books on body image and it is hard to single any out but I will always remember reading Real Gorgeous by Kaz Cooke in my late teens. I found it funny, empowering and very helpful to thinking positively about my body.
Thanks so much, Julie, for the interview!!