Last weekend I was body-shamed by a five-year-old. My son and I were sitting on the steps of the neighborhood pool when a chatty little girl across from me proudly proclaimed, "My mommy is skinnier than you!"
With my son watching, I thought very carefully about how to respond. In no way was I insulted by this comment because, a.) she's a five-year-old and b). I like my body just fine the way it is. Still, I felt a tad judged and had to consciously repress my initial instinct to get defensive. The absolute last thing I wanted these kids to witness was a perfectly healthy woman getting upset because someone else is skinnier.
I did not get defensive because I have nothing to defend. Not because I'm skinny, but because it doesn't matter. I wanted to make sure that these kids understood that being skinnier is not better and that it's not okay to judge someone based on their size.
We had a nice little chat, but ugh... I was bummed out. Again, not because there are skinnier mommy's than me, but because at age five this is already something that is being recognized and discussed. I felt like I was witnessing the first seed of insecurity being planted in this innocent little girl's head. I could tell she didn't even quite know what to do with this though yet, but there it was, ready to grow like a weed in a perfectly healthy garden.
This month's Fashlete is pulling the weeds. Katie H. Willcox is the founder of Healthy is the New Skinny (HNS) and I could not be more excited to share her work and story with you this month.
HNS started as a blog in 2011 and has since become a movement, a brand, and a platform that unifies and empowers women by spreading the message of true authentic self-love. With a reach of over 320k followers, HNS is considered to be one of the leading platforms in body positivity.
Katie is also the founder and CEO of Natural Model Management and author of Healthy is the New Skinny: Your Guide to Self-Love in a “Picture-Perfect” World... which I will be carrying copies of to hand out to little girls at the pool from now on ;)
Building "Healthy is the New Skinny"
Fashletics: Katie, what inspired you to start the HSN blog back in 2011?
Katie: I was inspired to begin this movement through my years of experience as a model in the fashion industry and also as someone who has struggled with body image in my youth. When it comes to our bodies, the messaging we all receive through various media on a daily basis is that “skinny” is better. This leaves many women feeling that in order to be valued or loved, they must look like the media's portrayal of beauty. This thought process can then lead women down an unhealthy road where they try to perfect their bodies at all costs in order to validate their worth in society.
I experienced this myself being size 6 to 14 (and everything in-between). It wasn’t until I started to value myself (and most importantly my health), did I realize just how damaging the media’s focus on female beauty and the “skinny beauty ideal” really is to our society. As a model, I would constantly hear other models say things like, “I have to get my measurements down.” I would look at these extremely thin models and think “What? How are you supposed to do that?” I began thinking out loud and said, “That is ridiculous. They shouldn’t force models to be skinny, they should be focusing on their health….healthy should be the new skinny!” And HNS was born.
F: How has the HNS message or mission evolved over the past six years?
K: The HNS mission has evolved greatly over the last 6 years and I couldn’t be more excited! HNS is so much more than a page that promotes body-positivity. We’ve evolved into a social media movement that promotes health and inclusivity! We’ve grown to be fearless in our endeavors to show that the media has manipulated us as women to believe our self-worth relies on our physical appearance. We’re not afraid to call B.S. on a lot of the messaging that is being put out there by brands and companies that are selling self-esteem through products.
HNS is working to create an all-inclusive idea of health that goes beyond the physical aspect. We’re working with amazing experts ranging in fields from nutrition, to fitness, to feminism, and more so that we can begin building a safe community of health conscious information!
F: Do you think the media’s beauty standards have changed at all since you first started HNS?
K: I have seen a shift and while there is improvement, the topic of beauty standards is still surface-level. It’s as if we’ve exchanged one beauty ideal for another. We’ve gone from glamorizing women who are impossibly tall and thin to glamorizing women for their impossibly small waists and bodacious curves.
There is still so much to be said about health and beauty that isn’t covered by the media because unfortunately, it doesn’t sell.
F: What is your primary goal for HNS this year?
K: My primary goal for HNS this year is to continue to expand and spread the message across the country and across the world. I want to take the body image conversation beyond the body. I want to help people get to the root of why they feel the way we do and the programming they’ve been exposed to that led them to feel that way.
I just launched my book Healthy is the New Skinny: Your Guide to Self-Love in a “Picture-Perfect” World earlier this year, which was incredibly exciting. I feel that this is my first step in the right direction of getting the message across!
F: For you personally, what was the first step to replacing the goal of being skinny with the goal of being healthy?
K: The first step for me was to challenge everything I’ve ever been taught as a young girl about health and beauty. I had to de-program in a sense and form a new relationship with my mind, body, and soul. Through my journey, I learned that my value was not determined by my size or how “hot” society thought I was.
F: You mentioned on your website that the body image movement is about more than looking in the mirror and repeating the words “I am beautiful”. How can women act upon those words so that they become a true statement as opposed to just a mantra?
K: It’s important for women to understand that loving one’s self is so much more about saying they’re beautiful because that continues the idea that love relies on the condition being beautiful. But what is beautiful? I believe that beauty is a feeling and that self-love is what you do to nourish your mind, body, and soul.
Baby Bodies and the Next Generation
F: You recently welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world, congratulations! What steps will you take as a mother to help your daughter develop a positive self-image?
K: I realize that I’m going to be her biggest example of self-love so it starts with practicing what I preach. How I speak about myself and what I value about myself is going to be something that’s going to resonate with her. In my household, we will focus on character and celebrating the unique gifts we have and other things, outside of being physically beautiful.
F: I have to admit, there was a period of time after I gave birth to my second child that I felt so out of place in my own body. I didn’t want to look in the mirror or buy new clothes for this body that I didn’t recognize.
What tips do you have for new moms who are finding it difficult to embrace their postpartum bodies?
K: Take it one day at a time. There are so many variables that are contributing to those feelings including hormones and the fact that your body just underwent some rapid changes. Understand that it gets better and that this is what your body was built for!
You have to be kind to it. I think of it this way: It took 9 months to make a baby, give yourself at least 9 months to recover. The kinder you are to yourself during that process, the better recovery you will have.
F: The HNS mission is largely based on your personal experiences in the modeling industry. I would imagine that your pregnancy and postpartum experiences have added yet another level to your understanding of achieving and maintaining body-positivity.
Can you talk to us a little bit about how this phase of your life is playing a part in HNS platform?
K: Having a daughter gave me a new perspective that this isn’t just about me or my body. It should be about how we help others.
We have an opportunity to provide her with a safe-place where she will always be accepted and loved and that all anyone really needs. If we can be teachers of that, that’s truly the work we want to do with the HNS platform.
F: As a culture, it seems we are more aware of how much damage the media can do these days, but how do we educate and empower the next generation?
K: As a culture, we think that we’re more aware, but the truth is, we still allow ourselves to be greatly manipulated. I think it’s important to question and challenge everything. Once we do this, we can begin to formulate our own ideas and opinions, versus something that’s being spoon-fed to us in a news feed. I also think it’s important for us to have open conversations on the messaging we’re being exposed to and being receptive to understanding and learning these things, even if they’re different and challenge what we think we know.
F: Lastly, as our Fashlete of the Month, you will receive a customized charm with the word(s) of your choice. What would you like on your charm?
K: One word that resonates with me is Truth. I cannot tell you how important it is for people to discover their own truth and who they are at the core. I named my daughter True because I want her to know that no matter what goes on in the world, it’s important to be your truest, most authentic self.
Photography of Katie by: Bradford Willcox