The Body Love Conference: Changing The Way Women See Themselves

In the last year, there has been a growing hubbub around the acceptable standards of how body image is discussed and presented, from the backlash against the intense scrutiny surrounding celebrity post-baby bodies to campaigns around 'fat talk' - where women say derogatory comments about themselves.

The children are our future, as Jacko once sang, and never has this been a bigger motivator to create healthy debate: we finished 2013 with the news that negative body image is having a serious impact on teenage girls.

Harnessing all these voices is Jes Baker, who runs The Militant Baker blog, and is the brains behind the Body Love Conference, which is taking place in Tuscon, Arizona.

On the website, it states why it's so important to talk about this.

"As women we see over 200 negative body image advertisements on television per day. This is a direct extension of a historical marketing scheme that was created to encourage women to purchase perfection. While this earns the weight loss industry billions of dollars every year, it comes at an extremely high cost to the rest of us."

That cost, of course, comes in the form of eating disorders, depression, anxiety and self harm. We desperately need something like this in the UK so to kickstart the conversation, we caught up with Jes to find out why there is the need for such an event.

We love the idea of the Body Love Conference - if you had to guess, on average, how many women are actually happy with their bodies?

Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and dear lord this has to change! We live in a culture that cultivates self-hatred in for profit and because of this we see numerous social ills: low self-esteem that can lead to missed opportunities, eating disorders, sabotaged relationships, employment inequality, depression, sky-high suicide rates, and all sorts of other issues.

People often ask me why I focus so much on loving your body. They say: “Why you so superficial Jes'ca?!? Why isn't the focus on our inner beauty? Why aren't we talking about what we contribute to the world? Why aren’t we mentioning how marvelous our soul is?”

This is my response: we are more likely to be told by the world that we are good people than anything else. Funny, creative, intelligent, communicative, generous, maybe even extraordinary.

What we are NOT told is that our bodies are beautiful just the way they are. We are taught that our figure is flawed, and not only is it flawed, but that the majority of our worth lies within our physical appearance. Which, of course is never “perfect enough” by societies standards. This affects our lives on a monumental level.

Our bodies are installation art that we curate publicly. Our bodies are the first message those around us receive. Our bodies are our personal bookmarks in the world. Our bodies are magnificent houses for everything else that we are. Our bodies are a part of us, just like our kindness, talents, and passion.

Yes, we are so much more than our outer shell, but our outer shell is an integral part of our being too. The way we view our bodies impacts the way we participate in the world, and THIS is why it’s so important to learn to love them as they are.

Simone Charles who won the Models1 first ever plus size modelling competition last year

When you have seen women who are happy with their bodies, what are the positives you've noticed?

It's inspirational. When you’re comfortable with your body you have so much more energy and time to devote to other things that matter to you. Though, even Body Love Warriors have their bad days. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. We’ve been indoctrinated with falsified images of beauty our entire life and it takes a lot of work to overcome that. It’s not something that will happen overnight.

We've started to see a bit of infighting between women of different sizes - plus size don't feel well represented and those in the middle don't feel like 'real women' nor do they feel super slim like model sizes - what is your take on it?

Occasionally we see a war within the quest to love ourselves; thinner women who have decided that fat women are lazy and large women who consider thin women to be sell-outs. None of this is true.

We can’t step on another's self-esteem to build ourselves up. It doesn’t work this way. The truth is that we are all in this together. None of us are allowed to love our body in this society, and thanks to that we all have our insecurities. We all feel like we're flawed in some way because we are all comparing ourselves to the same ideal. And none of us will ever feel like we're enough.

As long as we continue to demonize and degrade ANY body type, we will never reach true body acceptance as a society. And until we reach true body acceptance as a society, we will continue to see those social ills.

What are you hoping to get out of this conference, and - do we need to get men involved in the conversation?

As women, we have a lot of online resources, but we don’t have a physical representation of this community in the real world. I want to give people the opportunity to have a safe space in which to explore difficult topics, network, chat, meet others on their journey, and leave with resources that they can use after the conference is over.

YES men need to be a part of this conversation. Anyone who identifies with the topics we are covering is welcome to attend; body love doesn’t end at a gender line. For the first annual conference we have focused a lot around female issues but we’re hoping to see this conference again next year with a male and teen component!

What impact are our body issues having on teenagers and younger women?

This is really where it starts, and we see a scary percentage of teens (and younger) who have developed body dysmorphic and eating disorders. In a survey of girls 9 and 10 years old, 40% have tried to lose weight, according to an ongoing study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Additionally, 95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.

This stunts emotional growth early on in life, and I can’t help but dream of a world where young girls are taught that they are perfect as they are. This would allow them to blossom in ways they’re unable to currently.

Have you ever battled with body confidence issues?

ABSOLUTELY. For 26 years, I lived thinking that my body was an embarrassment to everyone around me. Only now, am I starting to see more good days than bad. It’s monumental. Everything in my life is different since my revelation a year ago that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to hate myself for the rest of my life.

We seem to live in an era of such standardised beauty - have you noticed that?

Hell yes. And it’s unrealistic yet so entrenched in our economic history that we have come to accept is as truth. I wrote an article called Why We’ve Learned to Hate Ourselves that talks about three major moments in US history that have shaped the industry that we have today. It’s both fascinating and tragic. I hope more women are able to educate themselves about the beauty myth and see that we’ve been killing ourselves over something that was created to replace a failing market!

Name one kind thing you should do for yourself or tell yourself: I think that the first kind thing you can do to jump start your body love journey is surround yourself with alternative media. I started subscribing to body positive Tumblrs in the beginning and the images of diverse bodies shocked me at first, but then began to be beautiful. It’s the perfect counter to the advertisements we see daily. And boy, do we need it.