I remember the first time I visited The Body Confidence Revolution (TBCR) - the Tumblr blog founded and run by Leyah Shanks, UK-based body image campaigner. It was not your standard fashion or body-pos site. It was something different. I don't know that my eyes have ever been met with such an influx of frighteningly impactful imagery: women with cellulite, women with scars, nude women, fat women, skinny women, black women, white women, large chested women, small chested women, women with mastectomies, women with full bushes, women with highly-defined bone structure, women with rolls, tattooed women, trans women. I could compare it only to plus-size supermodel and editor Velvet d'Amour's "Nude" issue of Volup2 - another ground-breaking demonstration of total aesthetic inclusivity.
Even within the realms of body-positive blogging, there can still exist certain exclusion. When writing for a particular audience - be it straight-size or plus-size - that some people will feel un-catered to is an inevitability. That's why I was so drawn to TBCR and Shanks. All those traits generally deemed imperfections, and all those hang-ups we as humans struggle with when it comes to our bodies, were showcased and celebrated - in a cornucopia of diversity and empowerment.
Shanks began TBCR over a year ago, fueled by the notion that "everyone has the basic human right to be proud of their body." She had taken a stab at blogging in the past, but come to the realization that by focusing on a target audience - the "curvier" woman - she too was excluding others without meaning to. "I think we sometimes forget that there are naturally slim people out there," she said in an interview with me. "People who eat and just won't put any weight on. Why should they be stigmatized?"
Bullied from a young age (primary school to be exact), Shanks always felt like a target herself. She was tall; she was developing early; she was geeky and eccentric. "I felt like there was something wrong with me," she said. "Why does no one else have stretch marks?" Looking at Shanks now, this is not a woman one looks at and automatically thinks "flawed." Her curvaceous figure, her hourglass shape, her searching eyes, are beautiful; like Kate Winslet circa Titanic. But for a young girl, developing a chest and hips sooner than her peers made her every pre-teen's bull's-eye for bullying. Before she was due to start high school, Lanks thought to herself, "Be different. Don't be you. Try to fit in," and that any child, adolescent, or human being should be made to feel that way has since motivated her work.
When asked what the turning point was for her, Shanks says it's mostly down to getting older and wiser. "Through modelling I found out all about Photoshop and what its capabilities are, and I discovered that a lot of models are actually very unhealthy, to the point that they should be in hospital," she said. "I generally found out that most of the images you see in magazines and on TV were fake and didn't portray real life."
It's no wonder, then, that the very core of TBCR seems to be to show real life, real women and real stories. One click to the site will automatically flood you with photographs detailing scars, birthmarks and cellulite. There is a rawness to the photos Shanks collects, and it is that rawness that makes her project so magical. If ever criticized for the so-called "explicit" material she puts out there, Shanks says, "I think that it's important for young people who are curious about their bodies changing in many ways, to see that there is no 'normal' or stereotypically 'perfect' naked body." When so much of body confidence issues undoubtedly stem from mainstream media's consistent use of one look, and one body type, for kids growing up to see such a variety of bodies and human beings is undoubtedly meaningful and game changing.
Since starting TBCR, Shanks has gained global support. In February of this year she even featured in a nude spread in Cosmopolitan UK - putting her words, her message of body positivity, into inspiring, unadulterated action. "Every single human being has passions and quirks which are unique to them," she said. "I think happiness is beautiful." Looking at the photos from that shoot, she does look happy. And that happiness exudes more genuine beauty than most high-street ads.
Shanks' message is a strong one, and her goals noble. "I would generally like people to stop judging one another," she said. "Whether you think someone is too fat or too thin, it's really not up to you to make that kind of judgement about that person." At the end of the day, we are all individuals. We all have aesthetic preferences. We all have our own look. Campaigners like Shanks prove that that's all ok - more than ok. Individuality, self-love, acceptance of others: those are the things to strive for. Those are the things that make beauty.