Ferm Magazine • Maart 2023

geschreven door: Lore Callens
foto's door: François De Heel

translation with Google Translate (so don't shoot me if it is weird)

Curvy women who proudly throw their weight into battle on Instagram, black women who finally claim attention on billboards and critical articles about lavish Photoshoppers who present us with bodies that are just a little too unrealistic. Body positivity is already making a fist - and rightly so! We discussed the theme with three fascinating women who managed to counter all kinds of prejudices themselves and are now completely there!

Who is who?
Sanne Thijs is an illustrator. For the past eight years she has been drawing happy, fat characters under the brand name Full of freckles. She also makes inclusive drawings for children's books, including for Studio Sesam.
Annelies Van Den Haute is a psychologist, sexologist and teacher
in secondary education, where she teaches psychology-oriented subjects and sexuality education.
Yasmina El Messaoudi is a news reader at MNM and wrote the book 'Straatkat', about the death of her mother and growing up between two cultures. It is as much about grief as it is about her search for a place in society.

A lot is said and written about body positivity, but what exactly is it? A description I read somewhere was: 'be nicer to ourselves and each other'. But does that cover the load?
Annelies: “You already hear the two words: body and positivity. It is indeed a positive and therefore sweet way of looking at yourself and others. For me, that goes beyond just your body, even though you are often discriminated against on that basis.”
Sanne: “My own process with body positivity is related to my drawings for Full of Freckles.
I have always loved illustrations but I found
not put myself in it. If a thicker figure was drawn, it was almost always meant mockingly or negatively. While I have a lot of color and cheerfulness in me. Initially I didn't get figures on paper because I had a typical female image in my head. Until I thought: 'I'm going to draw the way I want to'. The shapes immediately became rounder and more cheerful and the click was there. From that process I also started to accept myself.”
Yasmina: “For me, body positivity is about breaking down standards. The ideal of beauty changes every few years. In the 90s you had to be super thin, then the voluptuous Kim Kardashian buttocks were in, now it has to be skinnier again. Why do they make a body made of flesh and blood and skin and bones a trend? In my youth, blonde was fashionable. And clearly not me! Dark skin and eyes, that was really not perceived as beautiful. As a child I often thought: 'if only I were lighter, if only I had blue eyes'! Such a shame... I once wanted to spend an entire summer vacation in the basement because I always got darker in the sun. While I now realize: a body looks the way it should look. And of course that comes in different sizes and weights and colors and shapes. Thank God. How boring would it be otherwise?"

Are you sensitive to the ideal of beauty despite everything?
Yasmina: “As an adult I can put that into perspective much better than as a child. You can never do good for everyone. There are always people commenting on how you look. Or on your personality! People often think I'm too loud and present. But I am who I am.”
Sanne: “As a teenager you notice that you
stands out to your classmates. That has marked me, but at a certain point I thought: 'what am I actually doing?' You have to get to a point where you don't feel any resistance to being the real you. That is worth so much, especially in the long term. But if you really have a problem with yourself and you're not feeling well, then you should be able to take steps without people judging you. Sometimes that really hits. Someone who wants to lose weight will then be told: 'Come on! You must be positive! You have to accept yourself!’ But if it is deep and you want to do something about it, purely for yourself and not because someone else has to, then you should also be given that space.”
According to opponents, the danger lies in the fact that the body positivity movement could lead to the normalization of overweight and obesity. How do you feel about that?
Sanne: “Those are comments from people who don't know what they're talking about. Fat people have always been and always will be. The only thing the movement asks is: let those people just be themselves. Don't berate them for something you think they should change.”
Annelies: “If you fall slightly outside the norm, people will immediately think that you are not doing the right thing. But you cannot deduce from someone's weight whether that person is healthy or not. It's not because you're skinny that you don't eat junk food. And it's not because you never exercise that you have a size more."
Annelies, you focus on body positivity in your practice. Why that choice?
“As a psychologist but also as a teacher, I have noticed that many young people struggle enormously with their self-image, but also everything related to it, such as sexual orientation and crushes. That is dismissed as typical teenage problems, but it can have really deep roots. Sometimes young people don't feel well because of this. Adults can also have a bad relationship with their body because they don't see themselves anywhere, because they can't find clothes that fit, get negative reactions... That's why I started to delve into body positivity. As an aid worker, but also as a human being, because I recognize that struggle myself. I'm not a size XS and as a teenager I didn't have an easy time with that. That's why I find it extra valuable to help others with that. I also think body neutrality is very important: you take the focus away from what your body looks like, but you look at what it can do. You are really capable of a lot!”
The movement is also pushing for more transparency around edited images on social media, which can lead to insecurity, stress and negative body image. Is that needed?
Annelies: “There is more and more awareness. The younger generation is growing up with social media and is increasingly aware of what is real and what has been edited. Although there are pitfalls! It remains important to speak openly about it at school and at home. But I see that this insight is less present among the 'intermediate generation', the current students. For them, these ideal images often create expectations about what their body should look like. Of course, that also depends on your immediate environment. For example, if your friends are intensively using filters on Snapchat, there is a greater chance that you will become more sensitive to it yourself.”
In the beauty industry these days it is fashionable to show bodies in all kinds of colors and sizes. Does that come across as fake or do you think: 'finally!'?
Annelies: “It is nice that there is more diversity in the images that come our way. On the other hand, this is also seen as a trend in itself.”
Yasmina: “These companies don't do that because they want to contribute, they just want to tap into a larger market. But somehow I think that's a good development. Girls who look like me will finally see themselves on the streets. Not that those beauty brands should be proud of themselves.
I think rather: they finally realize that not every woman is two meters tall and has blond hair and size 36.”
Sanne: “In shops you really notice that it is pure marketing. Brands are then so-called 'size inclusive'. Until you enter a physical store and they inform you that those large sizes are only available online. Or they hang the large sizes somewhere separately or
in a corner, hidden as well as possible so as not to scare off other customers.”
Currently, the movement is mainly associated with embracing your body
if you are overweight or otherwise deviate from the prevailing ideal of beauty. Under #bodypositivity, all kinds of people proudly post their bodies, including fat rolls or stretch marks. Is that needed?
Yasmina: “That is very different from billboards, because these people have no commercial interests at all. They finally want to show themselves as they are. I think it's great to see everyone on social media and not just a select group. I hope at some point it won't be special anymore. That all people are represented and that showing a scar is no longer 'courageous'.”
Annelies: “Older generations are used to more 'classic bodies'. That is to say: men should be tough, strong and broad and women slim and well-lined with shapes in 'the right places'. I therefore notice that especially the older generations are affected by such images. Young people usually like it.”
Sanne: “I have to admit that the boomers often respond positively to Full of Freckles. But illustrations may be even easier to accept than photos. Posing almost stark naked with your sturdy body still goes a step further than a drawing with the same subject.”
Sanne, nowadays soft words such as curvy are often used, while you simply have the category 'fatpositivity' on your website.
Sanne: “Even within the 'fat movement' you have different levels: chubby, somewhat rounder and very fat. The latter still have to fight the most to be there. That is why I want to reclaim the word 'fat' or 'thick'. That's not a judgement, that's a description. Just like thin. I used to have a hard time when people called me fat. Now I just say: 'yes, that's true'. As a result, you take away a lot of power from people.”
Another typical word in the media: corona kilos, sin if you eat something sweet, a bikini body ...
Annelies: “Or a 'revenge body', as I recently read. That is: lose weight to make your ex who dumped you jealous and show what he is missing.” 
Yasmina: “Such words are indeed very judgmental. You can just enjoy Annelies: “Children can be tough. Others may have an opinion, but in the meantime I will not let this influence me too much anymore.”
Sanne: “I recognize that. Now that I'm here, it's all no longer an issue. But if you radiate uncertainty, you will have something to process. For example, once someone rolled down his car window while I was cycling by,
to shout, "fat cow!" Or I was walking quietly through the city with my husband, completely in love, when a passer-by said, "Look, you don't have to be pretty to be happy." There you are.. But in the meantime I can put the problem on them, not on me.”
Annelies: “People who make such comments are usually very insecure themselves.”
Yasmin: “Sure! If you don't care about how you look, you don't care about how other people look. It wouldn't occur to me to tear someone down like that."
Annelies: “While giving a compliment seems much more difficult. It doesn't cost anything!"
Body positivity originated way back in the 1960s and was founded by women of color who strove for more inclusiveness for all who belong to the 'minority'. Yet it was difficult to find a woman with mixed roots who wanted to participate in the debate. Do you find it tiring to be some sort of moral knight or role model, Yasmina?
Yasmina: “I don't see myself as a role model, but I do find it recognizable. I also have friends with mixed roots who don't feel the need for it at all and a good friend of mine is gay but doesn't feel the need to be an advocate.
are. I think above all: society is mixed and will become even more so. I just hope that people will look back on these kinds of conversations later with the thought: 'Huh, was that really a topic of conversation at the time? How weird!’ (laughs)”
Do you need role models yourself?
Annelies: “I do follow a few people on Instagram, such as Romy Curvy, a plus size model. A super nice madame who has her own shop for larger sizes. Social media allows us to reach a larger audience and create a larger forum.”
Sanne: “I don't really need a specific example, but I'm glad I'm not alone. That there are more people who spread the same message.”
Another important part of being who you are is being sufficiently represented in the media, music, film world... Does that feel like that to you?
Yasmina: “In the meantime, yes. I grew up in a small village, Kapelle-op-den-Bos, where I was surrounded
was by white children. My brother and I didn't really fit in because of our looks and our name. But when we went to visit family in Molenbeek, we also missed out. We didn't speak Arabic, but we spoke French with a Flemish accent, we didn't go to Koran school, ... So I never felt represented. As a child I looked for the exceptions. For example, I was a huge fan of 2Fabiola, because of Zohra, who was also half Moroccan. That was such a revelation to me! 2Unlimited also had two singers with a tan. That was a breath of fresh air, because in roughly 'Ten to see' there was no one like me. But now that has improved greatly: people in international music groups and series are a lot more mixed.”
Sanne: “As a child I didn't feel represented and even today that is still very limited. Fat people often get a supporting role or are often a comedian. You can almost see them thinking: 'I'm fat so I have to be funny.' By way of compensation, you are extra cheerful or cozy.”
Annelies: “Like Rebel Wilson, for example! She has lost a lot of weight because she was not taken seriously for other roles and she wanted to expand her repertoire. With Adele, who has also lost a lot of weight, they were afraid that she would no longer be able to sing well. All those prejudices!”
If you could dream away for a moment, in which society would you feel completely at home?
Yasmina: “In my book 'Straatkat' I deliberately went looking for that. Our family was the only place where I was truly myself. There were different religions, rituals, traditions, languages… When my mother died, I had to say goodbye not only to her but also to a place where no questions were asked about headscarves or Muslims or Catholics. I've looked into why I sometimes felt so displaced, seemed to belong to nothing. Just like an alley cat roams around, I started looking for a place, a community where I could call home. I have not found it anywhere: not in Morocco, not in Brussels, not in my native village. But now I'm not looking for it anymore. Now I realize that my home is spread over different people.”
Annelies: “I dream of a society without prejudices, where no one is abused and discriminated against. A place where everyone can live.”
Sanne: “But not naively. You can keep questioning things. It stays interesting to exchange perspectives to broaden your world view. If you ask critical questions now, you will immediately get the stamp that you are against something. While in my ideal society there should be room for different opinions. You have to be able to say: 'I don't feel comfortable with this'."
Do you have any ultimate advice that you can give to women who struggle with body positivity?
Annelies: “Just do what feels right for you! I see a lot of people passing by who say they have to change, that they have to adapt. If you then ask who should do this for, you will hear many different answers. But hardly anyone ever says: 'for myself'. While you have to do what makes you feel good. Your authentic self is your most beautiful self.”
Sanne: “I advise everyone to be careful who you follow on social media. Get through the algorithms
served you things that the system thinks you like, which can send you into a spiral that doesn't suit you. That is why you should also follow people who are not at all in your world. This gives you new impulses and opinions. Otherwise you will soon have tunnel vision.”
Yasmina: “I noticed that the people closest to me are also a bit outsiders. They don't look like me, but they do have a similar mindset. They do belong, but not always in their heads. Such sounding boards are beneficial. After my book I noticed how many people feel that they don't quite fit in in their job or environment. Also 50-plus men with important jobs and a nice family. Not only because you fall between two cultures, but also because, for example, you are single or have no children or because you want to travel the world ... A friend of mine suggested we set up our own tribe, full of 'street cats'. Because it remains comforting: belonging to something.”

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