As girls, it feels like we are pre-conditioned to be incredibly hard on ourselves. The pressure to be better is exhausting, and we are bombarded with thousands of images every day of people whose relationships, jobs, homes and bodies are “perfect”. Instagram is a great way to keep up with the world around us, but the subliminal messages we receive can be really detrimental to our confidence and self-esteem.
How many times have you seen an outfit you love on Instagram only to think, “I could never wear that, I’m not skinny/pretty/tall/young/cool enough?” You need to get more body positivity in your feed. Stat.
Sarah Tyrell really, really loves herself. In the most amazing way. And she wants you to love yourself too. The body-positivity advocate has thousands of followers on Instagram, where she promotes the fact that those of us who are not a size 8 shouldn’t feel like we need to shy away from the world. Rather, she believes that we should all feel beautiful and powerful, and stop being so cruel to ourselves. We deserve better!
We chatted to her about body positivity and how we can bring it into our lives too…
Sarah, have you always been positive about your body?
God no! For as long as I can remember I’ve hated my body. I started my first diet aged 8, because I wanted to be able to wear cycling shorts like my friends did but I thought my legs were too chubby.
Ever since then, it was one diet or another, one gym membership or another. Fad after fad I spent my entire teens and half of my twenties trying and failing to lose weight, and that just made me hate myself more.
Eventually, aged 25, I found myself having suicidal thoughts. I believed I was nothing, only ever destined to fail and drag my loved ones down with me. I truly believed taking my life would be in their best interests – including my daughter.
Thankfully, I got help (antidepressant medication and a year of therapy) before I ever made that a reality.
Why do you think we need Body positivity now more than ever?
I don’t believe that the internet is the source of all evil as many others do, but I do believe that unless we know how to use it in a way that promotes and supports our own mental health, it can be devastating to body image. Eating disorders are more common than ever, the beauty standard is thinner than ever, our sense of reality has never been so far from the truth. Young girls are growing up believing that their worth lies in their aesthetic – the look of their grid – and that’s dangerous.
Body positivity represents bodies that the media doesn’t traditionally feature. This isn’t just fat bodies (I use fat as an affectionate term to describe myself), but also disabled bodies, trans bodies, queer bodies, bodies of colour and more.
Body positivity helps us to bring our expectations of ourselves and others back to reality. It reflects the world we actually live in and the vast diversity of human shapes that exists in everyday life. It is absolutely essential today.
How do people react to you online?
I’ve had trolls for sure. As a fat woman who posts naked/semi naked pictures online, it’s not surprising. But my overall experience has been indescribably positive. When I first discovered the bopo movement on Instagram, I was amazed by these women who were so unapologetically fearless and their content had a truly transformative effect on me. They changed my life forever.
To be able to now do the same for other women who are struggling to accept their bodies is a genuine honour. I’m so lucky and so grateful. And the support that my followers show me is humbling. They’re my tribe.
How do you respond to people who say overweight people are irresponsible?
I don’t. The number one rule of self care is this; do not engage with people who are determined to misunderstand you. I have worked very hard to strengthen my mental health and I don’t allow small minded people who can’t see past their own privilege to jeopardize that.
If I feel that someone is determined to misunderstand me, I immediately remove myself from the situation. I’ve even had to get up and walk away from family dinners. Some people criticize me for not being willing to “have a discussion” but when their side of the discussion is fundamentally disrespectful, condescending and unkind – why should I? My mental health is far too important to me.
How do you feel about the word “fat”?
I love it lol. In the past, it hurt like a knife. I banned the word from our home when my daughter was born and even referring to Santa as fat made me cringe. But through therapy and my discovery of the bopo movement, I realised that it was just a word. It’s three letters. That’s all. The pain and hurt was something I was projecting onto it, and I could change that.
At first, I struggled to feel comfortable describing myself as fat, but at the same time it felt incredibly empowering to. All of my life I had been afraid to use it, but now I was overcoming that fear and it felt like a relief. The more I used it the more comfortable I became with it, and now it’s one of my favorite ways to describe myself.
Sometimes I describe myself as fat and someone will say, “No, you’re not fat. You’re gorgeous!” But I don’t seem them as mutually exclusive. I am fat. I am white. I am blond. I am tall. In my mind, all of these words are just words describing my physicality. None of them are good things or bad things. They’re just adjectives.
And because I’ve taken the word back and changed what it means to me, nobody can hurt me with it anymore (like Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect).
What can we do to increase our own confidence?
I always tell people that the most important thing you can do is change how you use social media. We absorb everything we see on our feeds, even if we barely notice it. Our subconscious minds are like sponges, just taking everything in, storing it away, and using it all to create our thoughts, beliefs and emotions which then cause us to behave the way we do.
If all you see on your screen is Kylie Jenners and Gigi Hadids, you’re telling your subconscious that there is only one kind of beauty and that this is what you need to aspire to. How can anyone feel good about themselves if that’s their belief system?
Unliking or unfollowing every account that makes you feel like you should be anything other than exactly what you are is a powerful way to reprogram your subconscious. Replacing those accounts with ones run by women of all sizes, shapes, abilities, colours and sexualities rewires our subconscious and leads to real changes in our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviours.
This was probably the most important thing I ever did for myself, because it led to my discovery of body positivity. And countless followers of mine who I’ve advised to do the same thing have thanked me and told me how much of a difference it’s made to their own confidence. Of course there are lots of other things we can do to build our self esteem up, but I honestly think this is the easiest and most effective.
What do you do for yourself when you need a confidence boost?
I meditate and use my affirmations; I love myself, I accept myself, I am enough. They never, ever fail me and if there’s one life skill that I think people need it’s meditation. To me, meditation is power.
Who are your favourite bo-po people to follow on Instagram?
Oh God, how much time do you have? There are so many.
@Iamdanniadrianna was the first account I discovered, so I feel that I owe her everything that came after. I’ll always love her and what she does. @gracefvictory is also incredible and combines body positivity with spirituality and healing in a really unique way that literally feeds my soul. @bodyposipanda is basically just bopo and sunshine and rainbows personified. @bodyimage_therapist is like my online teacher who blows my mind everyday.
There are way too many to cover! But if anyone wants ideas for who to follow they can check out my blog post here for a good comprehensive guide.
Whats your go-to song to listen to when you want to feel powerful?
Oohh good question! I actually have a “self care” playlist that I listen to every night before bed and that’s packed with songs that really speak to me. What I listen to changes all of the time, but I have to say that Beyonce’s Lemonade entire album is just my anthem. I always, always come back to that when I need to light a fire under my ass. All hail Queen Bey!