The Body Acceptance Festival
Last Friday I boarded the train to Totnes, Devon, armed with my music and heels as I had been asked kindly to usher in the disco with Strutology at the opening ceremony for the BodyKind Festival. This was billed as the world’s first body acceptance festival and would be a mixture of talks, performances and workshops.
When I first heard about the festival I knew I had to be a part of it. It came just at the right time as I have been feeling so out of place within the Fitness Industry (although I will never divorce myself fully from it).
A rather nervous, be-sequinned Dinah concerned for the safety of the vicar!
Side note demonstrating my frustration: A few weeks back I was at an event where I saw many of my peers with whom I hadn’t connected for a while and one of them said to me that he’d seen some of my posts and asked about my progress with business, to which I replied that it was going well but slowly: when you’re trying to bring about social change things can take a while. He said “Yeah, I did wonder because you’re telling people to be totally ok with themselves in an industry where we help them make changes and become better people.” …. I had to bite my tongue and thankfully his cute daughter walked past and caused a diversion which was my cue to walk away. Please note that if you work hard to lose weight, or to build your butt, or if you can stand on your hands and meditate for hours, or if you eat nothing but salad this does not make you a better person. It makes you a thinner person, or a more skilful person or whatever, but not better. Changing the outside has its limited benefits and most of them are about gaining social prize. Becoming kinder, more humble, more generous, patient, loving and forgiving makes you truly a better person. So I forgive him for his arrogance! 😀
Anyway, back to BodyKind! As soon as I heard about it I emailed the address on the website and within minutes I got a response asking if we could chat now (it was 11pm but what could have more important than to connect at that very moment?)
Dinah Gibbons rang immediately. She is the Creative Director and BodyKind is her brainchild. We chatted for ages, bonding over our understanding of Body Positivity and Body Acceptance. She told me she had worked extensively with Susie Orbach, author of “Fat Is A Feminist Issue” and as I was listening to her talk so highly of the people involved in the festival and explaining how the event seemed to be taking on a life of its own, I thought that this lady must be quite a woman to have made all this happen! I was right!
I met Dinah upon my arrival at the Seven Stars where the opening ceremony “A Night In The Stars” was to be held. She was so warm and welcoming and although she may have been utterly frazzled from months of preparation she was still utterly charming and suitably excited about the evening, not in the least about Strutology.
Dinah had arranged for me to stay with friends of hers, Sue and Jonathan and their son Caleb (who for age of 17 seems to really have his shizzle together, with a youtube channel, almost 7k followers on IG and plans for a clothing brand) who were all so charming and made me feel completely at ease. One of the other acts for the weekend was also staying with us – Emma, aka Miss Glory Pearl, the Naked Stand Up! Yes, she does her comedy act completely nekked apart from a vintage hat and cute heels. Needless to say we got on famously!! She’s all about normalising curvy bodies and taking back the power: “At least they can’t undress me with their eyes!” she says! Watch the BBC interview below about how she challenges body shaming.
When I first became aware of the event it was an image I spotted with 2 women on it whom I admire massively: Harnaam Kaur (aka The Bearded Dame) and Megan Crabbe (aka BodyPosiPanda). Harnaam and Megan would be speaking at the core event on the saturday and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to fan-girl over them!
It wasn’t long after I arrived at the Seven Stars that I got to meet Megan. I saw her hair first. Natch. Then her smile. Is that a creepy thing to say? I told her I was fan-girling and I’m sure I said some other idiotic things but I was super chuffed that she would be there for my Strutology session. I know from her Instagram that she loves a good shimmy and often dances in her underwear with the hashtag #donthatetheshake which is worthy craze amongst the body positive community.
The evening began with Chris Paradox, the One Legged, Existentialist, Stand Up, Beat poet comparing the show and performing a few biographical poems which were poignant and funny, with some audience participation thrown in. Then Miss Glory Pearl did her thing. It was really interesting watching the reactions of people when she came out, shock and awe (one lady very much disgusted) but as the act went on it became completely un-shocking that she was fully exposed, so job done there!
Then it was my turn. I won’t lie, I did think “Follow that, Zoe!!”
There was a technical hitch with the head mic which kept squeaking so I decided to do it without speaking, a skill I’ve had much practice at. It meant that my physical humour had to step up its game and it also meant that the audience/participants were laser focused on me. It totes went in my favour.
They LOVED IT! All the women were embodying femininity and all the guys were stood in a line along the back of the room with their drinks in hand! Of course this changed when it came to the Strut Off. I wasn’t going to let them stand and watch. Strutology is not a spectator sport! Those blokes’ inner divas were well and truly released and I think some of them are still strutting to this day!
Watch this video of Dinah and Megan helping me to demo the Strut Off…
Harnaam couldn’t make it to the evening but I listened to her talk the next day and her vulnerability was refreshing. She has broken many a societal norms and challenged the notion of conventional beauty. She began growing facial hair as an adolescent due to polycystic ovary syndrome and after being bullied for many years she grew to accept and embrace her beard. She is now an Anti-Bullying & Body Positivity Activist. But she opened up to say that even as recent as 2 weeks prior she had had suicidal thoughts. My prayers are that she continues to take solace in the hundreds of thousands of women who look up to her as a someone who refused to bow to peer pressure and conform to the norm.
I also hope and pray that this event is the first of many. There was a real magical vibe. I met so many wonderful women and fabulous fellas and reckon I may have made some friends for life. I know for a fact that it has had a profound effect on everyone who came, so please join us next time. Watch this space for further information.
Fellow Body Image Movement Global Ambassadors, finally meeting after months of chatting on Facebook! Ahhh!