(Photo credit Lowell Mason)
Professionally, 2018 has been a friggin awesome year! At the start of the year I was feeling dejected and out of place. I was losing work as one of the UK’s top fitness presenters, missing out on slots at conventions in favour of new brands keen to be seen with eager presenters willing to work for free. The incessant diet talk, the constant pushing of fat shredding, butt lifting and tummy flattening was (and still is) doing my nut in. Literally BORE OFF! But nevertheless I got my head down and cracked on with my own thing.
I waved goodbye (metaphorically) to those who no longer supported me and my vision – Hasta la pasta! And continued to spread the body positivity message and making wonderful connections with like minded people. For me 2018 was all about seeking out amazing influencers and women who are not afraid to call out bull 💩 when it rears it’s stinky head.
Here a few of the wonderful women I’ve met or strengthened bonds with this…
From Left to Right: Becky founder of Anti Diet Riot Club; me; Hannah Lewin – personal trainer and hater of diets; Laura Thomas PhD – author of “Just Eat It”; Michelle Elman aka Scarred Not Scared – author of “Am I Ugly?” and TedX Speaker; Devinia Noel aka The Diet Boycott – intuitive eating counsellor; Terri Waters – founder of The Unedit: an online magazine for women’s beauty, fashion and lifestyle with a focus on body positivity and feminism; Dana Suchow who provides parent, teachers and caregivers the tools to raise body confident kids! Such an incredible bunch of ladies doing amazing things in the name of Body Positivity.
Miss Glory Pearl aka The Naked Stand Up. London Cabaret Awards nominee Glory Pearl began performing burlesque in 2008. Following serious injury in 2011 she had to re-evaluate her relationship with her body, and became increasingly frustrated by contemporary discourse on beauty, body image, and our relationship with our physical selves which she addresses with her stand up comedy routines. Pearl describes herself as a feminist – something she believes is entirely compatible with taking one’s clothes off for a living. I first met Glory aka Emma at the BodyKind Festival in Totnes and we hit it off. I asked her to perform at one of the Strut Summits and she went down like a house on fire. My Mum was helpless with laughter – that’s when you know you’ve struck the right chord!
Dani Adriana – Fat Activist and instagram star from Australia. When she travelled to the UK on her hols and put out a message that she would be doing a meet up in Regents Park, I knew I just had to meet her. For me, the Body Positive community online is often flooded with wonderfully curvy women with sexy hour glass figures and for a while I didn’t understand why I struggled to feel a part of the community – it was because whilst I have got curves, I don’t go in at the waist and out at the hips. My midsection is not proportional to my hips and bum. I was still getting the messaging that my body was wrong. Seeing Dani on Instagram showed me that “apple” shaped women are just as valid as those with hourglass bodies. She lives her best life completely unapologetically and works tirelessly to educate her followers about Body Positivity and eating disorder recovery.
The photo above is of the other fabulous women who came out for an afternoon of bonding and kinship.
Left to Right: (So sorry I don’t know lady’s name on the far left 😬); Donna Noble, founder of Curvesome Yoga; me and Dani, Zuzanna – blogger and avid strutter; Bridget Zyka aka the Body Positivity Coach, also an avid strutter and Lois Edlin, founder of Body Positivity In Real Life which organises meet ups and BoPo book clubs, ALSO an avid strutter!
Melissa Wells, two time best selling Hay House author, TedX Speaker and founder of the Self Love Summit, which she invited me to teach at. It was actually a defining moment for me that showed me that perhaps the Fitness Industry was no longer the best place for me. It showed me that I make powerful and long lasting change in women, with just 20 mins and I didn’t even need an open space to do this in. I asked the 400 strong group just to stand up and from their chairs and copy me as I taught them a short and simple routine and it was an amazing experience. Thanks to the wonderful energy that Mel had produced, the warmth and excitement, plus the wisdom and encouragement from incredible speakers before me, it was so very easy to entertain the crowd. They were so up for it, more so than so many dance classes I’ve taught at fitness events. I decided I want more of that! By the way, we’re doing it all again on 29th June. Put it in your diary.
Khrystyna Kazakova, model and finalist on America’s Next Top Model. We met when I was tipped off by Becky (Anti Diet Riot Club) that Khystyana was staging a guerrilla style catwalk called #TheRealCatwalk in Trafalgar Square campaigning for diversity within the Fashion Industry and that I should get involved. So I did! I turned up with my flesh coloured underwear under my clothes on one of the hottest days of the summer’s heat wave and stripped down to my thong and bra alone with hundreds of other people keen to show that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, abilities and disabilities, genders and so on and so forth. It was magical and Khrystyana was so awesome, nurturing and caring, yet fierce af: a real force to be reckoned with.
Sylvia Mac aka Love Disfigure is a child burn survivor and speaker, campaigner for diversity in fashion, sport, film, TV and society. She has appeared on This Morning, BBC Women’s hour, BBC World News, BBC Radio, 2 Jeremy Vine, Radio London, and been featured in the Independent, Daily Mail, The Sun and The Guardian. She created Love Disfigure out of a need to raise awareness and support those living with disfigurement. Her message is to not allow how you look to stop you from achieving. I had been aware of her work for a while and recognised her when we were both at #TheRealCatwalk so I introduced myself and as School of Strut and was so chuffed when she knew who I was! She’s fabulous and so supportive of what I do. Yet another awesome example of this wonderful online community.
Amanda Lacount is a teenage professional dancer and choreographer and owner of the hashtag #breakingthesteroptype. She has appeared on Ellen, dancing for the live performance of the Greatest Showman’s “This is Me” sung by Keala Settle, who played the bearded lady in the film. I met Amanda when we were both teaching at Move It, Europe’s largest dance expo. When I stole the opportunity to grab a quick photo with her, I had a chat with her and her mom about what I do and told her about the panel I would be a part of the next day. Funny story: I explained that the panel would be discussing the pressures of social media and its effect on the body image of young dancers and then said how it would have been a good idea to get her involved. The next day I went to the room where the discussion was being held and Amanda turned up too. It made sense that the organisers had decided to get her on board at the last minute. After the discussion I told her I was glad that she been asked to be involved at which point her mom looked at me and said “I thought you invited us!” Hilarious! But it all worked out great!
This glorious woman is Dinah (pronounced Diner, not Deenah) Gibbons, founder of the BodyKind Festival in Totnes, Devon, the world’s first fully body positive festival. This was actually towards the end of 2017 but over 2018, Dinah has been an awesome supporter of all things Strut. Just knowing that she is there, cheering me on has been a huge help. The next BodyKind is in May and it’s well worth a trip to the beautiful coastal town. Keep your eyes peeled for that.
The hottie in the crazy specs and the patriotic socks is Taryn Brumfitt, creator of the documentary “Embrace” and founder of the Body Image Movement. I became a Body Image Movement Global Ambassador after seeing Taryn’s before and after photos, where the before shot was her at a bikini competition and the after shot was a less muscular Taryn, naked sitting on a stool with the softness of her belly visible but the rest of her modesty hidden by her arm and crossed legs. I held a screening of Embrace at the Odeon in Streatham and was bowled over by the film and how it started conversations about body image. It got mothers and daughters talking, even fathers got involved in order to learn more about the pressures faced by their children. It demonstrated that 97% of women globally were dissatisfied with their body which is simply unacceptable and spurs me on to continue my mission.
The total babe on the right is Nicola Wai-She Chan and one of the first fitness professionals to totally “get it”. When I first met Nicola, it was before I had dedicated my career to Body Positivity and I interviewed her for an old YouTube series I did called “Tone Tuesday“. Nicola was a bikini champion, virtually no body fat and was praised for her “healthy lifestyle” and determination to stay lean. I didn’t realise this at the time but Nicola had “recovered” from non-purging bulimia but had unsuspectingly developed orthorexia, an obsession with clean eating. when she discovered the body positivity world she realised she was still being affected by an eating disorder and resolved to heal herself. At this point out friendship grew really tight and we held a ceremonial scales-smashing session. And when we found out Taryn was coming to London, Nicola manage to secure about 30 mins of Taryn’s time before she had to get on a train to Scotland, and she interviewed her for her podcast. I went with her and was given the incredibly important task of holding the microphone. Fun Fact: we couldn’t find a quiet coffee shop that day so we hid in a corner of a museum for the interview and were chased out by security staff. Thankfully we had finished.
Helen James, founder of Nutriri (not a diet) a “not for profit” organisation offering education and support for those who want to learn about intuitive eating and step away from diet culture for good. There are nationwide weekly groups but they certainly don’t involve weigh-ins. They’re like the nemesis of Slimming World and WW (rebranded Weight Watchers – we’re not fooled by this!). Helen has been so supportive of School of Strut and we will be setting up an event in 2019 combining SoS dance classes with Nutriri education and support. I’m looking forward to that.
And last by no means least, Megan Crabbe, aka Bodyposipanda, with her rather beautiful pastel inspired and hugely informative instagram and her multicoloured unicorn hair, Megan has amassed over 1 million followers and I’m not surprised because she might be one of my most favourite people ever. She is the author of the best selling book “Body Positive Power” and her infectious #donthatetheshake dance break vids are adorable. Her cute belly and butt jiggling are working wonders in helping young girls see that it is possible to be body confident in eating disorder recovery. We’ve met four or five times now at various events and gatherings. The first time was at BodyKind where Megan was speaking and I was opening the show with a fun Strutology class. I knew she would love the class and I was not wrong.
These are just a handful of the ladies who have been instrumental in the growing of School of Strut and the furthering of the manifesto. You all know who you are and I can’t thank you enough.
2019 is looking set to be yet another awesome year for School of Strut and I’m excited.
My business is my boyfriend and my brand is my baby.
I’ve got amazing and supportive family and friends. What more do I need?