This September, Ireland will welcome Body Pride 2016; a unique event that celebrates body-diversity and self-love. Niamh O' Donoghue spoke to organiser Michelle Marie about the event, the pressures to fit into societal norms and body shaming.
Body Pride 2016 is the idea of English-born blogger, mother and plus-size model Michelle, who from a young age struggled with her weight which left her feeling deflated, under-valued and self-conscious.
After almost thirty years, this determined young woman is ready to let go of the shame and to start loving her body; and she is urging the rest of Ireland to do the same.
Michelle, who is originally from Oxford and is the curator of ‘ChocolateCurvesModel’ blog, developed a negative relationship with her body from a very young age and was put onto her first diet at the age of five.
Years of self-hating and bullying lead to Michelle developing manic depression and a severe binge-eating disorder.
“I was on my first diet when I was five years old. From that moment, I felt that I was never good enough, and that there was something inherently wrong with me and how I looked.
"As I grew up, those feelings escalated. I got to a point where I had enough of feeling ashamed and hating what I saw and feeling bad about myself. It made me determined to try and do something about it,” she explained.
From being subjected to dieting from such a young age, Michelle was under the influence that something was wrong with her, and that she was being punished for looking different.
Michelle, who grew up during repressive times in the 1980’s, expressed how during that time society was heavily influenced by the ‘skinny model’ culture in magazines and on television.
She remembers feeling that she was suppose to be slim, tall and white in order to fit the social norms at the time.
“As a teenager you had to look a certain way, and I just never fitted any of the moulds,” she said with an air of remorse.
“Even in my early twenties I thought I would become happy if I was thinner, taller, or more fashionable. I was sure that these were the secrets to my well-being because it was reinforced all the time that I had to look and be a certain way,” she added.
In an attempt to capture confidence and to feel confident again, Michelle took part in a boudoir photoshoot, and for the first time in her life she loved what she saw:
“I'm the complete opposite to the stereotypical model: I’m short and I’m plus sized. I was given a gift to do a boudoir photoshoot, and when I saw the pictures that came back, I actually liked what I saw for the first time ever.
"I even told the editors to send back un-touched and unedited copies and I asked them to undo all the editing they had done because I liked what I saw without any amendments. That was the spur in thinking that I want to start feeling good about myself."
Michelle admits that she’s not too fashion-conscious and is happiest in jeans and a t-shit, but she feel’s most confident wearing the right lingerie underneath.
“I feel that lingerie helps me take control. It’s quite a feminist approach to it, but women are overtly sexualised in this world and I've had lots of negative experiences.
"But I decided to embrace it and enjoy my body. To me, wearing nice lingerie has always given me confidence,” she explained.
The alternative model found love and followed her heart to Ireland. However, it was this transition that made her realise the negative and hateful attitudes that Irish men and women have towards our bodies. Michelle believes Body Pride could be part of the solution.
“I think Body Pride is needed everywhere, but particularly in Ireland. There is such a strong shame culture here, and it was particularly noticeable coming from the UK to Ireland.
"I think Ireland is ready for positive change and ready to embrace a more open and diverse society. Body positivity is part of that change and we should celebrate our differences and start acknowledging that it’s okay to be different,” she explained.
While social media tends to receive negative criticism when it comes to promoting a healthy body image, Michelle praises it for helping her to see that she isn't alone in her journey.
She uses her blog and Instagram account to tell others about her story, and to encourage more people to talk about their negative relationships with their bodies.
“Social media has given me a huge push to pursue this after seeing all of the body-positivity movements that are going on, and learning that everybody is battling with their bodies - no matter how big or how small," she said.
"What I want to get across with Body Pride is that we have to learn to accept the bodies that we have, and to not hate ourselves. Body Pride will be a place that celebrate’s everyone’s individuality. I want to create something that is both diverse and inclusive to everyone; regardless of age, sex, gender or race,” she added.
Body Pride 2016, which will be held on September 4th at The Castlecourt Hotel in Westport, will be a day-long event which will include three main diversity catwalks, as well as an incredible panel of speakers form the Models of Diversity agency; which represents men and women with physical disabilities.
Michelle, who is a new mum, expresses her concerns about raising her daughter in a repressive society, and urges people to be role models for younger and impressionable generations:
“…I hate the thought of her growing up the way I did; doubting herself and feeling bad. I don't want her generation to grow up beating themselves up. We need to be the positive role models for future generations. Body Pride might not make a huge difference right away, but I hope it’s part of the over-all change.”
Tickets for Body Pride are available now and early-bird tickets can be purchased at a discounted price of €15.
You can follow Michelle’s body-positive journey on Instagram at @chocolatecurvesmodel, on Twitter at @bodyprideie, and on Facebook at @bodypride2016.