What is beauty and why does it seem to matter so much?
PUBLISHED: 14:54 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:31 28 November 2017
Our bodies are incredible, whatever shape or size they come in so why do so many of us loathe the way we look? Sheena Grant speaks to one woman who’s challenging negative messages around body image.
Almost three months ago, just as summer started to turn into autumn, a group of women got together for a photoshoot with a difference.
They all arrived feeling nervous, unsure what they’d let themselves in for and wondering whether it really was a good idea. But by the end of the day things had changed. They felt empowered, aware of their own potential and unique beauty in a way they had never dreamed possible.
During those few hours spent in the Norfolk countryside, connecting with nature, each other and reconnecting with themselves, the women had transformed. The ‘Wild Woman’ within had been awakened.
Amy Woods, founder and director of SoulShine, a Norwich-based social enterprise set up to empower people in their relationship with their bodies and the food they eat, organised the Wild Woman photoshoot with her colleague, teacher Robyn Caston, and another local holistic therapist, Kate Fisher.
“It was a day to celebrate all our different body shapes and sizes, communing with nature and embracing who we are in a non-judgemental space,” says Amy. “A lot of the women said they hated having their photograph taken - it was a case of helping them to remember that they are beautiful, whatever they look like.
“The day was amazing. There was lots of emotion but everyone came out of their shell. We wanted to prove it doesn’t matter what shape or size you are, moments of deep empowerment and true beauty are able to shine when we can drop all our limiting beliefs and the shame we carry around with us all the time. “We wanted to show those women what they really look like when they are empowered and connected to their natural selves and the natural world. This was a day to say goodbye to the little voice that says: ‘You’re not x enough, you’re too x, you can’t possibly have your picture taken’.”
As well as the photoshoot, the day also involved meditation, singing, dancing, drumming, eating and lots of supporting compassion so the women felt able to release their own Wild Woman, whoever she may be - warrior, goddess, inner child or something else. It was also a journey of discovery for photographer Rachel Wright, who had previously had breast cancer and a mastectomy. She too got in front of the camera during the day.
“The event started off as being something just for the women who attended the photoshoot but when we saw the results we knew we had to do something more with the pictures,” says Amy. “We’re still deciding exactly what but I’m sure they will feature at the celebrations of SoulShine’s first birthday in February.”
The issue of body image at the centre of that day is something Amy, an eating psychology coach, reiki practitioner and youth worker, is passionate about addressing and changing for the better. And she makes no bones about the fact that much of what she now does professionally stems from her own experiences.
In a blog on the SoulShine website she writes about being 13 years old, getting ready to go out and staring at herself in the mirror, mentally logging everything that was ‘wrong’ with her appearance.
“What started out a thought soon became the story I told myself,” she writes. “It became my reality. It then went on to become my physical chemistry. The Stress response chemistry. Self-criticism, self-judgment and self-rejection are interpreted by the brain as a threat or danger, it creates the exact same chemistry. Living in this chemistry on a daily basis has huge side effects on our bodies and contributes to the development of disease.”
Through SoulShine, Amy is trying to change how we think about our bodies, examine our relationship with food and challenge the increasingly pervasive idea that we should be striving for one narrow, unreal definition of physical ‘perfection’.
She works one-to-one with people and also challenges negative body image messages with workshops in a variety of settings, including schools and youth groups, encouraging young people to embrace all of who they are.
“We want people to feel their greatness, what they have to offer and how incredible their body is, whatever it looks like,” she says.
To find out more visit www.soul-shine.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.