When I'm feeling insecure about my body, turning to TED talks isn't something which would normally cross my mind. For questioning the universe, sure, but not body confidence. That's until I discovered just how self-belief boosting body positive TEDx talks can be. As a whole, when it comes to body confidence, I like to think of my advice on body positivity to friends and family as being pretty damn on-point. When it comes to viewing my own body in a positive light however, I'm ashamed to admit that I sometimes struggle to practice what I preach. My visage views vary drastically from day to day: Sometimes mirror-Raffy gets the coveted wink of approval, other days I look at my reflection and find myself greeted by an indistinguishable mass of arse and thighs with a small, squinty pair of eyes balanced perilously on top.
It was during a gym session after one such horrific mirror rendezvous that I felt my viewpoint start to shift. Having carelessly neglected my gym membership for a couple of months, I'd been expecting a painful, arduous fight back to fitness — but instead, I was rather pleasantly surprised. As I cross-trained cramp-free and lifted dumbbells without a single fractured foot, I marvelled at my body's muscle memory, at the limits I was able to push my cardio regime to, before regaining my breath within minutes.
OK, bit of an exaggeration... but, you get my drift.
It was during the resulting endorphins boost that I remembered why a good gym session always left me feeling so body-confident, despite the hot, sweaty-haired mess I emerged in: At the gym, I valued my body not merely for its external appearance, but for its strength, its resilience, its potential ability to protect me from harm. Which made me think: Why is it such an alien concept to appreciate anything but our body's proficiency at fitting into small-minded cultural beauty constructs?
To bolster my rediscovered body positive mentality, I went in search of mental reinforcements... and subsequently stumbled across this inspiring collection of body-pos TEDx talkers, who weren't afraid to voice their bodily vulnerabilities to help restore the body confidence of others. If you do nothing else for you today, please - give these videos a quick once-over. I'm pretty, pretty certain you won't regret it.
1. Stripping Away Negative Body Image — Lillian Bustle
A burlesque performer and steadfast body image activist, Lillian Bustle's down to earth, tongue-in-cheek talk on the potentially devastating impact that the media's portrayal of womens' bodies can have on young and adolescent girls is eye-opening. This video gave me big, gappy-grinned, seat-bouncing love for Bustle because she not only raises awareness of the need for a more diverse range of body-positive media portrayals of women, but also offers a revelation in practical techniques to combat that nasty, critical voice in the back of your head once and for all.
2. Plus Size? More Like My Size! — Ashley Graham
Brazen yet uplifting, Ashley Graham's poignant TED talk starts with a light-hearted sketch in which she does something which many of us find tragically impossible: evaluating her body in a full-length mirror and not only accepting, but complimenting it. As an internationally renowned model and body activist who recently made headlines for being the first plus size model to appear in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, Graham describes how she managed to navigate the cold, cut-throat world of the modelling industry and come out the other end as not only a hugely successful plus-size model, but a role model to adolescent girls throughout America on how to love your body for its individualities via talks at selected high schools.
3. My Story Is Painted On My Body — Chantelle Brown-Young
Led by up-and-coming supermodel Chantelle Brown-Young (who the eagle-eyed among you may recognize from the 2014 season of America's Next Top Model), this TEDx talk charts her childhood timeline of navigating the world of playground bullying and familial alienation, on the road to not only accepting, but celebrating her rare skin condition, vitiligo (the condition widely associated with the late Michael Jackson). Although heart-wrenching to hear of the isolation and stigmatisation that Brown-Young was subjected to by those closest to her at such a young age, I found the supermodel's courage in not only battling the prejudices of others and redefining her personal notions of beauty, but also her pride as she relays her gritty, gloss-free back story, incredibly refreshing.
4. An Epidemic Of Beauty Sickness — Renee Engeln
This video cites empirical psychological evidence in support of a theory on the mainstream media's body image portrayal that I've held for a long time: Being "smart" enough to rationalise seemingly flawless images of models via knowledge of Photoshop retouching doesn't necessarily grant you immunity from the gradual chip-chip-chipping away at your body confidence and resultant self-validation. YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS ISN'T RATIONAL. In this thought-provoking and controversial talk, psychologist and body image researcher Dr. Renee Engeln considers the potential impact this "body sickness" could have on young women and their male counterparts, citing what it might be like to inhabit a world where women's cognitive, financial and emotional resources encountered a universal shift away from a focus on prioritising a narrow mould of beauty, and instead towards making the world a happier, more empathetic, widely-accepting place to live.
5. The Lady Stripped Bare — Tracey Spicer
Journalist Tracey Spicer takes us on a witty self-deprecating journey through her gruelling daily self-beautifying regime; questioning how drastically a woman's level of commitment to her appearance impacts a career in the public eye and just how problematic combining an appearance-prioritising job with bringing up a young daughter can be. Spicer begins to deconstruct the armour of the artificial feminine aesthetic by physically deconstructing her own live on stage; theorizing on how sidestepping the patriarchy and stripping back our daily beauty routines could aid us in relaxing our minds, renewing our self-confidence and revolutionising our productivity in both work and play. Witty, brave and very relatable, if only I'd discovered this video years ago I might not still be a shameful stabilizer-flaunting biker at the age of 24.