Jessica Sanders is the author and founder of Learning to Love Your Body, an empowering guide for girls to support the development of positive body image and resilience. Written through Jess's voice the book covers important topics such as positive body image, self-care, self-love and resilience. The book is written with girls aged eight and over in mind, but it's not strictly limited to that age group, with anyone able to learn from it. If the crowd-funding campaign is successful, Learning to Love Your Body will be available early next year.
Tell us a bit about 'Learning to Love Your Body'.
The book is a body positive guide and its supports the development of positive body image and resilience. It's two sided, focusing on positive body image and also teaching long-term skills, such as self-care and self-love. Self-care is a really important part of it because it's a practical skill they [young girls] can use their whole lives. This gives more agency in young people; so they can take more time to take care of themselves.
What inspired you to write it?
It was anger and frustration that women were expected to go through this [negative body image] - it was generally accepted that "oh you're a young girl and you're gonna not like your body and you're gonna be uncomfortable and that's normal." And thinking that this is something "you'll grow out of it." But you never grow out of it and it becomes worse.
The concept of self-love is something I feel was lacking, and is still lacking from the education sector. It's something that should be taught as it's core to our being - self-acceptance and self-love - bleed into everything else that we do and it's something that we all universally struggle with as human beings. Self-love wasn't being taught to young people at all- it's alarming that you come across these concepts as an adult woman, probably in your early twenties. So if you're looking for it and you're an older woman, you can get that knowledge but as a young girl, there's nothing out there for them.
The concept of self-love is something I feel was lacking, and is still lacking from the education sector.
I went to the book store and I asked the shop assistant:
"Have you got anything that talks about girls diverse bodies or representations of diverse bodies?"
There was absolutely nothing…. There were lots of books on puberty and some really good ones, but the books that showed bodies in a celebratory way wasn't there.
I think long-term and holistically, preventative education has such massive potential and it's not being utilised in the way that it could be.
Tell us about the process of writing and creating 'Learning to Love Your Body'?
I've always been around books and people writing books. And my mum does work around preventative education and so it just seemed like this thing I had the resources - in terms of knowledge - to do. I did my research in the book store, but I didn't even know where to begin. My mum said to me:
"Just speak and imagine that you're talking to a little girl. What would you want them to know? What have you learnt in your 24 years?"
That came out really naturally as I consider myself a role model; I'm an older sister of two and I spent my whole life trying to bring up the other women around me, set good examples and encourage them. So trying to give someone kind, compassionate advice was something that I knew how to do.
In terms of practical elements of the book;
It was important that the illustrator was a woman, a feminist and knew how to draw womens bodies in a way that was true and not through the male gaze. I needed to see cellulite, stretch marks, those things to be normalised.
It was important that the illustrator was a woman, a feminist and knew how to draw womens bodies in a way that was true and not through the male gaze.
And I wanted them to be on 'character' - not just standing still and stagnant - they needed to be moving and celebratory and each [character] has individual identities. I wanted to see characters that you hadn't normally seen before, so they wore different clothes or had different hair cuts. Establishing as much diversity and authenticity as possible with the ten characters so that young girls could see a part of themselves, or their bodies represented.
What do you hope for young girls and women to take away from the guide?
I hope that young girls are able to see themselves represented in a small way and in that way, be validated and reassured. It's something that was missing from my childhood. I'm very tall - 6 foot - and I was the tallest kid in my whole primary school (male and female). I never saw a body like mine represented - I only saw the beauty ideal. And I also hope they bring away some practical self-care skills, and build emotional resilience.
I hope the women reading it and encountering it can learn about self care. I think it is still a relatively new concept and women find it hard to take time for themselves and claim it as "taking time for me and not being selfish, I'm doing it in the name of self-care." And that's something I found really helpful in my social work practice. I can't care for others if I'm not caring for myself.
I hope that girls and women learn about self-love and understand that it's something to strive for - it's hard and it's full of ups and downs but you'll get there.
How big of a problem do you think negative body image is?
I think it's absolutely massive and it's a holistic problem in the way that for women it impacts all areas of their life. It has a stigma around it - that it's a superficial issue.
Statistics show that when a girl doesn't like how she looks:
- 7/10 will stop themselves from eating.
- 7/10 will not be assertive in their opinion or stick to their decision.
- 8/10 will opt out of important life activities such as engaging with their families or friends.
- They perform worse in maths and comprehension.
- They cannot run as fast.
When girls become women, things like careers and relationships are determined by how you see yourself and how you feel about your body.
I see it as a feminist issue and one of the greatest and most insidious barriers that women face.
The most dangerous thing we can do is ignore this problem or compartmentalise this problem that your little girl could be affected by this. Because children are big sponges and our world is communicating a very clear message that their self worth is attached to how they look. One way or another they are going to get that message, it's just whether or not they are equipped to be critical of it or navigate it - and prevention is key.
We're doing them a disservice by not talking about it and not giving them the skills to deal with it.
What are your top tips for loving your body?
1. Practice self-compassion, every day.
Self-love is something that we have good days and bad days, and sometimes it's really hard and sometimes external factors occur that means we can't practice our self-love today. And on those days, practicing self-compassion is key - it's okay - be kind to yourself - tomorrow is a new day…
2. Speak to yourself like you speak to your best friend.
You're having a really tough time, what would you say to your best friend right now? Because that's the kind of way you deserve to treat yourself.
3. Have a body functionality approach
If you're really finding it hard to love your body specifically, coming back to a body functionality approach - looking at your body as something that performs a functions.
"I love my body because it allows me to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, it allows me to swim in beautiful oceans in Turkey. I love my body because it got me up today. I love my body because it allows me to make myself a coffee with my two hands."
Bodies serve an awesome purpose, not just to be looked at. Practice gratefulness for your body's functionality every day.
4. Be exposed to diversity
Follow diverse accounts on Instagram. It changed the way I saw my own body, it's testament to how we can be so easily brainwashed to what we see. What's so cool about Instagram is that you control what you see, so you dictate how you see others and yourself by choosing who you decide to follow. Looking up people in the body positive community is a great way to feel connected to people who are experiencing similar things to you in terms of body image.
Do you have a favourite quote from the book?
Self love is the most important kind of love because the relationship you have with yourself and with your body is the most important relationship you will ever have.
Girls aren't taught that it's [the relationship with ourselves] is the most important relationship. Girls are taught that it's the one we'll have with our partners. You've gotta love yourself before other people can show you that same love and accept it.