In August, Michelle Marie took control of the @Ireland Twitter account, an account curated by a different person each week – different lives, different experiences, different view points. In her Twitter bio, Michelle describes herself as a ‘Self Love Advocate, Blogger, and Plus Size Model.’ She is also black, English, gay, a mother.
Michelle is a force of positivity and was promoting her Body Positive message during her tenure. On her first day in control of the account, Michelle encountered despicable racist abuse from bigots who felt compelled to tell her that due to the colour of skin, she did not belong in Ireland. (It’s been noted that much of the abuse came from outside of Ireland and many messages of support were received from within Ireland.) This is horrifying on a human level, as well as being another depressing example of the wide-spread abuse of women, often women of colour, online. You can read a summary of the story here.
Despite being naturally appalled at the abuse she received, the manner in which Michelle responded was a display of grace, strength and positivity.
“Thank you to those who have welcomed me and shown me kindness and support. I want to see this week through for you. So tonight, for the sake of my wellbeing, I am signing off. But tomorrow I shall try again. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
Impressed, I had a look at her blog and saw she is a campaigner for body positivity and self-worth. Michelle isn’t just talking the talk, she is organising Body Pride 2016, an event celebrating and promoting body positivity. Michelle is an example of a woman taking life by the balls, and I for, one, will be taking a leaf out of her book. I contacted her on Twitter and said I’d love to feature her on my blog and asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions, and she very kindly obliged.
Q. You say in your blog you’re on a self-love journey, can you tell us how it started?
More than anything, I reached the point of being fed up with being made to feel bad about my body. Then I did a boudoir photoshoot in 2014, and when I saw the final pictures I actually liked what I saw, and I even asked them to undo the airbrushing etc that they’d done. It was then that I realised that all my stretchmarks and cellulite were part of my identity. I realised that my body might not be the best body in the world, but it’s a big part of who I am, and I was tired of feeling miserable about it. The final catalyst was having my daughter. I didn’t want her to grow up feeling she wasn’t good enough, or worthy, or beautiful for looking/being a certain way. But I wanted to do more than just say those words to her, I wanted to lead by example and show her that beauty and worth come in all shapes and sizes.
Q. How difficult or easy is it to maintain a positive attitude? Do you have any tips for times when you find your motivation or positivity dipping?
Learning to love yourself and be kind to yourself isn’t easy. Especially after a lifetime of being made to feel negatively about yourself and your body. But the body love journey can be as public or as private as you want it to be. You can think hundreds of wonderful things about yourself and nobody ever need know. So you can go at your pace, on your terms, and if loving your body feels too hard, simply start by hating it a little less. I think it’s important to say here that being body positive/confident is not about miraculously loving every single thing about your body. It’s about acknowledging the imperfections and/or the things you wish were different, but realising that those things don’t take away your beauty or your worth. You are good enough, no matter what. So when you have a bad day, have a bad day, but don’t equate it to being a failure. You are fabulous at all times.
Q. How does this affect how you parent your daughter?
Most of all I am mindful about my language surrounding body image and weight. I try to normalise food by avoiding labelling food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I try to avoid weighing myself around her. I try to speak positively about myself and how I look. But I also try to avoid basing everything on physical appearance – so when I tell her she’s beautiful, I also tell her that she’s a brilliant person.
Q. Do you call yourself a feminist?
I don’t tend to call myself a feminist, as I don’t feel that I match the stereotypical feminist, but I definitely have a feminist ethos in all that I do. I am passionate about making a change in how women are viewed and treated, but more than anything I want to change the way women feel about themselves – I want to inspire and empower women to love themselves and support one another in doing so.
Q. How have things been for you since you curated the @Ireland account?
I’m still largely in shock over what happened. Both the intensity of the racial prejudice and hatred I encountered, but also by the outpouring of love and support that came my way in response to the trolling. It was a defining moment, both for me personally, and for the online community. But the positive has outweighed the negative, and it has lit a fire under me to do even more to help break the cycle of stigma and shame. Whether it be for the colour of your skin, or the size of your jeans, no-one should ever have to endure what I faced, yet for far too many, that is their daily existence. I’m just one person, but I want to do all I can to change that.
Q. How are plans progressing for your Body Pride 2016 event?
Body Pride 2016 will be bringing the first ever Body Positivity Party to Ireland in December! This will be a girls’ night out like no other – there will be makeup, fashion, food, and freebies; plus a not-to-be-missed body confident catwalk! I have never organised anything like this before, but we all struggle with body insecurity, so I really wanted to create a shame-free zone to celebrate the beauty in all of us. It really should be a night to remember. We are launching this event in the Connacht region this year, but we hope to bring it nationwide next year. For all the details on what to expect, and where to buy tickets, take a look at our facebook page: facebook.com/BodyPrideIreland
You can also follow Michelle on Twitter @choccurvesmodel and read her blog https://chocolatecurvesmodel.wordpress.com/