by Jessica Andersen and Ashley Simon of My Body Does
Living in the United States, it is clear that anyone and everyone has a right to women’s bodies – sometimes more of a right than a woman herself. People talk about women’s bodies, police women’s bodies. As women, we are completely surrounded by images that reduce us to objects, using our bodies as props to sell random products, brands, and ideas. What’s worse, is that the bodies on display are excessively airbrushed and almost entirely homogenous – young, thin, able-bodied and white. Additionally, we are not even invited into the conversation about how our own bodies are going to be used to sell us things. We are not given a chance to speak for ourselves. There is feminist theory dedicated to understanding these power structures, and there are activists devoted to dismantling the system that oppresses women, but as much as you read, write, and protest, one of the biggest and most personal questions still remains: how do women seize control of their own narratives?
When we talk about body narratives, we’re referring to the public dialogue that hands women stories about their bodies. Women are expected to simply go along with all this and accept what’s handed to them, integrating the dominant narrative into their sense of self worth. It’s these stories that define much of a woman’s relationships to her body — until she learns to use media literacy to pick apart what pieces do and don’t belong to her, what pieces she does or does not want to take on. Here at My Body Does, we’re dedicated to helping women, and other marginalized people, seize control of this body narrative — both privately for emotional health reasons, and publicly as a political statement. We believe that telling your own story is powerful, and we’re constantly looking for more effective ways to help you tell them.
The need of a better way for women to speak for themselves about their bodies hit us with its full force when the “ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?” ads ran in the NYC subways this summer. When you use the subway every day the space there becomes a part of your experience whether you like it or not. We felt trapped with these ads – just going to work was an assault on our bodies. It occurred to us that this was exactly the space in which we needed to empower women to speak for themselves. So we came up with the idea to make body positive affirmation stickers and that is how My Body Does came to be. From our experiences came the idea to reclaim the public dialogue about bodies, and to affirm the value of bodies in public — a small, but we think, radical act. Here’s some background behind our thinking:
- We wanted to target advertisements that objectify women, but we wanted to do so in a way that replaced a crass message with a more nuanced one. We polled 50+ women to get their feedback on the project and ultimately we chose the 4 most popular affirmations that spoke to a diversity of experiences.
- The stickers are intentionally “I” statements, because they’re meant to be empowering for the person putting them up, and we think there’s already more than enough public voices telling you how to feel, think, and look.
- We were inspired by both guerilla marketing and social media activism like the This Oppresses Women stickers originally designed in 1969, the Stop Telling Women To Smile Series by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, The Bubble Project, and Virgie Tovar’s #LoseHateNotWeight.
- We love the world of body positivity, but not so much the constant affirmation of beauty. We thought, surely we can value our bodies for more than just what they look like. How about all the awesome things they do? And while yes, some bodies run, do yoga, and climb mountains, bodies also sleep, menstruate, eat — and those are also amazing and valuable things for us to do with our bodies — thus the name “My Body Does,” an open ended invitation for whatever you want to celebrate.
- We are also really aware of how overwhelming (and pushy) the message “Love your body!!!” can be. It does not leave much room for the truth — that our relationships with our bodies are REALLY complicated. And so we are constantly trying to leave space for those complexities, whatever they may be.
While this project started with the simple goal of making body positive affirmation stickers, we are evolving into a community that wants to address the control of bodies and the narrative around bodies (especially women’s bodies) as it intersects with body positivity, fat acceptance, and intersectional feminism. We know this is a seriously huge undertaking that we cannot achieve alone, so we are looking to collaborate with other activists, host events where people can have these conversations in real life (imagine!), and produce media that allows women to share their own experiences.
Our journey has been hugely informed by the Health At Every Size® (HAES®) approach because it supports a richer and more compassionate relationship with our bodies. It gives us a way to move forward, from wherever we are, towards happier and healthier lives. We appreciate how the HAES® approach offers space for people to pursue health without the deceptions of weight loss or the usual dogma of ‘woo woo’ juice cleanses. It actually leaves room for the authentic complexities of anyone’s story. But lastly we love it because it encourages people to shift their focus away from obsessive dieting and exercising to the everyday things that bring them joy. And that is something we can really get behind here at My Body Does, celebrating your body as a source of joy.
My Body Does was co-founded by Jessica Andersen and Ashley Simon, who both wanted to create a supportive space for celebrating bodies. Ashley is a digital media consultant and yoga teacher. In her roles in tech, media, and yoga she’s driven by projects that increase individual agency and quality of life. Jessica is an engineer and yoga teacher of all ages. She strives to bring a balance of reason and mindfulness into all of her work, as well as offering a sense of humor and play. Both ladies live in Brooklyn with their partners and adorable cats. While working together, they share cat stories, brainstorm ways to take over the NYC subways, and exchange methods for creating body positive spaces both in and outside the yoga studio. You can check out the MBD Instagram for clever social commentary disguised as silly cartoons and cat pictures, or head over to our website to get some of your own body positive stickers.