The phrase body shaming has become a hot topic in recent years. People are becoming more aware that negative words towards a person's body can have lasting results that affect self esteem for years. But what about the words we tell ourselves? Where is the solidarity to stop the negative internal dialogue that feeds a person's negative thoughts towards their own body image?
Jae West is a member of The Liberators International and is no stranger to the pain associated with a low self esteem. At 24, Jae has survived years plagued by an eating disorder, which she attributes to her personal self esteem issues. Recently, she was part of an extreme social experiment aiming to reach out to others who may be experiencing similar pain.
We spoke with Jae about her decision to stand in Central London wearing nothing but her underwear.
1 - As you stated in your blog on the experiment, we are often our harshest critics. That does not stop other's from sharing their opinions, both kind and unkind. What has been the best and the worst feedback you have received and how would you like to respond to anyone who shares similar thoughts?
I’ve tried to stay away from reading all the comments because everyone is going to have their own opinions and I believe they are entitled to them. I would never want to force someone into seeing things the way I do.
I knew this project was going to stir up conversation and that not everyone was going to agree with it but I also knew it had the potential of being extremely powerful and inspiring. If the video can help even one person then it is worth it.
For people that do write negative things I would be interested to know what their relationship is like with themselves. There’s no judgement, I’d just be intrigued to know why they’d feel the need to try and disempower a message of hope, regardless of if it resonates with them or not.
I saw a quote the other day that really addressed this question perfectly, Yoga Bhajan said that “If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your values as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all”
I’ve received some beautiful emails from people around the world sharing their own personal stories associated with body-image, so I would say that is the most positive feedback that I’ve received. We are all hear to help inspire and empower each other so I’m humbled that the video can do that for people.
2 - I would like to address the concerns expressed by the police. I thought it was very interesting that they were worried about your safety. There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding how covered a woman should be in public; particularly in regard to making herself a target for crime.
Was this something you thought of before the experiment? Do you think the added scrutiny of being a female undressing added to your state of vulnerability?
It definitely crossed my mind both before and during the experience. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in, especially for a woman and I think viewers can connect with that vulnerability, that’s what made it so powerful.
Sometimes for art we have to take big risks. For me this was stepping way outside my comfort zone which meant that all my emotions were brought to the surface. I cried, smiled and laughed and others joined in with me on the emotional rollercoaster. I found allowing others to truly see me in a raw and open state was a celebration of vulnerability, in no way was it a sign of weakness. It made me proud of the person I am and grateful for the fact that we can experience and share a range of emotions and feelings with others.
Thankfully we did the experiment in the middle of the day so I wasn’t confronted with anyone that was highly intoxicated. I believe you attract what you project so I really was putting my full trust in humanity and asking them to not take advantage of the situation. I never wanted to offend anyone by the stand that I took and I think most people realised that.
3 - You are active in yoga and meditation - Did you employ those tools for this experiment? Did you make a conscious effort to remain connected to the moment?
Well the meaning of yoga is to yoke or unite, it’s an alignment of the mind, body and spirit so being present in the moment is living in a state of yoga. Coming back to my breath was a very important element for me during the experiment.
It’s easy to get caught up in thoughts when you’re highly emotional which distracts you from living in the present and takes you out of your heart space. The experience provided the perfect opportunity to learn to observe my thoughts and feelings without attachment, easier said than done sometimes but we’re only human! Continually checking in with myself and relaxing into my body allowed me to stay open to the world.
4 - In many ways, your video reminded me of the Free Hugs movement. Many of today's societies have encouraged an avoidance for human touch. Juan Mann created a bond by requesting others allow him to share affection, you created a bond by receiving it.
Do you think this exchange of contact is missing for many people? Do you think these imaginary barriers relate to the feelings of shame and isolation many people express today?
There’s definitely a barrier we put up in regards to physical contact with others, especially strangers. Human beings are naturally tactile creatures and a sense of community and harmony is created when we share authentic interactions, so would agree that it contributes to a sense of isolation when it is missing from our lives.
I think a lot of people live in a space of fear where they mistrust others and are constantly preparing themselves for the worst case scenario. I do believe it’s important to stay aware and conscious of your surroundings, I’m not saying let others disrespect your boundaries or betray your trust. I just believe if you give people the benefit of the doubt and project sincere trust they will respond with respect and trust in return in most scenarios.
5 - How did you feel when you first watched the video?
It was a pretty daunting experience at first as I had no idea what was going on around me on the actual day and didn’t know how the public were reacting, so seeing their expressions captured on film was really interesting. I always admire the eye for detail that Pete has when he’s editing videos. He has a way of condensing huge topics into short and inspiring clips that captivate the viewers’ attention in the first couple of seconds, so he had me straight away.
6 - Have those emotions changed with repeat viewings?
Each time I watch it I’m reminded of how far I’ve come in the last decade which is truly heart-warming. I have so much gratitude for the way my life has unfolded and the opportunities that have risen since starting on the journey from self-hate to self-love.
I’m no angel, I have my moments of criticism and self-judgement but video’s like this one remind even me to get out of my head and into my heart, knowing that I’m always doing the best that I can in any given moment. “Change is inevitable, growth is optional” I want to choose growth and transformation.
7 - How long did you leave the hearts in place?
I was actually hosting a Funky Freedom X workshop with Pete in London straight after the experiment. The class is an immersive blend of dancing, yoga, meditation, trust building activities and games that aims to highlight the human love and connection between us all so it didn’t look too out of place. On my way to the workshop I was walking down the street to Hyde Park barefooted, covered in hearts with tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my face, so I probably looked slightly out of place then! Wasn’t until that night that I got to shower, look and reflect on all the love hearts which was beautiful.
What do you think of this experiment? How do you think the reception would have differed if another person was the focus of the project? Leave your feedback in the comments below!