Don’t obsess over your body; own it, happily. That’s the underlying message of Project WomanKIND, a new web series that underlines how the cultural preoccupation with female perfection can wreak havoc on the self-worth of girls and young women.
Created by Australian model Jessica Vander Leahy, 27, the first installment of the new web series—five episodes in all—sees curvy models talk about their struggles with body image and self-acceptance. It’s a first pass in a campaign to encourage greater self-care, says Vander Leahy. “I’d like to make more videos showing women from all walks of life telling their stories about how they have gone on their journey of self-acceptance and learning to be kind to themselves.”
Vander Leahy talks to FLARE about the origins of the project, why Instagram banned #curvy and how just about everyone grapples with insecurity.
“What KIND of woman do I want to be? A strong one. One that knows my stretch marks and cellulite and tummy rolls don’t define my deeper self or really f**king matter.” || @jessicavanderleahy for #projectwomanKIND What KIND of woman do you want to be?! #raw #real #honest || For more of Jess’ #BodyLove honesty watch her YouTube interview in the link in the BIO 👆🏾📷: @itswhatartis @projectwomankind And don’t forget to SHARE SHARE SHARE the videos – we want to reach as many women as possible to remind them to be KIND to themselves and each other! Xx
How did the idea for Project WomanKIND come to you?
I’ve been a model for almost a decade and have worked since I was a teenager. In that time, I’ve spoken with lots of women who struggled with accepting their bodies and struggling with the pressures of what they think it means to be a “good woman.” Through social media I’ve got a lot of young girls asking questions about what I eat and how I exercise, and opening up about their struggles with self-esteem. It breaks my heart. So the lightbulb moment for me came when I thought to myself, I need to get these girls to realize, “I am me, you are you, we are never going to be the same because we are fundamentally different, so why not celebrate that instead of trying to cookie-cut ourselves to be like someone else?”
A huge part of the project is to make women realize that no matter your job, no matter if you are a doctor, a lawyer, a waitress or a model, most—if not all—people struggle with insecurity. It’s normal and natural and once you accept that, it’s such a fantastic leveller. Realizing that makes you think, I could look like Kate Moss but even Kate Moss might wish she looked like Cindy Crawford.
What’s the meaning behind the name?
Ultimately the project is about realizing that your best qualities aren’t ones that can be seen in the mirror—they can only be felt by the heart. The women who participated in the project were asked [a question about which of their] qualities they hoped people valued most. They all responded with answers like funny, compassionate and kind; all of these attributes can only be felt in actions, not reflections. And thus the name Project WomanKIND was born.
#ProjectWomanKIND is live via @cosmoaustralia check out the link in the bio. To see the full YouTube series check out the link at the bottom of the article. #LoveYourBody photography: @itswhatartis Models: @jessicavanderleahy @margaretmacpherson @stefania_model @theolivialangdon @sophieshepp H&M: @charliekieltybeauty @joel_babicci Special Thanks: @bellamodelmanagement #WhatKINDofWomanAreYou? And don’t forget to SHARE SHARE SHARE the videos – we want to reach as many women as possible to remind them to be KIND to themselves and each other! Xx A photo posted by What KIND of Woman Are You? (@projectwomankind) on
What do you want the series to achieve overall?
I just want women to feel empowered when they watch the series. I know that myself and all the other models involved felt empowered when we made it, so I hope that energy comes across. Women are such amazing creatures and one of the messages I want to push is that when you cultivate an attitude of acceptance and empowerment within yourself, that filters through to the world around you. If all women did that, we would be such an incredibly fierce force of good in this world.
What’s your perception of the whole “curvy girl” movement? What do you make of Instagram’s decision to ban #curvy?
I think that the fashion industry and media are getting much better at including a diverse array of body types and that’s such a wonderful thing. There’s nothing wrong with being thin and there’s nothing wrong with being curvy because it’s about personal health. We should all strive to make health our #bodygoals and that doesn’t just look like one body type.
I was disheartened that Instagram chose to ban a word that I think is a perfectly fine description of some women’s bodies. The fact is that sometimes censorship goes too far; as a society we need to recognize that women’s bodies can be sensual without being sexual. There’s a big difference. And without recognizing that difference, women will undoubtedly feel a sense of shame about their bodies—even while doing things that those bodies were meant to do, like breastfeed babies. A woman should be allowed to feed her child without thinking that her nipples are the most offensive thing on the Internet. The same goes for her #curvy body.
How has your body image changed over the years?
I would say the way I feel about myself is a process of evolution, and like any creature evolving I have to adapt to the forces around me to survive. I think when I was younger I was pretty prone to hurt feelings if I felt like someone was being mean to me about the way I looked, but nowadays I’ve developed a bit of a tougher shell. As a model my body is constantly subject to criticism—that’s just the nature of the game—and I just have to choose to believe that my self-worth doesn’t come from my job. I try to tell myself I am a wildly complex creature who is so much more than just the way I look, and that my real value can’t be see on the outside anyway. I’ve come to a place where I’d be so much more offended if someone called me nasty or mean than if they called me fat. I just think that by some people’s standards I might be a bit fat, but by my own standards I am a good person, so who cares?