Emily Lauren Dick, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body

Emily Lauren Dick, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body

Author and photographer Emily Lauren Dick joins Zibby to discuss her latest book, Body Positive, and the multi-year process it took to create. Their conversation touches on teaching children to eat intuitively, how diet culture and fatphobia are constantly perpetuated in our society, and the importance of discovering the “why” at the center of your desire to feel better in your body.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Emily. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight” to discuss Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body.

Emily Lauren Dick: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: There’s so much to discuss about this book. The first question I have is about the photography. There are so many women that you profile in here, women with scars and stretch marks and in wheelchairs and all different sizes and races and hair colors and mastectomy. How did you find the women you profiled? Tell me about the photography because that could be a book, just the pictures.

Emily: The photography was the hardest part, actually, about writing this book because finding people who are willing to pose basically in their underwear was really challenging to do. It took me a few years. Not one person came from the same place. Sometimes it was through networking. I connected with a couple different great organizations like DramaWay that has a bunch of different performers with different disabilities. Some people just heard about it through social media. I had people fly in to get photographed. It was a slow start in the beginning stages. I would just go on message boards and post. I was really looking for a diverse array of women to photograph for the book.

Zibby: Did you do the photography yourself?

Emily: I did the photography myself, yeah.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow. That’s amazing.

Emily: Thank you.

Zibby: Wait, so how did you become a body positivity expert, body image expert? What does that mean? How did we end up on this Zoom together? How did you get here?

Emily: I took women’s studies in university. That opened my eyes to all these things about body image. I really wanted to make this information accessible to people who didn’t go to university for women’s studies and learn about why the world works the way it does. I had this idea shortly out of school. I was thinking, do I create a magazine? Do I write a book? How can I get this information out? I really wanted that visual aspect to the book. How do we make people also see this body positivity? So many projects are focused on the artistic, like black-and-white pictures. I wanted really bright, real — they can wear makeup if they want, whatever makes them feel like they are the most themselves. I literally picked up photography. I self-taught myself because this project was literally the driving force for everything. I had this vision in my mind. It took many years to get it where it needed to be, but here we are now.

Zibby: Wow. You have all these different — it’s a workbook. It’s a guidebook. There’s so much about mental health. There’s so much in here. Let’s say there’s somebody out there who wants to feel better in their bodies. How do you draw the line between body positive and, I am comfortable with myself, but this is not necessarily how I want to look? How can I feel better? Where is that line? How do you know when you should just be like, okay, whatever, this is me, versus, maybe I shouldn’t eat like fifty-seven ice cream sandwiches? Where is the line? How do you know?

Emily: Really, it’s just having this desire to not have so much self-hatred or self-negativity. There’s something, that inner voice, that inner bully that comes out. You hear it often. You get tired of that voice, that doubting yourself, that picking apart your body, that calculating calories and what you can and can’t eat, and watching who’s looking at you, thinking you’re on display constantly. I think you just sort of hit a point and you’re like, I don’t feel like this is normal. It’s not normal. The big thing for me was really to share this information about the fact that it’s not normal. It’s normal to feel this way, to have these doubts, but it’s not normal that we do feel that way. There’s a reason behind it, which is this whole industry of beauty and diet culture that is fed to us and interrelated in so many ways from our upbringing to schools, the media. There are so many components. This information gets recycled throughout the years. We think of it as normal, but it’s not. We need to have that knowledge to have the power to change something in ourselves.

Zibby: I love that. It’s so great. Tell me about your view of the media. There’s a lot in here about the media’s role in how we look and feel and everything.

Emily: The media, it’s one of those things that it is both good and bad. It’s great because we can share information. We can connect with each other on so many different levels. At the same time, we have to have the knowledge to be conscious curators of what we are absorbing from the media. It’s very easy for these major institutions and these diet companies and things to get to us because they’re so powerful. They have so much money. We need to be aware of this so that we can consciously make sure that we are surrounding ourselves with things that make us feel good about who we are and our bodies. One of the things I talk about is really making sure you consciously are following accounts that make you feel good about your body and really stop following people that make you question who you are and that you have to change the way you look to be acceptable.

Zibby: It’s great that you tie this all in, the media and body positivity and all the things you said, to focus also on teen girls and daughters in general. You mentioned your daughter and not having to go through the same scrutiny that you’ve been feeling your whole life. I have a teen daughter and a younger daughter and two sons. It’s not just women. It could be for men as well. How do you convince them that they should feel good about their bodies when sometimes they just inherently do or sometimes they don’t? How do you give them the tools? You can be my parenting coach. How do you give them to the tools to feel better? What do you do with your daughter?

Emily: The thing about body negativity, it is a hundred percent learned. It is passed on through all these subtle ways, through parents, through TV, through friends, all of these things. We have to give them the skills to be resilient against these messages that they’re going to receive. A couple of things I do with my young daughter is we talk a lot about non-physical achievements. Normally and naturally, we say, oh, you’re so beautiful. You’re so pretty. We also need to tell them that they’re smart and they’re kind and really make sure that the majority of the emphasis goes towards the things that are not physical because they’re more than their appearance. We need to change the way that women are valued in society. That starts with our children. A couple of the other things is we need to be very conscious of how we talk about our own bodies in front of them. There’s these really subtle things that we hear being said, little fat-talk comments. I feel fat. I look fat in this.

Things like that can really affect how they feel about their bodies. Even if you don’t feel great wearing a bathing suit, do not let them hear that. It is one of those things that if we start young, they will have more resiliency towards these types of pressures. The other thing is I think you got to be open and honest about what they are exposed to. Studies show that children as young as age three have body image issues. These things are so embedded in everything. I know, even just watching kids’ shows and reading kids’ books, sometimes I’ll cross stuff out or pause it and sit down and explain to them that what they heard wasn’t nice, like destigmatizing fat, for example. Being fat is not a problematic thing. It’s just, in society, we come to learn that fat people are bad and there’s something wrong with being fat. We really have to teach them and really dismantle these things in age-appropriate ways as they develop to get better and more resilient.

Zibby: What about dealing with the actual health risks? Sometimes it’s as a result of unhealthy habits that aren’t good for our bodies in general.

Emily: I think the biggest problem is that we grow up in a society where there is moral fiber attached to food. We come to think of, there’s good food and there’s bad food. Really, it’s letting them embrace their natural intuitive eating. If we don’t restrict certain food from ourselves, then there’s less food obsession, less binging. It’s actually healthier if you just eat what you want to eat because the more we restrict ourselves from something, the more obsessed we can get, the more we will actually overeat those things. Alternatively, you can also end up getting an eating disorder if your restriction is too extreme and things like that. Teaching them to have a solid idea on healthy eating from a young age and learning that it’s not bad or good, it’s just about balance, I think that’s really the important thing to give them a good basis for dealing with those things.

Zibby: I don’t know, though. I’ve spent so much time trying to make sure that my kids have a normal relationship with food. Really, I must say, I am good at not talking about my body or my dissatisfaction or happiness or whatever I’m feeling about my body at that time. I try to make up for, with most parenting things, the way I was raised where food was restricted. They’re like, “Can we have cookies for breakfast?” I’m like, “Sure.” It’s not like they stop eating the cookies. Then they want cookies for — I mean, sugar is good. Of course, they want cookies instead of eggs. I’m like, now I’ve just completely messed them up. Of course, I do have them eat eggs a lot of days. I feel like I’m the only mom who’s like, cupcake? Yeah, go for it. Have a cupcake at breakfast. Then go ruin your school day and come home normal.

Emily: Actually, what you’re doing is great because you know what? They’re going to learn to respond to that food the way that they should respond to that food. If they notice that when they eat a lot of cookies they don’t feel as good, then maybe one cookie is better at breakfast, and a little bit of eggs. They’ll find that balance. Intuitively, we have the ability to figure out where that balance is for each person.

Zibby: I know. Not to keep talking about my kids. I feel like it’s so different. It’s so individual. If I have the same rules for four kids, some kids will stop at one cookie. Some kids will want four cookies. They don’t care if they feel sick after, let’s just say. You just let that keep happening?

Emily: You let that keep happening until they form whatever habit. They’re still getting energy and what they need from those cookies. You know what? It works. There’s nothing wrong. If they’re getting a variety here and there, it’s all good.

Zibby: All right, thanks. Okay. Do you think it’s hopeless — let’s say you’re older in your life. Is there ever a point where you get too old to fix how you feel about your body? Can you always change that? What do you think?

Emily: I don’t think so. I think there’s never an age. I will say that it is a constant battle if you’ve grown up with that type of feeling. You have to make a conscious effort. There’s no magical cure where those feelings will disappear. You have to consciously, every day, wake up and say, I’m going to be body positive. I am going to fight this feeling. I’m going to understand that when I feel bad about my body, it’s because I’ve learned to feel bad about my body when I do A, B, and C. I think if you’re committed to making those changes, you will feel better about your body. You will, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t have a bad body image day.

Zibby: I like it. I like how you’re so not all or nothing. I feel like that’s the main thing you’re saying. There’s nothing good. There’s nothing bad. There’s nothing set in stone. It’s that gray area, which I personally have a harder time living in.

Emily: It is hard. With women, you’re told you can’t ever change your mind. You can’t ever change how you feel about something. I feel like we should just be so open and accepting of progress and change and be allowed to grow the same way our bodies do. They grow. They expand. They contract. We’re always changing. Our bodies are always changing. We need to be a little bit more fluid.

Zibby: How do you feel about your body?

Emily: Today, I am at the most comfortable place I think I’ve ever been with my body. It’s one of those things. I still have bad body image days. I have to remind myself why I have those bad body image days, why I’m feeling pressure. Then when I can sort of dismantle it in my head, I feel better. At the end of the day, I can also recognize that when I’m feeling some way, is it feeling or is it I’m feeling something? Am I bloated? Am I not getting enough water or something like that? I’m learning to listen to what my body needs and what my mind needs as well.

Zibby: What’s your plan now with this movement? You have the book. What are you going to do next? You obviously have a strong point of view. You have a great product here. It’s so at the right time for this to be coming out. What are you thinking? All these great quotes, I’m flipping through this at the same time. It’s great. It’s really great.

Emily: Thank you. I have a couple things on the go next. I am working on a book for younger children to talk about some of these things, so stay tuned for that. I also just joined up with an organization called Live Life Unfiltered. We’re going to be launching a new campaign and some activism starting in Canada. We are going to focus on really amplifying the message that we need to see unfiltered on the media, whether it’s social or traditional media. Over the next couple months, there’ll be some things coming out that we’re going to be doing. Hopefully, some of it will be a little bit political. Some of it will be just about really creating a safe, encouraging space online for people to just be free to be who they are.

Zibby: That’s great. Did you happen to see, by the way — it just came out today in The New York Times. I don’t know if you ever read The New York Times. There was a huge thing on Paulina Porizkova, the old model, and how she doesn’t use filters. She’s been getting some heat, mostly for agism. Aging is a form of body positivity too, right, how you’re coping with aging?

Emily: Yes, absolutely.

Zibby: She joked in the article that she didn’t even know you could put filters on. If she knew, maybe she would’ve used them, ha, ha, ha. She said most of the negative comments come from other women.

Emily: There’s this theory, which is sort of the theory that opened my eyes all to this, it’s called the male gaze theory. It’s this idea that women are objects of heterosexual male desire. As we internalize this message that we are objects, we learn to self-survey. We judge ourselves, we judge others around us because of how we feel about ourselves like we’re being watched. We’re very conscious as women of what other women are doing because we are watching ourselves. Women are especially hard on each other. I think it’s just another way to really reinforce these institutions that prey on our insecurities. If we can’t band together, if we can’t come together and be accepting of each other, they keep us separate. They keep us segregated from each other, from questioning why we do the things we do, why we follow blindly, why we shave off all our hair, and why we put on makeup each morning and things like that. One of the things I talk about in my book too is, you can want to change these things. You can want the world to be more accepting. You want women to have the choice of whether it’s acceptable to shave their legs or not, for example. We also can’t feel guilty for participating in the things we’ve learned. That doesn’t help the matter any more than it would if we just left things the way it was. I think it’s really important to know that we shouldn’t feel guilty for participating in things like dieting. It’s not the dieters that I have a problem with. It’s the diet culture. It’s the message they’re sending.

Zibby: Excellent. If you had any advice for somebody who is struggling with how they feel in their body and wants to feel better about their body, what would you say?

Emily: I would say educate yourself as much as you can on the reasons why. Knowing the reason why really empowers you to look at the reason why you feel the way you do. When you can recognize that, you can begin to challenge some of these expectations that you have for yourself and say, I don’t really mean to do this. I’m doing this because I’ve been told that this is acceptable. Is it hurting anyone? Is it harmful if I don’t want to participate in those things? What would I say to my daughter? What would I say to my friends? We’re always harder on ourselves than we are to other people. Just making sure that you consciously follow people or surround yourself with people that lift you up and make you feel good about yourselves.

Zibby: I love that. That’s great advice. I am leaving this on my daughter’s desk today for when she gets back from school. It’s a great conversation starter regardless, so we can keep having the conversations and not just show, but also do these exercises together. It’s really great, and probably great for me too.

Emily: I’m so glad.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Thanks for the book. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.”

Emily: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: My pleasure. Take care.

Emily: Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Emily Lauren Dick, Body Positive

Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body by Emily Lauren

Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts