The SHEWORD - Episode 3 | Women and Body Image

The SHEWORD - Episode 3 | Women and Body Image

In today’s episode of the SHE Word, we’re tackling the topic of body image, an issue that many women have struggled with. For this important conversation, Trudy Kerry is joined by Leanne Bartolo, Rebecca Camilleri, and Sarah from Sassa Gal. 

Women and body image have been an issue for many years. Women have been worrying about what they look like for decades, now even more so with the internet and social media. Trudy starts off this incredibly interesting podcast with a number of mind-blowing statistics. According to a recent study, 80% of women have said that they have been on a diet, either currently or in the past, to change their weight and/or body shape. Only 6% of these women said that they were happy with the way that they looked and 11% said that they would happily give up sex to achieve their favourite figure. 74% of these women have a list in their heads of which foods are ‘bad’ and which are ‘good’. What is probably the most shocking figure is that 88% of women compared themselves to images on social media and half of them said that this comparison is unfavourable.  

Leanne Bartolo is a WFF European Bikini Champion, a psychology graduate and a primary school teacher who then switched her career around to become a fully qualified fitness instructor and TRX instructor while also being the founder of Warehouse. Being a bikini champion, people often assume that Leanne is/has always been happy with the way that she looked. However, Leanne explains that this is far from the truth.  

‘People don’t know the reason behind Leanne being on stage and what led me to do these competitions. I was always an insecure kid. I come from a big family, so I was always ok being second and not getting things my way. Little did I know that this was affecting me in the long term. As an adult, I still felt that; I was still ok with being second in everything that I did. I was having sessions with a psychologist, and she encouraged me to do something daring. At the time, I chose to do a fitness shoot. Another person encouraged me to start competing. You can say that I went from one extreme to the other; from a shy girl at the gym, always wearing hats to cover my face to standing in a small bikini onstage. I didn’t expect to win at all. I represented Malta just after a month. I still have my insecurities…we’re all human!’  

Rebecca Camilleri, founder of ‘Munch A Bunch’ is a foodie and a fitness lover. However, her journey was not always plain sailing. In fact, Rebecca speaks about her journey of body dysmorphia and depression.  – foody and fitness lover and spoke about her journey of body image and depression.  

‘My journey started around 7 years ago. I was unhappy with my body, so I joined the gym and got a personal trainer, and that decision changed my life in a positive and negative way. I was on a meal plan, so I had to learn how to cook and make snacks. I started making my own food and I used to share them with my colleagues since back then I had an office job. They encouraged me to start selling them since they wanted to buy them from me. I started inventing recipes and I launched my brand ‘Munch A Bunch’. After around 7 months, I left my full-time job as I was getting a lot of orders. Two years ago, my girlfriend Sam also left her job to help me with the business and take my brand to the next level. 

However, there was also a very negative side to this journey. I took it very seriously; I really wanted to lose weight. I started seeing results and people started giving me compliments and I got addicted. I got addicted to working out and eating less every day. It took over my whole life. I gave up my friends, family, and living, just to have a six-pack. I wanted a figure that, I now realise, was unsustainable. I had depression and it was controlling my life. It’s not easy to come back from it, it’s a journey’. 

Sarah from ‘Sassa Gal’ is a powerful influencer and a psychology graduate who uses her platform to promote self-love no matter what your size is.  

‘I started Instagram as a form of a diary for myself. I didn’t have a goal in mind to do it full-time or to promote self-love. I have struggled a lot with body image and consequently depression as well. It started at the age of 13 years old. I spent 5 years of my life strictly inside and not going out. My mum helped me a lot with this. I used to receive a lot of comments from peers and family. When I was around 18 years of age, I started getting back on my feet. I talked to psychologists, and I did a short modelling course. I did it just to gain confidence. It was a very huge challenge for me’. 

As a coach, Leanne explains that there are signs that people show when they are struggling with body image and/or body dysmorphia.  

‘Body dysmorphia is when you’re never happy with your body. It’s psychological; if you’re not ok psychologically, you can never be happy. As a trainer, it’s important for us not to abuse our client’s trust. They trust us because we’re professional. Some signs could be recording everything that they eat, weighing themselves every day, addicted to statistics on their smartwatches. I believe that we need to teach kids from a young age to be assertive so that they can learn to select what is good and what is bad from what they see and consume online. This leads me to the topic of my dissertation on plastic surgery and body dysmorphia. The results I found were shocking because there was a higher percentage of homemakers (when compared with fitness enthusiasts and people in the fashion industry) who were willing to do anything just to look better. My study revealed that it was because they tend to spend more time consuming the media such as TV and social media, so they had more exposure and more time to compare themselves’. 

In reality, this life is unattainable and, most times, unsustainable for many people. In fact, Rebecca claims that even though she had the body that she wanted at the time, she was still very unhappy with the way that she looked. It all started to get better when she met her girlfriend, Sam.  

‘I met Sam when I was passing through it all. She helped me get better. I realised that I needed to start living again. I had a purpose now – the business, my girlfriend, I wanted to reconnect with my friends and family. I needed to get control of my eating disorder and not let it control me. I still have a long way to go but I’ve come a very long way’. 

Sarah claims that even though she preaches and teaches self-love, she doesn’t love herself on the same level every single day.  

‘On the bad days, I try to practice mindfulness. Being mindful of what my body is capable of and how far I’ve come helps me a lot. That is self-love too; the fact that I’m always trying to be a better version of myself and constantly improving myself. A lot of people reach out to me with positive comments and similar stories. However, not all comments are positive. Some people think that self-love means not wanting to change. I believe that if I’m not happy with myself right now, I cannot be happy with my experience. Self-love can never come from a negative space’.  

Leanne fully agrees with Sarah on this notion. She claims that you have to respect yourself for who you are, and you have to love yourself how you are now.  

‘A few kilos less or more will not make me a better Leanne. In reality, it’s all psychological. Your looks are just the tip of the iceberg…there’s so much more to that. Self-love is the key to someone’s success.’  

So, where does self-love come from? How do we get to that level of self-love? This is the parting question that Trudy asks all three amazing women on today’s podcast.  

‘One of the steps I took was unfollowing every profile that made me feel insecure’, claims Rebecca. ‘I unfollowed people who triggered me into eating less or over-exercising. Even if you follow someone’s diet perfectly, you will never look like them. Now I know that the perfect body is where a happy person lives. My aim is to focus on what my body can do rather than fixate on what I hate in my body. This has helped me with self-acceptance.’ 

Sarah emphasises that she always tries to be realistic with herself.  

‘When I have bad days, I admit them to myself and that’s perfectly fine. I learnt to be in love with the process. Life is a constant hurdle, but I always try to aim to be true to myself.’ 

‘I am to focus on the little wins’, claims Leanne. ‘That’s my way of staying realistic. Rather than aiming for something huge, I focus on the little things. And I always try to do a good deed a day and it makes me feel happier.’ 

Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories and knowledge with us today.