“There’s not one physical body in this world that doesn’t deserve love and appreciation.” – Sarah Little
Meet Sarah Little. Sarah is a yoga teacher and Body Positivity advocate raising awareness and spreading the message of self-love through her brand Self Love Sarah. Through her own transformational journey, she helps other women to embrace their bodies, find their authenticity, and ultimately to love and accept themselves fully. At the summer-autumn cusp, we met underneath a dappled canopy of trees to discuss all things “body positivity” over a mug of almond hot choccie! So grab yourself a luxurious beverage, get comfy, and join us.
“Why can’t we celebrate women on magazine covers for something more than their appearance?” Sarah asks, as we contemplate the controversial October issue of Cosmopolitan featuring “plus size” model Tess Holliday. Whilst a lot of people supported the move to place Tess on the cover, there was a lot of backlash which criticised the magazine for promoting obesity. “Why do we have to address the size at all? Why can’t we think Wow, look at her tattoos! or Wow, look at her – she’s amazing!“, Sarah argued.
Body Positivity is a term that has been splashed across media platforms in recent months, but as with all social movements it inherently has different facets of opinion within it. So, I asked Sarah how she perceived the movement and what it means to her.
“There is definitely a Body Positivity movement and I agree with most of it, but I definitely have my own stance on what Body Positivity is for me. It’s about celebrating that all bodies are beautiful and amazing, no matter what size, gender, colour or race. We should not discriminate against anybody’s body. We should celebrate all bodies exactly as they are, with zero judgement. We all deserve to have our bodies celebrated and accept that this is what they are, and it’s beautiful. That’s my take on it.”
For me, body positivity and self-love go hand-in-hand. Body positivity can’t just be about your appearance: there has to be a deeper practice to it. Sarah agrees. “You can’t have body positivity without self-love. Body positivity stems from self-love. I know that if I didn’t love myself, I wouldn’t believe in the Body Positivity movement. The Body Positivity movement is looking at other bodies and thinking ‘Wow, beautiful!’ no matter what. If I can’t love my own body that way, I can’t love someone else’s body that way. So it all comes back to yourself. I think for people who don’t understand the Body Positivity movement, it all comes back to a lack of self-love.”
As a social movement, it is becoming more impactful right now, and Sarah has definitely had a mixed reaction to the content she puts out. Lots of people are open to the Body Positivity message and Sarah receives daily messages from women who have found new inspiration and confidence, but she says there are lots of different opinions on it: “There are people who aren’t quite on board with Body Positivity. I do get people questioning what I say, and whether it’s healthy to promote a “fat person”. But, who says that fat means unhealthy? There are lots of different angles of it. The Body Positivity movement on social media can be quite aggressive: I get where the aggression is coming from because these people have been marginalised and outcast because of the way they look and they’re angry about it, but I think the aggression isn’t needed. My whole brand is Self Love Sarah, and I always do everything from a place of love.”
Sarah cites an incident at aged 11 when she was mocked for her appearance, and says it was the first time that she felt she couldn’t be herself and had to be what she believed the “popular” girls told her she had to be. “I remember at secondary school thinking thoughts like ‘Oh well, I have five years to get skinny for my prom dress’. I used to say to myself daily: when I’m skinny, I’ll be happy. When I’m skinny, I’ll be popular. In my teenage years I dimmed my light to fit in, and starved myself to be thin. I did all the diets just to be thin and happy. This was my life from 11 years old until two years ago.”
Two years ago, Sarah quit her unsatisfying job in an act of self-love, found The Goddess Revolution by Mel Wells, and realised that diet culture really is bullshit! The more she researched and learned about self-love and body positivity, the more she found her own path and can now confidently say that she loves herself: “I can truly say I one-hundred percent love and accept myself, exactly as I am. I can look in the mirror naked and not burst into tears, and actually think you look amazing! Look at your body, it’s incredible!, which I would never have been able to do two years ago.” Through her new-found confidence, Sarah feels able to share pictures of her body without feelings of shame, but arguably more importantly, by ditching the obsessive diet-culture mindset she now has more space to be herself, and in that space came to realise that she has a voice – a voice that people what to listen to. “I feel that I have a purpose now.”
Self-love and body positivity encourage us to not body shame ourselves, but loving your body does mean looking after it as best as you are able, and this means nourishing it properly and lovingly, and treating it well. A mindful connection with one’s body is vital. “You are in a relationship with yourself.”, Sarah says, and encourages us to have an open dialogue with ourselves. For example, when stressed Sarah will now sit with herself and think about what she really needs. Her previous go-to response would be to hit the cupboards for food, but she knows now that stress-eating is not the solution. “I need a hug, a chat with a friend, a walk in nature”. But, she stresses that it is a daily practice. “It’s about checking in with yourself frequently and asking yourself what you really need.” It’s also about consciously re-framing your thoughts towards self-love. “A really good question to ask is: what would a person who loves themselves do? They wouldn’t go and scoff a load of food, or punish themselves at the gym. They would do what feels like love.”
Sarah cites yoga, meditation, journaling and grounding as valuable tools for creating this connection with your body, your inner self, and also with the world around you. It helps us to remember there’s a bigger picture to life than just the way we look. But, in connecting to ourselves in this deeper manner, we have to accept our true inner feelings. I personally have felt that the “spiritual” movements popular on social media have left people feeling that they shouldn’t feel anger, for example, and I share with Sarah that I have a bad habit of forcing these uncomfortable feelings away. “We’re human beings, we’re supposed to experience a wide spectrum of emotions.”, she replies. We both agree that it is empowering to accept all of your feelings as valid, and this process of acceptance allows you to understand yourself better. You have to acknowledge the way you are right now, in order to know where you make any necessary changes.
And, this leads us nicely to a sticking point within both the self-love and body positive practices: does wanting to make changes in your life, and in yourself mean that you aren’t all self-loving or body positive? “You can be body positive, you can love yourself, and still want to change yourself. I completely, one-hundred percent believe that,” Sarah says. “When it comes from a place of love, such as, I’m feeling really lethargic and slow and heavy in my body right now, and I know that if I exercise a little bit more and eat a little bit healthier my body is going to feel vibrant, energetic and light, then I think it’s coming from a place of love where you honour and respect your body so much that you want to treat it like a goddess, like a temple, and that’s very body positive. If it’s coming from a place of fear, lack or hate, then people need to have a bit more love injected into their lives!”
Feeling more at peace in her body, Sarah believes that her quality of life has improved ten-fold. Her relationships are better (she chooses which relationships she needs in her life, and those which she doesn’t), her authenticity has strengthened, and she says “When I was trying to be someone else, I didn’t have any friends. Now that I have completely surrendered to being completely, unapologetically me, I am attracting so many more people into my life. It has given me permission to be completely myself, which has attracted everything I wanted into my life. My relationship with my husband is great, I have a little tribe, a community of women online and from retreats who know more about me than people who have known me my whole life know about me, my sex life is better… Everything has completely changed, and it has given me permission to go out there and live my dream life.” Making peace with her body was the foundation layer of confidence from which to build all other layers of confidence in all other areas of life, including becoming a business woman with a voice!
Social media is a strong tool for propelling the Body Positivity ethos out into the world, but social media can often be a source of stress that exacerbates low self-esteem. “Why is that triggering you? It’s not actually to do with that person, it’s to do with you. Is there an area in your life that you’re not happy with that is causing that reaction? That needs addressing.”, Sarah says. When comparing fitness levels or yoga skills, for example, Sarah has come to a point where she is content to say “This is my body and it does what it does.”. I have to concur. “Admire someone else’s beauty without questioning your own.”
All aspects of the media show a limited variety of body types, but even within the Body Positivity movement I feel there is room for more diverse representation and I question whether there is enough variety of voices coming from a variety of bodies. It still appears that a lot of the successful proponents of the Body Positivity Movement, whilst expressing a worthy message, are of an “Instragram-worthy” aesthetic (usually a slim, white female from a certain level of privilege) and that people of other body sizes are not amassing the same level of following (or not even noticed at all). “We need diversity,” Sarah agrees, but believes that, although change is happening in media representation of women, it is currently predominantly one extreme or the other: “It’s either a slim person or a very “overweight” person. We’re missing a whole middle ground of normal sized people here, and I think that’s where we need more diversity, and I hope that’s what I am doing: being that person that can now use their voice as a pretty average, pretty normal person, and make other people believe that they can be that way too.”
The change that Sarah would like to see across the media and throughout institutions such as schools is more openness around mental health, which is, of course, a huge element of body positivity and self-love. Before finding this new phase of her life, Sarah struggled with thirteen years worth of ingrained diet culture. “Think of the effect that had on my mental health!”, she exclaimed, adding that “You have to address the psychological reasons behind your eating habits and your body image. The inner work is so much more important. The inner work is what sticks (as opposed to strict weight loss which is often regained).” Inner work involves addressing the limiting beliefs you hold about yourself, and the stories you tell yourself.
What you tell yourself daily, you come to believe, so it’s all about mindset shift. The words that we use are powerful and we have to be mindful of them. I asked Sarah what words we should use towards ourselves and others. “Three words come to mind that are the most powerful words to me: you are enough.”, she replied. Furthermore, Sarah believes that we need to take the emphasis off appearance. “We have so many more things about us than just our looks and our appearance. You’re intelligent, you’re creative, you’ve got so much power, you have so much to give. These are things we should be saying, rather than focusing upon the physical. There is nothing wrong with complimenting people on their looks, but remember that we are so much more than our appearance and we should start seeing the magic in people rather than just what they look like.”
If you would like to learn more about Sarah’s work, you can find her at www.selflovesarah.com.