Becky Young, founder of the Anti-Diet Riot Club, talks about body justice, non-sexual nudity and staying well in these deeply strange times.
Q – Tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
The Anti-Diet Riot Club is a platform and rebel community that’s trying to dismantle and fight back against diet culture, body shaming and the sort of dangerous body ideals that diet culture propagates.
We do that through hosting and producing live events, meet-ups, talks and workshops, mainly around London but also across the UK. We also have an online community built via social media.
Our main philosophy is that diet culture is born and thrives upon fat-phobia and the fear / stigmatisation of fatness.
We prioritise creating a safe space for fat people, but also people of all sizes who have struggled with diet cycling, body image issues and the never ending pressure to be thin and look perfect.
It was originally going to be just a support group format that would mirror Weight Watchers and Slimming World meetings- but almost the complete opposite.
It would offer that circle-sharing and community that a lot of people go to these meetings for. But obviously it’s evolved.
When the first event sold out with Megan Crabbe and 100 people bought tickets, I realised how much people wanted to just be in a space with other people who wanted to ditch diet culture and had struggled with body issues.
Q – Help us with the correct terminology for the movement here? ‘Body Positivity?’ Body Neutrality?’
We usually say ‘body acceptance.’
I think, as a whole, it tends to be called the ‘body justice’ movement. ‘Body justice’ because then that can encompass the people who champion ‘body positivity’ and who champion ‘body neutrality’ or who champion ‘fat positivity’ and ‘fat activism.’
‘Body positivity’ and ‘body justice’ are political terms. We will use ‘body positivity’ as a term but often say “it has been co-opted and diluted and white washed.”
The original meaning of ‘body positivity’ was a political movement to give space to and amplify the voices of fat people.
Q – Do you think things are improving? Do you think the landscape has shifted since you’ve been part of this movement?
I should probably take stock of this more, because… my landscape has improved because I’ve created a community around me. I’ve also put on events and I’ve attended events. I’ve now got a much bigger group of friends who are also trying to reject beauty ideals and diet culture. They also limit diet chat! So for me it feels a lot better and there’s definitely a lot more writing about it in the media.
However, seeing the onslaught of fat-phobic isolation memes happening during this pandemic, just shows our fear of fatness is so deep rooted that it even trumps our fear of dying of a disease. It’s a reminder that I needed; dismantling fat-phobia and that fear of our bodies is a Goliath job! But as a community
Q – Regarding this wave of fear of fatness that has revealed itself since self-isolation has come in; what would you say to people who are being triggered by this, and who are really struggling with this renewed fat-phobia?
Firstly, you have the right to protect yourself from these kinds of comments. Because they are inherently fat-phobic, even if it’s just your family and friends. If you don’t want to talk about it you can hide or unfollow someone on social media- and you have every right to do that.
During this crisis, on top of all the anxieties we already undoubtedly have, you don’t want to add to your neuroses around your body and around food.
You can also call them out on it. You can make a jokeOr you can be a bit more serious, and say “Some of us are actually worried about our loved ones and our own health, and we don’t need more worries.”
But mainly I just want people to know that it’s totally normal that in a period where there’s lots of uncertainty- and we don’t have a lot of control- to feel triggered about our bodies and about food. These are the sorts of things we worry about when everything else feels out of control!
Our world has shrunk, and when your world shrinks you tend to focus on yourself as well. I always try and remind myself that my body can change, but that doesn’t mean my worth changes. And I repeat that.
Or find another mantra that you can repeat. Mantras like:
“Food is not a moral issue. Food is meant to be enjoyed.”
“I’m allowed to nourish my body in this time of crisis without guilt.”
Finding something that works for you and you can repeat whenever these things come up. I find that really useful.
Q – I attended (virtually) a recent life drawing event ADRC organised. One of the phrases you used during the event which I found interesting was ‘non-sexual nudity.’ Why do you think ‘non-sexual nudity’ is important?
There’s a growing body of research looking into the relationship between non-sexual nudity, good self esteem and general confidence.
There’s been quite a few studies that have shown a positive correlation between non-sexual nudity and positive body image.
On a personal level, I think that if we could all be naked around our friends in a non-sexual way on a regular basis, this would just massively improve the ways in which we engage with other people’s bodies and ‘judge’ other people’s bodies.
When you see people naked and you realise that they move in all these wobbly, non-controlled, non-confirmative ways, and everyone has “imperfections” and “flaws” (huge quotation marks) you realise that it’s not just you.
The bodies that you see in the media in states of undress are not what a lot of bodies look like. When you’re alone in front of a mirror you can feel like your body is abnormal, because you are comparing it to what you see in adverts or on social media.
It’s a pleasure to be able to see people’s bodies when you stop being embarrassed about it.
Also, it doesn’t have to be you getting naked! I think seeing someone comfortable in the nude (consensually) is also partaking in that non-sexualised nudity environment.
Q – You describe the ADRC as ‘sex positive.’ That’s a phrase we’re seeing a lot more, but can have divergent meanings. What does ‘sex positive’ mean to you?
We actually use the term ‘critically sex positive’ because I think there are some elements of sex positivity which aren’t critical enough in the ways they use that phrase.
But the reason why we talk about sex positivity is because I had felt that the world of body acceptance had been kind of devoid of talk about sex and pleasure.
Which I think is an imperative part of the experience of being in a body. I have made it a mission with ADRC to try and bring these two movements together- because fat people are sexy too!
They’re not just cute, and fun and pretty and fashionable in a bikini, but they are inherently sexual beings who deserve to have their sexual experiences highlighted.
I’ve been exploring sex positive spaces more, and have found that many of them are devoid of the conversation around body image or body politics.
So this is a way of talking about pleasure, talking about sex positive communities and a way to introduce my audience to that culture. Hopefully the other way around as well.
Because often the most visible people in the sex positive community are thin and white and able-bodied and conventionally beautiful.
Q – Would you say there is an affinity between the queer community and the body justice movement?
Yeah I think so. I think there’s a lot of overlap of marginalised folks. It’s the same with the disability community, or the working class community.
There are often overlaps of identities. I can’t say why this is so. But I love that a lot of the people that I meet- who come to our events- are wonderfully queer and often very embracing of their different intersecting identities in a really eye-opening and critical way.
I think- again- there is probably more visibility of white, straight body positive icons. But then there are increasingly more and more people coming out, and exploring their sexual fluidity.
Tess Halliday, who’s a really famous American fat model, is bi and has recently come out. We’re gradually seeing this happen more and more.
Q – Does your queer identity inform the work you do with ADRC?
I define as bisexual. It’s not something that I’ve ever publicly ‘come out’ as. I was out to myself and people around me before social media, and so I didn’t require another coming out.
I don’t shout about it and I think that is partly problematic. The way I view bisexuality (or pansexuality, which is also partly how I identify) keeps me from expressing my queerness in a way that I feel like gay and lesbian people- or more visibly queer people- can.
This is one of the big issues around bi visibility generally, of course. That you feel like you’re not gay enough or not queer enough to claim it.
I don’t know if it has informed my work so much. But because it has allowed me to explore my sexuality and my identity more, I’m more aware of the ways in which these things are important to discuss and bring into the wider (body acceptance) conversation.
Bisexuality has informed meand I have a big influence over ADRC! So it’s hard to see exactly where that connection is- but it’s there!
Q – Who is your bi/queer icon?
I know immediately who my first ever bi icon was… Angelina Jolie. She was the 1st woman I was ever in love with- when I was about 10!
Q – In this time of high anxiety and social isolation, do you have a favourite self-care routine you’d like to share with people?
My self-care looks different everyday. That is what self-care is. It’s certainly not prescriptive, for me at least. Self-care means experimenting, trying and testing what’s working for me.
In this period you’re not going to know what works for you because it is so different from our normal routine.
So, whereas a bath and a podcast might have been really great for me before…now, I’m inside a lot! So going outside (within government guidelines) for my daily walk, or being in a garden… these might become the things that keep me feeling safe and normal.
The way our world has shrunk, I’ve also taken solace in small things, like nighttime routines. Lighting a candle, some lavender spray, listening to something soothing and doing some writing.
I’m using the time that I didn’t use to have to figure out what makes me feel like I’m focusing on myself, and not just being caught in the wind by everything that’s going on.
Q – What advice would you give to your younger self?
The advice I’d give to my younger self- and maybe to other younger bis- is that your identity journey is your own. It’s going to be unique. It will be ever changing.
Labels are great, because they help you find a community and they have a power that can be really wonderful. But they’re not permanent.
Don’t let them be too daunting. They can change. You don’t have to commit to any labels. I’ve definitely tried out a few, and that’s ok. Once you have decided you want to explore bi there isan incredible community who will be waiting for you!
Q – What has the Anti-Diet Riot Club got coming up for next year?
*Huge caveat- no one knows what the next year looks like!
No one knows, of course!
Firstly- we are really excited to be doing loads of stuff online. It’s amazing to know we can still reach people even if we can’t bring people together in real life.
We can actually reach more people! We’re doing bi-weekly virtual life drawing sessions on Zoom. Every other Wednesday, 7pm GMT. Plus we’ll also be doing panel events and webinars.
Once this is all over we are gagging to go on our tour with the Anti-Diet Riot Bus! Last year we crowd-funded £16K to buy a bus to go on tour with. The bus is ready! It’s been gutted and painted! It’s ready to move into!
We’re ready to get on the road and we’re very excited about that.
We also have plans to do events in other countries. And we’d love to build up the membership side of things. Although that’s kind of a secret! But it should be coming soon!
This article first appeared in Bi Pride UK’s Unicorn magazine. Click here for more brilliant writing from Unicorn.