A new mum has overcome the verbal abuse she's received in public about her appearance by becoming a plus-size model – and wants to help encourage other women to find body confidence too. A timely message as today marks International Women's Day.
Jaz Harris, 29, was enjoying a night out with her friends for the first time since the arrival of her baby, now six months old, when she was suddenly subject to three men heckling her in the street in Chelmsford, Essex.
The men called her names like 'fatty', 'obese girl' and shouted at her that she should 'go on a diet' before persisting and following her and her friend Deanna Byron, 27, down the road.
Harris, from Rochford, Essex, had been excited to get properly dressed up and enjoy her friends company, not have her night ruined by abuse from strangers about her body.
Despite this, she says she is no stranger to rude remarks about her size, and decided to ignore the verbally abusive group of men, encouraging her disgusted friends to do the same.
Harris, who now works as a freelance fashion model, shooting campaigns for the likes of Schuh and Facebook, is determined to keep celebrating her body and seizing opportunities instead of letting ignorant comments from strangers get in her way.
She says she has "come a long way on [her] self-love journey" and will continue with her mission to normalise bodies deemed to be 'plus-size'.
Harris still remembers the vivid details of the incident that night, which took place not long after the birth of her son. "I didn't cry to start with because I'm used to it – but nobody should be used to receiving abuse like that," she says.
"It was like they had verbal diarrhoea, it just kept coming.
"I didn't engage or talk back because I knew that would make it worse. I just had to take it.
"But it's completely out of order and I want to show how proud I am of my body and not let people like them take anything away from me."
Harris and her partner Ellis Smith, 24, a football academy director, welcomed their son Vinicius-George Smith on 27 August 2021.
They had previously been warned that they may not be able to conceive due to Harris having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common condition that affects how a woman's ovaries work and can cause fertility problems. This made their son's birth all the more special.
In a bid to inspire other women, she has been sharing her postpartum journey on Instagram, advocating for 'normal bodies' after pregnancy and encouraging other women to embrace theirs instead of worrying about 'bouncing back'.
"There's so much pressure on women to bounce back after pregnancy," she adds.
"I wanted to show people what 'normal' looks like, and how proud I am for my body and the joy it's brought to my life and my little boy.
"I've come a long way on my self-love journey, and I want to encourage other women to do the same."
Despite feeling great in her chosen outfit, it was at the end of the night as she and her friends headed home, that the three 'lads' began to heckle abuse at her.
Recalling the unacceptable events in more detail, Harris said, "They commented 'alright darlings' as we walked past and asked us where we were going, but my friend said we weren't interested and were going home.
"After that they turned round and started heckling.
"They called me a fatty, obese, told me to lose some weight and that I was ugly.
" I didn't turn round, but their voices were getting louder so I knew they were following us."
Luckily, Harris' friend's boyfriend was picking them up at the end of the street. He'd got out of the car to see what was going on, but she told him to just get in and drive. "I didn't want to give them what they wanted or cause any trouble."
Waking up the next morning, she realised how 'fed up' she was of being treated this way for no reason and how frustrated she was that this type of behaviour often isn't challenged.
"Nobody should have to put up with hate speech – whether it's about their appearance, their sexuality or their ethnicity," said Harris.
"I'm fed up with it being normal and accepted. It's disgusting.
"I am so proud of my body and don't want anyone else to feel discouraged because of their size.
"It can be hard to ignore, but the more we show the beauty in all size, the less hate speech like I received will be accepted."
Luckily, Harris is backed by many other women conveying similar messages around self-confidence, dealing with online and real life trolls and debunking misconceptions about different sized bodies.
Plus-size content creator Kirsty Leanne, who recently went viral for saying seatbelts on flights cause 'emotional damage' and prompting a discussion on whether plus-size people should buy two seats on a plane, shares her thoughts.
Watch: Plus-size traveler says seatbelts on flights cause 'emotional damage' cause 'emotional damage'
The 29-year-old said, "One of the worst things about living in a plus-size body is what other people think of you. We’re forever portrayed as being lazy or getting told we have no respect for ourselves, so you can see why many people choose to hide away because they don’t want to receive abuse in public (or online).
"Having been on the receiving of thousands of hurtful comments when it comes to the size of my body, I’ve slowly started to accept that a lot of the time, it comes from people's own issues with their body. They may not be plus-size, but it speaks volumes for how they’d feel about themselves if they were.
"In a way, I almost pity them because I know how it feels to be at war with the way you look.
"Although it’s hard and I’d never tell anyone how to deal with and process negative remarks they receive about themselves, it’s important to remember that you’re worthy of love and respect no matter what people think of you. Their opinion is simply that – an opinion – and it doesn’t determine your worth as a human being."
Additional reporting by SWNS.