“All of the ‘you can’ t do it’s, ‘you’re too big or you’re too small’s became my motivation,” she tells Yahoo Style UK of her lightbulb moment. “I knew something had to change.”
Since then the model and body positive activist has made it her mission to not only try to change the fashion industry, but also change the narrative surrounding the way we not only talk about, but think about, our bodies.
As well as inspiring her four million followers on Instagram to adopt a healthy self-image and flying the flag for body diversity, the 28-year-old has recently launched her own digital platform EveryBODY with Iskra.
Offering a totally new approach to physical and mental health and wellness, the new platform is inclusive and accepting of everyone and every body (hence the name!).
Choosing to shun dramatic ‘before and afters’, instead the programme offers any time, anywhere workouts, meal ideas and a massive dollop of body positivity.
“It’s not about shaming people for the way they are right now, its encouraging them that the more you learn to love this body, you’re going to want to look after it,” Iskra explains.
To celebrate, we caught up with Iskra on a break between shoots to talk body confidence, bouncing back from knocks and beating the body-shamers.
Looking after yourself is for everybody
I started EveryBODY because I was frustrated with the lack of diversity and inclusion within the health and fitness space. So many women I know are too insecure to even put on leggings, let alone go to the gym. Seeing these images of very slim women with eight packs is just not relatable to them and they don’t always want to look like that it. Even the before and afters can be too extreme and sometimes you just want to learn how to look after yourself in a gentle way that can be incorporated into our life really easily without restricting or being too challenging. The programme is about gently letting people know that they can fall in love with themselves, they can fall in love with cooking, food and exercise without signing up to a gym or buying a tonne of equipment.
We need to ban the word ‘should’
We feel pressure to diet, go to the gym, only eat clean food because we ‘should’. But essentially that word makes us feel guilt. You’re looking after you for you, no one else. And that should be a priority.
Your body is yours and yours alone
I went viral a few years ago when I got a comment from someone telling me to put down the crisps and accusing me of being the reason people’s health was messed up. So I gave them the finger and ate the crisps. And it empowered a lot of people. Don’t you tell me what I can do with my body and my life. I’ll do whatever I want.
Body confidence is a journey
It’s not something we’re taught. I used to see my body as the enemy because the fashion industry at that time was telling me that I had to be taller and smaller. And I couldn’t physically do it. As much as I restricted myself with eating or exercised, my hips were still too big. But you can’t think your body is your enemy when it’s your home. Changing that narrative took a long time but now I’m not worrying about a thigh gap or some cellulite. It’s about changing the priority from what your body looks like to what it can do.
‘You are good enough’, would be my message to my younger self
Self-doubt can infiltrate every aspect of our lives because you start to question yourself. And really we all deserve to feel worthy. There was a point when it hit home that’s where I was and that’s why I wasn’t accomplishing things, taking chances, trying new things because I had self doubt which came from ridiculous insecurities. So now I would tell myself, and any young person, to never let self-doubt hold you back from anything in life.
Make ‘no’ your motivation
I spent six years trying to fit into the straight sized fashion industry. But then I heard about plus sized modelling, went to an agency and got told I was too small. At that point I was like are you kidding me, that’s so messed up, how can it literally be one or the other? I love the fact that everybody is different. So I very much decided that something had to change. I wanted to prove there was a different way to do things and that became my motivation. And instead of changing my body I put all my energy into trying to change the industry.
Bounce back from knocks by making yourself smile
And surround yourself with people who are going to build you back up. Doing things that make you feel happy is so important. Gratitude lists are great too. My housemate isn’t loving her job right now and is struggling with bullying in the workplace, so she does gratitude lists. She’ll be like ‘I ate my favourite muffin today’ or ‘the sun was shining.’
‘You’re imperfectly perfect’ has become my life mantra
I used to have a perfection complex, which manifested itself negatively when I was obsessed with trying to lose weight. Because being a perfectionist you never want to give up. So when I started realising that no one is perfect and integrating that into other areas of my life, I stopped feeling guilty about what I ate and about wanting to say no to certain things. Understanding that you can mess up, failure is just a part of life and it’s a lesson helped me to take the pressure off myself. We’re our own worst enemies but you have to be your best friend.
The body positive movement is so necessary
But we’ve still got a long way to go. We’re never going to see every person represented in the media but there are some amazing campaigns and brands doing great things. That’s why I love Aerie and L’Oreal because they tackle not just size diversity, but colour diversity, age diversity, disability diversity. And in the mean time having a movement of people telling one another that they are beautiful just the way they are is so important. Having a break from the messages that are telling us that we’re not good enough is imperative.
The language of how we discuss women needs to change
Every article that is written about me will specify my size or something about my body. As a model I understand that I’m in this industry and its tricky not to mention but I just see it everywhere. The covers of magazines that are still fat shaming people or showing people’s cellulite has to change because we are so much more than that. We don’t want to open a magazine up and be shocked that there’s a different size model in it. When we’ve got to the point when its not shocking then we’ve made it.
Turn body-shaming into a positive
I always think that nothing will ever infiltrate me now because I’ve got such a thick skin, but you can still get a day when a comment makes you go ‘ouch!’ that hurt. I either deal with it by blocking, deleting and getting on with my day. Or I try to do something positive with it. Someone told me that my boobs were saggy and I should get a boob job. So I did a story explaining that all natural breasts are different shapes and sizes, some of us have got one breast, some of us haven’t got any but they’re for giving life to children, they’re not to be objectified, they’re not just for the viewership of men. It was cool to have a positive discussion from something that was meant to be a negative.
Do a social media health check
Make sure you’re following people who make you feel good and accounts that inspire you, that you enjoy. Unfollow those that make you feel jealous or bad. Do it for you and don’t feel bad about it. Social media can be such an amazing space where loads of us are connected and fighting for the same stuff but you have to make sure you’re using it in the right way for you.
We need to talk about personal struggles
I don’t think we should pretend that we’re superhuman, especially people in the public eye. There’s a responsibility when you have a following to show people that you’re human too. To prove to the girl at home who’s like I will never feel that good in a bikini, and who thinks I don’t have any insecurities, that actually I’m a bit scared to put on a bikini because I’m worried about this fat roll on my back or whatever it might be. Magazines and social media show a filtered version of life and is so intimidating and unrelatable. So showing that you haven’t got an impenetrable armour, really does make a difference.
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