Here is the full transcript of English model Iskra Lawrence’s TEDx Talk: Ending The Pursuit of Perfection at TEDxUniversityofNevada Conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Ending the pursuit of perfection by Iskra Lawrence at TEDxUniversityofNevada
Kind of funny, because my speech actually starts with: we have a problem; we mean it did, because I just had hiccups and they were quite violent. So luckily we’re all good now. So I can start.
We do have a problem, though, and that is the most important relationship we have in our lives is the one we have with ourselves, and we’re not taught about it. I want to challenge you to think about, if we were taught how to look after ourselves using self-care, could we help enrich our lives, make us happier, combat our insecurities and enable us to reach our full potential. For example, have you ever blamed your body? “Oh my God! That dress is so cute; I can’t wear it and I’d have roles”. “I know why he didn’t call me back, because I put on 10 pounds last week; damn those burritos!”
And the thing is body image is often associated with teenage girls. But in fact, men and boys are affected too. Eating disorders and mental health can affect anyone at any age, at any time. And that’s why this is so important to me and why we’re here today connecting with you all.
So many guys now are going to the gym and they’re even abusing steroids, because maybe their selfies would get more likes if they had a 6-pack of abs, not beer. I know that when I was younger I would look in that mirror every single day and hate what I saw: Why don’t I have a thigh gap? Why does it like this if I ate the other one? More pimples; are you kidding me? I hate myself. And that’s so sad because I can’t get those years back of self-loathing, calorie obsession and jealousy.
So I decided to use those experiences that I’ve had to gain a better understanding of the relationship I have with my body and myself. And by practicing self-care I was able to change my life. And I hope today I can encourage you all, if you haven’t already started to start that journey of self-love.
It’s crazy these days. We have so many precious and now we have social media. With the rise of social media we literally have a weapon of mass destruction to our self-esteem, 24×7. You guys who consume social media, have you ever lost one, two, maybe even three hours of your life deep in someone’s profile? Yeah, thinking ‘Oh, wow! Look, they’re so in love.’ ‘Oh, they’re going to all these amazing holidays.’ ‘They have the dream job’, ‘they have this perfect life’; ‘why isn’t my life like that?’ The scary thing is that’s not real.
Social media is a curated, filtered, often airbrushed and sometimes even lifestyle illusion. That’s why we need to be taught about it. That is why we need to be taught how to cope with these pressures in schools, and it’s become my mission to teach self-care and get it into the education system, because we need to be taught how to look after ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally.
I’m very grateful I have over 3 million followers online and I commit to being authentic, honest with them and not retouching my pictures that I own, because I have to forgive myself. I’ve been in the industry for 13 years and I would get images back of myself that my family couldn’t even recognize me when they flipped through the magazine, unless you couldn’t find me and I would look at these pictures and think wow, had a half my arms go, my legs are so much skinnier, I’ve got zero flaws; is that how I meant to look? I meant to be that perfected image. Wow, well, I can’t even look like that and that’s me. That’s wrong.
So why is it that we feel these insecurities in the first place? Because from a very young age, we’ve been conditioned to believe that our success and our happiness is highly dependent on our attractiveness. Think about all the princes and princesses you saw: slim, toned, tall, proportional features, the magazines and celebrating severe weight loss is actually unhealthy or those who have been nicked and tucked to look 20 years younger, because if we are insecure we are a motivated consumer. We can be sold an anti-wrinkle cream by a 13 year old, a push-up bra that looks absolutely ridiculous because I’ve been on set years ago where they were actually wearing a bra under the bra to give unattainable cleavage. Yeah, that happens, it’s sort of butt pads. Butt pads are in all those jeans efforts you see, just saying.
And I recently was trained by the National Eating Disorders Association of the US who I’m an ambassador for in something called the Body Project. It’s the first scientifically proven course to help prevent eating disorders in young people and it’s just four one-hour sessions, the impact on these people’s was outstanding and it confirmed to me that we need to be talking about this. So I thought I’d share with you some of that today.
The main concept we teach is the beauty ideal myth. We get all the kids to have magazines and they pick out the perfect body and we then break it down for them. OK, so what’s the perfect body then? Well, it’s tall, it’s big boobs, small ways or it’s ridiculous abs, it’s a tan, it’s straight hair, it’s no flaws; is that real? No. Is that achievable? No. So what are the sacrifices and cost for you to try and attain this? It’s so detrimental to your mental and physical health. And guess what, who wins from this battle? The brands, the magazines, the pharmaceutical industry. And who loses? We lose.
So we need to embrace our bodies for more than that. We need to stop trying to attain perfection because we’re good enough already. And if we could start redefining the beauty ideal, imagine celebrating someone’s achievements, their accomplishments, their personality, their morals and their values, to me that’s beautiful.
I recently was challenged to get three women who would refuse to ever be in a bikini to go in a bikini live on national TV in front of 3 million people and on the streets of London in front of crowds. And these were women who are generally taught to kind of school kids, they were older, there was actually a lady in her seventies who had recently lost her partner and had excess skin. There was another lady who is a mother and she had an eating disorder and really struggled with body image her whole life. And the other woman had been horrifically body shamed by an ex-partner. So we go backstage and I’m like, Okay, I hope I can do this. And they call me and they’re like, it’s for you, you need to get in the changing room right now, they’re all breaking down.
Well, no wonder the three women in a room with one mirror and five bikinis and said you must choose one of these and you’re going to go out there and it’s like, come on that’s a lot of pressure. And so I went in there and I taught them one of my biggest areas of self-care, which I call my mirror challenge. So initially they’re standing in that mirror, the first thing they do and I’m sure many of you do as well, it’s see your insecurities. We need to change that discussion.
So I get them in front of a mirror in their bikinis and I tell them: pick out five things that you love about yourself. I gave them a few examples and they started: well, I’m the life of the party. I’m an amazing friend; I’m creative; I’m independent, I’m hardworking, I am courageous and then they start thinking: oh you know, I’m pretty cool. They started feeling proud of themselves.
And then I told them: now pick out five things that you love about your body; so what it does for you, because we want to change that discussion, it’s not just about what your body looks like. Your body is an incredible thing. So they started saying: the most — and it was so inspiring for me as well because you never know what people are going to come up with.
So one woman said: “Well these stretch marks, even though I’m really insecure about them they enabled me — the stomach enabled me to birth my children. And now I have grandchildren and that’s the best part of my life.”
Another woman said: “I’m grateful for these hands because I was able to be a seamstress and provide for my whole family.”
The last woman said: “Well, I love my legs because I love running through the English countryside, it calms me down and it’s what makes me happy.”
These women were smiling, they felt value, they were so proud of themselves. I then proceeded to tell them that not only is it going to change their life being able to embrace their bodies and go out there and be confident but for the women and men at home who feel just the way they did, it’s going to help them too. For them to stand up there and be able to do it is hopefully going to empower them too, as well. So I still didn’t 100% know if they were going to do it but we go out there right by the Thames in London and sure enough all three dropped their robes, there was tears, there was hugging. Two of the women didn’t even put their robes back on. They went all the way straight through the TV show back up to the dressing room, were like, ‘Well here I am now, I’m doing it. So I’m not going back.’ It was life-changing and I’ve never felt so purposeful or so filled with hope and that’s why I’m so excited to be here with you all today to kind of share those stories. That’s one of my main ways that I practice self-care.
The next one is called a gratitude list. I have an example, I had to use it not that long ago. I was in LA with my boyfriend. We went shopping. So we went to the store and I saw these gorgeous designer jeans and I was like: Okay, I’m going to treat myself. So the store associates were like: what size for you? I said like 12, I don’t know what that is, maybe 31. And she goes: “Well, the biggest size we have is this one and it’s a 29 but it’s so stretchy. It’s definitely going to fit; everyone fits in it.”
So, OK, so I go into the changing room which is the worst place in the world: a) It’s claustrophobic of hell, it’s usually hot. The lights from above, the mirror is just awful and then it just feels like your inner demons are just there waiting to pounce on you. So I’m in there with these jeans and it’s like me against the jeans and I’m there and I’m — OK, it’s not going well and then she’s shouting in: “I bet they look so good.”
I’m like : “Not Yet.”
“Get in there.”
And I kind of got to hear and I was like it’s great, you’re just going to have to give up, and that’s when it hit. I broke; that fifteen-year-old me came back and said you’re unworthy of being in these jeans; you’re too big; what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you fit into the biggest pair of jeans in the store? And that’s when I was like c’mon, let’s go c’mon use that self-care go, go, brought out my gratitude list. And I want you all to start your own right now tonight because it saved me in that moment. Wow, OK I’m on holiday. I have a real boyfriend who loves me at this size. So clearly that’s good. I’m in LA, I’m from England, that’s awesome. I’m healthy, I’m alive, I have clean water, and then I started to think: what the hell are these jeans right here, this piece of fabric trying to break me right now. These are not going to ruin my day. I refused — flat-out refused to let this ruin how I feel about myself. So I used that self-care, that knowledge, thank god I’d had that, because otherwise I would have gone out there blubbering mess and my boyfriend would have been: what’s wrong with you. So that is my other piece of self-care that I am giving to you.
If we go back — the reason why this can seem shallow to some maybe but it is actually really important, because there are some shocking statistics out there.
Did you know as a teenage girl you are 12 times more likely to die from an eating disorder than any other illness? That there are over 30 million of us in the US alone that have an eating disorder, and that 90% of all children who die from suicide have a mental health condition.
And as I mentioned earlier, social media is only growing; the pressure is only getting worse. And 52% of U.S. teens now say they’ve been cyber-bullied. I’ve experienced firsthand hate online, trolling online and we also need to talk about that. That to me is also part of self-care, because the bullies are just putting their insecurities that they have on to you. I know that when someone says something nasty about me, it’s a reflection of how they’re feeling inside. But we need to educate people, we need to educate the victims and the bullies, so that this stops happening. One way I like to do it is ignore it, report it, lock it, delete it, act like it never happened.
But I found another cool way which was — I recently got a comment and for me it was hysterical but actually a few of my followers were really upset about it, because they said: you’re the reason that the healthcare system is a mess. You need to put down your MAC donuts and stop eating crisps; how ridiculous is that?
I happen to be on set in my underwear doing a shoot with crisps around me and I thought hmm this seems like a good opportunity to show them what I’m made of. So I decided to do a picture of me covered in crisps, eating the crisps, as an ad view, like hell no are you going to do bring me down. I’m going to keep eating crisps even more now actually, I really really like crisps now because I wanted to empower myself, I wanted to be able to use something that was negative and turn it into a positive. And sure enough I think that video got like 80 million views or something because that’s what we want to see. We want to build each other up, we want to empower each other. And I’m so grateful I’ve been here today and been able to connect with y’all, because I want to encourage every single one of you to invest in yourself right now.
I want you to understand that if you learn self care, practice self-care, you can then gift self-care. Imagine being able to give your loved ones the gift of self-love. Speak to your body in a loving way. It’s the only one you’ve got, it’s your home and it deserves your respect. If you see anyone tearing themselves down, build them back up and watch your life positively grow when you give up the pursuit of perfection, because the real beauty ideal is being imperfectly you.
Thank you so much everybody. Thank you.