Sophie Ward, a third year English Literature student at the University of Bristol is the founder of the university’s Body Positivity society, a group with an ever growing social media following and a message of empowerment.
We caught up with Sophie to discuss her, the group, and why she thinks groups like hers are such a good idea:
Why did you set up the Bristol Body Positivity group?
‘I never really meant to start a large society, it fell into my lap quite naturally after a hard time. I was going through a lot with eating and my body image and stuff and it got really bad at university, particularly when I was halfway through my second year. I thought it would be really nice to talk to people about these issues, so I wrote on FemSoc, the Facebook page, and floated the idea of forming a body positivity group.
‘I got so many responses saying things like ‘I really need that’ and made the Facebook group straight away. Now we’ve got 430 members and 1500 followers on Instagram, and we’ve had about five meet ups. Literally every time I go out I get people coming up to me, thanking me for starting the group, and I think I was right that people need a space to talk about body issues.’
Do you think this is a bigger issue at University?
‘I think it becomes a bigger issue for a lot of people while they’re at uni because they’re living on their own for the first time. They’re in complete control of what they eat for the first time, and this is often affected by going out at night and not getting up in the morning, eating junk and having a lot less structure in one’s life. People might be waking up at 11, eating microwave meals and pizzas and doing no exercise, so uni almost becomes a downward dietary spiral.
‘Students who worry about their weight and body image should look to others for help and realise they’re not all on their own. You might not find your best friends for a while, but when you do make sure you can confide in them, and you can talk. Also, make sure your social media is on your side: unfollow all the skinny models, they don’t help you.’
What advice would you give to aspiring student fashion designers about making clothes more versatile for students of different shapes?
‘I really struggle still with fashion. I went to Oxford Street the other day, I wanted to go on a big shopping-spree, and I literally didn’t buy one item. Because of this I felt really shit about myself, like, really low, the lowest I had felt about my body for ages because nothing fitted me right. On the other hand, my sister who is a size 6-8, and really skinny, wanted to buy clothes and was like I don’t understand why nothing fits me. So it’s like clothes aren’t fitting most normal girls’ bodies.
‘And then there are these ridiculous stereotypes that only thin people can be fashionable. There are a few people on Instagram that I find really inspiring. For example, women called Naomi Shimada, Paloma Elsesser and Barbienox, because none of them are thin but still look really cool. There is a stereotype that bigger women have to show off their boobs and accentuate their waists in order to look fashionable and I just don’t agree with that, and neither do these Instagrammers. I think anyone that struggles with their body image should check them out.’
Apart from these Instagrammers, who else do you take inspiration from?
‘My friends and other women who are powerful and confident and all different shapes and sizes, as well as a few celebrities. In particular, Helena Bonham Carter, who is really cool and has never followed any trends, and she has a normal body and wears what she wants to wear. Similarly, female teachers and tutors because they’re intelligent and inspiring, and they’re evidence that there’s more to life than what you look like.’
Do you have any aspirations for your society to go beyond Bristol?
‘I’ve got a committee and hopefully they’ll take over when I go. I think every uni needs a similar society, so hopefully this will spread. I’m keen to take the idea back home to North-West London, so hopefully it will be something I can do when I’m working. I’ve had two girls from other unis message me wanting to start their own societies, so I think the idea is beginning to catch on.’
How do you feel about Instagram?
When I post [on Instagram], I do it as a spur of the moment thing, when I feel like I am having a bad day. I try and do it just to be like to other people, ‘look I’m having a hard time too’ and just to create some body-positive variety on their Instagram feed.’
Is it a daily thing, is it a weekly thing or is it something that you turn to when you feel like you really need it?
‘When I first started the account, it was more at the forefront of my life, because I was struggling with it a lot more. I had more to say, more to post. Now, because I am feeling a lot happier about myself, I don’t actually have a full length mirror in my room, and there are fewer times when I want to post something.’
What are your meetings like?
‘It’s literally just a really nice chat between friends and everyone just sort of says how they feel and kind of helps each other through. We all know that we have people to speak to if ever we are feeling down and people who understand us, which is really nice.’
Describe the group in a sentence!
‘I’d say it is a safe space for people who are struggling with their body image or disordered eating to come together and be supported.’
Follow Bristol Body Positivity Society on Instagram, @bopoportfolio