By Ayebatonye Abrakasa

We live in an age dictated by unrealistic standards of beauty, where we are constantly plagued with thinly veiled body shaming through media saturation. The Body Positive Movement is a refreshing and interesting dichotomy to the over-played and tired images of the „ideal“ body we are subjected to on a daily basis. The main aim behind the movement is to liberate everyone (especially those with marginalized body types) so they love and value themselves, their bodies, and recognize their self worth. It empowers us all to take our power back and instead of letting others dictate (namely cis gendered males) how we look and feel about ourselves, encourages us to feel good about the way we look. Social media platforms, namely Instagram and tumblr, have played a huge role in this movement. Through hashtags such as #selflove or #bodypositive you can read countless posts striving to challenge society’s warped perceptions of what is beautiful, and an army of people proudly showing off their bodies in a bid to inspire others to feel good too.

© Anna May Cunningham
Frances Cannon & Lizzi Morris © Anna May Cunningham

In some cases, instead of inclusivity and solidarity, those with marginalized bodies seek to empower their particular body type by putting other body types down, which in my opinion is pointless and counterproductive for the movement. At the end of the day we all seek acceptance for our appearance, ideals, and ourselves in general. What needs to be made clear is that there is space for all of us; we just have to try to be aware of the amount of space that we have and reflect upon whether it is divided fairly or not. Looking a certain way and not fitting into society’s norms doesn’t make us wrong, and we may be perceived as different, but shaming others does not validate us either. We are all right and perfect in our own way.

I recently had a conversation with a friend, who told me she hadn’t felt attractive for a long time because in her hometown she hadn’t been seen as a conventionally beautiful woman, but that each day she was learning to love her body more and I was super stoked for her. However, she then went on to shame the bodies of the „conventionally beautiful“ (skinny white cis gendered) women she was once compared to, saying they weren’t „real women“ which I immediately argued against. I tried to explain that by shaming them for the way they looked, she was in a way contributing to putting others down based on their appearance and dictating how they should look. I believe that rather than comparing ourselves to others and stating that one or the other body type is right or wrong, we should be inclusive and make room for all body types. Having said this, I feel that in order for body positivity to truly succeed, cis gendered able-bodied women with the „ideal“ body type do need to create more space for the marginalized.

© Anna May Cunningham
Anita Shao © Tysonne Ralston

I personally believe that at the end of the day what can be taken from this movement is that all bodies are beautiful and that we should love ourselves, and this sounds cheesy and like something you would hear from your mother, but we really need to stop placing our self value on our outward appearance, because we are more than what we look like.

Body positivity is an inclusive concept and movement that aims to make all people feel comfortable about the way they look and the way they are, whether you are on the non-binary gender spectrum or trans, chubby, fat, dark-skinned, hairy, you have a visible disability or have a big ass booty like I do, we shouldn’t feel ashamed about how we look but we need to celebrate ourselves more for being who we are!

© Anna May Cunningham
Sarah Dokter & Ava Coffen © Anna May Cunningham

The Body Positive Movement is a topic with varying definitions and opinions. I was curious find out what body positivity inherently is, so I decided to do a little research. Starting from the very bottom, I did a cheeky Google search simply typing „Define: Body Positivity.“ The top results were from two very „reliable“ sources; one was from Wikipedia which stated, „The Body Positive Movement is a feminist movement that encourages people to adopt more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies, with the goal of improving overall health and well-being.“ The other top result was from Urban Dictionary – a website well known for translating from slang and its street-credibility (obviously) – and was in my opinion narrow-minded: „An excuse to post pictures otherwise considered unclassy or distasteful due to their revealing nature, under the guise of promoting positive body image.“ (Text taken straight from website).

The second definition being a top result was something I found problematic, as it essentially is an example of body shaming. The suppression of female sexuality is blatantly misogynistic and is something that has happened since the beginning of time. We are constantly told how to dress appropriately to avert the dominant (cis) male gaze and are judged based on our clothes, photos, and sexual activity as the patriarchy tries to control us sexually. The question of self-objectification is something that often comes into play, however I believe that we should all wear whatever we want, whenever we want. And when feminists criticize people for choosing to wear what they want, aren’t they in fact contributing to the very issue they were fighting against?

Anita Shao & Yasmine Marlow © Anna May Cunningham
Anita Shao & Yasmine Marlow © Tysonne Ralston

Body positive lingerie plays an interesting part in this idea, because many people aren’t convinced that lingerie can empower the wearer. Due to the over saturated exposure to hyper sexualized lingerie adverts that we endure on a daily basis, which seem more directed at pleasing and satisfying cis gendered men, it is understandable how some may come to this conclusion. However, body positive lingerie reinstates the idea that you don’t have to feel hot, or feel desirable when you wear lingerie if you don’t want to because that can be exhausting! It rather focuses on making the wearer feel comfortable in their own skin. I believe that by encouraging women, femmes and non-binary, fat or disabled folx to feel fantastic for being who they are, and encouraging body positivity, we empower them.

Just Babes Club (JBC) lingerie is a feminist, female founded body positive lingerie label hailing from Melbourne, Australia. They are one of the revolutionary brands redefining the lingerie industry by promoting self-love.

© Anna May Cunningham
Chantelle Dobunaba & Olivia Fay © Anna May Cunningham

I have been following them for a long time now, as I love the message they are spreading. JBC is a celebration of all body types, the photos are unretouched, the babes are chosen based on their merit rather than the way they look, and they even offer free custom fitting to cater to the needs of everyone! I spoke with two of the babes behind it all, founder/designer Jarrah Benwell-Clarke and brand manager Bianca Cornale to talk about what body positivity meant to them and their label.

The lingerie is gorgeous. I’ve been obsessed with your label since the beginning. I need one of those „All tits are perfect“ shirts! What was the inspiration behind Just Babes Club? Was there a particular circumstance that led to the creation of this label?
JBC: The JUST BABES CLUB was created because we felt the label had to be more than just about the physical garments for us to be passionate about what we were doing. The Babes Club is our community of hotties. I got back from living abroad to start a new chapter and noticed how much lingerie was targeted at pleasing men, and I wanted to create a brand where babes wore it for themselves. I bought a book on how to make lingerie from the Internet and just went for it!

© Annie Llewllyn & JBC
Daniel Aloisio & Mladen Lalic Milinkovic © Annie Llewllyn & JBC

That’s amazing! So rad that you just went for it! All of your lingerie sets are named after iconic women, Chrissy Amphlett (Lead singer of The Divinyls), Debbie Harry, UNfaithful Marianne, Cher, Björk to name a few. How do you choose the icons behind the lingerie names?
JBC: Each lingerie set is designed with its own personal style in mind. We try to match this to an iconic babe who embodies the same.
BC: The design comes first and its namesake follows; sometimes it’s the look of the set, which evokes a strong resemblance to an artist and their style.

Having said that, all the women you name as icons identify as primarily cis gendered women … Would there be any chance to include a gender non binary or transgender person as an icon or inspiration for a lingerie set?
JBC: Most definitely!
BC: I’d name my first born after Genesis P-Orridge, so she should definitely get a lingerie set named in her honor.

© Anna May Cunningham
Zelia Rose © Anna May Cunningham

Yes, girl! I can’t wait for you guys to make that happen! How do you deal with gender binaries that make lingerie inaccessible to trans people?
BC: It’s a tough one, because underwear is, by nature, so binary gendered. Underwear has to take anatomy into account. We try to keep our styles essentially the same but with different fit options for different bodies. We’re aiming to expand our range so all our styles will have fit options for people with vaginas and people with penises. We’ve still got a way to go to make this a reality, and we’ll have to make sure to avoid being in any way exploitative and aim for 100% inclusivity.

Where do you find the amazing „babes“, your models, featured in your photographs? I read on your website that all the models are people you think are killing it or doing really well in their field, what constitutes these choices?
JBC: For the last shoot Lauren actually came in for a fitting and I instantly fell in love! Zeina was my long-term Internet crush who Folk Collective was kind enough to put us in touch with. They just have inner confidence, a certain sparkle, and their shit going on! They’re babes who inspire us. We try to diversify the type of person we choose with each new shoot.
BC: Another model we’re shooting this week is also a customer who we asked to pose for some snaps, and we’re thrilled that she agreed. In the past we’ve approached angels in the Melbourne creative community who are kicking goals, being badass, doing cool shit, etc. And also our lovely, warm-hearted friends who’re happy to get their kit off and show their body love.

© Kalindy Williams
Lauren Shelly & Zeina Thiboult © Kalindy Williams

Body positivity is an interesting topic as there are essentially two sides, the people who are fighting for women to be valued as more than bodies and people fighting for bodies that are often marginalized to be viewed as valuable. On your page you write that size does not dictate sex appeal, and you promote a message of self-love. Is the intention of your label to encourage the wearers of your lingerie to feel sexy? Do you believe that confidence comes from being desired?
BC: This is a really multifaceted question. I think that yes, femme-identifying people should be valued for more than their body. And yes, perceived „marginalized“ bodies should be viewed as valuable, but at the same time also valued for more than their body. And in a fashion context, normalized, rather than tokenized. Does that make me a fence sitter in the interior politics of the body positivity movement? For me, feeling sexy and feeling desired are different things – the difference being one is for the wearer and the other is in relation to someone else. I would argue that body confidence comes not from being desired but from feeling desirable.
JBC: I don’t believe it has to do with being desired. For some people it is a very powerful form of empowerment and a confidence builder, of loving and feeling really bloody good in your body. We are trying to show that no matter your shape or size you too can feel good about yourself and about your bod.

Ayebatonye Abrakasabildschirmfoto-2016-09-21-um-16-05-07 is a queer femme WOC set out to empower the marginalized, challenge perceptions and educate the masses. She works as a brand manager, writer, vibe creator and runs Beleafrica Vegan African Pop up dinners. She loves meditation, yoga, reading, hooping, hanging with her chameleon Ziggy Stardust, and will always stop to say hi to every animal she sees on the street.

How do you make the distinction between what is empowering and objectifying if you’re giving credit to the wearers of your lingerie for showing off their bodies on a public platform?
BC: Lingerie content is always going to involve some showing off of bodies. I’d like to insert here the old adage of what is empowering for some isn’t empowering for others; some people are empowered by showing their bodies and others aren’t and that’s at the discretion of the individual. The people getting their kit-off on our platforms have made the decision and the choice to engage, to be public and vocal about their body-love and they feel empowered by this act.

© Anna May Cunningham
Frances Cannon & Lorri Morris © Anna May Cunningham

In mainstream media and advertisement, bodies are valued based on what they can do for other people, specifically men. With your message of self love you’re empowering the wearer to realize what wearing lingerie can do for them. As someone who loves lingerie, I find it very empowering and very sexy. However, there are some feminists that may disagree with this. What does this change in terms of that idea that we are things to look at and things that people should want to have sex with?
BC: This is also a complex question and I guess it depends on the feminist theories you’re looking at. We’re trying to challenge the dominant male-gaze, which has been so prevalent in lingerie imagery. I suppose what we’re seeking to change is the idea that sexiness and being a sex object are mutually inclusive; that you can engage with your own sex appeal in a way that doesn’t necessarily pander to the male gaze. Pander to your own damn gaze!

© Anna May Cunningham
Chantelle Dobunaba © Anna May Cunningham

Your photographs are refreshing as they acknowledge all shapes and sizes, are gender inclusive, you’re creating much needed dialogue AND are opposed to recreating the same, boring patriarchal images of women. You feature marginalized body types, and even offer free custom fittings for your wearers, which is amazing! Why do you think society is so caught up in these rigid and unachievable standards of beauty?
JBC: Because that’s pretty much the only image they are shown by the media, which is such a false, exclusionary representation of beauty in society.
BC: The more unrealistic the image, the more people have to buy in order to meet the standard that the image sets. Advertisers make an unachievable image seem achievable only through buying their product, and this one of the systemic ways in which rigid beauty standards are upheld. But I’m saying nothing new; people are increasingly aware that this is how companies con people into insecurity and then con people into buying their confidence back. If more companies, brands and labels created truly realistic and inclusive content, you’d hope that rigid and unachievable standards of beauty wouldn’t be as prevalent and caustic anymore.