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In Conversation with Anastasia Amour: INSIDE OUT

Interview of Anastasia Amour by Stefanie Markidis

Tigress is giving a virtual high-five and a big hug to our friend Anastasia Amour for being an all-round superstar and doing great things for women around the world. Anastasia is a body positivity advocate, a self-esteem educator and an anorexia conqueror. You can check out her work here. She wrote about her eating disorder for Tigress earlier this year, and has just released her debut self-help book, Inside Out. Stefanie spoke with Anastasia about her new book, her ideas on body image and what it’s like to be a fearless go-getting woman!

Your book Inside Out was released on November 14. In a sentence or two, what is the book about?

Inside Out is the anti-diet – it’s a 14-day body image workbook that guides women and girls to ditch diet culture, body loathing and negative self-talk and instead embrace Fearless Body Confidence. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, personal research and my own experiences in body loathing (including being the “fat kid”, suffering a near-fatal battle with anorexia nervosa, yo-yo dieting and everything in between) are the driving forces.

Who would benefit from reading your book?

I’ve really noticed a lot of overlaps in the issues that girls and women of all ages struggle with in terms of body image – it all ties back to self-acceptance, so I wrote Inside Out with all ages in mind. It’s geared to be general, yet applicable to women right through from 16 to 60.  When it comes to negative self-talk, there’s no prejudice around age and none of us are immune – I’m of the belief that it’s never too early, nor too late, to find peace with your body!

How would you respond to someone who said ‘It’s normal to hate your body, that’s just part of being female’?

Sadly, a degree of body-hatred is normal… it’s known as normative discontent. However, it’s not just a female issue and I’m a huge believer that we each have the power to change not only our own version of “normal” but the collective social norms through our actions, behaviour and thoughts.

I think we should all aspire to feel something greater than normal and if the current norms are problematic or detrimental to our wellbeing, then we’d be wiser in trying to change them than being content in adhering to them!

How’s it all going post-release? How has the book been received?

The reception has been absolutely incredible – I’ve had feedback from 70-year-old women who’ve never been able to see their bodies positively but now feel like they’ve seen the light, 30-year-old women who are starting to see the way out of the dieting cycle and even one 11-year-old girl who wanted to make sure that she grew up feeling confident in herself. It’s truly humbling.

The best part is how it’s brought together this community of girls and women supporting and encouraging each other… it’s such a wonderful thing to see and it truly makes my heart sing!

Inside Out guides readers through a 14-day journey. Why 14-days? Can we challenge and re-wire our habits in two weeks?

The 14-day approach is rooted in the techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which relies on ongoing and steadily progressive repetition in order to achieve significant and lasting behavioral change. Fourteen days is just long enough to start feeling the effects of behavioural change, but not so long that readers start to feel bored or overwhelmed (which can be a huge barrier to actually implementing the knowledge learned from a book or program).

Readers can take Inside Out at a faster or slower pace if they like, however many users will find that going through a chapter per day will give them plenty of time to digest the information from each chapter; thus avoiding the feeling of overwhelm that many other self-help books give.

Inside Out was designed with lasting change in mind, so throughout the journey, readers will be able to absorb the information and build upon the new habits and techniques that they’re learning, enabling them to continue these habits in their lives long after they’ve put Inside Out on their bookshelf. Readers can pick Inside Out back up at any time for a refresher in certain exercises or to remind themselves of what they’ve learned.

When did you decide to write this book?

I’ve always thought it would be great to be an author and I’d had the idea behind Inside Out lurking around in the back of my mind for a couple of years. Since launching my website in early 2014, I realised that there was such a demand for body image education that wasn’t all sugar coated and sunshine and rainbows, and seeing how this advice was helping people only cemented my desire to put together a comprehensive guide. I wanted to create something that people could read in bed, on their lunch breaks and carry around with them, without being limited to needing to jump on the computer. The tactile element of holding a book has always been greatly helpful to me, and that’s something that I wanted to replicate for others.

Eating disorders can be highly regimental and disciplinary – rules for how, where and what to eat; rules for how, where and what to purge; rules for how to punish yourself if you slip up. Writing a self-help book, were you conscious not to make it too rule-driven?

Absolutely, and this was something that I was incredibly mindful of. Given that Inside Out appeals so broadly to women of all ages and from all backgrounds, not just eating disorder sufferers, it was even more integral to ensure not to lay out any rules that might not benefit everyone reading.

The goal of the exercises within Inside Out is less of a strict set of rules and more of a guiding to help readers identify the techniques that work best for them. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to healing body image, so setting rules is something that I avoid both personally and professionally.

There were around 200 rounds of major editing to Inside Out and a huge part of this was making sure that it effectively guided readers towards identifying their most helpful techniques without placing limitations upon them.

The typical onset for eating disorders is during adolescence/teen years, which is already a really complicated time for young girls! How can your book help teen girls to work on their body image, while they are in the (sometimes toxic) high school web?

The high school years are such a turbulent time for self-esteem and in the midst of it, life can seem overwhelming. I find that there’s a lot of stigma in high school around positive self-esteem and at a time where girls are really starting to develop their identity and come into their own, it’s crucial that they have access to tools and information that resonates with them.

During my high school years, I found that much of the self-help resources geared towards teen girls was incredibly condescending, which made me want to shy away from anything even vaguely related to personal development. I think that’s a big flaw in the way that many self-esteem programs in schools in Australia address the issues of body image, self-worth and finding confidence in your own. A lot of the resources that I was given in high school were also loaded with internalised stigma and shaming towards eating disorders… they made them out to be contagious diseases that only the most “unhealthy” of students would contract, whilst offering no practical advice to help those struggling with low self-esteem minimise their risks.

Inside Out is very practical, and very applicable. It’s not sugar-coated and it’s certainly not exclusive. Breaking down stigma and making help accessible and actionable is at the heart of Inside Out, and that’s something that I think that a lot of high school girls (regardless of whether they’re at great risk of an eating disorder or not) will benefit from.

What’s the most common thing young girls say to you, when they make contact?

This one breaks my heart… because most of the young girls (aged 12 to around 18) that contact me feel absolutely broken, despaired and hopeless. They want to know the exact blueprint to loving yourself or exactly how to recover from an eating disorder; they’re seeking the magical words that will instantly make everything better and shine a light for them. And it kills me that I can’t just say “Here’s exactly how you do it, it will take precisely X months and then everything will be fine!” because I know that’s what they want to hear.

I’ve got a handful of young teen girls that I’m working with on a personal level at the moment in guiding them through their eating disorder recovery journey and slowly but surely, they’re coming to understand how toxic the “quick fix” mentality can be and learning to find peace, acceptance and neutrality in their bodies. This is such an encouraging and amazing thing to see, but it still absolutely breaks my heart when more and more young girls are coming to me wanting so desperately their body despair to just go away.

Culturally, we’re obsessed with miracle potions and quick fixes and although the effects of this are widely documented amongst chronic yo-yo dieters who’ve had a level of discontentment with their body for their entire life, we often forget just how young the effects of this mentality starts to seep in. These days, it’s sadly not uncommon to see pre-teen girls engaging in diet talk on the school playground… and that, to me, is a crucial sign that we’re in dire need of a societal shift away from a weight-based measurement of a girl/woman’s worth as a human being.

It’s a shift that’s long overdue.

What does ‘unhealthy’ mean to you?

‘Unhealthy’ can come in many different forms but to me, to be unhealthy means to be trapped (actively or passively) within a cycle of behaviours, thoughts or action that are of detriment to your physical or mental wellbeing.

I want to ask you about your sense of identity. When physically anorexic, did you feel like yourself? What happened as you returned to a healthy weight?

This is a really interesting question – my identity always felt a little “off” for most of my life, and I never truly felt like I belonged in my body. It wasn’t until I was well and truly sick that I started to feel like myself. I came to associate and identify incredibly strongly with my disorder and there were many points during my illness where a tiny voice in the back of my mind told me that I needed help, and that always frightened me – I thought I’d lose who I was by getting rid of my disorder. I felt like I would die if I tried to recover, but in reality not recovering was the very thing that was killing me. I had quite a few unsuccessful attempts at recovery before I was able to make any real progress and even during the successful attempt at recovery, the desire to hold onto my identity was so overwhelming. Ignoring the urge to hold onto anorexia was possibly one of the most difficult aspects of recovery ­ – when every fiber of your being tells you that you’re killing yourself by eating, killing yourself by not weighing yourself; killing yourself by having a moment of pride in yourself… that can be awfully intimidating. It feels (and is!) easier to stay in the clutches of the disorder. Looking back, I compare my relationship with my disorder to a relationship with an abusive partner. It’s so easy for outsiders to say “Why don’t you just leave?” but until you’ve experienced it from the inside, you can’t really begin to imagine how a person could so strongly want to hang onto their demise.

Your instagram is a beautiful collage of sunny, body-positive images. How important is it for you to have a presence on this platform (which is so overrun by thinspo and pro-ana)?

I love my Instagram community – it allows me to reach girls and women who are deep within the clutches of low-self esteem on a platform that they’d otherwise be using to reinforce negative behavioural patterns. Unfortunately there are also a lot of trolls and negative people on Instagram, and abusive comments come with the territory. This can be mentally taxing but for me, it’s crucial to show people the positive impact that we can all make by sharing our story. The more examples of self-love triumphing over negativity and hate that we can see, the better off we’ll all be!

The world can be a harsh place and being vulnerable can be difficult, but Instagram allows me to showcase the power of vulnerability, story sharing and flipping the social media script on its head… let’s take the example of selfies. Girls are thrown so many conflicting messages about self-worth (on one hand that their value is based on their appearance, but also that if they’re bold enough to be confident that they’re conceited and “too” appearance focused) and I think there’s such potential to transform something as simple as the selfie into a radical act of self-love, acceptance, vulnerability and encouragement for others. In this way, we can show girls that selfies can be a powerful tool for themselves in sharing their story, which can help steer them away from using Instagram solely as a tool for comparison, judgement and validation based on how many likes they get.

How does #ProjectPositive fit in here?

#ProjectPositive is a social media movement aimed at stamping out self-inflicted negativity not only in the online world, but also throughout our lives. Born from observations of the deep psychological impact that negativity can have on us when we’re repeatedly exposed to it (particularly on social media), I launched #ProjectPositive in April of 2014 with the purpose of liberating women to open their eyes to the beauty within the world and within themselves, as well as accepting imperfections as part of what makes us all so unique.

Mini mindfulness and self-esteem challenges are at the heart of #ProjectPositive, focusing mainly on learning to move past toxic external influences on the way that we feel about ourselves and simultaneously creating a more positive social media landscape.

You’re a positive body-image advocate helping women all around the world. How/when did you start speaking out about this stuff? How did it feel?

I started speaking out as a Body Image Educator in early 2014 and initially, I was incredibly hesitant to share my story, but as my journey has progressed, I’ve found such empowerment in sharing my story and knowledge with others. It has forced me to dig really deep into my own sense of self-esteem, which has been an overwhelmingly positive experience!

What challenges have you faced (internally or externally) on this path of advocacy?

One of the most challenging parts of this journey has been rehashing old traumatic memories, opening old wounds and picking at scars for the purpose of understanding and education. Some of these themes are still (and probably always will be) incredibly raw for me and sometimes it leaves me breathless to uncover something that I never thought I’d allow myself to think about again. But, those experiences are also very rewarding – I can learn a lot about myself, about my disorder and about how I can care for myself by analysing these experiences, and this also allows me to help others who are struggling with similar things. I wouldn’t wish those struggles on anyone but I’m thankful for the ability to unpack them, for in these struggles, I’ve found my strength!

Another more challenging and also more irritating part of advocacy has been my contact with trolls, bullies and hateful individuals. I’m used to trolls and I’ve dealt with a lot of them, but it still leaves me gobsmacked how many bitter, negative people dedicate their days to leaving death threats, insults and incredibly violent comments on the photos and stories of those who have been brave enough to share a piece of themselves. I try to delete them immediately and move on, as I certainly don’t want anyone else to see any comments that I receive and be triggered by them, but sometimes it still gets under my skin.

And of course, there’s still a fair amount of resistance to the body positivity movement so dealing with individuals who oppose and make snap judgments comes with its challenges, too.

You are a woman who has turned her personal struggles around and used them to create something positive (right on!). How does it feel to be an instigator of positive change in other women’s lives?

It feels incredibly humbling! I spend a lot of time crying from sheer overwhelm – some of the messages I receive from women who’ve identified with my story or found something I said helpful and then used that as fuel for their own positive change are absolutely incredible. If even one person has benefited from something that I’ve done, then I feel good!

Helping women overcome their struggles is truly my purpose and now that I’ve found that, it’s like everything has clicked into place. I don’t know if I believe in the “Everything happens for a reason” philosophy, but what I do know is that this is what I’m meant to be doing.

What was the biggest surprise about recovery/‘recovered’ life?

How temporary recovery can be.

When I reached “full” recovery initially, I was fairly complacent. I stopped with my self-care tactics and I naively assumed that recovered life was a destination, rather than a journey… and because of this I had more than a few major relapses that really took me by surprise.

From this though, I learned just how fragile recovery can be and how important it is to continue to choose recovery and choose positive self-esteem every single day.

What’s next for you? What does the future hold?

I’m somewhat of a woman of mystery and I like to keep my plans close to my chest, but I will say that I’ve got some big plans – you’ll be seeing more offerings on my website in 2016 including one-on-one coaching, more talks, more ways to tackle toxic media, more ways that everyone can create ripples of change, more ways to engage and more ways to feel supported by the community. It’s going to be exciting, and I can’t wait to share more!

Stefanie Markidis

Stefanie is a writer and researcher from Melbourne, Australia. With a background in print journalism, she has worked for various Australian newspapers and magazines. Stefanie is undertaking a doctorate at RMIT University, through which she is investigating how female identity, writing, and eating practices are related. When she isn’t thinking about writing (or writing about thinking), Stefanie loves dancing (anywhere, anytime), feeling live music shake through her body, and walking through foreign cities without a map. Stalk her a little bit here and here.

Anastasia Amour

Anastasia Amour is a writer, body image activist and rule breaker on a mission to change the dialogue around women’s bodies. The pioneer of the #ProjectPositive initiative and Fearless Body Confidence movement, Anastasia has helped thousands of women around the world change they way that they see themselves, ditch self-inflicted negativity and banish body loathing for good. Her work can be seen on A Little Opulent, eHarmony, Wild Sister Magazine, SPROUT Magazine and more. Find her on her website.

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