What Lillian Bustle’s TED Talk can teach us about body image

“I am fat.”

This is how Lillian Bustle begins her TEDxJerseyCity talk, “Stripping Away Negative Body Image,” on what burlesque dance and performance can teach us about body love. And she was quick to clarify she in no way meant the so-called “f-word” as a negative. To the contrary — rather than viewing the word as a form of self-criticism, Bustle simply thinks of it as a “self-descriptor.”

“We as women are programmed to tell each other that we’re not fat because to many people, both men and women, fat is the worst thing you can be,” she said. “Society has turned the word ‘fat’ into a synonym for ‘ugly,’ but that’s not what fat means. Fat just means fat.”

“I’m 5’3″ so I call myself short. I’m married so I call myself a wife. I weigh 240 pounds so I call myself fat,” she continued. “And I am beautiful, so I call myself beautiful. And I am all of those things at once.”

Less than a minute into her time on stage, Bustle already had us nodding our heads enthusiastically — because heck yeah! In a glorious reminder that all women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful, Bustle goes on to break down our societal obsession with using “fat” as an insult and discusses the importance of reclaiming the word. As if that weren’t already rad enough, she then makes the case why universal body acceptance is totally possible — and we are totally empowered by what she had to say.

“You get to decide that you’re gorgeous,” Bustle said. “You get to decide that you’re powerful. You get to decide that you’re amazing. And you get to decide that you’re worth looking at.”

A huge part of Bustle’s ridiculously inspiring argument was based on a study published in PLOS ONE Journal, an “international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication” for “reports on primary research from any scientific discipline,” according to their website. The study, called “Visual Diet versus Associative Learning as Mechanisms of Change in Body Size Preferences,” basically hypothesized that our preference for (and societal obsession with) skinny bodies is a direct result of the fact that it is the majority of what we are exposed to in the media. Subjects were shown two sets of photos: one that included women of varying body types in plain grey leotards with their faces blurred out, and another that just included women in glamorous ensembles of varying body types.

According to Bustle, in the first series of photos, subjects ultimately ended up preferring whichever body type they were exposed to more (e.g., the more subjects saw the photos of women with larger bodies, the more they preferred them, and vice versa). And when shown both sets of photos, subjects preferred the glamorous set more, regardless of body type — which is why Bustle is so pro-burlesque (because it’s all kinds of glamorous, obviously).

“[The] more we are exposed to body diversity, the more we tolerate, accept, and — yes! — even prefer different body types,” Bustle said. “The more that body diversity is normalized in our minds, the kinder we can be to ourselves and to our bodies.

Given the fact that self-esteem seems to be at an all-time low for young women in today’s society, we couldn’t think of a more wonderful and uplifting thing to hear. And Bustle is totally hopeful for our future. As she said in her talk, “We are on the verge of a brave new world of body love and acceptance.” (We’re totally ready for it.)

Check out the rest of the mega-inspiring talk for yourself below.

(Image via video.)

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