Meet The Inspiring Positive Body Image Blogger, Leyah Shanks

Why should someone be worried about losing his or her hair when fighting cancer? Leyah Shanks certainly believes no one should feel less attractive bald, and as a woman who leads by example, she has undergone the razor.

 Photo by Carolyn Henry Photography

Photo by Carolyn Henry Photography

 The 22 year-old Scottish native, blogger, and founder of The Body Confidence Revolution is an advocate for positive body image. Her experiences of being bullied from a young age made her acutely aware of the unattainable standards and intense pressures herself and other girls place on themselves. It is those experiences that have forged her into the confident woman she is today. Fortunately, instead of succumbing to the pressure and feeling the need to change her body, she channeled her energy into learning the ins and outs of the media industry to learn about body image prejudice. Over the years she has earned faithful followers who help her promote positive body image on her crowd sourced Tumblr. 

Now, after a family cancer scare in 2014, she has turned her attention to cancer and hair. Earlier this year, Shanks promised she would shave her head if she could raise £500 for Cancer Research UK (approximately $932 Canadian). In an interview with More to Her she said,

Fortunately for us, our incident was nothing more than a scare. After what felt like decades of sheer hell, we were given the all clear and the feeling of abyss faded away. Other people are not so lucky. I couldn’t help but think of everyone who has ever been in the awful position of being diagnosed with cancer and feeling compelled to take back control of their own body [to] shave their head before the chemotherapy made their hair fall out.”

Well true to her word, she raised the money and underwent the razor. Aside from feeling accomplished for raising money to help defeat a terrible disease we wondered how it felt being bald and expected nothing less from her answer:

It was the most liberating thing I have ever experienced. I felt extremely humbled by the amount of money I had helped to raise for such a worthy cause and empowered to be hopefully showing people that being a woman doesn’t mean conforming to ideals of beauty that none of us asked for.”

 Photo by Carolyn Henry Photography 

Photo by Carolyn Henry Photography 

Clearly, Shanks is a strong woman. We then wondered how she defined an empowered woman?

 “A woman who is unapologetically herself, who understands that individuality is [not] bad thing and appreciates the same in other women. Someone who doesn't bring others down but seeks to inspire others even if they differ greatly from herself."

And her advice to her former 12 year old self in developing a positive body image?  

“Don't look to magazines or music videos for solace. Your body is not something to be ashamed of but something to celebrated. Understand that life is a journey and that your body will change many times throughout the ride.”

Well Leyah Shanks, you have won us over and love the powerful example you are setting for others. You are a woman of your word and a force to be reckoned with. 

Objectify Me... For The Artistic Expression. Actually Don't.

The 2015 Pirelli Calendar has just been released. It was shot by legendary photographer Steven Meisel who recently said in a press release, “In my opinion, these are the key aesthetic models of today’s world. They represent the stereotypes that the fashion and star system impose upon us right now.”[1] Well Mr. Meisel, I agree with you completely there – the fashion and star/celebrity system is yet again imposing this narrow stereotype of what beauty and feminism is.

He goes on to say, “… Since I wanted to limit the use of clothes and accessories and since I had absolute creative freedom, I found it very exciting to play with the colours, the makeup, and the materials. It was a very rewarding experience.”

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I am not against an artistic expression of beauty. I think playing with colours, make-up and materials can create powerful images. However, Mr. Meisel, the poses that you have shot these models in, is another beautiful illustration of how women are continuously sexually objectified. Women are dependably depicted in the media in ways that exclusively value their sexual and physical attractiveness.

Why is this so harmful?

Research tells us that the effect of living in a culture that sexually objectifies the woman’s body has negative impacts for both the woman and man who are viewing the sexually objectified picture.[2] When women consistently see images of other women sexually objectified it socializes them to think about themselves in terms of objects to be looked at and evaluated![3] Other studies have shown that after men view sexualized images of women they rate them as less capable intellectually and physically and score lower in egalitarian beliefs about men and women.[4]

Artistic expression is a beautiful thing. However, artistic expression that consistently portrays women in a one-dimensional narrow way is not beautiful, because the over all impact on the audience is detrimental.


[1] Wilson, J. 2014, The Pirelli Calendar 2015 Just Keeps Getting Hotter (NSFW Photos). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/18/pirelli-calendar-2015_n_6177344.html

[2] Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology Of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173-206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x

[3] Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology Of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173-206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x

[4] Behm-Morawitz, E., & Mastro, D. (2009). The effects of the sexualization of female video game characters on gender stereotyping and female self-concept. Sex Roles61(11-12), 808-823. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9683-8

"Silence is the residue of fear"

"We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don't," says poet and teacher Clint Smith. We live in a society that so often values tolerance and individualism at the expense of standing up for what we believe is right. We are taught in our education systems to ask questions, but not actually care about the answers because toleration is a leading societal value that trumps truth because we don’t want to offend anybody.

Please do not misunderstand me, I believe celebrating individualism is a good thing because each person is unique with their own voice. I also believe it is important to be gracious to all people. However can we not engage in a meaningful and respectful dialogue even if we don’t agree?

For example, we see way too many unnaturallythin models walking the runaway and then say, “Well that is their decision” instead of saying; “I disagree with that andwhat should do we about it?”

Or we just think, "I wish I was taken more seriously," as we continue to see women and young girls depicted very narrowly in the media in manners that emphasize and value their  sexual and physical attractiveness at the expense of other important internal characteristics. 

As Smith says, “Sometimes we spend so much of our time telling people the things that they want to hear, appeasing ignorance with [our] silence unaware that validation doesn't need words to endorse its existence."

I believe that we need to use our voices and engage with others on issues that matter to us.

"Silence is the residue of fear."

Take 4 minutes and watch this Ted talk. You won't regret it.