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Interview: What Body Positivity Icon Lindley Ashline Wants You to Know About Your Self-Image

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Editor's Note

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is not associated with “The Body Love Box,” “Body Liberation Stock” or Lindley Ashline in any way.

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Recently, I had the pleasure to meet and work with a wonderful lady named Lindley Ashline who is the body-positive icon of my dreams. She is the owner and creator of The Body Love Box (a body-positive, LGBTQIA+ friendly and racially diverse subscription box) as well as a photographer who helps women feel secure and beautiful in their bodies. Please enjoy my interview with her below, and be sure to stay up to date with her on social media!

About Lindley

Lindley Ashline (pronounced LIN-lee, she/her) creates artwork that celebrates the unique value of bodies that fall outside conventional “beauty” standards. Lindley is also the creator of Body Liberation Stock and The Body Love Box. She lives outside Seattle with her husband and two feline overlords.

1. I absolutely love the fact that you use photography as a liberating force to celebrate larger bodies. What made you decide to start a photography business with this mission?

I’d been involved in the fat acceptance movement (of which the body positivity movement is an offshoot) since around 2007, and a nature photographer since 2002. So when I started pursuing portrait photography seriously in 2015, I knew that I wanted to serve people in larger bodies. Fat folks were (and are) drastically underserved in the photography market and face the same levels of prejudice and stigma when looking for a photographer as we do in all other aspects of life. Most photographers have no idea how to work with or pose larger bodies and don’t provide a safe and comfortable environment for fat people. I’ve even heard of wedding photographers turning down clients due to their body size.

While I was training in preparation to open my own photography business, a very fat friend had an experience in which she agreed to model and be photographed in a very vulnerable way by a photographer who then didn’t even publish any of her photographs or include them in his portfolio, leaving her feeling used and neglected. Hearing my friend talk about that experience really solidified my desire to provide a completely safe, judgment-free, celebratory space for people in all kinds of marginalized bodies to get in front of a camera. It also illustrated why the overall experience is so important in making people who don’t often see images of people with bodies like theirs feel supported, so I built my sessions based on that.

Depending on where each person is on their body acceptance journeys, seeing themselves in images can range from a challenging to a jubilant experience, and I’m so happy and proud to be the photographer who gets to facilitate that journey for so many people.

2. You are also the creator of The Body Love Box, a subscription that I think is so important for the body love and fat-positive movement. Did your work as a photographer influence your passion about supporting other fat positive artists through your box?

It did. As a small business owner in a body that experiences a lot of stigma, I know what it’s like to struggle with both the universal travails of running a small business and the weight of marginalization on top. It’s been such a fun opportunity to support a whole bunch of artists, crafters and small business owners who are fat, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It can be a really, really big deal for an artist to get an order for 50 or 100 of their items! And because I don’t haggle or ask small businesses for items for free or at cut rates (unlike most subscription boxes, which run on free or heavily-discounted items), but pay a reasonable wholesale rate, each artist gets a real living wage for their work.

3. What inspired you to create The Body Love Box?

For years, I’d been collecting body-positive items (like little art prints, buttons and stickers) to give my photography clients. When subscription boxes became really popular, I did some research and realized that no one was offering a fat-positive subscription. And though I’m no longer offering monthly subscriptions, the original idea evolved into what’s now the Body Love Shop, which is fast becoming a central shopping location for body-positive, fat-positive and HAES products and artwork, both as individual items and as part of Body Love Boxes.

4. Do you ever feature your photography in The Body Love Box?

I do! Two of my fine art photographic prints — “Unicorn Summer” and “The Wind on My Skin” — have been included in Body Love Boxes. They’re now available for purchase individually in the shop.

5. What are your thoughts about the “Health at Every Size” approach?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Health at Every Size, or HAES, changed my life. Those of us who live in fat bodies are told constantly, explicitly and implicitly, in a thousand different ways every day that our bodies are aberrations. They’re inherently unhealthy. They’re gross. They’re noncompliant. They’re a visible symbol of our sinful, gluttonous and lazy natures.

Spending a few years in the fat acceptance community gave me the confidence to reject many of these messages and beliefs, but medical shame was so hard to shake. From the university health center doctor who told me (without asking about my eating habits or family history) that I would have diabetes within 10 years unless I lost half my body weight, to the doctor who later prescribed me a medication off-label to try to make me lose weight (and lied to me about it), I’d been told by too many authority figures that my body was bad.

When I first encountered the HAES framework, I was pretty skeptical. Sure, my body is inherently worthy, but it’s also fat, and that just can’t be healthy, right? But I’m a person who likes numbers and evidence, and HAES immediately challenged me: If weight loss is the only way to be healthy, why doesn’t it work? Why do so many weight loss attempts fail? Why doesn’t a single method of losing weight work in the long term?

Like most of us, my beliefs about health and body size had been gleaned from a lifetime of news articles, advertisements, salespeople, and just-so stories. Turns out? None of those sources was actually based on science. We just don’t have a way to make fat people thin in the long term, and in fact, weight cycling — losing and gaining as we go from one diet to another — may actually be worse for us health-wise than just staying the same size.

So if I couldn’t make myself thin, how could I possibly be healthy? That’s where HAES really stepped up. The HAES approach says that no matter what kind of body we live in, we can pursue healthy behaviors without pursuing weight loss that’s doomed to fail. Following the HAES and intuitive eating philosophies have both helped me work toward body acceptance and improved my health in many different ways.

6. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that is often connected to larger women, and those affected by PCOS are often stigmatized (myself included). How do you think we can increase awareness about PCOS and end stigmatization?

It’s incredibly important that we, as a culture, acknowledge that, like type 2 diabetes, PCOS isn’t a punishment for your body size or your food intake. Both smaller- and larger-bodied people have PCOS, diabetes, heart conditions and every other illness humans experience. There are no diseases that only affect fat people.

Today, PCOS awareness seems to suffer from both a lack of awareness and too much awareness. People in relatively small bodies often have trouble accessing diagnosis and treatment, since PCOS has been labeled a fat woman’s issue. And as a fat woman, let me tell you that now every doctor who’s heard of PCOS wants to diagnose me with it, purely due to my body size, despite my complete lack of PCOS symptoms.

Ending the stigma associated with PCOS is going to require that we dismantle diet culture because as long as we believe that we can reliably make larger bodies smaller (we can’t) and that body size is an indicator of health (it isn’t), we’ll continue to see weight stigma deprive both large and small people of proper PCOS care.

There’s a fabulous article at Wear Your Voice Mag that goes deeper into the issues caused by adding diet culture to discussions of and beliefs around PCOS.

7. What is your advice for larger women who are looking to increase their self-confidence?

There are many different ways you can increase your confidence, but for me, one of the most important was to change my “media diet:” the images and messages we take in over time.

Take a few days and just observe what media sources you take in, and how you feel about your body and other bodies after being exposed to each one.

  • How does Instagram make you feel after scrolling for a while?
  • How about Facebook?
  • How about the magazines at the checkout stand?
  • How about the magazines that arrive at your home?
  • How about the ads on the bus or subway?
  • How about TV shows? TV advertisements?
  • How about the radio?

You’re allowed to consume whatever you want, in any amounts you want! I am definitely not saying you need to cut yourself off from the world. Just be aware for a few days of what you’re taking in, how it makes you feel about your own body, and how it makes you feel about other bodies — positive or negative.

Then, start adding in some sources that talk about bodies positively, and sources that feature bodies that look like yours. Just seeing bodies that look like ours can make a tremendous difference in what we see as normal and good.

8. Our country is heavily focused on diet culture and the “battle of the bulge” (a term that I find highly insulting). How do you think that we can fight the stigma surrounding individuals in larger bodies in a culture that is so focused on dieting and body weight?

This is such a complicated topic! How do we change an entire culture? How do we stop oppression? It can seem really overwhelming.

But the good news is that this kind of sea change is really made up of a million small choices, and we can make some of those choices — and changes — ourselves.

Changing the way that you personally see bodies, your own and others’, makes a big difference. I’m also talking on Instagram every Monday about concrete actions you can take to change culture and end weight stigma.

9. How do you see the fat-positive movement growing in 2020?

This is an interesting question, because in many ways the body positive movement, which was built on (and occasionally takes unfair advantage of the work done by) the fat acceptance movement, claims most of the media and social media attention these days.

One of the ways I see real fat acceptance growing is in the revitalization of NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which has existed for over 50 years and was one of the original forces working to end weight stigma and promote rights for fat folks. I’m seeing some really exciting internal work at NAAFA to involve younger members, redo the website, make the work that’s already been done more accessible and available to use, and get new projects rolling.

NAAFA’s long history, media contacts and ability to advocate with governments for fat rights are incredibly valuable. Membership is open, so check out their site to get involved.

10. What are some wise words that you can give women who are struggling with their self-image?

Wherever you’re at today, that’s OK! If you can’t stand to look in a mirror, that’s OK. If you can’t imagine what body love or acceptance look like, that’s OK too. Body positivity can seem like just another impossible goal that’s put in front of us, but you know what? If you can look towards feeling neutral about your body, that’s a great place to be, too, and it’s way more achievable for many people.

Keep up with Lindley here:

Body Liberation Photos:

Body Love Box & Shop:

Image via Lindley Ashline

Originally published: May 20, 2020
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