Tuesday, 3 January 2017

An Open Letter To Iskra Lawrence (With New Update!)

Hey Iskra!

We've never spoken before, but I know that we have things in common. We both use social media to promote body positivity, self love, and eating disorder recovery. I've seen you do some kick ass interviews about bopo where you speak so passionately about overcoming your insecurities to pursue modeling, and I've cheered you on for that. But girl, we need to talk about what's just happened. We need to talk about you partnering up with SELF magazine to promote a New Year's diet and workout challenge and posting it on your social media for the world to see.

It's not that I'm surprised to see another diet and workout plan for the new year, every bit of our media is currently saturated with them. I'm just surprised to see one coming from you as a body positive advocate, but most importantly, as an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Your work promoting ED recovery reaches millions, and so many of people who are currently struggling with an eating disorder see you as the ultimate inspiration to fight their way out. I'm sure many of them make up your 2.9 million Instagram following. You have a lot of influence over some very impressionable people, and what you've given them, quite frankly, is poison.

Let's talk about this New Year's challenge quickly, so maybe you can see how bad it really is. The weekly food plan is essentially Clean Eating 101 and restrictive as hell. An example of one the days goes something like this:

Breakfast: Eggs, toast, salad
Lunch: Grapefruit, seeds, avocado (not even a whole avocado, just half - because people in recovery from restrictive eating disorders should keep a super close eye on those fat grams, right?)
Snack: Seed balls
Dinner: Black bean burgers with mushroom buns (who needs bread when you can have mushrooms?)

If you're wondering about the calorie count there's a handy guide to how many are in each meal, just so people can get extra obsessive over it. The total for Friday's meals is 1508. Yep, you read that right. Actually as I was jotting down the numbers and adding them up in my head I nearly started crying, because it felt so damn familiar to all those years I spent doing exactly that every single day, trying to make the number lower each time, hating myself if it wasn't.

A diet plan recommending 1500 calories of fashionable and expensive "clean" foods is bad enough, but there's more. There's a workout plan too. There are step-by-step guides detailing the 5 workouts a week to be completed, including the 'Core Crusher', 'Burpee Blast', and 'Full Body Burn'. I'm not even going to calculate how many calories get used up for each session, but I can bet it's a good portion of the measly 1500 allowance. Don't get me wrong, wanting to improve your fitness isn't harmful in itself, fitness can go hand in hand with body positivity, but don't the names of these exercises sound a bit... I don't know... Punishing? Crushing? Blasting? Burning? Isn't this all starting to seem a bit... Diet-y?

And I know the word diet is nowhere to be seen. There are plenty of references to it being about a "healthier, fitter, happier you", and how the "ultimate goal in all of this is be to healthy". But let's be honest, it looks a whole lot like every other NY weight loss plan I've ever seen, at least some of them throw in a bit of chocolate here or there.

The only slightly redeeming feature is the disclaimer placed before the meal plan saying that if people have a history of eating disorders then they should talk to their doctor before taking on the challenge. But here's the thing Iskra - you and I both know that someone with an eating disorder isn't going to pay attention to a half-hearted disclaimer when there's a whole plan right there that they believe might make their body look more like yours. Because that's what it's really about, if we look at this more closely. It's an exact calorie count and workout plan with your face, and your body, promoting it. What message do you really think that sends?

And if this whole thing wasn't bad enough already, when people started to point out your blatant promotion of diet culture to an audience filled with ED sufferers, the comments were deleted. It all started with this one from Amalie (@amalielee):

And thanks to Amalie posting about her comment getting deleted, more of us tried to encourage you to see how damaging your post was. People came forward saying that they were shocked, disappointed, a few even said that they're in recovery and felt seriously triggered when they read through the plan that you've endorsed. Then the comment section was turned off on that post. I'm sorry Iskra but trying to silence us isn't going to detract from the fact that this is a serious fuck up, one that needs to fixed as soon as possible.

Personally, I'm outraged that someone with as much influence as you would put so many people's mental health in danger for the sake of a pay cheque. You can make money endorsing diet plans, or you can stand for eating disorder recovery, but you can't do both. And if you're going to be the face of body positivity in the mainstream media, and profit from that too, at least try not to promote diet culture, that's a pretty basic aspect of all this.

If you do read this Iskra, I hope that you do what you can to make it right. As I said in my comment to you, before it got deleted, you have the potential to be such a powerful voice in this community. Use it wisely.

Love & bopo,

EDIT: For an update of the situation check out Iskra's post on Instagram! The meal plan has now been removed from Self's website and an apology has been issued! THIS is what happens when we stand together and speak up in defense of our community and what we deserve. Thank you all for spreading the word and helping to make this happen. And thank you to Iska who read this letter and helped resolve the issues. Love you guys!