In continued celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, former plus-sized fashion model Gina Swire joins Ofosu and Leah to discuss the impact body image has on mental health. They dive into personal struggles they've all had with body image, and Gina shares tools you can use to learn to love the way you look.
More about Gina: In addition to helping others learn to love their body, Gina Swire is also the author of P.S. I Love Me: 12 Steps for a Self-Love Transformation and the host of the podcast P.S. I Love Me. Follow her on Instagram @ginaswire
[Theme up and fade under]
OFOSU: Hi, I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show -- Well Balanced.
LEAH: So this week we're going to continue our celebration of Mental Health Awareness month by talking about body image and its relationship to our mental health.
So this has been an issue forever, and it really affects women particularly strongly, but with social media being more and more part of our lives, I think it's getting a bit trickier. Recently, I was looking at a stat on some research that stood out to me. In a study from the Mental Health Foundation, they found that one in five people worried about their body image after looking at social media and the effect is even stronger for young people. This is an epidemic.
OFOSU: Uh, yeah, I mean, I would, I would absolutely say so. I mean, I have my own personal issues as a man when it comes to, uh, how I perceive myself, my own body image, but like what has stood out to me as even more urgent is watching how social media sparked body image issues for my own teenage kids and how challenging that's been to do the reverse messaging when they're being bombarded constantly by scrolling.
So, yeah, it's tough.
LEAH: Yeah. Well, I brought a friend in here to talk us through this. She is sort of an expert on this. Her name is Gina Swire and in her words, she's gone from crying hot tears of humiliation during modeling gigs to loving her body and herself. She's the author of a wonderful book called PS. I Love Me and the host of the podcast, PS. I Love Me. She is a self-love mentor who helps others learn to love themselves in their bodies. I'm really excited to talk with her about how her relationship with her body image has evolved and how her mental health has evolved along with it. Here she is. Hi Gina.
GINA: Hi, thank you for having me!
LEAH: We're really excited to have you.
I’m particularly excited about this topic.
OFOSU: Gina is my mom's name. You're already winning. Um, so let's jump right into it. Could you please take us to a moment where you realize that your body image was affecting your mental health?
GINA: Absolutely. Yeah. So pretty much all the way through high school. I had an issue with my body.
It could be just something simple, like trying on a school uniform and nothing fitting. And then them being like, oh, we need to get a bigger size for this one. Maybe internalizing that as like, there's something wrong with me rather than there's something wrong with these clothes and not doing them in the sizes we need.
And so turning 18, I started to get scouted for modeling and yeah, I would be invited into the modeling agencies and they were like, we love you. We love how you know, we love your face. We love you. Look, only thing is, is you're just too big. You need to lose weight. So I was like, wait, you invited me in here and now I'm not good enough.
Uh, so I did get signed as a model on pretty much every modeling job, I would turn up dreading getting there - cause I knew the clothes wouldn't fit and sometimes I would get sent home. Sometimes I didn't get paid. Yeah. It was traumatic. And then like a few years after I then got signed as a plus size model.
And then they were like, well, you're just not quite big enough. Can you gain some weight? So the messaging was, you're not good enough as you are. And I internalized that. I'm not going to know if, as I am, I need to change. Yeah. So for the first, you know, all through my twenties, even though I was a very successful model, traveling all around the world in my head, I wasn't big enough at work and I wasn't small enough at life.
OFOSU: Well, I want to say first, and I'm sorry that you went through all that that really sucks. Now, I can't quite remember what came first. My love for jackets and outerwear, or just the way that I am uncomfortable sometimes with just wearing a t-shirt, you know? And so I think I’ve very effectively mitigated against that by just being a jacket person, you know, I'm, I'm okay with it.
But I think growing up when you're in the weight room or when you are in the locker room after PE and guys are pointing out different things about each other's bodies and making fun of all of that, it seems harmless. It seems like what guys should just deal with, but it really has you looking in the mirror with disdain and creating some dysphoria there.
So it's something that's up for me personally. And I know that's up for men as well. So quick question here. So you went through this experience, not big enough, not small enough. What changed for you personally that made you start building a more positive relationship with your own.
GINA: Yeah, that's a great question.
By the way, your jacket looks fabulous.
OFOSU: Thank you! I appreciate it.
GINA: Yeah. And, uh, I, I wasn't in a bad way. Like I was living life. I was like, you know, dressing to impress. I was doing well at modeling. It was more in the head. Um, so a lot of people, when I tell these stories, they’re like we didn’t think that of you. We didn't realize you were going through this.
And I was like, yeah, that's cause it was all in my head and I didn't have the language. I didn't tell anyone.
So, yeah, I kind of got to a point, I just couldn't go on anymore. I was on like the biggest modeling job of my career and I was just like I need to leave. I need to get out of New York. So yeah, I quit everything. I went back to England, bought a house in a park, quit all my old partying friends and went vegan. Um, yeah, just quit alcohol, everything that I could quit, I quit and just created so much space in my life. And from that space, well, it was very difficult because I basically faced everything I'd been avoiding.
And so I became aware of all of this and I was like, okay, I'm going to stop blaming everything on the outside and I'm going to take responsibility. So I had this massive period of purification spending loads of time on my own feelings. This void of being alone, not compensating, not filling my time with being busy.
And I started to get all these self-love codes. And so yeah, one of the first realizations was that I've been trying to change myself to either be bigger or smaller or more funny, or don't be so funny or be more intelligent, be the less or more of something for my whole life, trying to mold myself to what I thought I needed to be.
And the download was, you just got to be who you are and people will just fall in around. I mean, it's super obvious now, but at the time I wasn't practicing that. Yeah. And then these other codes that came in were just so powerful that I was shouting Eureka! And I really woke up and from that day, the lights came back on.
I felt connected to myself and I realized that all this like attention and validation that I've been so desperately seeking over all these years - I don't need any of i and I can self source it. And that was massive.
That was just a game changer. Like my whole life transformed in an instant from that alone. And I practice that all the time now.
LEAH: Yeah. It's so ingrained in us.
Even when we know the tools, like the answer, it is wrapped up in self-love, you know, learning to accept ourselves fully, like what you're saying. But, when we've been in our society for our whole lives, we see television and magazines. And I have a similar story to you. I was also modeling and in pageants and everything, since I was 13, and I can relate to your story of having people in an industry that you work in, literally criticizing the way that you look.
And as a young person you're so impressionable, it can become a very ingrained part of how we think about ourselves if we're not really deliberate later on. And it's nice to be able to admit that and say that out loud because I was five foot nine and 130 pounds and they said, oh, you're still too big. And I said, oh, okay, well then maybe, should I go running? And they're like, oh no, don't go running because you'll get too much muscle on your legs. So it's like, okay, so should I, what should I do?
And they're like, well, we can't really tell you what to do, but they were hinting at just eat a lot less food, which is very unhealthy. But the point is I spent a lot of time trying to do that self-love that you're, you know, what you've been sharing and I've gone leaps and bounds.
And then I realized when I became pregnant a couple of years ago, all these body image issues started to rush back to the surface because suddenly my body was getting bigger and it wasn't really in my control. And even though my brain knows, well, I'm pregnant and I'm supposed to gain weight, there was some unloving voices coming up saying, oh, you're not lovable now.
And it was actually really a challenging time for me. And it made me realize that there was still work to do so even sometimes we think we've done a lot of work life throws us a curve ball, and we go, oh, wow, there's still more here.
[GINA:Absolutely.] I'm curious if you could share with us, you know, the tip on how we can improve or get in touch with our body image or to, to build that self-love positive relationship with our body.
GINA: Okay. So one thing that I'm actually practicing right now is I have a pad of paper and a pen next to my mirror that I brush my teeth in first thing in the morning.
And the first thing I do as I’m looking in the mirror, I look at myself and I just write down two or three things that I like or love about my body. It could be just like my skin or my eyes or my hips or anything. My hands, my fingers, my nails and what this is doing, it's basically just reconditioning the mind, you know, cause we have so much negative conditioning and all the years of all the marketing and all the media things that are trying to get you to buy that product and just doing this really, really simple practice.
So yeah, it takes two minutes. Have a pad and paper next to your mirror where you brush your teeth in the morning and then just simply write down a couple of things.
And even just that tiny little shift throughout the day, my brain just keeps coming back to. And I keep noticing myself differently and it's just like reconditioning the brain.
OFOSU: Yeah. I think that's really powerful. I mean, what I'm pulling from what both of you have just shared and even from my own experience, is that the work that it takes to continue to be connected to that self loving space is not like a journey with a single destination, that it's an ongoing practice. And we do gradually, we rewire ourselves. We shouldn't think that, okay, I'll do this, I'll do these things and I'll have these realizations and I'll come to this understanding and then that'll be it because then something else can come up with what we are doing is resourcing ourselves so that we can catch ourselves more quickly and, you know, when we start to slip back into those old ways of, uh, of thinking and relating to ourselves.
That being said, what do you think that we can do to make sure that we're building a world, especially a world that has social media and social media is not going anywhere where women, young people, where everybody can grow up with a more positive body image.
GINA: Yeah. So I think my idea, like my mission, is to help a billion women to feel self love and get everything they want in their life and see themselves as a work of art. And that's a work of art with, you know, flaws and we get to love them and see them.
We don't have to avoid them, pretend they're not there or change them. So this comparison-itis as we call it, is huge, of course. And, um, just really coming back to the self and not being in that comparison energy is a game changer.
LEAH: Um, I've heard that you have a pretty amazing practice and helping us forgive ourselves and get closer to our bodies. And I was wondering if you might guide us in that for a few moments.
GINA: Absolutely! Yeah. So it starts with a body scan, place our feet flat on the floor.
And just take a few deep breaths and drop into your physical body.
Just saying hello to your body and smiling to your body. And then we're simply going to scan the whole body from the top to the bottom and just noticing any parts that maybe even have like an injury or feel a bit tired or tight or any part of you that you find more difficult to love than others. And when you get to a part like that, you can just hover there with your attention.
So bringing your awareness down to a part of your body that's either tired or hard to love or has an injury. And we're just going to go back in time to the first time you remember having that sensation. So if it's the tummy, maybe it's like a point at school where someone said, you've got a fat tummy or whatever it was.
And just going back to a moment in time.
And we’re simply going to do a little forgiveness practice of just saying, body thank you for being here, I forgive you. You were doing a great job all along. Whoever said those things, or anytime you hurt yourself or, you know, any of that, you can just say, I know you are doing the best you can. You were with me this whole time.
And I forgive you. Just sending some deep forgiveness and compassion into your body, and you may even feel your body respond.
And just lastly, noticing how long these stories have been playing out. So if you were 10 years old, when someone said you were thunder thighs or whatever it was, and you know that you're 36, now that's a 26 year old story. And just seeing this for what it is, it's part of your journey it's brought you to here and the next level can be completely different.
And just seeing in yourself, if there's any reason to keep hold of that story, or is it, is it actually possible to quantum shift and just let it go? You can let it go right now if you wish, if you choose so making your choice and just sending that energy through your body, knowing your body is listening has been waiting for this day. And just once again, smiling to yourself and taking one final breath slowly, slowly. In your own time coming out and feel free to just look down at your body and just see it with different eyes. Just looking at any part of your body and just thanking it and seeing it differently. On this journey, we're all on together to ultimate self love and body confidence.
LEAH: Thank you so much.
You know, I do feel something different.
OFOSU: Yeah. That was actually really, really helpful. Thank you.
OFOSU: Um, Gina, thank you so much for spending time with us and for sharing your story and these practices.
GINA: Yeah! Thanks for having me on and thanks for this beautiful intention about mental health and body acceptance. And you know, this is my jam.
[Interview End + SFX]
LEAH: So I have to admit in that exercise, I was thinking about my nose because I used to get made fun of in middle school, by a group of, you know, really kind of bullyish boys, that would make fun of everybody for something. But they'd pick on me and call me Pinocchio in class because my nose was big and they’d all giggle and laugh.
And so I got sort of self-conscious about the size of my nose. That is a practice that can continue to be done again and again, because I can still feel some layers of like part of me wanting to hold on to that story, you know, so it's, it's not complete yet, but I think it's a very big step in the right direction.
And I think with time and continued practice that I could see some really positive shifts in regards to.
OFOSU: Yeah. I was a heavier kid, you know, growing up. And, uh, and so I, you know, I remember this one ex you know, specific time where somebody in the, uh, the gym at PE calling me fat and making fun of my stomach and my chest.
And so I've just always, I mean, that's how I became like the jacket master, you know, because of just always having a complex about this that's now that's like a 25 year, maybe almost 30 year old story, but it's still a narrative I connect to multiple times a day, every day. And then my feet, they kind of, both of them kind of go out at like a 45 degree angle.
I did the reverse there and I just wear the most ostentatious shoes ever. But I mean, but I still think about when I'm walking, like I'm always checking like a car window or something like that, just to make sure that my feet aren't going too far out. And you know, it's humbling for us to be in the profession that we're in to be people who encourage people to accept themselves as they are.
If you know, from my mantra of being you are enough and you and I both encouraging people to love themselves. We still have these sort of painful layers that we're working through with how, with how we are. I think it's good for us to, to normalize that we're still working on having an unconditionally loving relationship with ourselves as well.
[Theme up and under]
OFOSU: So there's definitely a lot of suffering around this and I appreciate Gina coming on to offer some really practical mindset shifts and practices that can help steer us in the right direction. Yeah. So thank you so much to Gina for joining us and thank you friend for listening.
LEAH: And if you want to check out more - her podcas PS. I love me is a great place to start and you can check out her book, PS. I Love Me. We have links to both of those in the episode description.
OFOSU: Last but not least, if you want to stay up to date with our show, subscribe or follow on your favorite podcast app, and we're going to be back next Monday with our Mental Health Awareness month series, it's been really powerful.
All right, until then, please remember to be kind to yourself. Much love. Peace.
LEAH: Have a beautiful week.
[Theme up and out]