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The body-positive activist explains how she learnt to love her body – and what you need to do to feel the same
It was after Honey Ross had shed two stone of weight that she realised that being thin wasn’t what she wanted. In fact, she felt furious about how differently she was treated – men who had never so much as glanced at her before flirted with her. No longer was she known as the funny, fat girl. People were nicer and admirers forthcoming.
“I was welcomed into a whole world of objectification and pretty privilege,” says Ross. “Losing weight and seeing the way men suddenly noticed me made me feel that I didn’t want anything to do with this patriarchal diet culture bullshit. I’m a nice person, most people are, and I don’t want to feel that I need to change myself to exist. I should be able to exist as I am and that be enough.”
Ross, who at 24 is the youngest daughter of TV presenter Jonathan Ross and screenwriter Jane Goldman, describes the experience as a “aha moment”, which shifted the way she saw herself and paved the path for her current role as a body-positive activist. “It highlighted that you can lose the weight and all the other problems in your life are still there,” she says. “You’re just the same version of yourself in a smaller shell.”
Today, Ross runs a podcast with Dr Nadia Craddock, The Body Protest, which explores our relationship with our bodies and the obstacles that can make us feel bad about them. She has recently partnered with Bumble to highlight how poor body confidence can impact how and who we date. Research conducted by the dating app reports that over half of UK adults are now more concerned (58%) and less confident (59%) about the way they look than they were pre-Covid, proving that this is an issue that affects both men and women.
“Men suffer under the patriarchy just as much as women do,” says Ross. “Everyone – and this also goes for those outside of the gender binary – is told to conform to certain beauty ideals and all of them are unrealistic in some way. A lot of unspoken body shaming happens for men; the most acceptable form of body shaming is a penis joke. The same goes for the way short men are laughed at.”
Diet culture is now dressed in the disguise of wellness
Summer is fertile ground for body hang-ups – Bumble’s statistics show that 74% of women in the UK feel the pressure to lose weight and get into shape when warm weather arrives. In 2015, an advert featuring a bikini-clad model along with the question, ‘Are you beach body ready?’ was banned in the UK amid controversy over body confidence and health concerns, but Ross argues that even the conversation around such imagery has been turned into a marketing tool. “Now people see that even with the push and pull of that dialogue there’s money to be made in people debating the turmoil of not feeling enough,” she says. “It’s very strange that companies enjoy capitalising on those insecurities.”
Diet culture has been heavily criticised over the last few years, with activists such as Ross and Jameela Jamil campaigning for a healthier, inclusive approach to how we view our bodies. While the idea of promoting thinness and restricting calories is no longer as socially acceptable as it once was, the same problems still exist but have now been branded ‘wellness’. Clean eating and ‘health’ foods are arguably the new diets.
A post shared by Honey Ross (@honeykinny)
“Just because the traditional diet culture manifestations that we saw growing up aren’t around so much, doesn’t mean they aren’t still there – they’re just in a different costume,” says Ross. “Diet culture is now dressed in the disguise of wellness.” She advocates in being mindful of which companies we give our attention to. “We all have the power to take every single piece of media that we consume with a pinch of salt and it’s so important to do that. Challenge things and question who is profiting. Go into things thinking, ‘maybe these people I don’t know who work in a corporate environment don’t have my best interests at heart.’”
The fashion industry is also an arena that needs improvement. Although multiple brands have recently launched plus-size ranges in a bid to cater to a wider demographic, Ross accuses many of “fat fishing” – the idea of using “the smallest plus-size model a company can find – a socially acceptable level of fat” and then describing themselves as body inclusive. “If a brand isn’t working to expand their range to a size 30, then it isn’t body inclusive. This comes from me, a small fat woman, who struggles to walk into a shop and find something that fits me. You can’t buy size 18 on the high street, but if it’s that hard for someone who’s a size 18, imagine what it’s like for someone who is a size 30.”
If a brand isn’t working to expand their range to a size 30, then it isn’t body inclusive
Ross’ journey to love her body was a slow process. When she was growing up in the public eye, she was subjected to trolling and body shaming from as young as 12. Although her parents did all they could to instil her with confidence, they agreed to let her start dieting as young teen. By the age of 17, she had convinced herself that she was so overweight her friends wouldn’t be able to hug her. She joined her parents in doing the keto diet, which didn’t free her of her demons. Then, just before her 21st birthday, she was raped. “Even though I’ve relived it every day since the day it happened – every day the pain gets less and less and I feel lighter from the trauma,” she wrote on Instagram in 2019. “I never thought I’d be able to move past it – I thought I’d crumble and cease to exist. But here I am.”
It has taken her years to reach a place where she now fully embraces herself, and she encourages others not to berate themselves if they find it difficult to shake toxic ideas they might have about how they look. “It’s not going to happen overnight, especially in the world we live in where we’ve been bombarded with messages from childhood telling us to hate ourselves,” she says. “None of this will sink in immediately – that’s why I believe in faking it until you make it and creating that cognitive dissonance of being able to say, ‘I’m beautiful although I don’t feel beautiful.’ Eventually those two things will match up because that happened to me.”
There are various things we can do, she says, to help retrain our brains into questioning our beauty ideals. Follow people on social media that look like you – and, who don’t – to help broaden your view of beauty and start taking small steps to change the language around how you talk about your body, whether that be not talking about diets or not questioning the food choices of others. She also recommends calling people out if they make you feel uncomfortable about your size. “Stand up for yourself,” she says. “And if you catch someone you love saying something bad about themselves, counter them. Tell them you’re only human and that they’re trying your best. Language is so important – the words you say are absorbed by your body.”
I’m going to start manspreading; I will not take up less space
While her Instagram account is a celebration of body positivity and empowerment, Ross says her relationship with social media is still a work in progress. “One thing I come back to is challenging myself to post photos that might have been in the camera roll and didn’t spark immediate joy,” she explains. “It’s good to think about what it is about a certain picture is that you dislike. You might be doing something that’s ‘unflattering’ but maybe you look really happy. My Instagram right now is very pouty, but I am trying.”
Ross’ long-term goal is to write for TV and film as a means of telling positive stories, but for now she wants to continue helping people feel good about themselves through whatever medium she can. “Women are told to shrink themselves, physically, emotionally and mentally – can you have less feelings and less mass? Can you be quieter and smaller? I’m going to start manspreading; I will not take up less space.”