Grace Woodward is taking on Instagram in the most visual of ways, by challenging its rules around nudity with her Body Of Work Project, which is also set to change how we view ourselves in relation to other women.
Do you ever feel shit about yourself while scrolling through social media? Do you compare your life and you body to other people an decide you come up short? Or fat? Or unstylish? Yeah us too. Which is we're all about Grace Woodward's new project Body Of Work.
For those of you not familiar with Grace, she's a fashion industry icon who styled TV shows including X Factor, was a judge on Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model and worked with dozens of your favorite brands over the course of her career. Basically, you wore what you wore because Grace said so.
And then she fell out of love with fashion. And decided to take a break. And it was during that break that she posted the first image from what became Body Of Work and decided she had enough to say about self-image for all of us. And she's informed about body image because she grew up with an anorexic mother, who eventually died from her eating disorder.
Want to know more? Yeah us too...
Firstly, why did you decide to start challenging Instagram’s nudity rules and what was the first image that kicked it all off?
Well, this is a kind of long story. It certainly wasn't a lightbulb moment where I woke up going 'oh I know what I’ll do'. So here goes...
Recently I decided I wanted to change direction in my career. The idea of style, and how we use clothing beyond functionality is something I will always be fascinated by, however, I have fallen out of love with the industry for many reasons.
I resigned from my last job as a brand director at a fashion brand with nothing lined up and was in an existential crisis, which happened to coincide with our first family holiday in two years.
Fashion. I love it and I hate it. Every day i wrangle with my feelings, ideals, morals about the business I’ve spent 20 years flim flaming around in. Yep it’s not rocket science, nope it’s not saving lives, but there is magic in it, in the best bits. Giving credit to some of the brilliant dreamers and makers in my life right now, that make this world just a little a less harsh @_lesleydefreitas @kitty_joseph @tim_ryan_knit @alexandramann @vickisarge @jollybrownvintage you rock 🌈 #lovebomb
I was not in what I would call tip top ‘beach body’ shape (a disclaimer here, I was brought up by an anorexic so this can be a particularly unreliable POV). After my TV career, working full-time in an office, juggling a four-year-old and a daily commute from London to the countryside there wasn’t much time for a celebrity-gym-bunny-clean-eating lifestyle which seems to be the norm. (Well there probably was but I didn’t feel like getting up at 4am to exercise tbh, I know, I’m lazy right?!)
After a while, I realised that I spent probably about 70% of my waking day obsessively worrying about my body. Did I look like her? Or her? Was I big or small? Was I thin? Was I huge? How did I fit in with it all? The other 30% of the time had been thankfully spent reading Mary Karr’s books (on the recommendation of my lovely Irish friend Niamh actually).
In her final book Lit, to save her life from alcoholism, Mary learns to pray. She starts as a non believer, like me, and it turns her life around. So I thought well why not give it a pop, I’ve nothing left to lose. I asked what I call The Universe for some help and some guidance, and a sign, kinda soon please and thanks.
So, kind of sub consciously, I decided to take the conversation out of my head somehow, I picked up my husband’s phone (iPhone 10, this detail is important only in most Instagramers have someone with a pro camera taking their photos), then picked up my naked toddler and shot us both. Showing the body, tummy pouch, C-section, squishy thighs, cellulite and all, and I hurled it out there blurting out how I was really struggling, despite trying to make my mind like my body. I finally was exhausted and utterly done with feeling shit about myself, whether thin or fit or neither.
The response was unlike anything I'd experienced on Insta or actually in terms of this kind of conversation in real life either. The honest dialogue that followed, women of all ages sharing with me their stories or just saying thanks for basically being honest. I suddenly felt that finally, me and the world were speaking the same language, whereas in fashion I always felt I was not part of the club.
Do you remember I asked for a sign? To me this was it. I suddenly realised that all the time I’d spent trying so hard to make fashion a better place was wasted when there were so many people out there, like me and kind of pertinently like my mother that needed, if not help, definitely to be heard or represented. I also it sensed the world really needed one less person spewing out images of their ‘perfect’ lifestyle who were actually hiding behind a photo.
Talking about photos, the one I posted was not graphic, you could not see any of my ‘private parts’, you could see my son’s bare bottom but not his face as I held him to me. This was removed after three months. The conversation starter that had been so pivotal in total change for good in my life, had been taken down because Instagram allows another person to press a button and say they don’t like it despite thousands of others expressing how beautiful the photo was. This was the beginning of me starting to go 'urm hang on a sec....'. I then did some research, and my blood boiled. Apparently, it’s ok to see graphic death, graphic pornography, women endlessly sexualised, but because one person had clicked a button the photo of me and my son was removed. So I posted it again with an emoji heart over his bum which complies with Instagram’s community rules. It got taken down again.
There two issues here, Instagrams algorithms are not recognising full penetration porn (against rules), but are either a) recognising a naked mother and child and removing it or will let one person censor someone else’s life with one click. It just seems like the system isn’t working, certainly not for a woman who isn’t displaying herself as a sex object.
You're spoken out recently about your mum's issues with body image, do you think her issues are why you’re so determined to push body diversity?
I recently posted the much talked about Cosmo cover of Tess Holliday because I love it. I’ve never received such hate filled personal abuse over anything. My mother died because, according to her, whilst lucidly high on morphine in hospital, all she wanted her whole life was to look like Twiggy, who was fashion's extreme waif in my Mum' formative years.
Then in my formative years, we had grunge, heroine chic and the decades of super thin, the message didn’t really change over 50 years. So when I saw Tess I didn’t think OMG HER HEALTH!!! SHES GOING TO DIE because I’ve seen someone die from starving themselves till they were mad and it’s frightening how much that dying person looks like so many models I’ve seen.
She’s not saying you have to LOOK like her, she’s not even saying you have to LIKE her, she’s saying stop telling me I’m not allowed to be considered beautiful or even represented. FUCK YEAH @tessholliday @cosmopolitan 💪🏻 amazing how instantly great you can feel about yourself when society stops staying the only accepted type of woman is the ‘less’ woman.
Living with her disordered eating had a huge affect on my own eating and body image, and my god, the only time I was ever enough, thin enough, to be praised at fashion events, for people to notice me was when I was out of my mind insane, starving myself. I am not naturally thin, I have to work hard to even come close to the accepted ideal (which for fashion is still only very thin). I've got to the stage where I want to be represented. Tess Holliday does not necessarily represent me, but what she does represent is a woman’s glossy mag, the main places we see images of women, putting a woman on the cover who is just saying, I AM HAPPY WITH MYSELF.
Having worked with quite a few supermodels I can tell you that this is extremely rare. I don’t want any woman to feel like my mother because of an industry I’m complicit in, and I don’t want anyone to grow up, like me, feel bad about themselves for not being thin or ‘pretty’ or don’t look like the typical ideal, I want them to see not everyone is ‘perfect’ and the more images that push back on the years and years of only one body type and colour being idealised the less we look at ourselves through a negative filter.
Are you going to open the project out to other people with a hashtag and let more people join in?
When I first came up with even the vaguest idea of a project, I knew I wanted to speak to as many women as possible due to the response I got on Instagram. I started by thinking I would do one or two shots of myself to work out what a Body of Work would look like then ask a group of high profile women who talk about their own and general body images issues. However I realised that doing this with not a bean to my name was going to not only be almost impossible, but also to me, one of the main important factors of the images was to see ‘average’ bodies in the kind of shoots in which we are used to seeing celebrities in, as it seems we only ever compare ourselves with images of them. These kind of production values you can’t do with no budget. The next stage would be to take the project to the public somehow. Due to some encouragement and the fact that it seems every woman I talk to gets the project in some way, I’m in talks about a documentary. This hopefully will help with all of the above. I want to say to all women who’s job is not being the gym five days a week, there is a beauty in all of us that we are not being allowed to revel in or even recognise.
You’ve been open about your own mental health struggles, was being honest about that and your mum freeing in a way?
I spent so many years, especially in the last decade of her life, having to be estranged from my mother as I didn’t know how to help her any more, pretending I was fine, pretending like it wasn’t happening, because everyone everywhere was pretending to be perfect. How could I even begin to explain the madness of it all to anyone, and who could even deal with that burden?
Some of you here already know my back story, I’ve written about it before but never spoken openly about the effects of growing up under the watch of eating disordered and mentally unwell woman. However with the start of my new project, a personal journey about Body Image and mental wellness i hope that by facing all my fears I will speak to other women (and men!) on many levels. I nearly lost it on live tv, but for all the shaking and sickening nerves I know this is worth doing. CRYING ON TV WAAAAAAHHHHH
Eventually, I had four years of weekly counselling and it fixed it to the stage I could function. Now after being married for six years to the most kind man and having my son, I feel like I am now strong enough to not only talk about it, but to help others, and try and right some wrongs I feel complicit in.
What’s the general reaction been? We saw that one lady posted a bikini pic inspired by you, how did that make you feel
After doing The Wright Stuff I had so many girls AND WOMEN saying the were suffering from eating disorders but hearing me talk helped them. I now blub about 8 Times a DAY DUE TO HEART BREAKINGLY BRAVE MESSAGES AND COMMENTS I GET however I would never change......’
"It's like the universe crushed me so I could rebuild my life again."August 29, 2018
However, I would never change back to being too scared to cry because I thought I’d never stop. I'd like to write a book, I'd like to be able to try as hard as I can to hold someone’s hand to adjust their thinking just 1%, as a 1% change of direction leads you eventually to an entirely different place. Some people won’t get it. Some people really will and these are my people.
Im so incensed about instagrams insidious censorship of the female only nipple I’m planning a nipple flash mob, a little fun for all to cause a tiny bit mayhem with something that costs nothing but gets their knickers right in a twist!