THE WOMAN BEHIND THE WORDS- I AM LEYAH SHANKS
If you don’t know who Leyah Shanks is, where have you been? Founder of The Body Confidence Revolution, Writer for PLUS Model Magazine , TalkLife ambassador, Curva Magazine columnist,| Huffington Post UK blogger
Her Instagram posts make us feel empowered, happy, warm inside and they make us laugh. If you aren’t already following Leyah, I suggest you start.
But enough rambling from us, here is our interview with Leyah, the latest of our ‘Woman Behind The Words’ social media stars.
So, tell us a bit about you?
Throughout my childhood and into my adolescence, I was bullied for being different. Physically, I always looked different to my peers; my body changed pretty rapidly and I went from a child to a woman overnight. And mentally, I always had a different thinking process to that of other children. I liked things that were the polar opposite to everyone else. Looking back on it now, I was fully embracing childhood while everyone else was trying to rush into adulthood. This got knocked out of me soon enough though.
What made you start a blog?
After going through many years of bullying and dealing with the subsequent mental health and self-esteem issues that directly followed, I created The Body Confidence Revolution because I felt like the online world desperately needed a space dedicated to real body – and overall – positivity. Social media has a tendency to bring out the worst in people, giving them an opportunity to say horrible things behind the safety of a screen that they would never say if the actual human being was stood right in front of them. I think in a lot of ways, the virtual world pedals the overall negative societal attitude many of us have towards both ourselves and other people, only making it even more nasty and harmful. So, when I created The Body Confidence Revolution, I wanted to create something that would act as a counterbalance to that. I wanted it to show people that beauty is limitless and to redefine the connotations of the word ‘perfect’ to equal diversity.
After a year or so of The Body Confidence Revolution which is purely image based, I launched iamleyahshanks.com so that I could delve further into topics that interest me and also share body image stories from around the globe. I’m an advocate for mental health and also feel passionately about issues like LGBT+ equality and feminism.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned since you started blogging?
That it’s impossible to please everyone. There is always going to be someone who disagrees with your point of view and/or wants to argue with you. And that it’s perfectly OK to have a different point of view from someone else! What’s not OK though is insulting the differing party. That’s simply not going to change anyone’s opinion or resolve the situation. I’ve learned to be even more open-minded. I’ve been pretty lucky so far, I haven’t encountered as many ‘trolls’ as others have (aside from when my Twitter was hacked) but the ones that I have, have reminded me that they are people too. When someone says something unwarranted and cruel, it’s easy to retaliate with something equally mean because you’ve been provoked. But for all I know, this person could have their own serious issues going on. You never know what’s going on in people’s lives.
Do you have some words of wisdom on body image?
Question everything you see in the mainstream media. Never take anything presented to you as gospel. It is incredibly rare to come across something that has not been digitally manipulated in some way. Why is there a lack of diversity represented? No cellulite? No scars? Stretch marks? Amputees? Different skin colours? Ages? Because companies and corporations are only interested in one thing: profit. Many completely overlook and undermine the effect it can and does have on us and focus purely on ‘inspiring’ us to buy their products. When you come to terms with this, I think it gets a lot easier to become appreciative of your own, real body.
Where do you get your style inspiration from?
I like many different things fashion-wise but I’m a big fan of vintage style. Particularly the 50’s. I love to put modern takes on the classics and mix it up a bit. I like following the current trends and challenging myself to come up with a way to make it a bit more ‘me’.
What is your one ‘can’t live without’ item?
Although I rarely wear makeup, when I do wear it I don’t think I could cope without red lipstick! Particularly matte.
Who is your role model and why?
I wouldn’t say that I have one. I like to be my own role model and be the best version of myself. There are so many people who I look up to and who inspire me though. Beyonce is probably my biggest inspiration. When I was growing up she was really the only woman in the public eye with a body similar to mine. The ‘plus-size’ market was still hiding in the shadows at this point so she was like a beacon of light. The first time I saw her live, something inside me snapped. Watching her absolutely kill it told me that actually, being slim is not the sole benefactor to success.
What are your four words to live by?
Learn – life is a journey and on that journey we never stop learning. It’s so important to remember that we all learn at different rates and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. We can all learn so much from each other.
Optimism – going through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy challenged my thought process which, in accordance with depression, was worryingly negative. It taught me that optimism and having an open mind is one of the best ways to get the most out of life. I know that it’s easier said than done, it was for me too! But getting rid of all that negative energy and using it to focus on something more productive is so freeing.
Appreciation – I feel like, as a society, we’re constantly told to strive for more. Like what we have and what we have already accomplished is not good enough. Of course, it’s no bad thing to aim higher, I myself am a very ambitious person, but I’m also a very grateful person. We need to take a minute and realise that we are already so lucky to have all that we do and to have achieved all that we have this far. Even if that’s something as simple as leaving the house today.
Freedom – we need to teach the next generation to be true to they are, not what society wants them to be. Life would be so much more fulfilling if we were taught to embrace our own uniqueness instead of being herded like sheep, being taught to conform.
If you could give one piece of advice what would it be?
To always be true to who you are. Not what someone else or society thinks that you should be.
Photos by Carolyn Henry Photography, clothes from Lindy Bop, hair, make-up and styling by Leyah.