We recently caught up with Steph Ng, the founder of Body Banter, to talk about body image, positivity online, and how others can get involved with her online platform.
Think Before You Type: What is Body Banter?
Steph: Body Banter is an online platform that aims to open up the discussion about body image issues through sharing ideas and opinions using varied and creative formats (e.g. videos, written pieces, spoken word, artwork, photographs). By encouraging more people to speak up about their experiences and ideas, Body Banter aims to bring to more widespread attention the problematic way we judge and evaluate bodies and to highlight the diversity inherent in both the people that experience body image issues as well as in the ways that these issues are experienced.
TBYT: What prompted you to start your organization?
Steph: I suffered from anorexia nervosa in my early teens, and therefore understand firsthand how poor body image can affect both mental and physical wellbeing. I didn’t realize that I had an eating disorder until I became quite physically ill, and it was extremely hard for my family to find help for me during my recovery process, largely because we (including me) didn’t have any idea what an eating disorder, let alone anorexia, was! I realized that this had a lot to do with the fact that in Chinese culture, mental health problems are rarely talked about, as they are considered quite taboo and shameful. This avoidance is extremely problematic, as media portrayals of unrealistic body shapes and the number of individuals who develop body image issues and eating disorders are only on the rise in this day and age! Many people don’t realize that their mental state is a problem until physical symptoms arise, which can often be debilitating and even life-threatening. In short, I started Body Banter because I want people to be able to learn about self and body love before the media teaches them to hate and punish. I want to show people that as isolating as the experience of negative body image can be, that these experiences are diverse and happen to others of such diverse backgrounds, and that we can heal together, as a global community. There is too much negative online media, and I want Body Banter to be part of the growing movement towards a more positive online environment.
TBYT: When was the last time that a stranger made you smile?
Steph: To be honest, a stranger makes me smile everyday! I really like to make friends in unexpected places, and if I can find something in common with someone random on the street (like the same taste in funky colourful leggings!), I often can’t help but strike up a conversation and see where it leads! Obviously, I rarely end up staying in contact with someone whose leggings I complimented, but I do end up walking away with a big smile and a big dose of positive vibes! 🙂
TBYT: What would you say to someone who has been cyberbullied?
Steph: First of all, I would say to NEVER suppress your feelings of hurt, or to tell yourself that those feelings are not “valid.” Find someone you trust and confide in them – expressing hurt is an integral part of the healing process. Secondly, I would tell them not to delay seeking help. I consider it one of the bravest behaviours to assert power over situations that often feel out of your control. Moreover, it is often the case that seeking help allows you to understand just how many people are also experiencing the same thing, and how much support is available to you.
TBYT: How can we spread positivity online?
Steph: A great way to start is just to be more conscious of the way we use our words. You can never tell how personally affected someone might feel when you comment on their photo or their post. If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it! Another tip is to never engage in heated arguments online. It is often difficult to tell what the person is really thinking or feeling in the moment, even if you know that person personally, and is the perfect place for misunderstandings to occur.
TBYT: What has been your favorite experience with Body Banter?
Steph: My favorite experience with Body Banter thus far is when someone Facebook messaged me to say that having once struggled with body image issues as a result of media influences, they found Body Banter to be a very positive and empowering online presence. It totally made me tear up! 🙂 I always say that Body Banter doesn’t need to change the world (though it would be pretty cool if it did!) – it just needs to make positive impact on someone’s life, or at least challenge someone to reconsider problematic stereotypes/assumptions that they have previously taken for granted.
TBYT: What are your goals for Body Banter in 2018?
Steph: With regards to the Body Banter website, I would definitely like to see more people contribute video or written pieces, and share more perspectives on their experiences with body image. I also just started a Body Banter club at Duke, and my main goal is for the discussion about body image to expand within the Duke community! One big goal is to create a discussion based workshop that can be delivered by students, to students, with the aim being to spread ideas about body positivity while also seeking to understand more perspectives about body image.
TBYT: How can people get involved with Body Banter?
Steph: Body Banter’s mission is for the sharing experience to be a conversation, so optimally people would not only share their own ideas, but also respond to ideas that interest (or even annoy!) them in their daily lives. I also want to add that the more original and creative the format of sharing is, the better! For example, we have received art pieces, and even a stop-motion video!