HEY GIRL is dedicated to conversations between women—giving you insight and perspective into how other women deal with the same stuff you do.
Neada: Ok, here we are! Coming together to talk about the global—is it global?—female body hang up. How women pretty much everywhere deal with issues when it comes to their bodies and looks. It’s something we all understand; we’ve been through it—but it isn’t always discussed in a way that makes it easy to talk about. It’s time for us to be more open about it.
Tara: It’s something I think about a lot. With my work, I have the opportunity to dig really deep and ask the tough questions around people’s deepest thoughts and fears. How you feel when you eat food? You can’t really do that a lot with friends. I think a lot of women feel ashamed to talk about how they feel about their bodies, or discuss what their body hang ups really are.
Neada: What do you think is the hang up most women share, on a global level?
Tara: Uh, confidence in their own body.
Neada: Is it one particular part of the body?
Tara: That part, I feel, might be a bit different for everybody. It could be feeling too fat, or feeling like your boobs are too big, or your boobs are too small.
Neada: Boobs too big! I wish that was my hang up…
Tara: [Laughs] Same.
Neada: For me, it’s really my stomach. I remember being a teenager and, because I have smaller boobs, thinking, “I wish I could just take some of the fat out of my stomach and put it into my boobs.” Really genuinely, crazy thoughts like that. I willed that to happen so much, I thought I might wake up and it would have happened. I just wanted it so badly.
I always hated that people said it’s a maturity thing, but I guess in retrospect it can be. I do think that, the less control I’ve had over my body, the more comfortable I’ve become with it. I look back at 19 year-old me, and I was so much skinnier then… I probably never hated myself, my image, so much.
Of course, if it isn’t one thing, it’s another. I have big feet like my dad, my lips are too thin. It’s this endless search for something to pick at. What do you think drives that? The media?
Tara: I definitely think the media plays a role, but I also think it’s just something no one really talks about. So we create these expectations in our own head of how we’re meant to look and feel. We don’t really have any tools or lessons to help get us out of our own way. You pick up a magazine and it’s “How To Lose 10 Pounds,” “How To Get Better Skin,” “How To Reduce Cellulite”. It’s all of these how-tos, instead of just a “How To Just Feel Good In Your Body”.
Neada: So is that why you became a holistic nutritionist? To make people feel good about themselves?
Tara: Yes. I mean, I also wanted to feel good about myself. I struggled, I dieted. I did extreme diets before. The most extreme diet was, oh gosh, taking laxatives on a daily basis—and just not really eating. Eating the bare minimum to get by. It was really bad.
Neada: That is awful, and it’s something I think all women I know—or knew—growing up went through at some level. This one girl I knew would chew a piece of food and then spit it out into a plastic bag. She wasn’t ever actually eating anything. And we wouldn’t know what do to. It all goes back to this shame zone, right? You feel like no one else feels the same way, or that these are other people’s issues—not our friends. We feel like we’re safe from it all, but there are so many ideals out there of what women should look like—and it’s constantly changing. It’s so hard to keep up. I mean, Kate Moss has a completely different body to someone, like, say Gisele. OK, so they’re supermodels, but if you look like Kate, all of a sudden next week the ideal woman is Gisele. Now you might want the boobs, the more athletic body, the booty. In a world like that, how do you instill confidence in someone about their looks?
Tara: You have to start changing the focus from what the body looks like to how you feel in your body. There’s not just the media aspect of how these stereotypes come to be. There’s also family heritage and family cultures. You know, I had a grandmother who would say I was too skinny. I’ve known two sisters who had a mother that wouldn’t let them get up from the table without finishing all of their food. And it was like, big, hearty meals every single day. No matter what it was, they had to eat it.
Neada: And they were pretty young?
Tara: Yep, very young. Patterns are usually developed from your parents and their ideas. So it’s also about being able to acknowledge that those habits and that way of thinking is not necessarily you. It’s figuring out how to let go of habits and learn new ones, and having the self-confidence to build your own ideas about food and how you feel.
Neada: Do you eat like your mother?
Tara: Not anymore! [Laughs]
Neada: Yeah, my mom has the biggest sweet tooth and I think that pushed me in the other direction. Except for ice cream [note: we both ate ice cream right after we finished this conversation!]. But a lot of people who I know are yo-yo dieters have moms who are also yo-yo dieters, so I think you’re right. When you have a daughter, will you tell them that they’re beautiful?
Neada: I want to say that, too. Just on the flipside, I don’t what my theoretical daughter to ever think that beauty is everything—or that it’s something that should be underlined. I think there’s more value in saying, “You’re so intelligent,” rather than talking about looks.
Tara: But you can define what beauty is to you, and have that be an open conversation. Like, “I think you’re beautiful because you’re smart, you’re playful, you’re sweet to your friends, you have such a big heart…” Define beauty in your way, and then let them define beauty in their way, too. Don’t just say, “You’re beautiful because you have the perfect face.”
Neada: Or nice hair.
Tara: Or nice hair.
Neada: Did you ever drastically change your hair and then that changed the way you dressed, did your makeup… everything?
Tara: Not really, except when I cut bangs. But by that point in my life, I had already done a lot of self work so I knew that I just looked like how I look like. When I first got out of school and went to New York, I tried to dress different—I was really obsessed with changing at that point. Once I stopped obsessing over my body, though, I just sort of embraced that this is me.
Neada: But you still change outfits every morning, right? It’s not just me?
Tara: Oh, I change outfits a hundred times. [Laughs]
Neada: I’m a two or three outfits minimum kind of girl. It’s funny how you know that you’ve worn those clothes before but it always looks different somehow. How do you deal with that, those days when you wake up and just think “Ugh!”?
Tara: I definitely sulk. I get a couple more cups of coffee going. I’ll definitely let it get to me and then I’ll either read something, or my boyfriend will call me out and I’ll realize that I need to do something to get out of my own head and be in the present—not be so down on myself. But it happens! Not every day is perfect. I don’t wake up every day singing…
Neada: Birds chirping!
Tara: …Yes, birds chirping! And feeling super confident every day. I just try to cultivate the tools to help every day not be so bad.
Neada: And what are these tools, and can every woman use them?
Tara: Talking, whether that be with a friend or seeking out someone who you can talking comfortably with; meditation and staying present; and finding things that you’re passionate about—whether it’s your job, an activity, a craft, volunteer work. Something to stop you from obsessing over what you look like, so it’s not the only thing you’re thinking about.
Neada: Sometimes I feel like when I become really passionate and absorbed in something, my hair goes completely crazy and I don’t notice until three days later…
Tara: Same! I moved to New York to go to FIT and study Advertising, and I quickly knew that is wasn’t what I was supposed to do—but I felt like I had to stay and stick it out, and after college ended up working random jobs. I didn’t have any true passions, and I think that fueled my obsession with having to look good all the time. Rather than being interested in conversation that was going on around me and being a light-hearted twenty-something, I was just introverted and in my head, obsessing… Thinking maybe I need to buy something new, or maybe I need to not eat tomorrow. It wasn’t until I started developing passions and trying new things that I got out of my own head. And when I found a really good group of girl friends who I could speak openly with about these thoughts.
Neada: I like what you have to say about passion… I guess that’s something that everyone really comes back to. When you have something that you’re passionate about, it gives you a purpose—and having a purpose gives you self-worth. It helps eradicate those areas of low self-confidence. Going back to those internalized thoughts, I have this weird obsession with my hair being greasy. I read somewhere, about ten years ago, that your hair is the dirtiest part of your body—it traps dirt and, in my mind, festers there. Is that what happens—do people just read one thing and then become obsessive about it?
Tara: I think the biggest mistake you can make is to just Google your questions and read random blogs—because anyone can post things, anyone can write anything that they want. If you have an obsessive line, it’s the worst thing you can do for yourself.
Neada: Have you encountered some people with really strange obsessions during your work?
Tara: Yeah, without naming them… A lot of obsessions stem from judgment of their friends and their social circles. To generalize—many people are afraid of saying they can’t eat something, even if it gives them a severe reaction. Like, an allergy, a clear response… And they’ll still eat it because they want to be included and not questioned or judged. Oh, and botox! Wrinkles! I worked in green beauty for a while, and everyone is obsessed with anti-aging. Like, you just can’t age. They’ll do botox, they’ll do plastic surgery. Whatever it takes.
Neada: What! For real? I know someone that believes that early onset wrinkles are hereditary in her family. Her mom encouraged her to get botox at 22 as a preventative measure, which is totally whack to me. In Sydney, where I grew up, a lot of people start getting botox before age 25. It’s insane!
Tara: Oh, yeah. I’ve experienced some of that in my group of friends.
Neada: I actually walked past a guy the other day and I thought he was smiling at a group of us, but he wasn’t—he just couldn’t not smile. I think you sometimes need to see that extreme version of it to really understand that it’s OK to be a little natural.
My mom modeled a bit when she was younger. By the time I was 14, I had been asked to do it a couple of times, and my mom finally gave in to me doing a test shoot. Of course on set, the stylist or someone, told me to “Suck in” and my mom went bananas. I wasn’t allowed to even consider it again until after high school, and I think that was the best thing for my state of mind ever.
I feel bad for girls growing up with social media. It’s changed everything. Did you know Kylie Jenner is the queen—or king—of Snapchat? She has the most followers of anyone, and it’s mainly focused on her looks: her booty, her lips, her waist. It’s like a weird reality TV but the problem is that it doesn’t feel scripted, it all feels so real. I can just see how this is a whole new level when it comes to body issues in young women… I also follow Arnold Schwarzenegger on Snapchat and I’m sure that leads to some body issues for men.
Tara: [Laughs] Yeah, I think men definitely have their own body issues to deal with… That’s really interesting, do you think Snapchat is creating more problems?
Neada: You know, it can be fun, and it definitely feels more real, but that’s the problem. It feels like these perfect girls with their ideal looks and amazing lives are the norm. But that’s not reality. Girls who are 18 or 19 years old wearing designer dresses? That’s not real life.
Tara: And having plastic surgery.
Neada: Exactly. Or having a hair and makeup team. You don’t see any of that on Snapchat. You see what they want you to see. It’s all self-directed, more edited and filtered than a reality series. On mine, you’re seeing ducks swimming backwards and other stupid stuff…
I keep thinking to myself, should people be on social media at any age? You might be able to monitor what they’re posting but you can’t monitor what they’re seeing. Social media makes you feel like you know these people, that you’re part of their world. But if you don’t have that body, you might not be accepted into it. It’s kind of like the cool girls from high school, but from all over the world, and you can’t sit with them.
Tara: And that develops a complex.
Neada: Have you found many issues stemming from social media in your work?
Tara: I have from women who work in the modeling or acting industry. All of the women I work with, it’s about keeping up with their social groups—but some of the women I work with aren’t the social media generation. I do see it amongst my friends. I have friends who are absolutely drop dead gorgeous but they think they have to get plastic surgery or have to work out more, or need to try this or try that to be more perfect because that’s what’s beautiful now… And that’s how men will be attracted to them.
It’s funny, when I was growing up I really wanted to be a model and I was looking at Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford. I looked at them as though they were completely natural. I didn’t know what Photoshopping was, any of that stuff. So I always got in my head that you had to be a natural beauty to have that kind of success. You were either blessed with it or you weren’t. So the whole idea of plastic surgery and making yourself a fake beauty, I just can’t relate to that.
Neada: You know, I always think about the story of Cindy Crawford, how she’d been modeling for a while but no one published an image of her with her mole. And then one magazine didn’t take it out, and that’s what made her famous.
Tara: I remember that!
Neada: I do feel like LA is this crazy place in terms of body image. My friends who are actors, they have to deal with so much rejection even though they are so beautiful. They have to go in and anticipate that 99% of the time it will be a no, no matter how talented or beautiful they are. Sometimes it’s just a matter of their hair not being long enough or their skin not being dark or light enough. It’s something that they ultimately can’t change. You never really feel like you’re good enough.
Tara: You feel like you always have to improve yourself. You can always do more. It’s this idea to strive to what you think is perfect, and it’s a scary thing. When do you stop getting plastic surgery? Or when do you feel good enough?
Neada: So what do you think about plastic surgery?
Tara: I think it’s terrible.
Neada: What if it gives someone the confidence that they need?
Tara: But does it really? Or does it just create another complex? I don’t know. Everybody that I’ve seen have plastic surgery, it’s led them to obsessing over something else. It’s like an addiction.
Neada: I once had this guy come up to me when I was traveling overseas. He was a plastic surgeon from LA, and he said if I ever wanted my boobs done, he would do them for free. It was insulting. You said some people are worried about having boobs that are too big, but I’m always just worried about finding a top that stays up…
I also wonder sometimes if we have these issues partially because we’re fortunate enough to be in a society where we don’t have to worry about clean water. I’m not saying that should take away from how people feel—and these are definitely real concerns—but is it more about human nature seeking some kind of issue or battle for ourselves to deal with? Like you said, having passions takes away from the body issues. Sometimes I’m just floored by how people perceive themselves, and then I think about the issues I think I have and I feel like a complete idiot. You know what I would love? I would love you to take me through some of your tough questions. Let me just pour some more water because I’m going to need it. Or whiskey.
Tara: [Laughs] One question that I ask, that I have definitely have hesitations and eagerness about is, “What is your current weight and what was your weight six months ago? And would you like your weight to be different?” I also ask your height. I’m asking that question to see if you’re in danger of health risks, to see if your weight is too high or too low. But women get so excited to tell me how much they weigh, how much they did weigh, and how much they want to weigh because they think that determines their happiness.
Neada: It’s like a measure of success.
Tara: And it always leads to, “Well, when I’m doing really well I’m counting calories, I’m eating low-fat this and low-fat that, and I’m exercising really well.” It’s never like, “I feel best in my body when I eat this certain way”—it’s always about the calories.
Neada: You know, I’m lucky. I have a pretty steady weight. It probably shifts by a few pounds—I always weigh a bit more in winter. Summer I’m just more active. And I try not to weigh myself that often. I went through a phase when I was younger when I was obsessed with weighing myself. I would weigh myself every day. If I didn’t like the weight, I would take off my shoes. Then I would pee. Then I would get naked. Everything I could. Then I would get back on the scales and, if it wasn’t the weight that I wanted to be, I would think, “Oh, well, I have really long thick hair. So I can take off a couple of pounds. What would my bodyweight be if I was completely hairless?” I know that sounds totally crazy, but it’s true. If you want to get into it, I got sick when I was seventeen. I had something wrong with my stomach and the doctor said that my stomach had enlarged, and I didn’t hold down any food for weeks. It got to a stage where they thought they were going to have to put me on a drip.
Looking back, I think it was something mental. Then it manifested into something physical. I lost something like 15 lbs in just a couple of weeks, and I have never felt so sad and weak about myself. It took me a long time to build the weight up. But now, every couple of years my weight shifts up a little but I see that now as more of a womanly transition. Now I measure myself, if anything. But I try not to do it so often—I know when my clothes don’t fit the same. That’s enough.
Tara: It’s good that you realized that. Some women don’t. They don’t stop, it just gets worse. I went through the same thing. I would weigh myself and measure myself, and that’s when I knew I had to stop. Once I started learning about eating real wholefoods, and I actually started eating more—a lot more—I felt good. I haven’t weighed myself in I don’t know how long, but my clothes haven’t changed. I still can wear the same exact thing for many years. I have more energy.
Neada: It’s a far more positive way to look at it. And it’s nice to not have to buy new clothes! I mean, sometimes it’s nice to do that too…
Tara: [Laughs] Some of my other questions… I always ask what your ancestry is, what your bloodtype might be, and I ask what your lifestyle is. Like, what your work hours are like, what you do for fun, how often you get to see your friends, and how you manage stress. Is it something that you just hold onto, or do you have things you do to help reduce your stress. Because if you’re having issues with your weight, or feeling sluggish, or just generally unhealthy, it’s usually stress-induced.
Neada: You said that you ask people how they eat. Is that a difficult question for people to answer?
Tara: People don’t answer honestly, I have to dig deep. Like, I’ll have people tell me what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snacks. They’ll give me a generic overview but completely leave out what they eat late at night or when they’re stressed. Then I ask if they have any major cravings, what their shopping list looks like, what they have in their pantry. Those get even tougher for people to be honest about. Then slowly, people start to open up and say things like, “When I’m stressed, I will sit and eat an entire bag of cookies, an entire bag of chips, I’ll drink really heavily by myself.”
I try to create a safe space for them to talk about it. Because if your girlfriend was asking you questions, you could get defensive, or again that shame word could come up. You don’t want them to see you in a certain way. So it’s not just about asking them the super tough questions but getting to those answers in a backwards way.
Neada: Do people eat more when they’re alone?
Tara: If it’s because of stress, yes.
Neada: I definitely feel like I’m hungrier when I’m alone. I’m like, “snacktime”!
Tara: But it’s also not always something to be shameful of.
Neada: Yeah! I think I just feel like I can go into the kitchen and make a weird meal. No dog biscuits or anything, but I’m the sort of person who eats a tuna sandwich on a plane, so…
Tara: I like to eat the same thing over and over again.
Neada: So what do you think are the most important things that someone can tell themselves or do each day to make a small transformation in how they feel?
Tara: Hmmm. Come up with your own mantra for the morning to start your day with. Write it on your mirror, on a post it, put it in your phone as an alarm. Really just to start your day on a conscious level of something positive—not just jumping into Instagram. If you have to pick up your phone, set the alarm. I love to encourage people to journal. If you don’t have someone to talk, that’s a nice place to get out of your own head. And get more active, but that doesn’t necessarily mean just going to the gym. Go hiking. Start talking about it with your girlfriends. Start asking the questions you would want to be asked. My confidence and self love improved when I found a group of girlfriends who were all different shapes and sizes but knew how to embrace being sexy and confident, and it was a great example for me.
Neada: How do you respond to your girlfriend asking if they have put on weight?
Tara: I think you should just say that they look beautiful, and ask how they feel.
Neada: And they probably do, right?
Neada is a writer, editor and creative consultant, and Tara is a holistic nutritionist and the wellness director at Surf Lodge. They both once lived in New York but fled to LA—where there’s a perfect climate for their shared love of ice cream.