WOAh Interviews... Becky Amoi Young

Starting a rebellion with Anti Diet Riot Club...

Introducing WOAh (Women of Amplify), thought provoking breakfast sessions with inspiring guest speakers. This series of talks explores what it means to be a woman working, influencing and being influenced today. As part of this, we’ll be sharing some of the insights from our speakers here...

For our third Women of Amplify session we sat down with Becky Amoi Young. Becky is the founder of the Anti Diet Riot Club, a 78.5k strong online community and events series that brings body positivity to the people.

Becky wanted to push back on the pressures of ‘diet culture’ and the dangerous body and beauty ideals that come with it. ‘Diet culture’ can lead to unhealthy, fad lifestyle choices. In our session, we discussed how we can reframe our approach to self-love, body positivity, exercise and eating. We pulled out a few insights from the session, to share the self love.

Our Strategy Director and WOAh founder, Sophy, found out more about how Becky started her rebellion…

On starting the Anti Diet Riot Club...

The Anti Diet Riot Club (ADRC) was my way of contributing back to the body positive community. I had learnt so much from online spaces like blogs and Instagram, which had become a place for people, campaigners and activists to come together. I thought: ‘how do I give something back? How do I spread this message? How do I get a community together and meet people face to face?’. I wanted real life connections and to make friends who talk about this stuff.

With an events background it was a no-brainer to use these skills to bring people together. I realised I could give speakers a platform and invite an audience. It has all evolved from that simple premise. When I did my first event with Megan Crabbe (@bodyposipanda) she had just released a book and the event sold out in a flash. I realised I had tapped into something accidentally zeitgeisty!

From that I knew the project could be more than just panel discussions or speaker events and it evolved to include interactive and intimate workshops, market stalls, clothes swaps, body positive life drawing classes, a festival and more. I’ve been lucky to be able to play around for the last 2 years figuring out the format, whether that’s bringing 10 people together for an intimate journalling session or planning a whole festival the aim is to bring people together under one roof!

On crowdfunding a touring bus...

Our next step is a UK-wide tour. We crowdfunded over the summer to build the ADRC bus. After doing so many events in London we began to take them to festivals. People were getting in touch asking us to come to Edinburgh or Australia, and we’d love to be able to do things outside of London but you need the connections with venues and speakers not to mention budget. So, we thought we would just build our own mobile venue, which is launching in March for International Women’s Day.

Taking our message on the road is so important. Being online is great, you can connect across the country and world to be part of a movement but there is something special about connecting with people face-to-face. Not everyone will find us online but a great, big bus is hard to ignore.

London is a different beast, so much is going on there. In regional places, we are hearing that people want to be connected and can feel ignored. So, we dreamed up a different way of touring in our mobile venue. Watch out!

On messaging…

When I began ADRC, my main aim was trying to let people know that 90-95% of diets fail within 1-3 years and, most importantly, it’s not your fault. I had felt like a failure trying, trying, trying to lose weight – but the impact of restrictive diets doesn't work.

That was the starting point but since then I’ve read a lot, learnt a lot, met a lot of people – from getting their anecdotal experiences and researching I’ve realised it’s more political than just personal choices. We have to ask: Why do we want to shrink ourselves? Why are we so scared of fatness? How is fatness portrayed in health policy? How has the portrayal changed over history? And finally, why do mainly women bond over talking about diets – bowing down to the altar of the thin gods?

It’s a lot more systemic and structural than I originally thought. Anything that’s making you feel that you aren’t living up to a ‘standard’ should be challenged – life is not about a serne, yogi ‘balance’ but rather there are highs, lows and dips that mean you’re not going to always get it ‘right’.

On checking diet culture…

When you’re not making ‘healthy choices’, do you feel bad about yourself? That’s a framework that indicates you might be dieting. Anything with rules that you can't stray from (beyond veganism or allergies/intolerances), it’s a diet. If it becomes compulsive thoughts, planning what to eat next or if you have to restrict yourself, it’s a diet. You shouldn’t feel shame free around food and when you go out at the weekend you shouldn't feel you have to make up for it or punish yourself or ‘rebalance’ by working out. That leads to an all or nothing approach and can easily lead to more disordered eating.

You can’t control your body. Listen and trust your body, it has your best interests at heart. It will fluctuate and bounce back, that’s normal. I’d recommend following Laura Thomas (@laurathomasphd) who runs an intuitive eating centre in London, which explores evidence based, anti-diet nutritional advice.

On ‘wellness’...

Which brings us onto wellness culture. The way we talk about food is so moralising – the idea that you’ve been so ‘bad’ you’re only going to drink green smoothies the rest of the week, or you’ve been ‘good’ so you’re allowed a biscuit.

I feel like the ‘wellness’ movement is having a rise and fall. ‘Wellness’ culture for me was the last step of my extreme dieting or yo-yo dieting. I thought following a ‘clean eating’ plan and taking photos of all my food for Instagram was different, not dieting but focusing on my health. But it was still a complete obsession.

If you’re healthy and working out of course you feel this sense of ‘goodness’, it’s a feeling of achievement and there are a lot of great reasons to nourish and move your body. However, that elation of feeling so ‘good’ can create worrying habits.

On community…

This is not a new movement. I’m just following in the footsteps of a lot of amazing writers and theorists. I owe a lot to reading about it and building on the work by the amazing women of colour who started the movement on blogs like LiveJournal and websites like GirlsTalkHQ.

I also work with Harri Rose, a body positive health coach and writer, who came on board after 6 months to help develop the workshops. The thing is, ADRC is a movement not just one person. I’m not the ‘face’ of the project or an individual who is trying to answer questions but instead a platform to rise up experts, activists and bloggers.

Inspiring people like Megan Crabbe and the amazing activist Ericka Hart (@ihartericka) are my go-to profiles. Then Stephanie Bower (@nerdabouttown) writes powerfully about how women of colour are the vanguard of the body positive movement and how it has been whitewashed. They’re just the tip of the community iceburg!

On ‘un-learning’...

I think you need practical tools such as affirmations or journalling. You need community, to be able to talk about your struggles and find common ground. You need to be able to escape from the diet-centric world and retreat to somewhere that's a bit safer. You also need representation – to see people in different bodies, in bigger bodies.

You can take back some power by curating your social media feed or the media you consume. Make sure you’re actively questioning, engaging and investing in those different experiences otherwise it’ll be the algorithm or advertisements creeping in.

Following realness is important but if you don’t even know it’s out there – how can you engage with it? A lot of people who come to the events have had the same experience of Western diet culture and are sick of it.

On masculinity…

Dieting is framed as a ‘female focused’ industry but there are intersections to how ‘women’ are targeted and represented. It is also important to speak up for men, too.

When we started ADRC, we were thinking about our ‘target audience’ and I didn’t want to restrict the platform to just ‘20-35 year old women’. All genders are affected by patriarchal beauty standards, all genders are affected by diet culture, all experience body shame.

I think that the conversation about male body images definitely needs to be heightened. In the last ten years, with feminism growing and becoming popularised in the mainstream, more women are aware that there are other ways to express themselves. Men are restricted to the adonis/dad-bod dichotomy. It’s dangerous and difficult for men to admit it's a struggle for them. Dieting affects testosterone, but there’s a competitive and comparative element to the gym. If you typically can’t express your emotions to discuss how you feel then you aren’t afforded the chance for self reflection. People like Book of Man (@thebookofman) would be amazing to collaborate with. There’s a real need for these conversations.

On the other hand: is it your responsibility to educate men and lift them up? Should you do the emotional labour? It’s an argument that has to be heard too. When you have the privilege, energy and resources to do that systemically then go for it! But on a face-to-face, everyday level it puts you in a situation of constantly having to answer questions and inform others – when you might not feel that informed yourself!

On tokenism…

Advertising is the cultural zeitgeist. The language, products, photography is so interesting to look at. People will look back in 50 years and hopefully see an evolution. In the 90s, body positivity activists and plus-size models were invisible. Now, we’re more seen.

But it’s not changing fast enough, it can be tokenistic. Casting for movies has changed slightly… It’s not changing quick enough for the culture we live in. There might be a ‘#’ pointing out lack of representation of people of colour but then next year industries revert back to bad habits.

At the core of the entertainment industry, things haven’t changed. It needs to be represented in boardrooms and by decision makers – not just the ‘rising stars’ of an industry!

On working with brands…

I work in an activist sphere, where we’re trying to make real change and challenge patriarchy and capitalism and champion feminism. When a brand aligns with those values then we love to work with them. But when a brand doesn't have a plus-size model or represent the people in my community then sending free clothes isn’t enough!

We didn’t start ADRC as a business, even if it is now evolving into one. It was a side project so I felt uncomfortable working with brands at first. When a brand comes along that authentically talks about mental health, confidence and represents authentic bodies (not box ticking!) then I’m interested.

On activism and partnerships…

There is a lot of work to do in the activist/brand space. People shouldn’t just say ‘yes’ in order to have a brand partnership to amplify their project.

There’s lots of talk about performative activism. There is something authentically performative about being an activist who shows up to protests and takes over the streets. You’re perming your rights as a citizen to make yourself heard. You’re shouting your voice to be heard louder in collective. But this level of performance can feel more icky online because it can look more self-serving.

Basically, don’t just expect plus sized models to do advertising for you by sending free clothes! We want to know: does the campaign represent that person’s own ‘personal brand’ and are you genuinely committed to making change?

There’s many levels to the authenticity of it. There has to be a way to represent diverse people all of the time, not just when it suits a campaign. Advertising can create an amazing environment to share a message but the values have to align. The right partnerships can be a form of campaigning and change-making. Munroe Bergdorf (@munroebergdorf) is doing amazing work in this sphere and reaching a much wider audience.