ACTION: Looking back on Ladyfest MCR 2016 and forward for body acceptance

Well, what a difference a week makes. This time last week, we were getting over our sore heads, having whiled away the Saturday night trotting back and forth between Gullivers and The Castle, watching the slew of lady talent on stage with a refreshing beverage to swallow all the awesome music with. Post punk from the inspirations that are LIINES, feeding from the energy in the crowd to deliver an intense and heartfelt set. That, and transcendental notes from tAngerinecAt, whose haunting and electric vibes helped us all mellow out towards the end of the night.

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Much deserved too, after a day of educating ourselves on the most pressing women’s issues of the day at the Central Methodist Hall. We attended workshops and met the women’s organisations who set up stall at the Ladyfest MCR community fair, introducing us to their fine work and showing how we can get more involved in women’s issues and interest groups in Greater Manchester. Talks featured on consent and social media, exploring how we set boundaries for ours and others behaviour online, plus a workshop on the future of coding and women’s part in making the profession a more holistic and inclusive place to be.

This was all following a fun and friendly Friday night at Three Minute Theatre on Oldham Street. Hosting a Clueless night resulted in us being awash with Cher and Amber lookalikes, all getting to know each other with Girl Gang MCR’s speed mateing session and dancing around to a quick set from Clueless concept pop duo the Whatevers. Much shouting at the screen entailed when the film screened – That was way harsh, Tai – and showing off of many inspired outfits occurred, with the best dressed both winning prizes and the admiration of all who attended.

Thank heavens for a Sunday filed under the theme of self-care, which after a gloriously hectic weekend, was the order of the day. Hilarious if slightly uncomfortable musical comedy from Ladyparts – overgrowing pubic hair featured – made us laugh, plus spoken word and an uplifting set from Manchester’s finest She Choir all soothed. Zine making and craft stitch classes took place too around Nexus, making for a chilled out, silly Sunday to round the festival off. Us organisers then packed up, ready for some sleep and felling slightly delirious after a fun packed weekend.

After six months of planning, featuring six venues over three days with hundreds of events and activities programmed, you’d think we’d have had enough, but no. Halloween is coming up, and therefore so is our showing of The Craft. We have a night of fun planned at Aatma for Sunday 30th October, and want to see your most wicked costumes too, so get your tickets here. We’re also plotting for the year ahead, so if you want to get involved in helping organising Ladyfest, give us a shout on ladyfestmcr@gmail.com. We’re a lovely, hard-working bunch.

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It doesn’t end there, though. Whilst we’re all about the artistic and musical talent of Manchester, we’re all about the social change too. This past month, we’ve been shining a light on body acceptance and representation. You might have noticed we’ve been sharing stories, contributed by the fine ladies of Manchester – themes like body positivity and how it impacts your sex life and fat shaming and the its impact to name two – to help us understand how people feel about their bodies. Stats and studies have been shared too. The average 16-24 year old woman in the UK is a size 14, and according to Girl Guiding UK, 36% of young girls already feel looking good is the most important thing they can achieve.

Yet women aren’t represented this way in the media – we’re not all a mass of wispy size 8s in sequinned dresses – and when the impact of presenting and trying to confirm to a certain body type is trickling down to children, it’s not OK. That’s why throughout the festival we hosted two sessions – one on the body positivity movement and who’s helping and hindering the movement, and one on body image and what influences it, not to mention the impact it has. It also triggered some fascinating and illuminating conversations from the guys and girls in attendance.

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Where’s the line between using social media for self-expression and self-esteem? How much unconscious behaviour are we engaging in that impacts our relationships with food and exercise? How can brands be authentic in representing women, and should they be commoditising them at all in order to sell products? Why are we focusing on body image and not on the potential and capabilities of our bodies?

So many interesting questions, and insights into why we feel the way we do. The influence of other people featured heavily – mothers, questions of health and social media were big issues as sources of inspiration for our body hang ups – and anger at the media and brands who utilise women’s images and create a landscape that we all exist within and pressure each other to conform to. Bad body image impacts women in numerous ways – mentally, emotionally, physically and economically – so what the hell do we do, loves?

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Keep on telling and sharing stories, certainly, but we want to do something about it. Manchester has a history of being a progressive and activist city – the suffragettes and socialist movement had to start somewhere. So, in that fine tradition, we’re going to get active, and we want you to get involved. Starting on Monday 24th October, we’re hosting work-shopping sessions to determine what you guys want to see in terms of body acceptance and representation. What’s the problem, and why is it important we solve it? What do we want the culture surrounding body image to look like, and how do we achieve it?

All the details on the session are here. Come and add your voice, and starting with Manchester, let’s bloody do something.

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