In Conversation with Grace Ritter from Weigh Free May

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Imagine if you suddenly got back all the time you had spent hating your body – would it be seconds, minutes, hours or even days? Think about what we could achieve if we could spend that time and energy doing something uplifting, something that made us feel better about ourselves and the world around us. We had a chat with Grace Ritter, the brains behind Weigh Free May, an initiative that strives to give participants a way out of diet culture and body shaming, and a way back into loving themselves and the bodies they live in.
 
Can you introduce yourself to us? Who you are and what you’re passionate about!
 
Hi! My name’s Grace and I’m a 24-year-old from Perth, Western Australia. I’m passionate about social justice and finding beauty in the everyday. I like to fill my days with running, drinking craft beer, instagramming my pets, talking about politics, and enjoying all sorts of art. Professionally speaking, I’m a final year law student and a part-time paralegal trying to work out what to do with my life once uni is over!
 
You’ve said that Weigh Free May has come about as part of your recovery process from an eating disorder – if you’re comfortable answering this question, how has your sense of personal body image changed over time? 
 
I have felt some shame about my body for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to feel too fat, and embarrassed about my stomach. I gained weight in my teens due to disordered eating, and that caused me to feel sad and alone. Food became a source of comfort, and the more I ate the worse I felt. It became a vicious cycle. For a long time, I felt a real sense of guilt and humiliation about the way that I looked.
 
Sometimes I feel like there has been no change. Often, I'll wake up in the morning and be distressed, angry or disappointed by what I see in the mirror.
 
But I'm getting better at noticing what I like about myself, like my smiley eyes and my strong legs. I’m trying to really listen to the things that my loved ones tell me about my body. And I’m working on caring for the parts of me that I have spent too long hating.
 
Weigh Free May is described as part challenge and part movement – why did you decide to approach Weigh Free May like this? Do you believe it’s important to take smaller steps to create long term change?
 
Definitely. I really believe that big change can come from everyday interactions and conversations with the people around us. If we look at the recent same sex marriage survey in Australia, the ‘YES’ campaign was really focussed on opening up a dialogue with people who were against or unsure about marriage equality. We won because we talked to the people around us.
 
Body positivity is such a powerful message that so many people are desperate to hear about. We just need a reason to talk about it!
 
So yes, Weigh Free May can simply be a challenge to stop dieting or measuring or body-shaming. But more importantly, I’m hoping that it can start conversations that really make people think about why they put their bodies through so much trauma.
 
It’s one thing to decide to start loving yourself and your body, but quite another to try and do that when you receive conflicting messages from the people around you!  How important is community when it comes to challenges like this?
 
It’s so important. None of us would hate our bodies in a vacuum, right? We hate our bodies because we’re constantly bombarded with messages that they aren’t good enough in advertising and the media. Unfortunately, our loved ones are fed the same poisonous attitudes. Hating on our bodies becomes a bonding exercise, or a defence mechanism, or a meme.
 
I think finding a community that is supportive is fundamental in starting your journey towards loving your body. That can be hard, but it’s not impossible! The online body positivity community is amazing and so supportive. There are brilliant books and documentaries out there.
 
For me, I’ve been working hard on recognising who the people are that make me feel as though I’m enough just the way I am. Making as much time as possible for those people has had a wonderful impact on my life.
 
One thing we have noticed about the Weigh Free May message is that it includes men and male identified people – have you noticed more men being negatively influenced by diet culture? How important is this kind of inclusivity? 
 
Thanks for noticing! I have been making a conscious effort to do that actually, because of a few conversations I’ve had with amazing men I know who have struggled with body image and felt excluded from body confidence messages around them. We often think of body image as a “women’s issue” because of the disproportionate effect on womxn, but it affects men and masc folks too.
 
I think it’s important to make body positive messaging as intersectional as possible. Popular body positivity comes predominantly from white women, and it can be hard to feel like a message is meant for you when it’s being promulgated by a group you don’t belong to. But body positivity is - definitionally - for everyone.
 
So yes, I am trying my hardest to include people of all genders, races, abilities and ages in Weigh Free May. Ultimately we’re all damaged by diet culture and the beauty myth, and we all deserve to be free of it.
 
At the end of Weigh Free May, how would you like participants to feel? What kind of lessons would you like to see people take with them once the month is over?
 
I’d love for people to walk away feeling free. Ideally, they will feel empowered and determined to go out into the world and spread messages of body love!
 
In my social media posts throughout May I’ve been linking body positivity with a variety of topics - health, politics, feminism, human interest, self-help. I’ve really been throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, because you never know what will really make people stop and think.
 
It’s a cliche, but I will be over the moon if Weigh Free May helps even one person to realise they don’t need to hold themselves up to an impossible and arbitrary beauty standard anymore.
 
Where do you see Weigh Free May going in the future?
 
Oh gosh it’s hard to say! The response has been incredible and pretty overwhelming so far. I’m hoping that it continues to grow and more people feel like they can take part. I would love to run Weigh Free May events one day, to help people connect. But honestly, who knows? I am excited to see where it goes!
 
And finally, a few questions we ask everyone at Her Words!
 
Who are your heroes?
 
Amal Clooney - human rights lawyer, philanthropist and badass lady. I’ve also been reading recently about Leah Gilbert, an Australian plus size and body positive endurance athlete, and I want to be like her when I grow up!
 
What is your favourite thing about yourself?
 
I like that I'm tenacious. I'm good at staying optimistic and getting back on the horse.
 
And what advice would you give your younger self?
 
Mum is 100% right when she says exercise, sleep and sunshine will make you feel better.
 
 

Domini Marshall