Conversations with… Blogger and Influencer Jenni Dunlap (Subject: Body Image and Eating Disorders)

Sometimes you meet people online who change your life. For me, Jenni is one of them.

After going from constantly being on the move travelling to working from home, my confidence was low. One day I stumbled across Jenni’s blog. From then on I began to look at my body as the vessel that had got me to the other side of the world, the thing that was allowing me to chase my dreams. It was curvier and softer, but just as worthy as when it was thinner.

Aged twenty-eight and a mum of two married to her best friend, Jenni has a long history of body image struggles that she has overcome to be the beacon of body confidence that she is. After being bullied for her curves, Jenni turned to purging aged 14. She yo-yo’d between starvation and purging until eventually she was hospitalised in 2013 for suicidal thoughts and bulimia.

Through therapy and the support of her husband and family, Jenni is in a good place. She uses the wisdom of her experience to help others, writing the book ‘Eat the Damn Muffin’ which was released in 2019 to help those struggling to view themselves in a positive light. Her blog (LINK TO BLOG HERE) offers advice and solace for those struggling with self image and her Instagram is a celebration of the female body in all it’s forms.

She really is a powerful force and someone I can’t wait for you to read more about.

In your own words, describe your relationship with body image.

My current relationship with my body image is complicated because it’s new territory for me. Currently, I am healthy, both mentally and physically. After overcoming the most challenging year of relapses caused by diet-culture and my history with eating disorders, my body image is pretty positive. I love myself, consistently, for the first time in many years.

I no longer weigh myself or count calories. There’s no food restriction, excessive exercise or purging. I’m living free of my eating disorders. There are a few mental struggles that pop into my mind from time to time, but I have learned how to overcome those.

You talk openly about the fact that your relationship with how you saw yourself didn’t always used to be a positive one. What things do you think contributed to the negative way in which you saw yourself?

I was bullied for having larger breasts and curves growing up. There were family members, friends and past relationships that aided in convincing me to go to war with my body. At home, I was always reminded that I was “thicker” than my mother. Someone close to me was always pointing out my body and I had relationships where partners would put down my curves. I had friends and family who continually showed me how to lose weight with exercise, pills and purging.

Having that type of pressure where others are telling you something is wrong with your body causes you to start believing them. It didn’t help that I was declared legally blind in my late teens, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I looked like. I went off of the opinions of others and how their words made me feel. Eventually, I hated my curves and the way my body felt to me.

Thankfully, this has changed for you. Why did you decide to embrace yourself and how has fixing this changed your mindset?

There were a few times that really stand out for me, one being during my recovery where I was in a hospital hooked up to machines.

Hearing doctors tell me that I was killing myself and that my organs were failing was terrifying. I never felt like I was sick enough to have bulimia. I was never skeletal in appearance so, to me, there was still work to be done to my body. Going in and out of treatment and doctors offices made me realise there should be more to life than trying to lose weight.

I realised I wanted to grow and have a family. When I got married, I vowed to try to overcome the negative feelings and my disorder. I wanted to be a mom and that made me realise that I needed to live for my potential babies – it was the motivation I needed. On top of this, I had a slew of medical issues that lead to multiple surgeries. It was eye-opening to the fact that I needed to embrace my body before I did something that would take me from my babies and husband.

Most of all, I really wanted to love myself. It’s exhausting constantly waging war on yourself, so I decided to learn how to accept and embrace my body as it is.

Do you think anyone can ever be 100% happy with the way that they look?

Honestly, I don’t think there can ever be a 100% positive anything with anyone. We all struggle and have bad days, whether body image is the cause or not. One day, you may feel like you’re having a bad hair or skin day. Another day, you could feel bloated. There’s always a chance that you may not feel 100% happy with how you look or feel. That’s why I believe we should work on acceptance for even those occasional bad days.

Your goal is to help others grow in confidence and find their voice. Why does this matter to you?

I wish I had someone trying to do what I am when I was struggling as a teen. We see this glorification of thin as healthy, but healthy can be any every size. Growing up, I was constantly picked at and put down about my weight. Having confidence and a voice would have helped my defences against the negativity.

If we help each other grow our confidence, we are less likely to fall prey to diet-culture, body shaming and our own negative thoughts. Many people lose their lives to eating disorders. I want to help someone see their worth. We are more than just a body associated with numbers.

You wrote the book ‘Eat The Damn Muffin’. What is this book about and how did writing this help you heal your self love issues?

This book details a bit of my journey with bulimia. It also shares the strategies I use to overcome those rough moments with body image. The book includes how you can grow your everyday and body confidence in different aspects of life. I discuss how to get rid of negative influences and how healthy looks different for everyone. The book also talks about sex and pleasure, mental health and finding how to become your best self.

Writing this book helped me heal because, on the days I would struggle, I would go back through and plan out how to get to a more positive headspace. My notes on how I could learn to love myself became the outline for the book. It sort of spiralled into a self-help tool of sorts. It had this blunt voice that reminded me of a kind of no-nonsense friend that I think everyone could benefit from. It has bits of humour and raw honesty to help you deal with a very heart wrenching issue of not liking yourself. I think that balance is something a lot of us need rather than basic instructions.

You are incredibly open on social media about all aspects of life from body image to sex to insecurities. Why is it important for you to share these parts of yourself with such honesty?

I grew up in a household where sex wasn’t pushed under the rug. Sure, my body image took a hit but my parents were always open about sex and life. Combining our body image, insecurities and taboo subjects like sex can help us break down internal barriers. It’s important to me to help women get rid of any and all shame surrounding their bodies whether it’s weight, nakedness or sex.

I’m not perfect, and showing others that perfection is a fallacy is also important. Being transparent with my audience shows them that they aren’t alone in having the crazy, mixed up feelings we have towards ourselves. I hope that someone sees my social media and thinks, well, I should love myself too. There’s this hope that they get this, “if she can do it, I can do it too” type of motivation.

What do you think social media channels could do to improve people’s sense of self and body acceptance?

If we get rid of the influences that create doubt in ourselves, I think that will help bloom self and body acceptance. When I stopped following a slew of diet coaches who’s profiles were littered with before and after pictures, I instantly felt better. I started to follow people who made me smile. I found inspiration in a place that can cause a lot of negative self-loathing from constant comparison.

I think censorship on these channels is an issue. I have seen women with ideal body types post images of their bodies that get praised, but when a woman who is the opposite body type does the exact same thing, her images are banned. It’s happened to me quite a few times. Also, there should be more actions for those who bully others.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with an eating disorder or with poor self image?

Seeing a doctor and going to therapy are the best first steps. Also, acknowledging that you have an issue is so extremely important because denial can be dangerous. I am not a doctor and even though I have experience with eating disorders, we all experience them differently. There are no two people alike, so I stress that what works for me may not work for others.

I think a lot of people focus on weight loss as the answer to health, and that’s not the case for everyone. I try to help others see that all bodies are different, and even a plus-size woman can be healthier than a thin, petite woman. Our size is not the sole determination of health – that’s one of the biggest points I stress. Changing our body doesn’t make us instantly love ourselves.

Every goal weight that I ever set during my eating disorder didn’t result in a magical, happy feeling. I was never satisfied with the weight loss and it became a dangerous addiction. Once you accept that weight loss isn’t this definite cure for happiness, you can start to work on accepting your body.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?

Live your life out loud by being unapologetically yourself because there’s beauty is in your uniqueness.

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