The TED Talk From A Burlesque Performer On Body Image That You NEED To Watch


If there was such a thing as TED Talk University where you pick your major and watch the most incredible people from around the globe share 20-minute long nuggets of wisdom, we’d pay for that in a heartbeat!

There is something so powerful about positive messages breaking through the mainstream that deserve to be talked about more often. One of those videos that has had big impact on us is the one given in Jersey City by actress and burlesque performer Lillian Bustle.

It is titled “Stripping away negative body image”alluding to the sexual nature of burlesque dancing, but it is so much more than about sexuality.

“Studies have shown that the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies has a severely negative impact on the self-image of women and girls. But what about seeing positive images of women? Actor and Burlesque performer Lillian Bustle grew up battling body shame and harassment that colored her view of the world and her own worth,” says the video’s description.

Lillian found her confidence in the New York Burlesque scene and as a result it enabled her to shift her perception of women’s bodies and how she is encouraging others to love their own.

One of the main ways she breaks down negative perception is by starting with the word “fat”. While many would say the word is damaging and hurtful, Lillian says that it because we have been trained to think fat is synonymous with other words such as “ugly”, “lazy” or “unhealthy”.

“Nobody says to a tall person, ‘Oh, you’re not tall’ because tall isn’t a dirty word. We’re programmed, as women, to tell each other that we’re not fat… I’m 5’3”, so I call myself short. I’m married, so I call myself a wife. I’m 240 pounds so I call myself fat. And I am beautiful, so I call myself beautiful. And I am all of those things at once,” she said.

When we start with that foundation of being given permission to label ourselves how we choose and not attach negative cultural connotations to it, we are already on a revolutionary path to body image freedom. Part of that “permission”, Lillian says, is given to us by seeing a diverse range of bodies in the media and associated with the typical physical appearance-obsessed industries of fashion, advertising, beauty and even diet/health.


The more we only see one body type, the less we are likely to see not only ourselves as beautiful, but other women. It has got to be the most successful type of societal brainwashing that we have ever seen in history, that has certainly lasted decade after decade and continues to grow in power thanks to the aforementioned billion-dollar industries.

The stark truth is that the women shown in advertising only represent 5% of American women in real life, according to research from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

To illustrate just how rampant the narrow body image standards are, check out this brilliant photography project called ‘Line Series’ by Terrence Smalls from California who wanted to shed light on the unattainable physical standards of beauty we are taught to conform to.

His idea was to show a group of ordinary women, stripped down to their underwear, with surgery “lines” on their bodies as if to show a wishlist of what they would change about their bodies according to the societal standards. We also see them reading fashion magazines and comparing themselves to the excessively airbrushed and photoshopped models that we are supposed to try and conform to, given that fashion is all about fantasy and aspiration.

“We live in a society where women are constantly being stripped down and evaluated, without physically being stripped down. Well, what does it look like when we actually strip women down and evaluate their physical ‘shortcomings?’ How insane does it look? How uncomfortable does it make us feel? The purpose of this series was to find out,” he writes in the description of the project on his website.


Terrence isn’t just shedding light on the problem, but wants to be accountable for the part that he plays in his profession.

“I definitely understand that as a photographer I can also be part of the problem … There’s also a difference between celebrating someone’s beauty and saying ‘This is the standard for beauty and anything outside of this rubric isn’t appealing.’ I think it’s important to stress to young girls that it’s OK if they don’t grow to be 5’11” and 115 [pounds], but if they do, that’s great, too. We should be stressing to young girls, and boys, that as long as you’re healthy and happy the outer shell is secondary,” he told the Huffington Post.

“I think sometimes the media gets too much blame, but there’s a definite problem. One could even argue that the ‘media’ is simply following society. Or is it the other way around? That’s a little of what we’re asking here,” he adds before admitting that the media’s problem gets exacerbated and even helped when women perpetuate the culture of pointing out each other’s faults.


You can see the full ‘Lines’ series by clicking here, which we highly recommend. And please do yourselves a favor, no matter who you are and what you think about your body, and watch Lillian Bustle’s TED Talk about body image below.

Instead of being bombarded by narrow ideals of who you should be, what you should look like and how you should label yourself, understand that there is no industry that should dictate your happiness or your worth. If we as a collective culture start to chip away at the damaging messages that have been cemented into our subconsciences over years and years, we might start to relieve ourselves of that negativity that Lillian talks about, and give ourselves permission to be beautiful according to ourselves, and that’s all!


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  1. Pingback: Link Love #47 - Your Motives to Exercise, Body-Shame, Stop (Over) Talking About Food & More... | Allison Bryant

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