You may have encountered Alex Michael May on Instagram as your “virtual bff,” heard her speak at The Yellow Conference, or seen her featured in an article using her voice vulnerably about body positivity. I had the opportunity to speak with her about her journey speaking out in vulnerability about her mindset and experiences, and how they allowed her to connect with others through real-life experiences that every woman encounters.
What does body positivity mean to you?
AMM: It’s choosing not to fixate on my perceived shortcomings. More about celebrating body and what it does for me on the daily. The person that is houses on the daily. You are not your body. Your body’s is no one else’s to dictate. Body positive is not about being plus size. No matter what size or shape you are, it doesn’t matter, it’s all encompassing. It’s really important that we don’t go too far to swing the pendulum the other way. It’s celebrating diversity and that every body is beautiful.
When did you journey toward body positivity begin and how has it changed you?
AMM: I spent a decade having eating disorders, and being ashamed of my body at every stage. I had such a fear of body dysmorphia that it kept me from meeting new people. I had become so ashamed of my body that if I didn’t change something I would go insane. I saw other people making that choice, and I didn’t know how it would end up or what it would do, but my life has completely changed. For me it has meant freedom.
My own standard of beauty has changed massively.
Friends and the company I keep have completely shifted this standard as well. I now choose to see the beauty in other people rather than judging them, and choose to follow Instagram accounts of curvier women who look beautiful. I changed “thinspiration” boards to have healthy and realistic standards, and focused on what makes me feel beautiful.
It seems like having a community of supportive people around you changed the game. When and how can we teach young girls and women to become body positive?
AMM: From the moment we have a discussion, and by modeling behavior more than words. Being in touch with your body is the first way, and teaching people to be present in their own bodies. Eat intuitively. Check in with themselves. Take care of their bodies. Appreciate them.
I sat next to a woman on an airplane, started telling her about the work I do and she said, “I’ve been on a diet since I was 9. My sister is a big girl. She has a pretty face, but she’s been trying so hard not to be a ‘big girl’.” It was as if not being a big girl is better than living your life well. What is given to us is not a trophy of who we are. We have to teach girls to own their own truth, so other people don’t dictate it for them.
Self talk is a way to own our truth and dictate for ourselves the reality we create around us. When negative thoughts arise, what is your inner dialogue?
AMM: My self talk was really negative last year. When I moved to LA, I went to a behavioral therapist. She said, “Imagine that you’re talking to yourself as a child. If you wouldn’t say it to your own child, you shouldn’t say it to yourself.”
I use that as as catchphrase in my self talk. Everything stems from your thought pattern. Your emotions are so tied to your thoughts. Being gentle with myself has made a world of difference . It’s really difficult to move yourself forward if you don’t start here.
Researcher and storyteller, Brené Brown, often brings up shame when talking about courage and bravery. She says in order to talk about these things, we also have to talk about what blocks us from them. What gets in the way of becoming body positive?
AMM: Shame as well. Most of us have something that we’re ashamed of; something we feel we need to hide that if people knew they wouldn’t like us. We have to dig that out and let the sun hit it.
Realizing that you’re not alone is the best way to neutralize shame; that you are no worse or different than anyone else.
There are so many stems of it. But probably the number one root is feeling ashamed of your own body, often stemming from a childhood trauma or issue that we haven’t learned how to process.
In ancient Greek mythology, Kairos moments are the moments that are critical in one’s development. What would you say are the Kairos moments that led you toward the mindset you carry today?
AMM: Those moments are the thorns that dig in our thighs. A lot of it started with sexual abuse when I was 3 or 4. As well as seeing my mom model unhappiness with herself. Diet culture. Her and her friends talking about how many calories are in chicken noodle soup.
These memories further embed in our flesh until we let the wounds heal. There were a lot of moments like that growing up, and then through high school a series of boyfriends who used that as a tool for abuse. It’s all those things compounded, but it comes down to learning to recognize when someone isn’t treating you as they should be, and knowing you can change that.
How did you change that? What were the sparks that showed you you could live differently?
AMM: I’ve always been a naturally optimistic person, but I’ve also battled with clinical depression. When I was hospitalized, something shifted in me. I realized that this wasn’t going to be who I am . I detached circumstance from character.
A year ago, I had this realization that everything I’ve gone through has been a gift because it has given me empathy. I feel like I’ve lived many lifetimes and can relate on a really heartfelt, empathetic level. Instead of the challenges being a burden, I can now look back and feel like those things were given to me.
How has speaking out about your own experiences surrounding body positivity helped you cultivate community and authentic relationships?
AMM: It’s been a game changer. I’ve gone from a few friends to an army of a body positive family.
The more open I’ve become, the more people I have in my corner.
People used to reach out to get coffee with me, and I was too ashamed to go. Now I never feel ashamed. I’m just as worthy as anyone else who’s going to be there. It’s the ultimate redemption story. No matter what happens, I’ll be prepared. Everything can be a lesson.
Things don’t need to be something you deal with, but rather an opportunity for growth. I used to worry that I would manipulate something for my own gain. I realize now that’s just shame keeping me from going out in the world.
That’s powerful. What would you want the person who is listening to that voice of shame to know?
AMM: There is life on the other side of shame. A few seconds of bravery at a time is all it takes. If you open your mind and heart to the right people, it gets better. Don’t be afraid to reach out, and know that you’re not alone. I promise you that you’re not alone . Sometimes you have to take a brave first step that the road will appear before you if you do it.
Dang. All the snaps, claps, and feelings of gratitude for Alex’s vulnerable and strong voice. Spread goodness and bloom, ladies._
Photos by: Cacá Santoro