You can always change your mind! Nothing is set in stone. We are all capable of growing as people, which means that our beliefs and opinions can change. Never feel like you can’t believe in something or do something because you previously didn’t. There is nothing shameful in becoming a more informed and open human being. You are allowed to change!
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Lauren Dick, a body image expert who is committed to making girls feel comfortable in their own skin. Her book, Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body, is the number one resource for young adult women who desire to redefine and understand true beauty. Emily believes that educating young people about body image, teaching resiliency, and normalizing real bodies is critical in combating negative thinking and improving self-esteem.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Mississauga, Canada, to two hardworking and loving parents who taught me to be the passionate and empathetic woman I am today. My dad owned his own design business and later became a restauranteur. My mom took care of all of the company administration and also stayed at home with my brother and me full time in our early years. My family is all about entrepreneurship and philanthropy, so many of our dinner conversations are about how we can make a meaningful impact in our community as a business. After quitting my job nine years ago, it was a very natural transition for me to work for my parent’s restaurant group. I’ve unofficially been involved in local store marketing since I was young and enjoy the multi-faceted role I have today. Some days, I help with daily store operations, and other days I create artwork, write copy and develop ideas and events. I also eat A LOT of pizza! So much has changed because of COVID, so for the time being I am primarily focused on social media marketing. Working for my parents is sometimes difficult because I am overly invested and want to ensure I do an excellent job for their business. However, it’s also given me the flexibility to create my own hours to run a part-time photography studio and work on the body image projects I am passionate about.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
Two authors significantly impacted me, Dr. Jean Kilbourne and Jessica Weiner. Firstly, reading Dr. Kilbourne’s Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel opened my eyes to a whole new way of understanding the world. The pressure that the media puts on girls and women is done all in the name of consumerism. She taught me that challenging what we see is empowering, and when we can understand the way things work, we have an opportunity to create change. Jessica Weiner taught me that there are never enough opportunities for women to learn about positive body image. From her book, Life Doesn’t Start 5 Pounds from Now, to her role as a feminist brand consultant, she has committed her life to making a better place for women. Every time I thought about giving up on my idea to write Body Positive, I kept going because these women reminded me that our society still needs to change.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
There wasn’t a significant mistake that stands out, but it did take me nearly seven years to complete this project! There were times I lost motivation, took breaks (like when I had two children), or when I felt like I wasn’t getting enough participants for the amount of diversity I had dreamed of including. I photographed more women in 2018 than I had in the five years leading up until then! I was finally speaking to the right people, surrounding myself with friends who were excited to help, and I felt more confident in what I was doing. I’m not sure the book would be what it is today if it hadn’t taken me as long as it did, though, so I don’t think I would change anything.
In 2017, I opened a photography studio, and it helped to have a legitimate space to invite participants to. I used to book women to photograph individually, and that took a lot of time and resources, so I began holding these long shoot days and would even overlap some of the bookings. I sometimes would book 15–20 women, and often many of them would no show. It’s very intimidating to be photographed in your underwear, so I understood why some women changed their minds about participating. I expected the best but started to learn to prepare for the worst!
My friend, Jessica Camboia, who assisted and did makeup for some of the participants, also helped me stay on track. It was nice to feel like I had a partner in this, and having someone so invested in this project was a game-changer for me.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I want to create a world of happy daughters! I am sick of women hating themselves, hating their bodies because they’ve learned that their value is tied to their appearance. If we start young, we can provide girls with the tools needed to be resilient against social body ideals. I believe that education is key to making this happen! We learn from the media, our families, schools, and other social institutions that we have to strive for perfection. It’s so embedded in our upbringing that very rarely anyone ever stops to ask WHY. Why are girls killing themselves to fit into a standard that is impossible to meet? When we learn the HOW, we become active participants in these situations. We can choose who and what we engage with; we can learn to challenge the status quo and maybe even feel inspired to help others do the same.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
It’s hard to choose just one because there were so many amazing stories shared with me by the participants. I interviewed and photographed women who battled cancer, Paralympians, amputees, non-binary people, mothers, teens, and those battling anorexia and agoraphobia.
It was inspiring to photograph women who I could tell were physically battling internal turmoil, just being in front of the camera. I remember how anxious many of them seemed and despite their nervous shaking, they pushed through because they knew how important it was that others saw bodies that looked like theirs. Sadly, society has made it so that it’s considered bravery to show your real body. Every time that someone shows up as their authentic self, they show us that it’s okay to be ourselves.
The sessions that started full of nerves and fear but then transformed into pure confidence are the moments that stay with me the most. The times where I could literally see the moment they recognized their inner power and beauty were so meaningful to me.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
I had two aha moments leading up to my idea to write the book. The first was in university, where I had the privilege of learning about sociological theories, like the male gaze. It was incredible to finally understand that there was actually a system behind how women learn about being objects (of male desire). It is upheld by diet culture, an industry that profits off of female insecurity. I wondered why this information had not been taught to me in elementary school or even high school and thought it would be eye-opening for young girls to learn about. Over the next couple of years, I continued to educate myself in body image research and funnily decided to write the book after watching Pitch Perfect, the movie!
While the movie was not a great example of diverse bodies, its cast of misfit persons inspired me to create a book that included multiple perspectives alongside sociological information that was easy to understand and could be taught to girls as young as pre-teens. I knew that there had to be a visual element to inspire self-love, and that’s when I decided to become a self-taught photographer. There was no one better than me to bring my vision to life!
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I queried many companies, networked, made credible contacts yet still struggled to find a publisher interested in my book. I was often told that I needed a bigger platform or that they loved my idea but couldn’t visualize what the book would look like. I decided that I might just as well self-publish the book and started working with Beth Marchant, a local graphic designer, on the layout. Eventually, I saw the layout as an excellent opportunity to show a potential publisher what my book could look like in print, so instead of self-publishing, I pitched Familius. I had been following their company for some time because they have some fantastic books so I decided to reach out. I did not send my manuscript to any other companies because I felt so invested with them already that I wanted to see the outcome of my query.
I had read something about Familius that said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that they don’t pick authors because they have massive platforms; they select books with meaningful content and great authors. Familius cares about making a difference for families, and all of their titles represent their mission. I personally spoke to Christopher Robbins, the founder and President of the company, to talk about my book proposal. The fact that he took a chance on me is why I am where I am today with Body Positive: A Guide to Loving Your Body.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- We need stricter guidelines for advertisers regarding photo manipulation. Girls of all ages are bombarded by images of ideal beauty, most of which are modified, so that already thin models look slimmer, whiter, and more flawless. We also need more companies like Dove and Aerie stepping up so that advertising features a variety of representations of bodies in the media to combat negative body image.
- We need to add body image to the elementary school curriculum. There is no system in place currently to educate both girls and boys about the media and social ideals that enforce stereotypes that promote harmful standards for everyone. Toxic masculinity, violence against women, and negative body image are just a few of the reasons why we need to start educating children about these issues.
- We need to start challenging, as a society, what we accept as normal. Stop accepting the sexualization of young girls, teaching boys it’s okay to view us as objects and demand that the companies we support start marketing responsibly. There will be no change if we do not go after it ourselves.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I used to think leadership was about being a charismatic extrovert. Now I know that true leadership is displayed when someone provides compassionate guidance and has the vision to show us the way, whether on a given path or one yet not defined.
My husband likes the quote, “a good leader is the last to speak,” and I think that’s a perfect explanation. A leader listens to what everyone is saying first, takes into consideration all of the moving parts, the emotions, the passions, and frustrations, and then makes a decision that provides the most benefit to everyone.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
YouTube link: https://youtu.be/UfGBNE2GH4Q
- You are never too under qualified to do something that matters.
Our society often gets stuck on titles and status, which, yes, in some cases they are essential (like having a trained surgeon perform a surgery). Still, often we have the ability to learn about things from a variety of sources. I’m a self-taught photographer, writer, and content creator. I wish I had the confidence in myself earlier on to know that I can make a difference regardless of how much formal education I have.
2. You are never too young or too old to be taken seriously!
I’ve often felt like I’m too young or that I’ve passed the stage in my life where I could do something. Some people go back to school in their 50’s, and there are also teenagers accomplishing great things. Never let where you think you should be in life fuel where you are going.
3. You can always change your mind!
Nothing is set in stone. We are all capable of growing as people, which means that our beliefs and opinions can change. Never feel like you can’t believe in something or do something because you previously didn’t. There is nothing shameful in becoming a more informed and open human being. You are allowed to change!
4. You don’t have to do it all
I am the type of person who wants to learn, understand and control every aspect of my work. I don’t think that will ever change, but what has changed is my willingness to ask for help when I need it or for the things that I don’t particularly enjoy. I am part entrepreneur, part creative, and have to balance my time wisely, which sometimes means sourcing out assistance for certain tasks.
5. Even if you work hard, there will always be people more successful than you. Don’t compare yourself to them!
I read somewhere once that if someone is doing the job you want, that means that they have paved the way for you to do what you are passionate about. No one is going to do something quite like you, and there is room for everyone! They might appear to be more successful than you, and they might be but what matters most is that you are doing something that fulfills you. Everything else is a waste of your energy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I recently wrote about my favoriteBrené Brown quote, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are,” so I am going to share another. I used this quote by Iyanla Vanzant in my Body Positive book. She says that “Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” This ties in nicely with the above question because we truly disservice ourselves when we waste time comparing ourselves to others. This can be applied to any aspect of life, from body image to career success or even familial happiness. Often when we compare ourselves to others, we don’t have all the facts. Especially the age of social media dominance, where we all present a perfectly curated version of who and what we stand for. Each time we think about someone else’s life as better than our own, we teach ourselves that we aren’t good enough. We ARE good enough. You are all good enough! It’s never okay to think otherwise because we all have a unique path to follow, and that is what makes human life so incredible.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to sit down and eat with Dr. Jean Kilbourne! She is one of the first people to bring attention to how women are perceived in the media, and she continues to fight for this important cause. I was lucky enough to have connected with her over email, and I received her endorsement for my book. She said that it “will improve many lives and could save some as well.” I would love to have a lengthy discussion with her on the next steps for change!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!