Sophie White is an author, a weekly columnist, journalist, pro-podcaster, wife and Mum of two. Sophie’s unique no-holes-bared wit and willingness to shoot the shit with absolute, and sometimes borderline grotesque, honesty makes her not only one of the funniest women in Ireland, but also one of my absolute favorite female voices today. I was so excited to talk to her about her experience with her body, the relationship she’d had with it over the years, and where it’s at today!
Ps: She’s my cousin!
Can you start off by describing the attitude to beauty in your family home while you were growing up and how you think that affected you?
I think that beauty was very important in my family. My mother, my aunt and my cousins and I are all mad about clothes and style was a big form of self-expression for us. I think it affected me very positively in that it’s a passion that I get so much fun out of still, but I think when it comes to my relationship with my mother I feel that she is quite concerned with my appearance. I feel a pressure to look the right way and that makes me resentful.
During your teens, how did you feel about your body? Did you compare yourself to your friends or family? Do you remember who your role models (for example musicians, actresses, an older cousin etc) were and what, if anything, you did to look like them?
I was kind of fat as a teenager (I use the word fat and I think a lot about whether I have a right to as I am not a fat person now. I use it because I like the idea that we are divorcing ‘fat’ from negative connotations and allowing it to be merely a descriptor but I recognise that this is a murky area so I’m unsure how some fat women feel when an average sized woman uses it).
I was very aware that I was not a pretty girl (not just because of my larger body by the way!). I compared myself somewhat to my friends but I wasn’t resentful of them, I just felt that being attractive was not really a part of my particular destiny. When I was a teenager I loved punk culture and I particularly loved the aesthetic of the women like Patti Smith, Joan Jette, Vivienne Westwood, Debbie Harry and Jordan (Punk pin-up). A lot of them were conventionally beautiful but punk styling was a rejection of that and I think that’s when my idea of beautiful bodies expanded a lot for me.
I was a teenager in the late 90s and early noughties so I also loved Courtney Love who I felt was a contemporary embodiment of the spirit of punk. I kind of had a watered down (middle class teen wannabe LOL) punk/new romantic vibe to my dressing. To school, I used to wear a skinny, black leather tie with my school shirt, purple lipstick and a big black ribbon in my hair. I also wore a very fitted black leather blazor, my Clash t-shirt under my shirt and big metal boots. A D4 rebel basically.
I do remember when Sophie Dahl the model became well-known I was absolutely obsessed with her. She was very young and not at all the skinny, model type and I think that shaped the way I thought about my own body, that perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible thing.
Do you remember ever feeling body shame as a child/teenager, or being body shamed by others?
Yep, I remember being called fat and ugly at school. I remember, when I was five, a cousin (NOT you Sarah!) pointing out that my thighs spread out when I sat relaxed on a chair and so began years of never resting my legs all the way down. Ridiculous. Also my mother was always very, very interested in what I was eating which was a health concern on her part (and her own cultural conditioning I suppose) but it made me extremely conscious about food and my body. She never called me fat, of course, fat was a word that was forbidden, which I feel now isn’t entirely the right approach as it makes it seem like being fat is the worst thing that you can be?!??!!?
How, if at all, did your relationship with your body change from childhood through your teen years and into your adult life? How do you think this has affected your mental health?
My relationship with my body has transformed utterly in the last 20 years. Where do I begin? In general after my teens I became much more confident. My looks were not such a big focus, but also my face changed a lot and I think I became considered more attractive (I sound like a dick but it’s basically true… *shrugs).
In college, I studied art and I made performance art a focus. At the time I didn’t notice this but looking back I see that a lot of my pieces were concerned with my body and eating — I passionately ate a pear for one video, I made a milkmaid outfit where in place of material over the breasts I had clear plastic cups filled with whipped cream and I invited audience members to come and dip strawberries in it. I worked as a life model for a bit. All in all I became pretty un-self-conscious and I continue to be pretty un-self-conscious to this day (birthing babies and breastfeeding etc has contributed to this).
Also my focus has shifted a lot in the last two years away from monitoring my eating so much and trying to move away from thinking about how my body looks all the time. Also I was acutely mentally ill in my early 20s, an experience that I feel extremely lucky to have survived so the question of health in body and mind began to feel far more important to me than any concern over my looks.
If you’ve had children, how do you think that has affected your relationship with your body?
I’ve had two children in the last four years and I feel lucky that my body was able to do this with minimal complications – although my vag was in ribbons after the last one! I don’t relate when women say they’re in awe of their bodies for giving birth, I feel it’s what we’re built for physiologically so we manage it. I did absolutely love giving birth (I recognize that some might think I’m a bit of a freak for this one, I think I just got very lucky with labor).
As you get older, do you feel your attitude to beauty change? And are you concerned about the effect that aging will have on your body?
I’m dying to be an aul one. “Fuck the world I’m old, motherfuckers!” will be my mantra. I like getting older because I think you start to know yourself better, friendships deepen, you give less of a fuck about most things (in a good way!) and I think grey hair and lines and scars are more interesting. I am concerned about illness and losing bodily autonomy. Right to choice is not exclusive to unwanted pregnancy in this country. I also believe that we need to legislate for more humane laws regarding the right to die. I watched my father die the most agonizing way imaginable and I think a lot about whether this will happen to me (his type of disease has the potential to be hereditary). I don’t have a pension fund, I have a Dignitas fund.
Do you think that men and women are equally subjected to unrealistic beauty standards?
LOL, is that a joke Sarah!?
Do you remember one stand out moment in your life that highlighted to you how you felt abut your body, whether positive or negative?
Because I’m a basic bitch, I lost a lot of weight for my wedding (EYEROLLLLLLLLL!) and my friend had always joked that her sister went mad on the ‘shredding for the wedding’ and kept repeating “all I want is for someone to say ‘my gawd, that bride is TOO thin’” all the way up to the wedding. On my wedding day the same friend came running over joking “My gawd, that bride is too thin” and I was secretly thrilled and then instantly disgusted with myself. I was annoyed with myself for kowtowing to bullshit societal pressure and now when I look at the picture I mostly just think ”that’s not really me”.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about your relationship to your body, what would it be?
It’s a jar for your brain, it’s not as important as you think it is, but for fuck sake mind it (i.e. stop smoking weed every day, Sophie!). I also think finding interesting, funny, clever women beyond the tiny women of Hollywood etc. is really good for seeing how people’s ideas and attitudes and diversity are what’s really beautiful.
You can find Sophie in The Sunday Independent Life Magazine every week, on Image.ie, or check out here Instagram at here!