Spend any amount of time on Instagram, and you’ll eventually come across some truly wonderful hashtags: #effyourbeautystandards, #everybodydeserveslove, #beautybeyondsize, #honormycurves. Click on any one of them, and countless photos of badass babes wearing super stylish fits will fill your feed—something that still feels pretty revolutionary, tbh. Because yes, we’ve come a long way in terms of body positivity, but there’s still so far to go. As a University of Limerick working paper by academic Charlotte Cooper explains, fat is still often characterized as, “a problem that needs to be treated and prevented.” That’s particularly the case for women, who experience more health, economic and social consequences than their male counterparts—especially younger women, women of colour and Indigenous, disabled and trans women.
That’s why, as powerful as the body positivity movement is, it’s tough to stay all #bopo, all the time—and that’s okay! We talked to Canadian women in the movement about what body positivity means to them, how connected they feel to the movement and how they deal with down days. From young women just discovering the body-positive movement to veterans of the crusade for acceptance, here’s what they had to say.
Arshia Lakhani, 25, Toronto
“Ten years ago, I wanted to be a skinny, blond, white girl. As a South Asian woman, having a lot of hair on my body and a naturally curvy figure set me apart from the people I surrounded myself with. I didn’t really have friends who looked like me or shared similar body issues and I had no self-confidence. Not having anyone to relate to took a toll on me and how I viewed myself. I have just now come to a place where I am learning how to accept my body; to accept that health does not equate a low number on a scale, and that just because they don’t sell my size at mainstream stores doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me. I deserve to be loved by myself.
Some days I still wake up and hate my body; other days, I love every single part of myself. I’ve found that my confidence level improves when I follow like-minded people who also look like I do on social media. This speaks to a broader issue of representation in media, politics, and society in general, but I have to say: Going through the Instagram accounts of plus-size women of colour models makes me so happy.”
Michelle Rogers, 20, Victoria, B.C.
Student and blogger, BodyPosiPower
“It’s amazing looking back at how I saw myself when I was a teen. I struggled severely with my body image, bullying and my mental health. When I started my Instagram almost two years ago, I’d never even heard of body positivity. As I began searching through hashtags related to body image (#bopo #celebratemysize), I stumbled across accounts within the community and began to study up online about the movement itself. It wasn’t until I learned my worth that I started to really appreciate my body. Once I was finally comfortable with sharing photos of myself and a little bit more about my story, I made my entrance into the online community.
I’m now learning new ways each and every day to love and nourish my body, because I care about it as a whole. Everything I do today with regards to body positivity and speaking about my struggles openly is all for that 10-year-old girl that didn’t think she’d ever be good enough. I’m here to tell her she is. I still struggle with loving every bump and roll that is my body, but I’m learning. Body positivity is a journey, not a destination.”
Annika Reid, 35, Toronto
Blogger, The Stylish Reid
“I’m heavier today than I was 10 years ago, but a lot of personal healing has taken place since that time. Now, I operate from a place of gratitude with my body. I am gentle with myself, I am more mindful of my triggers and I make a personal decision to celebrate my body just as it is.
Of course, just because I’m a body-positive activist doesn’t meant I don’t have bad days. Every time a friend posts about their ‘miraculous’ weight loss, or when I scroll through Instagram knowing that I will never look like that in those Fashion Nova jeans, I feel self-conscious. But that’s when I remind myself: I do not need to look like them because I am beautifully me. Comparison is a trap, so do not fall victim to it. Make the choice to love yourself unconditionally and you will not regret it.”
Sophie Gray, 23, Vancouver
Blogger, Way of Gray
“Though I do talk about [my] relationship with [my] body, the body positivity community was created for representation of marginalized bodies, and while I feel welcome within the community, I do not fall into that category. That said, growing up I did not have a great relationship with my body. I wanted nothing more than to be a Victoria’s Secret model and until I looked like one and had the right measurements, I thought I’d never be enough.
Now, I feel that my body is an absolute gift and something I feel truly blessed to have. It helps me move throughout my day, interact with the ones I love, and facilitate the work that I do. My body is my home, and one that I am thrilled to live in. I also understand that I am so much more than my body. My body doesn’t define me any longer.”
Kaleigh Trace, 31, Toronto
Writer and sexual health educator
“At 21, I was engaging in disordered eating, not taking very good care of myself and consumed with the idea that I wasn’t pretty enough. My early 30s have been a time of way more confidence and physical enjoyment of sex, eating, and wearing clothes I want to. But that’s not just a 30-something quality; I worked at teaching myself I deserve to be loved and I learned about critical feminism that liberated me from some impossible gendered expectations.
My body—especially the parts of my body that are most impacted by my disability: my legs, my feet, my toes—works hard and it’s important to honour that by treating it to good things: food, swims, stretching.
If you’re struggling, know you’re not alone. And all the media, people and ads telling you that you are not enough are 100% full of shit. You are more than enough—you are plenty.”
Megan Maitland, 21, Kingston, Ont.
“In my teens, I obsessed over many ‘flaws.’ I despised my ribcage because it sticks out quite far; so much so that I once asked my parents if ‘rib-removal’ surgery was an option. To be honest, I don’t know how I began to learn to accept my body. There was no clarifying moment. I think it came with age as I learned to stop caring about what others thought of me. Once I stopped worrying about how others saw me, I felt so much more comfortable in my body.
I try to encourage body positivity in my family and friends by bringing it to their attention when they make comments about an individual’s body that are unnecessary. When they comment on their own bodies, I don’t dismiss or play to their worries; rather, I try to make them see the big picture (for example, why having ‘big ears’ is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things). Remind yourself everyday of all the wonderful things your body allows you to do. My own legs walked up the Leaning Tower of Pisa to an incredible view, so who cares if there are stretch marks?”
Musemo Handahu, 35, Halifax
Fashion and lifestyle blogger, Lion Hunter
“It’s OK to not be completely in love with how you look and want to change it. However, in tough moments, find something to love about your body and live your best life in this version of yourself. Don’t hold back on loving yourself now [because you think] that happiness is attached to a certain body type. It’s not, so fight to be the best you in whatever body you’re in!
For me, a red lip and a banging outfit can take care of some of the tough moments. Other days, I may need to have a “me moment”: A solo movie date and some reflection on how far I’ve come in accepting myself really helps to remind me that I gotta keep fighting for myself! Today, I am probably at the highest level of awareness of my body. I look at myself in the mirror more, I’m happier naked and I wear what I want.”
Jodie Layne, 27, Winnipeg
Writer and sex educator
“Instead of dividing my body into different parts, I see it as an entity. It’s easy to pick apart what we like and don’t like; it feels much more productive and manageable to deal with it as a whole thing I have a relationship to than a collection of pieces. I love that my body can take me out into a lake to paddleboard all day, and feel peace and freedom.
Loving yourself isn’t a requirement but life does get a little better when you are trying to stop working against your body’s best interests. It’s important to be tender with yourself and that goes for allowing yourself to have an off day/week/month/year and admit that it’s hard to live in a world that hates bodies who don’t fit the dominant narrative of what’s valuable. The expectation of self-love shouldn’t be another impossible, unachievable standard that makes you feel bad about yourself.”
Marlee Kostiner, 29, Montreal
“Even though I strongly believe in body positivity, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the many messed up messages put out in our society. It’s about being kind to myself, but it also means catching myself if I have a judgmental thought about others, and focusing on being kind to myself and others in those instances as well; not berating myself for catching myself making an assumption about another person’s body, but rather recognizing it and committing to changing my thought patterns.
I am more self-aware than I’ve ever been in my life (yay, therapy!). I frequently practice positive self-talk. I see the big picture and I see how, as women, we’ve been systematically brainwashed from a young age to feel bad about ourselves. I genuinely love my body so much—I feel especially physically empowered after giving birth, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Nadelle Lewis, 32, Toronto
Model and creator of #everyBODYplayahmas
“Prior to [joining] the body positive movement, I was forced to find confidence from within. I developed insecurities based on what was praised in the media, which made me doubt how I looked and whether I could measure up to the mould that society had created. But I’ve always unapologetically worn whatever I felt comfortable in, challenging the status quo. I simply refused to let society tell me what was acceptable for my body; if I looked in the mirror and felt good about what I was wearing, I rocked it. I also learned that my confidence to step out of my comfort zone encouraged others to do the same. Now, I no longer question where I fit in. I became an activist to give people from the Caribbean community a platform to express themselves and not feel ashamed of their bodies.”
Josabel (Josie) Andrade, 29, Brampton, Ont.
Operating room attendant
“When I was 19, I was a size 10. Today, I’m a size 14. I was always the ‘fat’ girl growing up, and I felt like I had finally erased that image at age 20. I thought that being ‘skinny’, and conforming to the idea standard would make me happy. But I was focusing too much on the external and forgetting to take care of the internal. I came to the conclusion that trying to fit in made me feel pressured, depressed and never satisfied with myself. As the years went on, I learned to accept and love myself for who I am.
When I am trying on new clothing and get frustrated over not finding a piece that I feel 100% comfortable in, I give myself a pep talk in the mirror and remind myself ‘Josie, relax. This is only one store and you look beautiful in anything.’ You are your own best friend first and we need to comfort ourselves on these types of days.”
Biko Beauttah, 38, Toronto
Founder of Trans Workforce
“Body positivity means being OK with whatever is reflecting back at you when you look into a mirror. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to aspire to idealized standards of Western beauty. I will be the first to admit that despite being a transgender woman of colour, I have what we in the transgender community call ‘passing privilege,’ or what others might refer to as idealized standards of Western beauty.
But it’s not about what’s aesthetically pleasing that determines a person’s health; it’s about your relationship with your body and with realistic expectations. This means building your confidence by strengthening your mindset — and it applies to people with all types of bodies. Put away your mirror and change your approach to health: Begin with a healthy mind and realistic expectations. Education is important, especially when it comes to nurturing, healing and strengthening the mind and body. The world is big enough for all of us to live our most authentic life.”
Ellen Chorley, 33, Edmonton
Theatre artist, playwright and burlesque performer
“It’s important to acknowledge that body image isn’t a women-only issue. Struggling with body image is a universal issue that affects all humans. For me, there isn’t a switch I can flip to feel totally okay with the way I look all the time. On days when I stumble, I try to keep perspective: The way I look and the shape of my body is only one very small part of who I am as a person and what I have to offer.
If you’re struggling with body image, be cognizant about what images you look at. Five years ago, I was very hard on my body and I realized that was partly because my social media feeds were full of unrealistic depictions of beauty and health. So I did a major overhaul and now, my feeds are flooded with beautiful, talented, funny women who look like me and like the way they look. I would also recommend going to a burlesque show. Seeing women of all sizes and shapes enjoy and celebrate their bodies is so empowering. Or try a burlesque class yourself! Performing within this art form has changed my life.”
Meghan O’Connor, 20, Vancouver
Student, founder and editor of Side Effects, an LGBTQ+ zine
“When I was ten years old, I vividly remember sitting on the edge of my bed squeezing the fleshier parts of my stomach and asking my sister if she thought I was fat. Body image has always been something I’ve struggled with, ever since I became aware of beauty standards. Now, I view my body as something that contains every intelligent thought I have ever had; that has created every personal connection I hold most dear. I am more than grateful for it. My body affords me every wonderful thing in my life.
Still, I constantly have bad days with body image. When you’re recovering from disordered eating habits, the smallest of things can set you off: comments from people that are meant to be compliments, or noticing someone else’s body type on the street and comparing it to your own. I’ve found footing by surrounding myself with people who value me for my company and my intelligence, and who find me beautiful in my own way. Through them, I’ve internalized so much confidence and respect for myself as a whole, complete being, and not just an outward appearance.”
Louise Green, 44, Vancouver
Author, personal trainer and founder of Big Fit Girl
“Body positivity is about self-acceptance, ditching perfectionism, removing comparisons and embracing who you are. Of course, we can’t always be positive, but the goal is to have the tools to manage our inner-dialogue in a positive way as much as possible.
I discovered the body positive movement online over 10 years ago. At the time, the movement was small, but it has grown incredibly since. [At the time,] I started to align with others doing the same type of work. Now, although I haven’t been officially ‘inducted’ into the body positive movement, I am among a growing circle of influencers who are creating a new conversation and perspective surrounding the female identity and our bodies, not just in fitness but in fashion, career, sex and general rights and freedoms.”
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