Some people can light up a room with their magnetic energy, but the Body Confidence Canada (BCC) founders Jill Andrew and Aisha Fairclough could light up an entire building. Their energy, love of life and love of each other is like a never-ending boomerang of self-affirmation.
“Aisha will always tell me the truth,” says Andrew. “She’ll let me know unapologetically if an idea won’t work. We are always thinking of each other’s best interest.”
Fairclough adds, “It is important to feel supported in the work you do. When you are working with someone who encourages you, you believe in yourself even more.”
That is the type of unconditional support and love that these women have brought to people across Canada. For more than a decade the couple has worked together to create a world of, as they say, “fabulosity.” These ladies are all here for the body positive movement, but realized early on that body positive conversations were missing some key voices. With that in mind, Fairclough and Andrew teamed up to open up the discussion to include race, disability, sexuality, gender expression and other intersecting identities.
Together, the duo created Body Confidence Canada and the #SizeismSUCKS campaign, a petition to make size- and appearance-based discrimination illegal in Canada. Fairclough and Andrew also added a bit of body positivity to our regular calendar with the creation of Body Confidence Awareness Week (#BCAWeek). Held in the second week of October, BCA week is designed to help students discover what factors, such as racism or shadeism, are holding them back from feeling safe in their own space—programs I wish had been around when I was navigating the complex business of growing up and coming to terms with my brown hairy body. Since its inception, the week has been implemented across the Toronto District School Board and Winnipeg School Division, providing opportunities for more than 300,000 students to become more aware of body-based harassment and start making changes.
While creating programs to help foster change, Fairclough and Andrew also created an annual award celebration to recognize people who were already actively making change. In the past five years, the Body Confidence Canada Awards has recognized more than 25 people from across Canada including Canadian comedian and broadcaster Candy Palmater, Canada’s first plus-size model Liis Windischmann and human rights activist Akio Maroon. In my experience, galas usually have a similar vibe: black dresses and suits with a homogenous crowd. In contrast, BCC’s Body Love Ball this year was joyously packed with mix of people—racialized people, people with disabilities, queer and trans folks. I saw people taking up space, dancing freely and making space for the people around them. As an awkward queer person of colour, this is an event that I didn’t want to leave.
With increased conversations about mental health, racism and sexual violence in 2017, the work of Body Confidence Canada is needed. Body-based harassment and bullying have a significant impact on children, and in the most extreme of cases, this year children have died by suicide as the last attempt to escape a world they feel does not celebrate them. Survivors of sexual violence face discrimination based on size and appearance. In an October sexual assault trial in Quebec, judge Jean-Paul Braun described the victim as “a bit overweight, but she has a pretty face.” He then went on to suggest that she might be “flattered” by the attention of her assailant and “it is perhaps the first time that someone is interested in her.” With these comments, the judge affirmed the myth that fat women are undesirable and disposable, insinuating that any sort of attention, be it loving or violent, would be welcomed. Dismantling these dangerous myths is one of the reasons why Body Confidence Canada’s work is vital now.
The #MeToo conversation has dominated the news for the last few months. The voices centred are often white, “conventionally” attractive women. In early December, Andrew was a speaker at the #MeToo rally in Toronto. Sharing her personal story as a child sexual abuse survivor, she spoke about the need to believe victims of violence and what it meant to have her mother’s support. Andrew spoke about how in order for people to feel confident in their own bodies, they need to feel safe and free from violence—and that requires systematic change, not just individual actions. Listening to Andrew, as a fellow child sexual abuse survivor who was targeted because of my race, it was affirming to hear her validate that sexual violence is not solely about gender.
Helping all bodies feel and be recognized as beautiful requires a lot of work and sacrifice, but according to Andrew, it’s all worth it in the end. “When we get to sit in a room with Black girls who remind us of our child selves with their bright eyes and boisterously brilliant ideas…the work we get to do and that we get to do it together—it’s unimaginably profound.”
More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Day 1: Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth-Teller Scaachi Koul
Day 2: Sadiya Ansari on Fearless Supernova Jane Fonda
Day 3: Janaya Khan on Mary Hooks Bringing Black Moms Home
Day 4: Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Day 5: Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem
Day 6: Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power
Day 7: Laura Hensley on Unapologetic Activist and Entrepreneur Jen Agg
Day 8: Jenn Berry on Exuberant Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante
Day 9: Lora Grady on the Electrifying Lindy West