After a conversation with a friend yesterday regarding body confidence, body size and body image, I have decided to revive a blog on this site that I wrote April, 2016. It is still incredibly relevant today, and is at the heart of what I do. It is my hope that people will read it and feel empowered by their own bodies, no matter their shape or size. It is one thing to want to improve ones health, something I greatly admire and try to achieve daily. But it is another thing to struggle daily to try to fit into a mold that is truly unattainable. Body love comes from within and is, in my opinion, the ultimate key to living a healthy lifestyle.
Earlier on in the week, I went through my closets and cleared out all my winter clothes and replaced them with summer ones. A bold move, to be sure in April in Canada, but I came across ones from years ago, when I was thinner. Some of them didn't fit me or didn't fit me as well as they used to.
I have done a lot of healing work with respect to my body image and I have squashed a lot of negative habits that were no longer serving me but it wasn’t always that way.
When I was in my teens and into my twenties I had major body image issues. I lost a lot of weight (around 60 lbs) and although it started out as a healthy venture, it quickly took a negative turn. I developed nasty habits that included eating only one meal a day, taking weight loss supplements, feeling guilty if I ate anything that I considered "bad" and even making myself sick to ‘not absorb calories’. I may have been thin but I was nowhere near healthy. I tried desperately to look like the women in the magazines, the girls from The Hills and my friends who were thin. Because I was losing weight, I was actually getting encouragement from my loved ones who had no idea that this wasn’t a healthy endeavor. I stayed this way for a while until one day these negative habits spiraled out of control to the point where I sought help.
I realized these behaviours had nothing do with food and everything to do with my feelings of self-worth. I believed that I wasn’t worthy of the good things in life unless I was skinny. Something I learned from the society I live in. When I came to the realization that my emotional wellbeing was at stake, I began to see a therapist and this is where my journey to loving myself began.
What I realized while I was sorting through my clothes is that I am not the same person I was all those years ago. The clothes not fitting as well didn’t really bother me. I have come a long way and healed a great deal. I eat 3 meals a day and have learned to love fruit and veggies. I am active regularly and I am gearing up to start weight training. I am kinder to my body now and don't abuse it. I am healthier even though I may not be smaller.
What does bother me is that potentially my feelings of unworthiness could have been avoided if society did a better job at supporting ‘healthier’ instead of ‘smaller’.
I am getting married in 5 months, so I am all about bridal magazines right now. But it kills me that women who are already very thin are made to look thinner. I still catch myself looking at women in the magazines and going “I wish I looked like that… Oh wait, they aren’t even real” and then I wonder what the beautiful woman behind the airbrushing really looks like. The women of today’s society are bombarded with images of unrealistic bodies. One of my favourite sayings about this is “So you want to look like the girl in the Magazine? The girl in the magazine doesn’t even look like the girl in the magazine”.
Comedian Amy Schumer appeared in Glamour magazine and was featured in their “plus size bonus issue”. Amy argues that the magazine made it appear that she was a ‘plus size model’… when she was neither plus size nor a model: “I’m a famous plus-size model,” Amy stated while on The Tonight Show but Amy was simply joking in announcing her fake title. Amy’s main concern was with labels like “plus size” and how magazines use them to categorize women incorrectly. She later writes: “I think there’s nothing wrong with being plus size. Beautiful healthy women. Plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and an 8. @glamourmag put me in their plus size only issue without asking or letting me know and it doesn’t feel right to me,” (Amy posted on Instagram, along with a photo of the Glamour page).
Amy is onto something. She is pointing out what is so incredibly wrong with society’s labels. Even at size 6-8, she is considered “big” in the eyes of the media and was featured as such in a magazine, giving readers the impression that in order to be worthy of a non-plus size spot, you have to be a size 0. Her value is placed on size and not health. It is this very notion that hurts a woman’s self-esteem. It is this feeling of being “unworthy” than fuels self-hate. It is this unrealistic ideal that forced me (and thousands of other women) into issues with poor body image that took years to break.
I for one would love to see a massive change in the industry- a shift of focus from people being labeled as “thin” and “plus size” to a focus on women’s health- what truly makes us healthy. We need to change the way society views our health and only in doing this can we change the way women view their bodies. Women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. You are beautiful and your health should be your top priority- this is the message we need to be teaching our daughters.
So I don't mind that my body is different, even though society would label me as "bigger" because, like Amy, I run about a size 8. I set my own standards with respect to my body. I am happier than I have ever been and I believe I am beautiful the way I am. Being smaller doesn't necessarily mean being healthier. And I want to change this notion within our society, one confident HEALTHY beautiful woman at a time.
 Source for quotes from Amy: http://hollywoodlife.com/2016/04/13/amy-schumer-disses-glamour-magazine-jimmy-fallon-plus-sized-model/
On the second last day on my trip in Cuba, the rain came down and it reminded me of how water cleanses everything both physically and metaphorically. It was a good representation of how being in Cuba cleansed my soul once again.
As a body confident photographer, writer and coach, I try my best to "walk the walk" when it comes to owning the body I have and loving and accepting my unique beauty. But it's not always easy, especially when you are spending all day at the pool or by the ocean when everyone is in bathing suits 99 per cent of the time. Although normally I do pretty well on the confidence front, a felt oddly uncomfortable and self-conscious about my body. This was interesting because men and women of all shapes and sizes were wearing a variety of small bathing suits, no matter their body type or physique. One would think that a body confident advocate would be in some sort of body empowerment heaven but the surprising thing was, the more everyone rocked the bodies they had no matter what, the more self-conscious I became about my own. I remember posing for pictures with my husband and trying to hide my voluptuous chest. "All these people are way more confident than you and they can pull it off and you can't", my ego bellowed loud and clear. I felt like everyone was starring at me with judging eyes. So I continued to hide but at the same time trying really hard to break free from my lack of body confidence.
I got up to go to the bar, wearing a supposedly 'fashion forward' and slightly loud high wasted bikini that my niece assures me is the "height of fashion". As I walked up to get a drink, a woman about my age approached me: "where did you get your bathing suit?" She asked..." I really like it! I have one just like it and I was unsure whether or not I could wear it but looking at you in yours, I feel like I could pull it off". I answered her and we had a conversation about it. She thanked me for giving her confidence to try something new.
That morning, as I watched the rain fall down and thought of that experience with this woman, I realized something: the only person who is certainly judging me with harsh and critical eyes is myself. I don't know what people are thinking and I believe for the most part I hyper focused on everyone else, rather unfairly to myself and to them as well. Even though I am an advocate for body empowerment and made the decision to make it my life's work, doesn't mean I'm immune to my own ego and it's judgement. I must continue to choose to surrender my fears and release them everyday. Letting in love and releasing fear is a choice I must make over and over again. Like the rain cleanses the earth, I too must cleanse my heart and soul through surrendering my fears and showering myself with love, one day at a time.
As I sit by the pool with a thermos full of wine, I contemplate very little. With this day being my third full day in Cuba, life appears to be pretty awesome.
There is one thing, however, that pulls at my heart strings. It drags me along, temping to distract me from my peaceful and relaxing vacation: why can't everything about life be this relaxing? Why do I have to be so uptight all the time?
Throughout my entire life, I have felt like I have to "work" to get anywhere. You know, the notion that everything worth having in life doesn't come easy and that there must be some sort of struggle in order to achieve even a small amount of greatness. The notion that success only comes after hard grueling work - I used to believe that to my core. But being in Cuba, a place where life is much simpler, where life moves at a slower pace, where life here has different priorities, is opening my eyes to the possibility that it doesn't have to be this way.
I think within me there exists a worry, a fear that goes something like 'if I don't work hard to achieve something then did I actually achieved it? Am I worthy of my success? Of recognition? Of praise?' This fear poses a big problem because it exists in all areas of my life: "I'm not allowed to be confident in my body if I don't have to work hard at being healthy" or " I don't deserve to be proud of a photo I take unless the process of taking and editing it is a difficult one" or " I'm not allowed to write a book unless the writing becomes this extensive process instead of just flowing naturally". "My relationship with my husband must be too good to be true because we barely ever argue and we are always in sync".
As I sit here, bathing suit on, hair in a bun, wine in hand, I question this aforementioned notion. Why do I believe everything must be a struggle? And why has this been a part of my life up until now?
But indeed it was. Up until a few years ago, my life has been a lot about struggle. With a family who went through difficult financial times in my formative teen years, a learning disability that made my school work heavy and an anxiety disorder that ran rampant through my twenties, things didn't come so easily for me. Or so I believed. I developed this attitude that I was "average" or even "below average" at everything and I had to work my butt off to achieve anything worth merit. I was never one of those kids who didn't have to study for tests and I was made fun of a lot, so making friends was a task in itself. I never won awards in school, I was never picked for sports teams and I went around with the attitude that everything was sooo hard.
But after much coaching and counselling over the years, with immense healing and work on my confidence and my self-esteem, sitting her right now in Cuba with my wonderful husband and our two best friends by our side, next to the pool, adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, I lean back in a lounge chair and make a decision: nothing is hard, I am no longer open to struggling to achieve success. And in fact, if it doesn't come with relative ease then it's probably not meant to be in this first place. This is my own little epiphany that I think my soul already knew but has unearthed and I am allowing it to seep into my consciousness, here in this beautiful tropical paradise.
I call this the fish bowl effect. Taking a step away from your life allows you to examine it from a far - like you are looking at a fish bowl from the outside-in. When we are able to do this, our priorities, our desires and our needs become much clearer because we are able to tune out the noise of everyday life and tune into our soul's desires. This is what happened to me on this beautiful island: I took a look at my life while being away form it, and I realized what I was no longer available to. I am no longer available to things being hard, to lack of flow and ease. I am only available to things existing without struggle. It is a choice I make.
I am a successful writer, photographer, coach, a great wife, a good friend and a loving daughter and sister. And from this point on, all this comes and flows will the greatest of ease. And so it is.
We've all been there, or well most of us have. Staring at our naked body in the mirror, pointing out all it's flaws: I wish I didn't have this roll here or this part of my arm is too fat, there's cellulite on my legs- how do I get rid of it? We sit there and just tear apart our bodies and hate on them hard.
I've been many shapes and sizes over the years- from a size 2 to a size 14. I've gone through periods where I've lost an enormous amount of weight and gained it back again and lost it again but no matter how small or how big I was, one thing never changed: I never truly loved my body. Even when I lost a lot of weight several years ago, I was completely unhappy with the way I looked. I always found something wrong with myself. Something else that needed fixing or shrinking.
This hatred began to sink deep into my psyche. I became obsessed with calories and I developed unhealthy eating habits like eating only one meal a day, eating limited types of food, abusing laxatives and even throwing up after I ate something I deemed "too fattening". My entire self-worth became based on how small I was - and I was never small enough.
This went on for many years until something miraculous happened: I fell in love - first with my partner then with myself.
Throughout the years being with the love of my life, my weight and body size fluctuated but one thing remained the same: he never stopped loving me. My partner's body also fluctuated as well and I never stopped loving him and in fact my love for him just continued to grow no matter what. I realized something that I deemed a miracle: love knows no judgement.
This may sound petty but this was such a novel concept to me. I always felt like in order to be worthy of romantic love I had to be a certain size and look a certain way. This distorted belief of love was luckily abolished by the love my partner and I share. As in the lyrics of Nature Boy: "the greatest gift you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return". I believe our partners are our greatest teachers.. and mine was about to teach me a very valuable lesson.
One day, while feeling deeply in love with my partner, I was staring at myself in the mirror yet again, I thought: gee wouldn't it be great if I loved myself as much as I love my partner and as much as he loves me? Wouldn't it be great if I stopped hating my body and I stopped associating size with self-worth? Wouldn't it be great if I just showered myself with love?
I began to want and crave this love, from me to me. I began to realize that in order to achieve this kind of self-love, I needed to completely change my beliefs about my body and how it fit in with society. I started to follow body advocates on social media, I started to read mindset books, I started to really deepen into what loving myself means to me. And I realized one thing: your size, your shape, your weight all have nothing to do with self-love. Self-love can only come from within. You can look like a supermodel and hate your body. Or you can be "overweight" and love your body. Love has nothing to do with size because love knows no judgement. Love just is.
As I began to embrace this concept, I began to realize that my lifestyle needed to be in alignment with my new found love of my body. I began to perform various actions out of love instead of out of hatred. I love my body therefore I am going to treat it well: I am going to eat 3 meals a day, I am going to add regular movement every week because my body is craving movement, I am going to eat more vegetables and less fried foods because I want my organs to be healthy. I am not going to starve myself, I am not going to look in the mirror and hate myself. I am not going to exhaust myself trying to be some small size society wants me to be. Why? Because being small does not equal being worthy of love. I am the only one who can decide I'm worthy and I can decide that I'm worthy right now.
The thing about this revelation is that it contradicts everything I was taught as a child and everything I see now in the media. We are constantly bombarded with images and messaging that promotes the exact opposite of this concept: "you aren't worthy unless you look a certain way", says the media. I fundamentally disagree with this message yet sometimes there is a part of me that starts to buy into it again. I feel like my new healthy mindset is vulnerable to the constant bombardment of society's standards of beauty. So, I am not perfect and I am a work in progress. And that's okay. There are days where I still hate myself and get tangled in the media's web of negative body ideals. But overall, I am happier and I strive to continue to have more healthy mindset days than body shaming days. Maybe one day the shaming days will be gone or few and far between. But the point is that I will continue to strive to love myself as much as possible because I believe I am worth it.
How does my story relate to my work?
I started Body Confident Photography and Coaching because I want to support others in this endeavour as well. I want to support people who are striving to know their self-worth and to love the skin they are in. I want everyone to know their own beauty- because they too are worthy of this love right now. YOU are worthy of self-love.
I started the Body Confident You movement and Facebook group as way for people to gather and support one another and build each other up. My work as a whole exists in this world to counterbalance all of the negative and unhealthy ideas that exist about beauty. Society is made up of people and the more people who choose self-love over self-hate, the more we can change society's beauty standards to be more inclusive to all body types and the more these standards can come from a mindset of love. It is my mission to help create this change- one beautiful body at a time.
This inaugural blog post is dedicated to my loving husband Joe. Thank you for supporting me in my work and thank you for teaching me my greatest lesson - how to truly love myself. I love you beyond words.