BY KELLY Maia Agnew
“You’re really thin, are you eating enough?”
I remember these words coming from my mom one night at dinnertime when I was a teenager. I remember feeling frustrated because this was my natural body. Yes, I was eating enough. No matter what I did, I didn’t put on weight. Why was this an issue?
As a child, my size and weight was never a concern. Reflecting back on it, it’s because I never felt out of place in my body. I was slender and thin and privileged. I recognize that my body shape meant I wasn’t subject to much of society’s “body shaming” as a young girl. I am aware that some things were easier for me, like shopping for clothing, ordering certain foods, and minimal bullying in social situations.
But as I grew into adolescence, and even adulthood, I begin to critique my body just like most women do. Most of these criticisms were in my head, but others were pointed out by friends, family and strangers.
In addition to my mom’s comment, I had friends point out that I had a flat bum because I was so skinny. I had an ex-boyfriend tell me to that he preferred women with strong thighs and a larger backside. My chest was always small, and I realized that even a push-up bra couldn’t give my breasts cleavage.
I quickly went from someone who was comfortable in their body, to someone who felt like they weren’t enough.
I wished for larger breasts and a rounder bum. I wanted sexy curves as I saw in magazines and on TV. I hoped for these features that would make me more “attractive”, especially to the opposite sex. I didn’t often get male attention, and I felt like my physical shape was the reason. At the core, I felt like my body wasn’t enough for myself or for anyone else.
As I’ve matured into my late 20s, I have become more confident. My body shape hasn’t changed much over the years, but I have filled out a little. I don’t often get comments about how “skinny” I am anymore, and I no longer care about “attracting” male attention.
But in the past 6 months, I’ve found my pants getting tighter. I stepped on a scale for the first time in weeks and realized that I’d gained 15 lbs.
Was my metabolism slowing down? Was I eating too much? Was I too stressed out? What was happening? My nutritionist mindset started calculating. All of a sudden I found myself critiquing my body for gaining weight – I had fat on my stomach, thighs and bum. I wondered where it came from and how I could get rid of it. I’d never gained 15 lbs that quickly before and started to obsess about what I was eating.
But wait – wasn’t this what I wanted when I was younger?
Fortunately, with my nutrition background, I recognized that food was not my enemy and wasn’t at the core of this dissatisfaction. It was societal pressures that I’d internalized and started placing on myself. Pressures that invaded my mind and clouded my judgement. No one made a comment about my weight gain, but I noticed it. That was all that mattered, in my mind.
While it’s easy for me to look back on my life and think that I was free from body judgement, I realize that it is completely untrue. I still fit the mould of what society deemed as “attractive” – or “acceptable” – in terms of body shape, but the simple act of gaining 15 lbs put me into a new, negative headspace filled with judgement and criticism.
That was when I realized that I was never free from societal pressures. I just didn’t feel them as strongly, being a thin woman. This brought me to a powerful realization: I have judged my body for being too thin, and I have judged my body for gaining weight. There was no happy medium.
If we can’t find happiness with our body, we have a huge problem. We have forgotten to love ourselves for exactly who we are.
Body positivity is about embracing your body with love, regardless of shape or size. It’s a powerful movement that is making its way through the media, giving marginalized bodies an outlet to express their individual beauty. Women are speaking out about the judgements and criticisms they receive and showing how they respond in self-love. As we share our stories, we give others permission to share theirs. This vulnerability strengthens our bond – our unity – and propels the movement further.
While I do not identify with the marginalized bodies that are making headway with this movement, I fully and completely support the motive behind it. I believe this movement towards body positivity and self-love is something that’s been missing for years, and it’s time that people start speaking up about accepting ourselves for exactly who we are.
There are many brands at the forefront of the body positivity movement, and my favourite is Aerie. Using real, untouched photos of models, Aerie promotes body positivity and body love by modelling their apparel on marginalized body shapes. Their hashtag #AerieREAL has over 130,000 photos and continues to grow. This is a movement in itself.
I was recently trying on clothing in an Aerie store and noticed that each changing room was equipped with sticky notes and a black marker so that women could leave positive messages for other women on the mirror. Some of these sticky notes read comments like, “don’t be afraid to be yourself” and “beautiful at any size <3”.
I left that change room feeling amazing and even empowered. Yes, we have a huge problem with body image and judgement, but we have brands and influencers all over the world fighting for body positivity and self-love.
Brands like Aerie, Modcloth, Old Navy, Asos and others, are making it easier to dress every body shape. With influencers like Tess Holliday and @effyourbeautystandards and Jameela Jamil at @i_weigh, more women than ever are being encouraged to love their body exactly as it is. Podcasts like She’s All Fat is raising awareness for the body positive movement and breaking down barriers.
With more channels than ever, we can spread the word that all bodies are perfect until it catches on for good.
No matter who you are, it takes work to love your body. Some struggle with acceptance and judgement more than others. We have been trained to think certain thoughts about our shape and size, but many of these thoughts can be reprogrammed. If we choose to live in love, it is possible to celebrate our body – no matter the shape.
And while I may not experience the same societal and cultural challenges as curvier women, I can appreciate the need to celebrate self-love, body positivity, and inclusion. Changing our cultural views will only begin once we embrace self-love.
As a nutritionist, I advocate health at every size. When I work with a client who is looking for weight loss, I want to know the drive behind the desire. What is the motive? Self-love is something that needs to be consciously practiced – it doesn’t come with a different body shape. I caution my clients around putting happiness in their body and encourage them to explore acceptance over judgement.
I still hear about old-school methods of weight loss like calorie counting and “points” programs. These methods are outdated and simply unhealthy for most women. Many women still believe that diet restriction or excessive exercise is the only way to love their body, but these extreme activities can create obsessive thoughts and tendencies. For these women, the goal is “weight loss” not “health” or “happiness”.
Every single body is different, and it is far healthier to embrace your natural body type than to restrict, stress, and pressure yourself to be something that is unnatural to you. Healthy and thin are not one in the same, and this belief needs to change.
If we, as a society, could fix the way we talk about or treat women’s bodies – if we could find a way to be inclusive without judgement – there would be no talk of weight loss. Women wouldn’t feel pressure around their size and shape, and self-love would be natural.
But until then, I will continue to support the #bodypositive movement by supporting companies and influencers who speak up against societal norms and challenge the status quo. I will continue to work with clients on creating a healthy body image that does not revolve around their weight. I will continue to spread the importance of self-love and self-care when it comes to our physical selves.
All bodies are beautiful, and I will support this movement until it’s universally accepted.
Kelly Maia Agnew, CNP, ROHP, RNCP is a holistic nutritionist with a passion for women’s health and wellness. Upon receiving her Honours Bachelor of Commerce, with a specialization in marketing, she began her corporate career in buying for a multi-billion dollar corporation. After neglecting her health and quickly burning out, she decided to make a career change. She graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in 2017 with first class honours – all while working as a marketing associate for a national crown corporation. Learn more about Kelly by visiting her website.