Body Positivity Part 2: Vickie’s story
by victoria Walsh
Standing at 5’6”, I am a 200 plus pound woman. This is, in fact, the least interesting thing about my story. Actually, in my mind, weight is perhaps the least interesting thing about anyone unless it’s integrated with a story of triumph over illness. Then I kinda find it interesting.
What does this have to do with body image? Well at the mere mention of the term, we tend to immediately think ‘weight’. Specifically, weight loss. Perhaps because we are inundated with weight loss ‘transformation’ posts on social media. Or because the term ‘body image’ is used in these posts. Then there is the insinuation that the transformed loves themselves so much more now that they are ‘thin’. Le sigh. Seems a little off, non? Yet these messages are everywhere, making social media and magazines conflicting areas to navigate through.1 As a friend recently mentioned, “isn’t it funny, beauty magazines make you feel ugly.”
Why is it that when we think about body image, the primary focus is on weight? Why do we not instantly think of weight, strength, or mobility gains? Why don’t we think about triumph over illness? Why don’t why think of emotional strength and confidence?
Stigma. Media. Our own internal barriers to focus on the positive.
We’ve heard it before ladies and gents – our bodies are sooooo much more than their weight. You already know this logically. It’s those adorable freckles, rad curly hair, and big brown eyes. It is our laugh lines and scars filled with interesting tales. Our strength and mobility. It is our ability to heal. It is complex, reactive, and capable. They’re pretty freakin’ fascinating, these bodies of ours.
What we tend to forget while being bombarded with thoughts of comparison and perfection, is that our bodies deserve our compassion, care, and praise. They deserve our love.
In 2015, I was hit smack dab with hypocortisolism (read: stress-induced burn out). Something that took almost two full years to turn around with the help of health professionals and boatloads of effort. And what accompanied that burnout? A whopping 60 lbs of weight gain.
Up until the weight gain, I always viewed myself as ‘fat’ and was preoccupied with weight loss. Preoccupied to the point of missing out in enjoying life, being able to live in the moment, and it definitely affected a few friendships. It was also unwarranted. I was a healthy and fit female.
In those two years of healing, something miraculous happened. This weight-obsessed poor body image girl refocused to health. Since the symptoms of hypocortisolism were so disruptive, they became more important than any insecurity revolving around body image ever could be. So instead of the scale directly impacting happiness, my world began to revolve around relieving symptoms instead. I was so incredibly thrilled as each symptom disappeared that it seemed silly not to celebrate and appreciate the healing process.
I spent time alone, immersed in introspection, and faced the hard stuff. There were appointments with medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, therapists, reflexologists, and nutritionists. I started feeding myself like I loved myself. I spoke about life and perception at length with my ‘woo-woo’ friends. Meditation and routine became close personal friends. Suddenly, the scale started collecting dust and the mirror wasn’t scary.
There was actual badass growth in creating a genuinely positive body image of self and it felt great. Woah, bananas.
Does this mean my self-body image is 100% positive, ha, hell no. There are things I would like to change. Even my Girl Gone Good Instagram feed is telling – it mostly shows headshots versus full body pics because that is what’s comfortable for the moment. #busted My perception of self is pretty darn good though. I still want my body to become stronger, yet I appreciate it as is as well.
A Love Affair
So how can you fall in love with taking care of yourself? Well, I’d like to say that it is as easy as deciding “I love myself” today and all the self-care habits like nutrition, sleep, and self-compassion would come naturally. Except I’m not a psychiatrist, we’re all different, and
my personal experience was the opposite. The more I took care of myself out of necessity, the more I appreciated my own body. It started with following the doctor’s orders (new sleep cycle, new nutritional focus, self-compassion exercises) to alleviate burn out symptoms. Slowly, things began to change (joint pain disappeared, energy increased, etc) and it was that change that prompted a newfound appreciation for how our bodies work. I started to respect my body for its functionality and healing abilities. It is easy to fall in love with self-care when you realize how dramatically it impacts your life for the better.
A radical idea would be to delete the fitness apps (gasp!), stop wasting money on ‘health and fitness’ magazines, unfollow obsessive diet culture influencers, and focus on nutrient dense quality food versus empty caloric ‘weight loss’ foods.
Beyond that, here are a few thoughts that might help:
- Surround yourself with those that love you for you, no exceptions.
- Fill your social media with other body positive peeps. My favourite Instagram warriors to follow are Mirna Valerio, Lee Tilghman, Danielle Walker, Sophie Gray, and Mik Zazon. They are real, unapologetic, and body positive.
- Nourish your mind by reading influential body positive books, engaging in positive self-speak, and celebrating non-negative body image accomplishments with friends.
- Nourish your body to support a healthy frame of mind. Poor body image has been linked to depression2 and nutrition can help support mental health.3 My personal favourite multivitamin is the Women’s PureFood A to Z.
“Funny how your quality of life improves dramatically when you surround yourself with good intelligent kind-hearted positive loving people.” ~ Anonymous.
Go pound salt
Pranin Organic was kind enough to ask my thoughts on diet culture. My immediate reaction is that this overbearing diet culture we are subjected to can go pound salt. I strongly dislike it, and that’s a polite way of saying it. I think diet culture is hurtful and stressful in a world that already has enough hurt and stress. I’ll follow doctor mandated nutrition plans for health reasons, but otherwise, diets are a hard no.
The preference instead is to eat in a manner that is whole food based, balanced, and suitable for me. And the same approach is taken with supplements and vitamins which is why the Pranin Organic PureFood line works so well! It fills in any nutritional gaps in my diet and supports the body in optimal health.
Let me give you a real-life example of how diet culture has warped our perception of what is the desired body image. There is a photo of myself and a friend (same height and weighing under 100lbs and over 200lbs respectively), both struggling with health issues. I think we look great. We’re happy, on vacation, and enjoying the beach life. Yet when a co-worker saw the picture his immediate response was “bet you won’t take your picture next to her again [because she makes you look fat]”. Umm, pardon? He was serious. I wasn’t insulted by his reaction but I was perplexed. Are we so brainwashed by diet culture and ‘thinspiration’ that we are unable to recognize that my beautiful soul of a friend was experiencing serious health issues?
Zero Fox Given
We are in a world that monitors everything like screen time, steps, sleep cycles, menstrual cycles, macros, weight. Not only monitors but also judges harshly. Can we please just take one big ol’ healthy step back from diet culture and negative body image and let it go?!
Whatever personal work that is required to free you from those restrictive concepts is worth it. Freedom to enjoy your life is worth it.
Note from Pranin Organic; More BOPO: Looking for more inspiring stories told by powerful women? You’ll love Lynsey’s triumphant Body Positivity story.
Victoria Walsh is the voice behind Girl Gone Good, a little blog that grew out of the desire to embrace better health and explore the world in earnest. As a military veteran, she loved the adventurous life full of challenges, travel, and skydiving. Trading her combats boots for hikers, a love for mountains, wellness, and a small smoothie obsession emerged. She is currently earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Ottawa.
1 – Madden, H., & Chamberlain, K. (2004). Nutritional Health Messages in Women’s Magazines: A Conflicted Space for Women Readers. Journal of Health Psychology, 9(4), 583-597. doi:10.1177/1359105304044044
2 – Stevens, S. D., Herbozo, S., Morrell, H. E., Schaefer, L. M., & Thompson, J. K. (2016). Adult and childhood weight influence body image and depression through weight stigmatization. Journal of Health Psychology, 22(8), 1084-1093. doi:10.1177/1359105315624749
3 – Owen, L., & Corfe, B. (2017). The role of diet and nutrition on mental health and wellbeing. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 76(04), 425-426. doi:10.1017/s0029665117001057