Body Positivity – 8 Things I’ve Learned in University
By Erin Huston
When I was in grade 11 I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Fast forward 4 years to my third year of University and I’m on a stage in Toronto, accepting an award called the Body Confidence of Canada Award. Needless to say, a lot changed in those years between. I went from hating my body more than anything, feeling afraid of food and myself to talking openly about self-esteem and self-love, as well as my own experiences with disordered eating. In the 5 years since my diagnosis, I have learned a lot of lessons. Recovery is a process, and one that I continue with each day; through my process, these are the things I hope everyone can learn and know to be true for themselves in their own confidence:
1. The idea of ‘unflattering’ clothing is not real
I used to pay so much attention to things like this. I would try to figure out my body type and spend probably hours reading magazine articles about how to ‘flatter’ my body type, trying on a million different things in store dressing rooms just hoping things would look the same on me as they did on those people in the magazines. I’ve now learned that when people say things are ‘unflattering’, what they really mean is that the clothing doesn’t make you look slimmer; As if appearing slim should be our one and only goal when it comes to clothing, as opposed to dressing to feel good, be comfortable, or express yourself. This idea, that clothing can even be ‘unflattering’ (ie. not make you look slimmer) reinforces the idea that thin is the objective, and should be the ideal body for everyone. If you wear something that makes you feel like you could take on the world, then you look great, but more importantly, you feel confident.
2. Self care is real
Recovery hurts, healing hurts. These are not things that come easily, but things that you have to fight and work for. These are processes but they are worth it. When I was younger and I heard the term self-care I thought it was accomplished through bubble baths and yoga and eating avocados, none of which then appealed to me. I know now that self-care looks different on everyone. For me, sometimes it’s just being able to shower, brush my teeth and going to bed. With distorted self-image and depression, those things can be hard, and it’s important to celebrate those small victories when you do something for yourself. You can celebrate the days that you just get out of bed, and those days that you allow yourself to just stay in bed. Self-care is for yourself.
3. It’s ok to ask for help
Gonna be real honest with you: asking for help is not the most fun or the easiest thing in the world. Actually, it can be the most difficult thing to learn to do. We’re often socialized to be independent and strong by not asking for help, but really it is in doing so that makes us strong. Sometimes it will seem like it would be better if you hadn’t talked to anyone. Sometimes it will seem like it’s too hard to talk to anyone or they’d be better off if you just keep things to yourself. But I can tell you something else: Wow, does life gets so much better when you aren’t bogged down by your own insecurities and anxiety and you can allow other people into your life and your mind. It means you can actually start to enjoy things, and get better. It means that you are strong.
4. Fat is not a bad word
Fat is something that you have, not something that you are. Everyone has fat. It is not a bad thing or an unnatural thing, it is not something that you should be embarrassed about or feel guilty about. Having fat is a necessary, healthy and universal thing that human beings shouldn’t have to think twice about, like fingernails.
5. Bodies are powerful
This past summer I spent a day hiking with four friends who were hiking the entire Bruce Trail in Ontario (885km). I only hiked one day with them, which was 26kms, but it was hard and tiring. My body was sore after and my heart was pounding and my legs were throbbing. But at the end I was also smiling ear to ear; sweating and laughing and loving every second. I’ve learned that bodies are actually incredible things that do so much for us. They let us walk and dance and laugh and garden and j-walk and on and on. Though society creates all these standards and rules about bodies and what we can and should do with ours, we don’t have to give into them. We can let our bodies exist just as they are, and they will let us do so much and accomplish amazing things.
6. Calories are delicious
Letting you in on another secret here: Food is good…like, really good. I spent such a long time being afraid of it and letting it control me instead of taking control of it myself and learning what my body needs. I used to be so afraid of calories, I somehow viewed them as these monsters that would ruin me, and letting the smallest number into my life was the only way I could survive. Now I see calories as these little units of energy; with a variety of flavours, you can simply enjoy the way that they taste, spend time creating meals, sharing with friends and they let you function like an actual human being, which is the greatest.
7. You are allowed to have set-backs and pauses in recovery
Recovery is not a clear path. There will be days when you feel off, when you feel as though it’s not worth it. These experiences are a normal part of the recovery process from any mental illness and do not mean that you are losing your fight.
8. You are allowed to love yourself
You are allowed to love your body. You are allowed to like the way you look. You are allowed to have fat and be ok with it. You are allowed to eat food that other people see as ‘unhealthy’. You are allowed to eat without feeling guilty. You have spent too long at war with your body, you deserve to like yourself. So many things in our society are pointed at picking apart your flaws and selling you new ways to fix them. But in reality there is nothing wrong with you, you are not broken or strange or abnormal. You are exactly who you need to be and you have permission to love that person.