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Updated: Mar 31, 2023


Yes, I am talking about acceptance today. Not acceptance of nationality or faith or gender/sexuality, but acceptance of your own appearance.

This is me, a few years ago. I struggle with body positivity, for many reasons. I'm working on it, even going so far as the old "fake it til you make it" credo. It helped me in my 20s by pushing me into a gym. Things happened and I lost the progress that I'd made. Today, at almost 50, I have moments of positivity but mostly, I aim for neutrality. We'll discuss the differences in a bit.

I want to start by showing you what the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says about body image, self-esteem and mental health.

Body image is mental and emotional: it’s both the mental picture that you have of your body and the way you feel about your body when you look in a mirror.
Healthy body image is more than simply tolerating what you look like or “not disliking” yourself. A healthy body image means that you truly accept and like the way you look right now, and aren’t trying to change your body to fit the way you think you should look. It means recognizing the individual qualities and strengths that make you feel good about yourself beyond weight, shape or appearance, and resisting the pressure to strive for the myth of the “perfect” body that you see in the media, online, in your communities.
Self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person—it is the opinion that you have of yourself inside and out. Self-esteem impacts how you take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Self-esteem is about your whole self, not just your body.
When you have good self-esteem, you value yourself, and you know that you deserve good care and respect—from yourself and from others. You can appreciate and celebrate your strengths and your abilities, and you don’t put yourself down if you make a mistake. Good self-esteem means that you still feel like you’re good enough even when you’re dealing with difficult feelings or situations.

They go on to talk about why body image and self-esteem matter. The two do directly influence each other. A bad body image - "I don't like my nose" (or belly or butt or legs) - influences your self-esteem; "If I think it's ugly/bad/too big, then I am not good enough". And those thoughts bring down your mental health and leads to very negative thinking. Even catastrophic thinking. Catastrophic thoughts are when you internalize an event and say things like "everything is going to go wrong, nothing is ever right, everyone hates me because [...] and life will never work out. I'll never be happy".

A bad body image can lead to things like an eating disorder.

The statistics on eating disorders (ED) are, frankly, shocking and somewhat horrifying. Did you know that the occurrence of eating disorders has soared 60% over pre-pandemic numbers? That same article states that a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed a nearly 60% increase in hospitalizations for young women with eating disorders.

I know that when you hear the words "eating disorder", generally, you think bulimia or anorexia and maybe even binge eating but, while they are the ones that get the most press, there are others. In a list called "OSFEDs: The Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders" notes that there are many others besides the main three. These disorders do resemble the big three but are, instead, a bunch of different types. Here's what they say OSFEDs look like:

Atypical Anorexia Nervosa: All criteria are met, except, despite significant weight loss, the individual’s weight is within or above the normal range.
Binge Eating Disorder (of low frequency and/or limited duration): All of the criteria for BED are met, except at a lower frequency and/or for less than three months.
Bulimia Nervosa (of low frequency and/or limited duration): All of the criteria for bulimia nervosa are met, except that the binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior occurs at a lower frequency and/or for less than three months.
Purging Disorder: Recurrent purging behavior to influence weight or shape in the absence of binge eating.
Night Eating Syndrome: Recurrent episodes of night eating. Eating after awakening from sleep, or by excessive food consumption after the evening meal. The behavior is not better explained by environmental influences or social norms. The behavior causes significant distress/impairment.

As you can see, those people have a severe problem. Around one million Canadians have an eating disorder of some kind. And of those, a great many have suicidal ideology.

According to a 2020 article by Striped Harvard (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders) "every 52 minutes at least one American dies as a direct result from an eating disorder." The link also talks about the social and economic cost of eating disorders in the US. The numbers aren't that different in Canada. This is what the National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED) has to say:

Approximately, 1 million Canadians have a diagnosis of an Eating Disorder, such as Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Avoidance Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Otherwise Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED).
Eating Disorders are serious but treatable mental illnesses that can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, racial and ethnic identity, sexual orientation or socio-economic background. Too many people with an Eating Disorder are never diagnosed but suffer significant personal and family distress. The social and economic costs of untreated Eating Disorders are similar to those of depression and anxiety, with debilitating physical and mental health effects comparable to psychosis and schizophrenia.
While it is well documented that mental illnesses are a leading cause of premature death in Canada, it is less known that Eating Disorders have the highest overall mortality rate of any mental illness, with estimates between 10-15%. Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after cardiac disease) among those with AN; 20% of people with AN and 25-35% of people with BN may attempt suicide in their lifetime. For females aged 15-24 years old, the mortality rate associated with AN is 12 times greater than that ALL other causes of death combined.
Younger Canadians are also increasingly engaging in dieting behaviour which may put them at risk of developing an Eating Disorder and other health-compromising conditions. In Canada, between 12% and 30% of girls and 9% and 25% of boys aged 10-14 report dieting to lose weight. Moreover, the incidence of Eating Disorders in Canadian children is estimated to be 2 to 4 times greater than Type 2 Diabetes.
(edited to remove footnotes, for further reading, see the NIED page)

The biggest catalyst appears to be body negativity.

Now, I know that the term "body positivity" has been thrown around a lot but I think it's important to discuss, especially given people's attitudes to bigger athletes.

The definition of body positivity is, simply, loving who and what you are. This, in turn, increases self-esteem, which leads to better mental health.

There are many ways to improve body positivity and, I believe, that starts with discovering the influences that make us dislike, even hate, ourselves, and then trying to move into body neutrality. Not all of us can jump from finding flaws in ourselves to being happy about everything we are. Sometimes, we have to start with being neutral.

Neutral means just that: neither hating nor loving those things we don't like about ourselves. It means stopping the hateful, negative thoughts. It means staying away from social media that pushes "thin [or muscled] is healthy and the ideal image for a human." (Did you know that a lot of Eastern cultures have problems with ED and mental health because they are constantly trying to achieve the 'Western ideal of beauty'?)

Beautiful needs to be redefined as a society. Beautiful needs to start from the inside. Our own thoughts, our personalities, our ways of taking care of ourselves. Beautiful needs to be seen across all aspects of life - from school to work to athletics - as someone who is happy and confident.

Take Marly Blonsky and her company and website "All Bodies on Bikes". Marley is a fat cyclist. And she is trying to take the word fat and make it a descriptor like blond, or brown eyes. She is making an effort to take the negative connotations out of fat. She is inclusive and she is strong. She is beautiful. She works hard to help other people accept themselves for who they are. She's gone a long way, literally. She is helping me see that I don't have to be thin to be a great cyclist.

Yep, less weight would help my chronic conditions but do I have to be 145lbs because that's what 'they' say is the ideal weight for my height? No. And neither do you. If you're big and you want to move, do it. If you're fat and you want to ride a bike or a scooter or a skateboard, do it.

But, again, where does body positivity start? It starts with parents. It starts with conversations about negative social media (by which I mean the ones that promote beauty is in being thin or muscled or blond(e) or having perfect makeup and the 'right' clothes). It starts with deleting those you follow that say fat is bad. (Yes, there is dangerously obese. Those people know who they are and they know what they need to do: healthy food, more calories out than in. They don't need skinny people telling them what to do.)

Speaking of skinny... Body negativity isn't just for fat (read fat like blond, or brown-eyed) people. Bad self-image affects everyone sometimes, and most times, we can brush it off and move on. There is a disorder like body dysmorphia that is typically suffered by teenage boys and those Eastern world people I mentioned before. It's called Muscle Dysmorphia and it is characterized in much the same way as body dysmorphia: it is an "obsession with muscle size and definition, resulting in distress and a 'significant drive' for muscularity."

I have at hand several resources for building body neutrality and body positivity. If you want them, feel free to email me and ask. I will never judge. Personally, I have suffered from binge/emotional eating since I was a teenager, to the point of sneaking/hiding food and gaining 75lbs in my son's first year because I suffered from post-partum depression. I still struggle with my body image and self-esteem because of comments made when I was a teenager (and one 'you're so big no one can tell you're pregnant' comment'). I have body dysmorphia; it's mild, comparatively, but it's there. What I see in the mirror is not what other people see, at all. I still catch myself binging when I'm emotional.

I have coping skills, hard won. Coping skills I sometimes forget. I try to remember that no one is perfect. We all have idiosyncrasies.

All of the links in this post are meant to help, to educate. This article isn't about judging. I wrote it because I needed to, for myself and for the person(s) that need it. We all have issues in our heads. All of us who have children constantly worry about them in so many ways, having one less thing to worry about is good, no? In today's world, especially with all of the unfair and tragic events regarding those who are trans or drag queens, or anywhere on the LGBTQ + spectrum (which includes several of my family members), it is important to learn and practice acceptance.

Again, if you need more, ask and I will happily pass on the multitude of links I have.

See you on the pathways!

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, British author

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