High above Toronto inside the Panorama Lounge, a room packed full of women celebrated body diversity at the second annual Body Confidence Canada Awards (BCCA). Co-founders Jill Andrew and Aisha Fairclough, who also run the lifestyle and fashion blog Fat in the City, say the event is meant to celebrate Canadians who actively fight against stereotypes that attempt to label marginalized bodies. The mood was celebratory: drinks were had and snacks enjoyed, mingling was encouraged, and former strangers laughed together like old friends.
Feminism, as the event’s guest speaker Dr. Carla Rice says, is at a place where we are conscious of difference: ideals, race, size, disability. We aren’t all the same, so we are responding and talking back to images in a different way from one another, based on our own experiences. “Popular media reminds us over and over that the world is not for us,” says artist and a BCCA winner, Cindy Baker. “If they could make the choice, they would eradicate us.”
This may sound like a too-harsh assessment, but consider the experiences of BCCA guests and winners who don’t fit the beauty ideal sold to us. “We get bullied all the time,” says Tracey Crosson, founder of Curvalicious Canada. “People will slow down when driving,roll their windows down, and shout at me—and that’s only walking down the street.”
The societal decision that only one body can exist starts young. Beth Malcolm, director of the Girls’ Fund at Canadian Women’s Foundation, spoke at the reception saying that 21 percent of young girls already think they’re fat and 17 percent think they are ugly. As we grow older we are continually told to take up little space and respect pre-determined boundaries. The BCCA are designed to transform those boundaries.
“I wish I could say that I woke up one morning, confident and ready to face the world,” says Ophilia Alleyne, the first Size 20 model to sign with B & M Model Management and a BCCA winner. On this night she is wearing a black, lace dress that hugs her body. Seeing her confident smile and composed demeanor, it is hard to believe she hid by wearing a jacket through school; despite her accomplishments in leadership, she was self-conscious as a result of bullying. She shows us the jacket and encourages us all to take our own jackets off.
None of the winners or speakers claimed to feel 100 percent every day, and some are sick of being labeled “brave” for doing everyday things—like eating in public or speaking in front of others—just because they have bigger bodies. A common message throughout the evening is that confidence is a compilation of many things, such as experience and growth. It isn’t easy to be naturally confident about our bodies, but there is a necessary and deserved freedom that comes with this confidence.
Andrew suggests a little step, “Dressing for the moment.” Many of us buy clothes for this future self of ours, who is slimmer, who will look great in the outfit. Meanwhile, our true selves are stuck with these clothes that don’t fit, and make us feel bad just seeing them. In a world that is already telling us how we have to look, we don’t need to create barriers like these for ourselves. We need to stop comparing and start loving what we have. So, as Fairclough says toward the end of the night, “Here’s to taking our jackets off.”
A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her first year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.