Weight Bias and Mental Health
I was recently asked to speak at the Kelty Mental Health Pinwheel Education Series on Mental Health and Weight Bias. It was a wonderful experience. The talk took place at Children Hospital, a place that is very near and dear to my heart, as they saved my life multiple times as a baby. I spoke along side some extremely educated, inspirational women. I wanted to share my speech, in hopes of having it reach a wider audience. Thank you so much to the Kelty Mental Heath Resource Centre for having me. I hope to focus my attention in 2016 to doing more public speaking, and helping people more. This was a wonderful way to start.
When I started writing out what I was going to say…I was stuck. I stared at an empty screen for about an hour, not knowing what I could say that would help, that would make a difference. Who would even want to hear my story? But then I though…THIS…THIS is what living with mental illness is like! I suffer from depression AND anxiety. I used to think there was something wrong with me. As I get older, my feelings get more intense and more frequent. Even just writing this, and thinking it over, gave me anxiety.
I constantly apologize for things I shouldn’t. I apologize for being sad, or upset, or nervous. Things that are beyond my control. I am so fortunate to have an amazing support system. My fiancé has helped me to realize that mental illness isn’t anything to be ashamed of, or apologize for. It is just that…an ILLNESS…just like a cold, the flu, hepatitis, or even cancer. Its something that many people suffer with, and sadly, many people suffer in silence. The average person suffering with mental illness suffers alone for 10 years before asking for help. Medications can help some…but for me, what helps the most, is talking about it. No longer will I suffer in silence. I am not defined by my mental illness, and despite suffering with anxiety and depression, I can overcome it, and make a difference.
I wear many hats. I am a plus size model. I am editor in chief of Beauty Mark Magazine, a quarterly publication that focuses on inner beauty, finding beauty in our unique qualities, and self love and appreciation. I am vice president of Bonerattle talent, an alternative talent agency. But above all that I am a partner, a daughter, a friend, and a sister.
In August of 2015 I was alerted to a page called “Project Harpoon”. The name in itself gives you an idea of how horrible this page was. The object of the page was to shame plus size women of all walks of life for not being a size 0. Although their “excuse” was trying to promote healthy living by showing women how much “better” they would look if they were slimmer.
They took photos of women, mine included, and photo shopped them to appear MUCH smaller, and used captions such as “look how much more potential she has” and “from a depressed lump to a happy fox”. They had taken a photo of me, altered it, and used it as their profile picture. Not only was the photo shopping terrible, and the captions insulting, but the comments, written by people who didn’t even know who I was were the hardest to read. I instantly reported the page, and shared the image in hopes of gaining assistance in getting the page removed. Unfortunately, all this did was draw attention to the page itself, and it went viral. Everyone was talking about this page, from people magazine, to cosmo, to local newspapers. I got a lot of negative attention for it. I was called a lot of very hurtful names, and told that I should lose weight, I was a pig, and other horrible things. I was even told to kill myself and the world would be better off without me. It send me into a downward spiral of depression. I began to wonder if those words were true? I decided that the best thing for my mental health, was to simply ignore the problem. The more I thought about that page, the worse my mental state was becoming.
Then I was chatting to a friend about it, and she suggested, instead of ignoring the problem, and hoping it would go away…I should use this negative, and turn it into a positive. I should rise above. So I took to my blog to write my feelings. It didn’t come easily…much like the speech, I started by staring at a blank page for a couple hours. I fought with my anger, my hurt, and the frustration of the whole situation. I wanted to write all that down and tell them how disgusting they are. But I paused and thought about it. This page was putting so much hate out into the world, and I didn’t want to add to that. I wanted to turn the negative into a positive, and perhaps, try to help someone in the process.
I started my blog out by thanking the page. Thanking them for giving me the strength to overcome my anger and pen a blog with a purpose other than body shaming. A quote from my blog.
“Thank you for showing me that I have the drive and determination to fight bullies like you. Yes, you used my photo, yes, I read horrible, threatening, comments, yes, you even used my photo as your profile picture without my permission, but my fight isn’t for me. I am a strong, confident, plus model, who is PROUD of her body. It has gotten me through 31 years, of health, sickness, pain, freedom, love and adventure. My body and I have been through a lot together, and I will not let on line bullies such as you make me feel bad about loving myself.
The reason I fight you is for the thousands of women out there who aren't where I am yet. Who don’t love their bodies. Some of the girls you photo shopped weren’t models or celebrities, but just everyday girls. They might not have confidence, but they posted that photo on a day they felt good about themselves, and you BUTCHERED it with your atrocious photo shopping, and made them feel bad. What if she isn't happy with her body, and had been trying to be healthy and more confident. What if that photo WAS her after she hit her goal weight (no, not everyone’s goal weight is a size 2), and you dragged her through the mud. How DARE you bring someone down, simply because she is not YOUR immature, close minded ideal! It’s OK to have preferences, but it is NOT OK to make people feel bad because they aren’t yours. Guess what, bullies and jerks are NEVER anyone’s preference.”
(You can read my full blog below)
I found the writing of the blog in itself extremely therapeutic. I was able to channel the negativity I was feeling into a greater purpose and turn a negative into a positive. I wanted the women who saw my photo, or others on the page, to realize that this page was run by a bunch of bullies who’s small minded opinion didn’t define them.. These bullies were feeding the mentality that there is only one way to be beautiful, and that needed to stop.
The out pouring of support I received for my blog was incredible. A few days after I published it…I was contacted by Good Morning America, who interviewed me about what I had experienced and my blog post. The next week, I was on the cover of The Province Newspaper. I was interviewed over 75 times in 2 weeks all over North America including the associated press, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and many many more.. I was so overwhelmed, but so thankful that my blog, and my words, were becoming greater than the poison that “project harpoon” was spewing. Instead of making people feel bad about themselves, I was helping people, and that was the most important, and healing thing of all. My message of love, self acceptance, and positivity was being heard. I realized that love always trumps hate. Love always wins.
Its also important to remember however, that weight bias and body shaming, doesn’t only happen to larger people. Telling a woman who is size 14 that she is a pig or to go to the gym is just as insulting as telling a size 2 to eat a cheeseburger, or calling her anorexic or a stick. These are the things that lead to negative thinking, low self esteem, and even eating disorders. Society and mainstream media have brainwashed us to believe that the only true form of beauty is a woman who looks like a Victoria secret model…and that is just simply not the case. What I hope to teach women, and men, young and old, of every size and shape, is that they are important, and matter, regardless of their size or shape. It is what’s on the inside that makes them beautiful, not what size dress they wear or what bra size they have
When I was in high school and my early 20’s, I was around a size 8-10…now I wear a 12-14, but I am MUCH healthier now than I was then. Back then, I was OBSESSED with being “skinny”. I would crash diet over and over again, to the point of sometimes almost passing out from lack of food. I was doing things to my body that were very unhealthy, and although I didn’t have an eating disorder per say, I hated the way I looked, and would only focusing on changing myself. My self worth was mostly determined on if boys thought I was pretty and what dress size I could squeeze into. Striving to be healthier and happier is ok…but that is not what I was doing. I was convinced if I could be a size 2, I would be happy….but in reality, not everyone is meant to be a size 2, I am certainly not and I was making myself miserable in the process. People come in all different sizes and shapes. That’s what makes the world so beautiful and interesting! Can you imagine if we all looked the same? What a boring world that would be! Its so important to remember that health comes in all different shapes and sizes. Someone who is a size 2 can be just as healthy as someone who is a size 14. Someone who is small doesn’t necessarily have an eating disorder just like a size 14 isn’t necessarily unhealthy either. Health looks different on everyone and a Doctor is the only person who can tell you if you are healthy….not a friend or family member, not someone on the street, and certainly not a bully on a facebook page.
I am a fairly confident person, but I don’t think there is a single person who is confident 100% of the time. Its human nature to have doubts and bad days. And my confidence took some time to learn. It’s still something I work on every day. I needed to work on myself and remember the things I love about myself. Most people, sadly, want to change something about themselves. Weather it is their weight, their bra size, their hips, thighs, waist. But instead of focusing on the things we dislike about ourselves…it’s important to remember that some things we cannot change, and remember those things we DO love about ourselves. For me…I don’t like my stomach. But when I have a bad day, and feel down on myself, instead of focusing on the negative, I focus on the positive. I try to remember the things I love about myself. The things on the inside. My heart, my mind, my laugh, my family, my friends. The feeling of the sun on my face. How much I love my puppy. The way I can manage to make any baby laugh. How much love I have in my life. I am loved, and love in return. THAT is what is important. Yes I am a model. In a matter of speaking, I am paid for my looks. But recently I’ve started to realize that that is not where my passion truly lies. My passion is in helping others realize their potential and discovering the things that make them unique and special. There are so many more important things in the world to be than “pretty”. One day, at my funeral…I hope people have more to say about me than “she was pretty”.
Moving forward, I think it’s important for us all to think about how we speak to people. What we may think is helpful, may in fact be damaging. Putting down one body type to bring up another, is still weight bias. Telling a curvy girl she’s a “real women” is STILL weight bias. Last time I checked…all women were real women. Real women are tall, short, slim, curvy,athletic, have fake boobs, or real boobs, dye their hair, go au natural, are outgoing, shy, and anything you can think of. ALL women are real women, and should be treated as such. Don’t bring one body type down to bring up another.
We need to focus on what makes a person unique and beautiful on the inside! Next time you meet a little girl in a pretty dress…instead of commenting on how beautiful she looks, or how pretty her dress is, tell her she is smart, how much you love her laugh, ask her what her favorite colour is or what book she read last night? We need young women especially, to realize that they are worth more than their looks and what others think of them. They are their brain, and their heart.
The same can be said for mental illness…if you come across someone who is down, depressed, nervous or anxious, or even has to take a leave from work…instead of assuming they are a “drama queen” or are just doing it to get time off work, reach out to them. Ask them if they are ok. Don’t try to fix their problems…just sit, be still…just BE with them. Sometimes just asking can help. Mental illness is just that…an illness. Just like you cant get over a cold or flu because someone told you to…same goes for mental illness.
As we are now in 2016 my new years resolutions are to be more caring. To listen more. To focus on peoples strength’s rather than their weaknesses. To spread love. I am also vowing to model less, and to help people more. I want to focus more on my magazine, public speaking, and inspiring others to make the world a better place. It will not only hopefully help a few people, but it will also help me and my outlook on life. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in “getting the gig” or “having the right look” that I don’t take my own advice, and, therefor, end up causing myself to become more anxious. I will stop comparing myself to others. I will stop wishing for MORE and be happy with what I HAVE. I am more than my looks, my career, and my body type. I am more than my mental illness. I am ME. I am not Ruby…Ruby is a character that I play. I am Jenn. A girl from Vancouver who loves fiercely and, hopes to do her part to help make the world a better place.
Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.
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