TRU women strip down and tell their stories ahead of body image workshop
It was the summer of 2010 and I was with a group of close friends at Gold Creek Falls in Maple Ridge, B.C. We had been lying on our beach towels, lined up side by side for a few hours and I finally worked up the courage to take off my shirt – exposing my green and black striped two-piece. One of the boys asked if anyone wanted to swim across the opening of the creek to jump off this ledge known as “the running man.” I got up and left my shirt behind, following them into the water.
Up at the top of the ledge, the runway had been tracked by wet footsteps of previous jumpers. I was nervous to jump. I needed a running start to clear the cliff. It was my turn and I began to run. The next thing I knew I was under water, relieved that I cleared the jump. I pulled myself out of the water and climbed back to the top of the ledge. The group of boys were all laughing at me as I made my way back up to the top.
They were laughing about how fat I look when I run, and “how much the ground shook.”
A new fear grew within me, taking up more room inside than the one I felt moments earlier before jumping. For the rest of my senior year, these boys, who were within my social circle and at one point good friends, referred to me as “Waddles.” Now, in my fourth year of university and four summers later, unless I’m in the backyard tanning with a close girlfriend, I don’t take my shirt off.
That is, until last week when I posed with four other women who stripped down to their underwear with me in a TRU classroom in the name of body empowerment. I was trying to trade my longstanding insecurity for a new body-positive outlook. Those who posed with me shared their stories.
“I had stretch marks, I have saggy boobs – my boobs look great in a bra but then I take the bra off and I lay on my back and get deodorant on my nipples,” Jamie said.
These changes are what, for Jamie, are the most positive body changes a woman can go through.
“When I look at my stretch marks I see them for what other people see them for,” Jamie said. “But then I look at them and if it wasn’t for all of these changes I wouldn’t have my two little girls. To me it’s a mark of honour.”
Although Jamie notes that many women post-pregnancy see themselves as “kind of broken,” her job as a mother is to be a positive role model to her two daughters. Her message for them is simple: Be good to all people.
“I am the girl who’s always holding the door for somebody, who’s going out of her way to help the old lady carrying her groceries and to smile at people and be nice to people,” Jamie said. “I think that it’s really important to show that kindness comes in all shapes and sizes. Kindness is really the thing that people notice first.”
Jamie loves her legs.
“I think I have great legs – I’ve always felt good about them,” Jamie said. “They’ve always been a constant and they make me feel sexy.”
“When I talk to people about it you can always tell that it’s a taboo,” Rae said. “I try to give off the idea that I don’t care that [other people] shave, that it’s a choice.”
Deciding to no longer shave took some getting used to and although she is comfortable with her decision, it’s still an insecurity Rae battles with amongst her peers.
“If I’m going to wear a sleeveless shirt, I think about where I’m going when I wear that sleeveless shirt and who’s going to be there. In certain places I know it’s not going to be a big deal, but there are places I know I shouldn’t do it, like if I’m going to a club,” Rae said.
Rae also doesn’t wear makeup day-to-day, often leading to comments from friends and others when she does decide to wear makeup.
“I’ve had people say ‘why don’t you wear it more? Because you look really nice,’” Rae said. “Do I not look nice when I don’t wear it?”
For Rae, she expresses herself through how she dresses and her hair color.
“I take a lot of time in what I’m going to wear but I try and have fun with it more than worrying about what everyone will think about it,” Rae said. “It’s just something fun for me.”
Rae also loves her collarbones. “They stick out a lot, which I think is really beautiful,” Rae said. “I get a lot of compliments on them but it’s funny because I also get people asking me if there is something wrong with them.”
“I’ve never felt the pressure [from them] to be skinny or be this way or that way,” Heather said.
For Heather, any negative influences when it comes to her body image have come from her friends with what they called “boyfriend weight.”
“What does that mean? [Am I] supposed to look a certain way? Is it okay since I’m dating someone I’m going to relax and eat a bit more? Maybe I’m happier, maybe he accepts [me] a bit more than my friends might,” Heather said. “And that’s when I felt the worst about it.”
Heather is a lifeguard and teaches aquafitness courses usually attended by older women where she notes that insecurities still exist.
“I tried to be their positive reinforcement. Even at an age of 30 or 60 or whoever was in this class it’s a continuing thing. It doesn’t stop once you have a husband or have a ‘perfect’ life,” Heather said.
For Heather, she notices that with lots of women it’s the little insecurities adding up over time.
“I’ve seen friends go through anorexia, and you notice the signs and they never say anything. You can’t force someone to go for help until it gets to a point. It’s tough and I’ve never wanted that.”
“I try not to focus on the weight, ever. Because honestly I think I watched Oprah when I was young and she said you might as well enjoy the skin you’re in because it’s what you got to work with and you can’t fix it or change it, it’ll always go back to what it is,” Heather said.
Heather loves her cheeks and smile. “I think it’s a family trait,” Heather said. “I’ve never had to buy blush in my life ‘cause they’ve always been pink and pretty. Everyone notices me for my smile.”
Caitlin is 5-foot-11 and “not a size zero.” In elementary school she was always the tallest and always in the back of class photos. She also started developing much earlier than most of the girls in her class. “I remember being in elementary school, kind of having problems with different girls. Bullying, I guess you could classify it as,” Caitlin said.
She turned to self-help books to help navigate through her insecurity.
“In some ways, it made it worse,” Caitlin said. “It was like, ‘is this what I have to fucking look forward to? Is this life?’ You get bullied and then you kind of read a self-help book to make yourself feel better?”
The turning point for Caitlin was breaking “the loop in her head.” Calling women today “a product of their generation,” Caitlin knows how tough it is to deal with imagery in the media leading to self-consciousness.
“Obviously there are days where you feel self-conscious and everyone does and you beat yourself up for no reason, but in the grand scheme of things I am healthy and I’m happy the way that I am,” Caitlin said.
In her first year of university, Caitlin actively lost weight.
“It was starting to be like ‘well men don’t find me attractive because I’m too heavy so I’m going to start losing weight,’ and then it became less of that and more of ‘well I feel better,’” Caitlin said. “Confidence is everything.”
Promoting weight loss in the realm of body image isn’t typical, but for Caitlin it completely changed how she felt about herself.
“It’s kind of funny when I tell that story,” Caitlin said. “I found it through something that might be considered shallow in a sense…but it helped, I feel better.”
Caitlin loves her lower arms and accessorizes them with bracelets and tattoos.
“It’s something about my elbows to the end of my hands,” Caitlin said, laughing.
Workshop on campus
On March 6, 2015, Sonya Renee steps onto campus for a body image workshop. In 2011, the poet activist founded “The Body is Not an Apology,” an international movement of self-love and body empowerment. According to its website, “The Body Is Not An Apology was created to remind us that we do not need to wait to feel beautiful, powerful, or worthy tomorrow,” and that “your body needs you to love it today, just as it is, however it is, unapologetically.”
The workshop, being brought to students by the TRUSU Equity Committee begins at 7 p.m. in the Clock Tower Theatre.
Top image: (Left to right) Ashley Wadhwani, Rae Imeson, Caitlin Morrison, Heather Pratt-Johnson and Jamie Anderson. Photos by Kim Anderson.