No one can deny that today’s teenagers are more affected by body insecurity than ever before, and our current ‘wellness-obsessed’ society isn’t helping. We’re told that if we want to get fit, we should drink celery juice for its “detox magic” and follow YouTubers’ workouts so we can be like them. Everywhere we look we are faced with unrealistic standards for a healthy lifestyle.
How does this affect us?
When we see these ideas, we get the message that we are not living “right” if we don’t follow these trends. If we don’t train like gym gurus. If we don’t eat this “superfood”. If we don’t look like those people. How are we supposed to feel up to it and learn to love ourselves when we’re constantly being told to change?
As a dancer, a teenager, a provincial title holder and, well, someone just trying to get on with life, it’s exhausting. Just thinking about all the different expectations we face is enough to make anyone’s head spin. We’re told we should be skinny (but not too skinny), muscular (but not too muscular), plump (but not too plump), but most of all, we’re supposed to be “healthy.” Can we see the irony here?
I want to help end those ridiculous expectations. We deserve to live in a world where all bodies are celebrated and appreciated. By gaining weight while recovering from anorexia, I will prove on the Miss Teenage Canada national stage that our body shape is not a reliable indicator of our health and that we can feel good about ourselves, no matter what size jeans we wear.
Walk in a bathing suit
The swimwear section of pageants has always been a controversial topic. Recently, some competitions have decided to end this tradition, while others, including Miss Teenage Canada, have chosen to keep it alive. It can be seen as objectifying, but the main goal is to encourage us to have confidence in the body we have. Pageants give us the opportunity to stand up and say “Yes! It’s me!” in all aspects of our identity, including our outward appearance.
Round swimwear exists to build confidence, but there’s another side to it. One of the judging criteria is often “physical form”. According to the values of the competition, a defending champion must be a positive role model in good physical condition. But what does this really mean in today’s society? Let’s unbox it.
What is fitness?
Physical fitness is when our body can do what is asked of it. That’s it that’s all. In no dictionary will you find leanness or muscle tone as a necessary prerequisite for fitness.
We hear about measurable factors such as cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength, but there is no universal benchmark for fitness. A 20-year-old training for marathons can be fit if his body can handle it. A 50-year-old who practices yoga can be fit if their body supports it. Every human being has a different level of strength and endurance, but fitness is relative. As long as our abilities allow us to get through the day, we are in good shape. No need to drink green smoothies, exercise too much, or achieve a specific physique.
In today’s world, it can be difficult to tell the difference between fitness and thinness. Going back to this idea of unrealistic wellness standards, famous fitness models typically have a short stature which is only a fraction of our population. It spreads the message that we can never truly be healthy or worthy unless we look and act like them.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Health at All Sizes (HAES)
In recent years, a movement known as HAES has emerged to combat the ever-increasing pressure to be thin. It was filed by the Association for Size Diversity and Health and supports the fact that health is determined by a wide variety of factors. This principle also rejects the idealization of specific weights and body types, and instead favors an inclusive approach that honors all bodies. Looking back I can see the value of HAES and why we should all support it.
I’ve always had a hard time coming to terms with my appearance because I don’t have the stereotypical “fit” body type. Looking back on the past few years, however, I would say I felt fine. I could trust my body to do whatever I asked of it. By the true definition of fitness, as we established earlier, we can agree that I was, indeed, fit. I can even identify when I was in my best physical condition – and I wasn’t skinny. The fitness, in my body, doesn’t look thin. Period. I had muscle and I had fat, but more importantly, I had a body that could do so much for me. That should be more than enough for anyone, but our society has a different program.
Despite my previous level of fitness, when I went through a significant weight loss over the past year, I was applauded. As I lost weight I was told how “healthy” I looked, when in reality I was getting weaker. At the start of my second semester in a dance program, I was struck by the realization that even though I was slimmer, I wasn’t as fit anymore. My body was struggling to keep up with my dancing and I needed to gain weight to regain my health.
So there we have it. Take my story as proof that leanness doesn’t have to be fitness.
How do I bring that to competitions?
As I mentioned before, we are judged in part on our fitness. Stereotypical pageant girls are usually lean and toned, but that just doesn’t cover the full spectrum of healthy bodies. Sometimes fitness comes in different shapes and sizes, and they are all equally valid. I would like to show others that it is possible to be fit, healthy, strong and confident, while honoring how we are truly made.
As most of the competitors are currently striving to be fit in time for the national competition, I am proud to say that I am working hard to do the same. Now that I understand what it means to be in shape, I know that I have to gain weight to be in shape. I won’t be like the magazine models, but I want to prove to the world that we don’t have to look a certain way to be healthy. We don’t have to follow the “advice” we see in the media. We don’t have to torture ourselves to reach someone else’s view of fitness. We can feel positive about our body no matter what it looks like. We earn our place in the world simply by being our natural, authentic, and beautiful selves.