As we approach summer, we are bombarded with the message that we need to prepare for swimsuit season by losing weight and emerging from our "winter bodies."
This message has never been a quiet one, and it has been ingrained in us since puberty (or even earlier for some). Canadians spend billions of dollars each year on diet programs, supplements, books — all to help us shed the pounds as soon as possible so we can achieve our "bikini bodies."
We have also been told that if we lose weight, we will be healthier. But is this the full truth? Is this message really a healthy one?
May 6 is International No Diet Day (INDD), and the National Eating Disorder Information Centre is encouraging Canadians to "break free of dieting with alternatives that will help lead to a healthier outlook and relationship with food and with oneself."
To celebrate INDD here in Toronto, Steff Ivory Conover, a plus-size model, performer and former Miss Canada Plus, has brought together "The Succulent Six:" a group of diverse, inspiring and courageous women. They are challenging what a healthy lifestyle truly is, by focusing on "health at every size (HAES)," and raising awareness about the health risks associated with yo-yo dieting.
At the event — which will be held May 6 at 401 Richmond Street, Suite 350 — they will be leading a conversation about how we can find peace with our bodies as they are. They aim to end fat phobia, size bias, body policing and weight discrimination; "to stop the brow beating, fat shaming and self deprecation that women (and men) face day in and day out."
The Succulent Six are challenging us to "stop the food fight" with a day free from dieting; to shoot the censors, cast off the constraints and let it all go for just one day. Because "if we can start with one day free from body policing, maybe, just maybe, we can secure the other 364."
In their own words, "They are big. They are strong. They are beautiful. And they are PROUD of who they are." They invite you to feel the same.
I had a chance to speak with Conover (a.k.a. Cupcake Charlie), founder of "The Succulent Six: Stop The Food Fight," about the importance of INDD, The Succulent Six, and her personal journey toward self-love and acceptance.
AM: Why is International No Diet Day important to you?
SC: No Diet Day is incredibly important to me, as it is a day free from body policing, where individuals can celebrate the skin they're in now, and love themselves as they are.
AM: How do you define health?
SC: The dictionary defines health as "the state of being free from illness or injury," while Wikipedia defines it as "the level of functional or metabolic efficiency of a living organism." For humans, it is the ability for individuals or communities to adapt and self-manage when facing physical, mental or social challenges. I like to define it much the same way.
Health does not necessarily have a look or a size — your internal organs, bodily functions and mental health can be in perfect working order, even if you are plus size, the same way your body could be in poor health even if it appears to fit the media's image of health, by being slim or of a smaller body type/frame.
AM: Have you battled with dieting in the past?
SC: I went on my first diet at eight years of age — desperate to whittle my 5 foot frame down to the smaller sizes I'd see on my gymnastic teammates. By 12, I was yo-yoing through Weight Watchers weigh-ins, being celebrated in front of weekly "support groups" when my weight dropped a pound or two, and chastised if it remained the same or if I gained any weight back.
I was an incredibly active child, a competitive gymnast, on the soccer team, an avid skier, equestrian, swimmer and regularly engaged in extracurricular sports and activities with friends. But coming from a father who is 6' 5" and Nordic, I was just built bigger than other kids. By my teens I was yo-yo dieting, trying fad after fad and eventually falling down the slippery slope of bulimia. My depression coloured much of this, leading to self-harm and contemplation of suicide, all before I even reached 20.
AM: Why is The Succulent Six: Stop The Food Fight so important to you?
SC: As a youth, I was often bullied for my weight or my size. The media, and my community at large, taught me to hate my body just because I was different — because I was bigger or heavier than other kids, and didn't fit into the "ideal" body type.
I was systematically taught that I was less than, simply because I was more than; by coaches, teachers, classmates, colleagues, boyfriends, girlfriends and the like. Learning that I was "different," that my body was "fat" or "ugly" or "sloppy" or that I was less of a person because of this. That I didn't deserve to feel beautiful, to feel sexy, to feel worthy, or respected or appreciated or understood or even comfortable in my own skin.
I spent years carefully learning how to point out all of my flaws, all of the points where I was not enough. And it's taken years to crawl back, to slowly but surely get to a place where I love myself, and love my body, like the wonderful, fluid, unique and special human that I am. I started this project, because I want to stop the war on our bodies. Every body is beautiful.
Meet the rest of The Succulent Six in the slideshow below:
Annika Reid — plus-size blogger, designer and model
Rachel Marcus — plus-size model
Ashley Sharman —plus-size model
Steff Ivory Conover — plus-size model, performer & former Miss Canada Plus
Belle Jumelles — plus size burlesque dancer and model
Julia Connelly — plus-size model, makeup artist and hairstylist
Every woman, with no exceptions, deserves to feel comfortable in her own body, and to believe that the world is made just as much for her as the next person. That's why with "My Curves Have No Bounds," we're going to get real and talk about our bodies, what we put on them, and how we feel about everything in between. We want to break down the barriers and outdated notions that plus-size women encounter everyday. So check back every other week for more from "My Curves Have No Bounds," by Amanda Montgomery of Latest Wrinkle.