03/13/2017 04:55 EDT

Miss Universe Canada Siera Bearchell Opens Up About Self-Love And Body Image

When Miss Canada, Siera Bearchell, left the Philippines after competing at the Miss Universe pageant last January, she was the talk of the town.

No, she didn't win the crown, but she did become Instagram's newest body image hero.

During the competition, the 24-year-old made headlines when she became a target for body-shamers who criticized her weight, saying she was "bigger" than the other contestants.

"It takes discipline to have the body of a Miss Universe." It also takes discipline to be accepted into Law School. It takes discipline to run a marathon. It takes discipline to be true to ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to shape us into something we are not. People have asked me if I changed my body to prove a point. No. Our lives are fluid, dynamic and ever-changing. So are our bodies. To be truthful, I restricted my food intake intensely at previous pageants and was miserable, self-conscious and I never felt good enough. No matter how little I ate and how much weight I lost, I constantly compared myself to others and felt like I could still lose more. My mental perception did not match the physical body I saw in the mirror. There were days I would eat a protein bar, workout for hours and struggle to fall asleep because I as so hungry. My body is not naturally lean and that's okay. I am healthy. I am fit. I am confident. I am me. This is who I am right now and I'm okay with it, so you should be too. My fellow ladies, remember that true beauty, and validation start from within. 💛 #confidentlybeautiful #missuniverse

A post shared by Siera Bearchell (@sierabearchell) on

And this wasn't the first time Bearchell faced judgment from body image critics.

In a Skype interview with The Huffington Post Canada, she recounts how when she was 20, she was told to "basically eat nothing." Some days she would only eat a chicken breast and some greens, and work out for a couple hours a day. And she struggled with the hypocrisy that she was living a life that was the opposite of what she was promoting — an active, healthy lifestyle.

"I was told if you want to win, if you want to be successful in this competition, you have to be as skinny as possible and be a certain size," she says. "Even though I had values beyond that, it’s easy to get sucked into that because you think 'OK, well I don’t agree with it, but if I want to win, and I want to do well, I guess that’s what I have to do.'"

Siera also recounts feeling miserable and being questioned by her mother, who believed she was perfect the way she was. Going into the Miss Canada competition, she says she knew it was time to ditch the "do what you think you should be" mentality.

And she did, eating healthier and even running a marathon days before taking the stage. Yet, she was still being criticized for her body.

"I mean, I was fit, healthy and active and I felt good. I was obviously confident enough since I won the competition so the judges saw something that was good in some way."
— Miss Universe Canada, Siera Bearchell

But the backlash then and during the Miss Universe competition didn't stop the Moose Jaw, Sask.-native from loving who she was and spreading messages of kindness. She quickly began to call out the haters and became a champion for body positivity, letting women know that being comfortable with your body is beautiful.

But Siera's journey towards self-love and acceptance wasn't easy. In her interview with HuffPost Canada Style, the University of Saskatchewan law student recounts the struggles of overcoming body image pressures and how she learned to accept herself in the process.

"We need to let young women know that they don’t have to commit to this certain mould to be accepted, to be beautiful and to be successful."
— Miss Universe Canada, Siera Bearchell

Check out the interview in the video above!

And for the record, here are five more reasons why Miss Universe Canada Siera Bearchell is our body image hero:

1. She believes beauty is being comfortable with who you are

I was recently asked, "What happened to you? Why have you gained weight? You are losing points" This was a reference to my body of course. While I am first to say I am not as lean as I was when I was 16, 20, or even last year, but I am more confident, capable, wise, humble and passionate than ever before. 🙋🏻As soon as I started to love who I was rather than always trying to fit what I thought society wanted me to be, I gained a whole new side of life. This is the side I am trying to bring to the @missuniverse competition. The side of life that is so rare to find: self-worth and self-love. We always focus on the things we wish we could change rather than loving everything we are. #missuniverse #bodydiversity #IMG

A post shared by Siera Bearchell (@sierabearchell) on

"That sounds cliché, but I think it’s so true. Some of the most beautiful people I know are those who are so comfortable and confident with themselves that that confidence allows them to share their passions and share these other things about themselves... to me, that’s what beauty is."

2. She doesn't believe in Instagram #Goals

"In the Instagram social media world, all we see are '#goals, #lifegoals.' I can’t stand that stuff. You don’t want to go too deep in that. People think #lifegoals is going to make you happy [but] it’s absolutely not the case."

3. She believes more Canadians need to advocate for body positivity

"In the world that we live in, the social media world, we need more [people to advocate for] young women and people of all ages. You don’t have to look this way, you don’t have to have the best hair, the best whatever or the certain materialistic things to be happy and to be successful. First and foremost, we need more people speaking at schools and just spreading the message that it’s not what you look like and what you have that is going to make you happy and successful."

4. She has become a role model around the world

"Every day I get messages and comments from girls around the world, and men as well, who say 'my sister' or 'my mom' or 'my girlfriend' have seen your messages and it has helped change the way they view themselves. I didn’t imagine that this would happen, I was just expressing how I felt. I feel so proud that something that I can say or share in my little stories or thoughts can actually change the way people view themselves. I consider myself to be pretty normal, but if I can actually have that impact it makes me really excited and also it makes me motivated to know that there’s so much work to be done if so many girls are moved by what I have to say."

5. Her body image hero is Ashley Graham

"I love her. I’ve never really been a starstruck person, but when I saw her and introduced myself she had already known all the things that I had been doing. She hugged me and congratulated me, and I thought, 'You have been my motivation in this,' because her messages are what I’m sharing. People make comments like, ‘Oh, you're not considered plus size,' but to me that doesn’t matter. If you’re plus-size or whatever size you are, the point is being comfortable with who you are and sharing that. There’s diversity within women and you should be proud of who you are. It’s not, 'OK well I can’t have the same message as Ashley Graham because I’m not a plus-size model' or something. It doesn’t matter, it’s the messages that are shared. It’s more about celebrating women, celebrating the diversity in women and how beautiful that is. If we all looked the same and if we all had the same bodies that would be boring."

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Our Body Image Heroes