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Amanda Marie Jackman had a love-hate relationship with mirrors when she was a teenager.
“I often struggled with who I saw in the mirror.”
People would tell her she was pretty. She didn’t see it.
As her weight yo-yoed throughout the years, she tried fad diets. She would skip meals and go long periods of time with no food, “just to be skinny,” she said. Every day, she stepped on the weight scales to see if she’d lost even an ounce.
Jackman’s obsession with counting calories continued as an adult and, as she struggled with mental illness, she often questioned her self-worth.
“I thought I was fat and ugly,” the 33-year-old Mount Pearl, N.L., woman said. “There was just so much pressure to fit in and to look a certain way.”
It’s a story that sounds all too familiar for Jessie Harrold.
Growing up in Halifax, she also grappled with body image. Due to her larger size, she was often made to feel small and inadequate in a thin-obsessed world.
Four years ago, after her son was born, she hit rock bottom in her life with her body. That’s when she decided to write about it.
In her book, “Project Body Love: My quest to love my body and the surprising truth I found instead,” Harrold shares her story about her battles and experiences in her quest to find acceptance, respect and the elusive body love.
“Having years of my life dieting and exercising and being a new Mom, I realized something had to be approached a different way because what I was doing wasn’t working,” she said, “I wasn’t feeling any better.”
For two years, Harrold put together a series of experiments that saw her first make small changes in life, including prioritizing sleep and drinking more water. She even took up belly dancing.
She realized diets don’t work and that being fat is rarely an indicator of health. Yet, Harrold still didn’t get to a point where she accepted her body.
“As I neared the end of (writing) the book, I felt my work was finished, but at the same time, I still didn’t love my body. I was waiting, but I didn’t feel it,” said Harrold, whose story-based research on women’s experiences of navigating health and well-being has won multiple awards and has been published in peer-reviewed journals around the world.
That’s when she came to the realization that reaching the goal of loving your body is difficult and not always possible.
“I can’t remember what triggered it, but I thought, you know what? My body is going to keep marching on. It’s going to be unruly. It’s going to get older and that’s not in our control. To hold that from a cultural idea (of being thin) was unrealistic,” said Harrold, who has a master’s degree in health promotion and is a certified professional life coach.
“We live in a world that doesn’t appreciate bodies of every size. So, the final piece of the book came together — it’s OK if somedays I don’t love by bodies.
“Every day, someone will ask me if I’m pregnant. It’s an everyday reality. Fat people are discriminated against. I can try to love my body, but it’s hard. I have to have compassion for myself some days.”
Health and happiness, she said, aren’t always determined on your body size.
“We equate health with being thin. But if I had diabetes, am I of less value? No,” said Harrold, who pointed out that mental health is also key. “Health is a personal choice. We’re autonomous human beings. Truth is, I get to choose whether health is a value to me or not.”
She admits it will be a “life-long thing” to put this into practice, but in the end, she said it’s important that people — women, in particular — rise above societal pressures, deeply entrenched cultural beliefs and expectations of what the world tells us we should be.
Jackman was finally able to find her healthy place in life. By exercising and eating better, she felt better overall. Losing weight was an added reward.
“It was about self-care for me,” said Jackman, a recording artist, whose music and performances also help her express her struggles. “I’m just happier to be in a better head space while also taking care of my body … I’ve realized that we, ourselves, set the standard and define what beauty is, not others ...
“It’s been a hard road for self-love and self-acceptance for my body. But now, finally, I’m starting to like the person I see in the mirror.”
Read more from our International Women's Day edition of Now Atlantic!
“When you support women everyone rises together”
In honour of International Women’s Day and the 2019 theme of #BalanceforBetter our entire edition has been crafted by women, about women and for women in Atlantic Canada.
In the meantime, we’re also making a commitment to diversity and gender equality in this publication. Whether it’s through the writers we hire, the people we interview or artists we collaborate with, diversity and equality remains an integral part of the stories we tell and who gets to tell them.
As Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained, “The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”