No one can deny that today’s teenagers are affected more than ever by body insecurity, and our current “wellness”-obsessed society isn’t helping. We're told that if we want to be fit, we should drink celery juice for its “detox magic” and follow YouTubers' workouts so that we can be like them. Everywhere we look, we're faced with unrealistic standards for a healthy lifestyle.
How does this affect us?
When we see these ideas, we get the message that we’re not living “right” if we don’t follow these trends. If we don’t exercise like gym gurus. If we don’t eat that "superfood". If we don’t look like those people. How are we supposed to feel adequate and learn to love ourselves when we're constantly being told to change?
As a dancer, a teenager, a provincial titleholder, and, well, someone who's just trying to live life, it's exhausting. Thinking about all of the different expectations that we face is enough to make anyone's head spin. We're told that we have to be skinny (but not too skinny), muscular (but not too muscular), curvy (but not too curvy), but most importantly, we're supposed to be "healthy". Can we see the irony here?
I want to help end these ridiculous expectations. We deserve to live in a world where all bodies are celebrated and appreciated. By gaining weight in anorexia recovery, I'm going to prove on the national Miss Teenage Canada stage that our body shape is not a reliable indicator of our health, and that we can feel amazing about ourselves no matter what size jeans we wear.
Walking in Swimwear
The swimwear section of pageants has always been a controversial topic. Recently, some competitions have decided to end that tradition, while others, including Miss Teenage Canada, choose to keep it alive. It can be seen as objectifying, but the main goal is to encourage us to be confident in the body that we have. Pageants give us the opportunity to stand up and say "Yes! This is me!" in all of the aspects of our identity, including our outward appearance.
The swimwear round exists to boost confidence, but there's another aspect to it. One of the judgment criteria is often “physical fitness”. According to pageant values, a titleholder should be a positive role model in good physical condition. But what does that really mean in today's society? Let's unpack it.
What is fitness?
Physical fitness is when our body can perform what's required of it. That's it, that's all. In no dictionary will you find skinniness or muscle tone as a necessary prerequisite for fitness.
We hear about measurable factors such as cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength, but there's no universal baseline for fitness. A 20-year-old who trains for marathons can be fit if their body supports it. A 50-year-old who practices yoga can be fit if their body supports it. Every single human has a different level of strength and endurance, but fitness is relative. As long as our capabilities get us through the day, we're fit. No need to drink green smoothies, over-exercise, or attain a specific physique.
In today's world, it can be tough to differentiate physical fitness from thinness. To go back to that idea of unrealistic wellness standards, famous fitness models typically have a small build that only represents a fraction of our population. This spreads the message that we can never really be healthy or worthy unless we look and act like them.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Health at Every Size (HAES)
In more recent years, a movement known as HAES has emerged to combat the ever-growing pressure to be thin. It was trademarked 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 favours an inclusive approach that honours all bodies. By looking back at myself, I can see the value of HAES and why we should all support it.
I've always had a hard time accepting my appearance because I don't have the stereotypically "fit" body type. When I reflect on the past few years, though, I would say that I felt fit. 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 pinpoint the time when I was in my best physical condition - and I wasn't skinny. Fitness, in my body, does not look thin. Period. I had muscles and I had fat, but far 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 agenda.
Despite my previous level of fitness, when I experienced a significant weight loss in the past year, I was applauded. As I lost weight, I was being told how “healthy” I looked, when in reality, I was becoming weaker. As my second semester in a dance program began, I was struck with the realization that though I was thinner, I was no longer as fit. My body was struggling to keep up with my dancing, and I needed to gain weight to become healthy again.
So there we have it. Take my story as proof that skinniness isn't necessarily fitness.
How am I bringing this to pageants?
As I mentioned before, we're judged in part on our physical fitness. Stereotypical pageant girls are usually thin and toned, but this just doesn't cover the entire spectrum of healthy bodies. Sometimes, fitness has different shapes and sizes, and they're all equally valid. I'd like to show other people that it's possible to be fit, healthy, strong, and confident, all while honouring how we're truly made.
As most contestants are currently striving for top fitness in time for the national pageant, I'm proud to say that I'm working hard to do the same. Now that I understand what fitness means, I know that I need to gain weight to be fit. I won’t be like the models in magazines, 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 whatever "advice" we see in the media. We don't have to torture ourselves to achieve someone else's view of fitness. We can feel positive about our body, no matter how it looks. We deserve our place in the world, simply by being our natural, authentic, and beautiful selves.