by: Ama Scriver
There is no other way to put it, Jill Andrew, PhD and Aisha Fairclough are body positive warriors! In addition to being award-winning columnists and body image advocates, the two Canadians have made a name for themselves for the innovative ways they have elevated the body image conversation. Just this year, they launched the #SizeismSUCKS petition which aims to make size discrimination illegal in Canada. And the one thing they know, being tireless body image advocates themselves, is that it’s a thankless job sometimes. So they launched the Body Confidence Canada Awards, which acknowledges the everyday people at the forefront of body diversity – people who are champions of body positivity, body equity, and are actively inspiring those around them. We had the chance to speak to the pair about the awards, what a typical day looks like, and what body positivity means to them:
So why did you create the Body Confidence Canada Awards?
The Body Confidence Canada Awards (BCCAs) is an opportunity to acknowledge people who are actively redefining what image, what body confidence, and what ‘emBODYed’ activism can look like. It’s our opportunity to recognize “othered” bodies that talk back against stifling body ideals and social scripts.
The awards has grown in the four years since it started - what is that like?
We are so excited to see that the BCCAs have been able to recognize winners from across Canada including Vancouver, Montreal, Manitoba and Halifax - to name a few. We've also grown through the support and commitment of our sponsors. At this year’s event, TD Bank was our presenting sponsor. This has surely allowed us to spread our wings even further and present the best possible evening for our award recipients and guests. Not only have we grown in size but our message has also grown with our own understanding of body confidence.
In the beginning the awards were largely focused on size, weight and shape. But today, body confidence for us is all encompassing. We would like everyone at the BCCAs to consider the intersectional ways in which our body confidence shows up for each of us in similar and different ways. Things like race, disability, sexuality, class and our many other social locations influence how we feel about and present ourselves in this world. They are indisputable elements of our body confidence that are all too often forgotten about in the body positivity movement. At the Body Confidence Canada Awards, we place them front and center.
It’s so important to represent all bodies! Can you talk about the difficulties you have faced planning the awards?
Jill was quite sick this year and that sort of bit us in the butt! Thankfully, there were two of us and we had some amazing volunteers and our wonderful design director Valida Jafarov who truly stepped up to the plate. They made deadlines that were unimaginable, imaginable. We also had massive support on the night of the event from Saba Asfaw, who was our social media coordinator.
Money is always a big hurdle too. It's one thing when companies support in-kind but it’s a whole other beast when you can get someone to sign a check. Since the awards inception, we’ve always had the “invite-only” model and invited attendees for free. The idea was to make this event as inclusive as possible. In some ways, this has backfired has we can never remember to invite everyone we want to and the truth is, without the commitment of a ticket purchase, some folks RSVP but then don’t show up. This takes a spot away from someone who may potentially want to attend. Financially, it’s been hard to maintain this as a free event. Moving forward, we’re moving this to a ticketed event, however we’re exploring creative options so that it will still be inclusive.
I think that’s such a smart idea! So tell me, what does a typical day look like for the two of you?
Typical day? Truth be told, no day is a typical day! When I'm not working on my dissertation and Aisha is not on a television set, we are often responding to numerous e-mails (either independently or together) from various different folks including sponsors, media or even the random e-mails we get from people who appreciate our work or better yet, the people who don’t. Yes, the hate mail is real!
Often our days include speaking engagements, keynotes, opportunities to consult with organizations or corporations on various body positive, self-esteem and body image projects - the list goes on!
We do have social lives as well, including parties and galas and fundraisers. We also make date time for ourselves, whether it’s a walk in the park or some sushi. But most importantly, we always make time for our cats, Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge!
You recently launched a petition to have size discrimination made illegal in Canada. Can you tell us more about that?
As of last week, our petition has over 8,000 signatures and it’s growing! We are quite happy with this and we're hoping for continued growth. Considering how pervasive size discrimination is at work, school, restaurants, the doctor's office - everywhere - our dream is to have half of Canada’s population signing. It might sound ridiculous but the truth is there isn't one person I know who doesn’t know someone (or themselves) who has experienced body based harassment due to their weight, size or shape!
We are also working with other provinces to get folks to create their own petitions, this way our petition is not just based in Ontario. So far we’ve had two meetings with local politicians to discuss the petition. It looks promising!
I hope that you reach 10,000 signatures soon! With all the work you do, how do you stay positive and gather inspiration?
We draw inspiration from a lot of place: the stories of inequity, the stories of hate and the stories of exclusion that we hear about. You can’t turn on the television anymore without seeing some otherwise questionable content that is racist, sizeist or sexist - it’s everywhere! The work is never done and there is enough for all of us to do our part.
On a more personal note, we’re both inspired by our inner child. The work we’re doing today we needed 30 years ago when we were both young girls, who needed guidance and positive role models. Our bodies matter and all too often, the world will scream messages at you, telling you that our bodies (black bodies, fat bodies, disabled bodies, women’s bodies - the list goes on) don’t matter. So with the work that we do, it screams back that they do matter.
On the note of staying positive, we’ve got many friends, acquaintances and a very close circle of inner friends and select family (biological and chosen). These folks help keep things grounded and from them, we receive constructive criticism and loving support; plus there is always a shoulder to cry on. If you don't have your tight knit circle to lean on then you won't possibly be able to practice positive self-care or have the time and energy to spend enjoying life, let alone doing the things that keep us positive in spite of all we're facing in this world.
Positive self-care is great advice! If someone wanted throw an event like the BCCAs in their town, what advice would you give them?
Our dream is to see the BCCAs across Canada and to be a central part of the planning and execution of this. We need folks across Canada to join us to help make that a reality. On a very tangible level though you need to get supporters and have volunteers. Find people who will actually follow through with what they say they'll do and have a passion for this. You’ve got to live and breathe the work in order to keep at it because the nuts and bolts of fundraising, sponsorship and logistics can surely test you.
So finally, what do you think it takes to be a #BossBabe?
So many things! You've got to be a strong leader but more importantly a superb listener. Listen to your team, listen to their advice and take it whenever you can. Also, I think it takes 150% commitment to do what you say you're going to do and do it well, perhaps even with integrity. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself, if you don’t toot your own horn - who will? Being a boss takes patience. All too often the “made it in a day” narrative is what we see, but anyone who's actually made it knows this is not the truth. Finally, surround yourself with a solid team and a solid group of friends. You need these people to tell it like it is.