4 min

Meet five Canadian LGBT advocates inspiring body positivity

The Body Love Ball hopes to foster a body-friendly, gender-friendly safer space

Clockwise from top left: Aisha Fairclough, Lisa Naylor, Daniel Pillai, Jill Andrew and Akio Maroon (centre) raise awareness about body confidence. Credit: Courtesy Emily D Photography, Stephen Underhay, Agnes Kiezz/Pure Studios, Jessica Laforet, Akio Maroon, and Francesca Roh/Xtra

Body image issues are ubiquitous in our society, affecting people of all ages, races, genders and sexualities. Diet culture, fat shaming, the beauty industry’s ongoing photoshopping of celebrities and models, and a lack of racial diversity in media representations all contribute.

So it’s no wonder more and more people are subscribing to a movement that has started to take over social media and trickle into pop culture, asking folks to embrace body empowerment. The body positivity movement has not only helped some of us develop more accepting and affirming attitudes towards our bodies, but empowered us by bringing community together.

Jill Andrew and Aisha Fairclough launched Body Confidence Canada in 2013 to help raise awareness around body image issues and appearance-based discrimination. Through their events, such as the Body Confidence Canada Awards, they try to hold space for people who have previously been rendered invisible or ignored by mainstream media; instead uplifting their body confidence and amplifying their voices.

Now, their inaugural dance fundraiser, the Body Love Ball, promises to be a night of celebration for all bodies through dance. Andrew and Fairclough want to transform the ballroom into a positive space for all attendees, with body-positive art, motivational speakers, live music and DJs.

Dancing has always been an outlet for Andrew. “If it’s going to a friend’s event or putting on my favourite ’90s soundtrack and dancing in my living room, there is something about dancing that uplifts my spirits,” she says.

“And we felt that with all the pressures so many of us are facing just to be ourselves . . . we should do something that brings people together with laughter and movement. It was then Aisha looked at me and said, ‘why don’t we throw a dance party?’”

To Daniel Pillai, body positive events like the Love Ball are about “self-love and celebration of yourself and others.”

Pillai, one of several hosts of this year’s ball, says even though he struggled with weight loss growing up, it was being on TV that really crystallized his understanding of body image issues.

“My body type was never the ‘ideal’ for working in film and television, so sometimes floor directors would make comments to me about my body by saying, “Oh my god, I don’t know what to do. You’re just too big for the frame,” Pillai says.

“But rather than let comments like those upset me, I came to celebrate it as a part of who I am,” he says, “and it became a part of my brand.”

“Body positivity is a huge thing for me. I don’t have a choice but to live it because of the body in which I was born in,” says Akio Maroon, who received an award at the 2016 Body Confidence Canada Awards.

“I was gendered female at birth. I am born Black. Society tries to push all these pressures on me to be accepted, to be socialized as beautiful, to be accepted and cherished in our society as beautiful and therefore worthy of compliments, praises or even of trust,” says Maroon, who is a queer, gender-fluid human-rights advocate and parent.

“The thing is that I don’t have a choice. I don’t have the privilege of not taking body confidence personally,” Maroon says. “I don’t have a choice in not to internalize the harms that are created by society. I teach my girls and myself every day that you are worthy the way you are, and you are loved. You are worthy of honour and worthy of praise.”

Maroon looks forward to Body Confidence events like the awards ceremony every year.  “I call it the Body Oscars, and it is. It’s just something that makes me feel perfect inside.”

“From the red carpet to the way in which you’re treated from the moment that you walk through the door,” Maroon continues, “it’s everything from the people and the community that surrounds — you are just there to appreciate and love one another. It is body-friendly. It is gender-friendly. It is one of the safest places to be whoever you are.”

For Pillai, who grew up in a very conservative family, the Body Love Ball is a great way to keep the conversation going around body positivity.

“I think that’s the key,” he says, “it’s the idea of talking and having these conversations. Even if the other person doesn’t agree with you, we need to keep talking about issues relating to body love, body image, and gender/sexual identity.”

Lisa Naylor, who works as a counsellor at the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg (which also won an award at the 2016 Body Confidence Canada Awards), uses the term “body peace” rather than “body positive.”

“I would say body peace is the language I like because it is a counterbalance to that always being at war with yourself,” Naylor explains. “At the clinic, we know that some people are never going to accept parts of themselves and that can take a back seat in your life when you are at peace with your body.”

“Just because you may never be comfortable with the weight that your body naturally wants to reside at, it’s crucial for us to teach our clients to say, ‘You know, I don’t love this part of myself, but I’m willing just to set that fight aside, and put my energy into all the other things in my life that are good and positive, and focus on relationships, and put energy into finding clothes that make me happier.’”

For Body Love Ball co-founder Aisha Fairclough, the dance floor should be one of the safest spaces for people to celebrate their body. “You should feel like you can be yourself,” she says. “We wanted to bring various people together to enjoy themselves and feel safe around like-minded people and celebrate one another.”