The article below is from the perspective of Luciana Rosu-Sieza (Interim Executive Director) and Mia Tannous (Interim Health Promotion Manager)
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) hosts a biannual body image and self-esteem conference that BANA had the privilege of attending. This year’s theme was “It’s not our bodies that need changing. It’s our attitudes.”—how appropriate! We have developed a culture of shame and blame, where rather than advocate for acceptance, we criticize for nonconformity. This conference provides BANA to interact with likeminded individuals and learn from one another. The networking opportunities allow us to establish good relations with the experts in our field. In addition, it allows us the opportunity to establish ourselves and be recognized by our colleagues for the work we do.
The first key speaker was Susie Orbach, who joined us all the way from the UK. Her vast knowledge and passion for eating disorders and body image were apparent as she delivered her presentation. Suzie’s session, entitled “Navigating our Culture’s Body Anxiety & Finding Ways to Fight Back” was enlightening and inspiring. She shared with the audience her experience as an activist and gave guidance on how to join her in the fight against the over commercialization and sexualisation of our culture.
The breakout sessions were a great way to get to know people on a more intimate level and to share your own individual experiences. There were a variety of sessions offered and we chose which ones to attend based on what we felt would best apply to our organization and our daily work within it.
The first session I (Mia) attended was called “Body Image Challenges Among Interuniversity Athletes: Coaches’ Perspective”. I chose this session because I work closely with the University of Windsor’s Athletic Department and am often asked how to approach body image issues where athletes are concerned. As echoed by the panel of coaches who led the discussion, it is very difficult to ensure that athletes engage in healthy eating and physical activity behaviours while maintaining their performance. Body image and self-esteem issues are extremely prevalent in those competing in any sport, particularly at the university level. During the session, coaches shared their experiences dealing with the aforementioned. They explained that there is a fine line between pushing an athlete to perform their best and pushing them to engage in unhealthy behaviours. I left the session feeling positive about the different changes coaches can incorporate into their practice to help combat these issues. I look forward to bringing them to the team at the U of W and discussing how we can implement some of these ideas.
I (Luciana) attended The Last Triangle: Sex, Money and the Politics of Pubic Hair by Meredith Dault. This session was very well attended and interactive. We explored the on-going commodification of female bodies with a particular focus on how women are socialized to view their own body hair. We discussed how trends are changing and removing hair has become normalized and a “must” especially for young females. I really enjoyed the dialogue between generations of women who reflected on their ideas, norms and attitudes of hair removal. The economic gain was at the forefront of these expectations that everyone must start shaving, waxing, lasering and do whatever it takes to be hairless. Meredith also deconstructed the body politics, body control and sexuality as it relates to women and their body hair. Overall, this session definitely left me with a lot to think about.
The afternoon session titled “I’ll Make a Man Out of You: Redefining Strong Female Characters”, highlighted the fact that there is so much gender inequality present in the media’s portrayal of female game and film characters. Anita Sarkeesian presented a host of examples showcased the role of females as secondary, subservient and over sexualized. There were examples of how these characters could be re-written in order to decrease the level of stigma that is associated with females in general. Women are often the subject of much criticism and in large part due to how they are portrayed by the media.
The next parallel session I (Mia) attended was called “Changing Social Standards Associated with Weight and Body Image”. This session was presented by Fannie Dagenais, Executive Director for Equilibre, a non-profit organization based out of Quebec that aims to transform social norms around weight and body image. She discussed at length that in order to change the standard it is essential to act at multiple levels. We all know that our culture currently is saturated with the desire to achieve a certain body type and failure to do so often results in low self-esteem and body image concerns. Fannie discussed her efforts at the government level in implementing The Quebec Charter for a Healthy and Diverse Body Image. In her session, she showed the charter and went through it outlining what she felt were the most important parts and how to mimic such a document in our communities.
In the afternoon I (Luciana) attended Men and Body Image Issues: A Panel Discussion. Given that about 15% of men suffer from eating disorders it is vital that we hear more stories about their struggle. The speakers shared personal stories about their own experience with their eating disorder including how they developed the eating disorder and their recovery. The men self- identified as gay/ transgendered and discussed their struggles to conform to the idealized body imagery that comes from the gym culture. Dr. Woodside shared his clinical background and his experience treating males with eating disorders. I found the stories to be very heartfelt, educational and embodied gender, sexuality and self-reflection.
Day 2 of the conference opened up with an amazingly touching and inspirational talk by two leaders in the field of Emotion-Focused Therapy for Eating Disorders. The presentation focused on the attachment of mothers and daughters and just how strong parental bonds can be when trying to combat an eating disorder. They showed a video of a mother who used EFT to help her daughter recover from anorexia. In this video, the mother gave a heartfelt account of her daughter’s journey and how EFT saved them both. The mother also made a call to arms of sorts, encouraging parents that even when they think they can’t—they can! The power of a parent’s love and concern emanated from the presentation and was proof-positive the role that families play in a patient’s recovery. The basic techniques of EFT were described as well as the benefits to using this type of therapy.
The next parallel session I (Mia) attended was called “Obesity and Eating Disorders: A Management Approach”. This was my favourite presentation of the whole conference, I have already incorporated a great deal of the information I gathered into my daily practice. The main focus of this session was to point out the shared risk factors as well as treatment outcomes for both eating disorders and obesity. Too often are these two issues views as separate and in some cases conflicting. It was extremely beneficial to see how CHEO’s Healthy Active Living Centre is using this knowledge to help create healthy children—mind and body. The focus of their centre is not weight loss, which is refreshing! Rather, they emphasize health at every size and promote healthy active living as a means to overall health and well being. They echoed our belief that health and weight are not synonymous.
Day 2 I (Luciana) attended the day long workshop Critical Media Literacy with Lorayne Roberston. The focus of this workshop was to answer the two following questions 1) what are the issues in critical media literacy and 2) what are the solutions? The workshop attendees consisted of a variety of professionals from teachers *being the majority* to public health workers, nurses, daycare care teachers and health promotion specialists. We uncovered overt assumptions, stereotypes and stigma presented in the media through a variety of hands on activities. The session was vastly interactive and she was able to get us to deconstruct the media in very creative ways. I really appreciated that Lorayne provided examples of positive media messages which promote equity, inclusion and empowerment.
The last breakout session that I (Mia) attended, entitled “Embodying Differences in Popular Film: Whose Bodies are These Anyway?” This presentation gave techniques on how to equip students with the language to discuss and tools to identify the ways in which different bodies are represented in popular film. The session was in line with our media literacy workshop, to which many of the ideas from the presentation can be incorporated. The audience was shown different examples of popular film and how they use not only different body types but also different races and ethnicities in different ways in order to either push an agenda or make a point.
The conference was closed with an energetic talk by Jenni Schaefer, author of the popular books “Life Without Ed” and “Good-Bye Ed, Hello Me: Rediscover Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life”. She discussed her journey, where it began and how to she came to be at the remarkable place she is now. She also talked about the revisions to the new DSM and how those changes relate to her latest book “Almost Anorexic: Does Everyone Have an Eating Disorder?” Jenni gave the crowd hope, hope for a better life for all of the countless people we work with everyday. Her story was a great one and not without struggle but her portrayal of it is inspiring and reaffirmed for many why we are in the field we are.