by Sydney Bell, RSW
“The Nourish conference is an event where people of all sizes, shapes, genders, abilities, and backgrounds can gather to celebrate all bodies, support one another as we work toward body acceptance, and build a more inclusive community that values all people”.
Last November, about 85 people gathered in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for the very first Nourish Conference. With the aim of creating a space to celebrate body acceptance and support, a variety of workshops and presentations were offered. The sessions ranged from sharing of how drag performance impacted one man’s body image journey, to raising body-positive children, to engaging in body-positive physical fitness, to providing an opportunity for participants to experience a group session that explored self-compassion in the context of our relationship with food. It was my privilege to share information on the Health at Every Size® (HAES) approach to weight and health, the principles upon which the Nourish Conference was built. Vivienne McMaster of Be Your Own Beloved was the conference keynote speaker, leading two plenary talks about using photography and selfies as a tool for self-compassion. Through these sessions and all the others, the chance to celebrate body diversity from many different angles was explored. Amazing and ground-breaking as each of the sessions were, listing them does not do justice to the whole experience of the event, what it was like to be a part of the collective learning of the day.
The Nourish Conference was a labour of love 18 months in the making, birthed by a group of dedicated volunteers in Saskatoon and inspired by The Body Love Conference held in Arizona. It was important to each of us from the start that the Nourish Conference embrace the HAES principles as fundamental and to ensure that the conference was safe and welcoming for those attending. For the organizing committee, this meant not only creating body – positive space that embraced body diversity, free of diet-talk and body-shaming, but it also meant keeping an eye on the broader social justice aspects of the HAES framework and paying attention to how the conference could be welcoming to people of all sizes as well as people with a wide range of economic realities, gender identities, abilities, etc.
One of the biggest thrills of the conference for me was meeting keynote speaker, Vivienne McMaster. I’ve known of Vivienne for a few years now and have been rewarded by participating in her Be Your Own Beloved program. I was confident that Vivienne’s offerings would enrich our efforts of ‘supporting one another as we work toward body acceptance, and build a more inclusive community that values all people’, and indeed it was. The insight, warmth, creativity, and beauty that is reflected in her website also shines through Vivienne the person and infused her keynote sessions. Conference participants responded to her invitation to practice self-compassion and were inspired to see where their cameras and other creative explorations might take them; how they might, with the power of self-love, claim space in the world.
Community response to the Nourish Conference was the most telling, as sold out attendance exceeded expectations. Here are some of the comments from the people who participated:
- “This is exactly what I needed. I feel joyful, connected like this may well be a turning point in my healing and self care.”
- “There is a larger body-positive movement than I ever imagined.”
- “I feel more confident about being able to raise a self-confident, body-positive daughter.”
- “I can release the negative messages I’ve been fed all my life!”
- “My path has been going in this direction unknowingly and I now know there are tools to help me discover how to love myself.”
These responses speak to the hunger in our communities for HAES places and spaces which uphold the radical shift of focus away from weight as the primary indicator of health. We are recognizing more and more that equating thinness with health is doing more harm than good – people are looking for a new way forward.
The conference last November was just a beginning in Saskatoon, and there are plans to continue to expand engagement with communities to foster body acceptance and inclusivity. Another full-day conference is being planned for Spring 2017, and the committee is hosting lunch and learn discussions on body image around the community starting in June. The inspiration from the Nourish Conference is extending to my new home of Kitchener, Ontario with dreams of fostering a similar project there. The hope also extends to all of you to consider taking on a similar venture in your own community. Events like the Nourish Conference are an opportunity to build life-long alliances and to work together to challenge the myopic and harmful notion that everyone needs to conform to one body type to be healthy and happy.
Sydney Bell is a Social Worker, Counsellor, Body Image Coach, Animal Lover, HAES® Educator, and Body Acceptance Advocate. She feels her work is to challenge the current oppressive paradigm of ‘fat = unhealthy’ which leads many to discordant relationships with their bodies. Sydney looks for any way possible to spread the word of how unconditional body-positivity can bring us peace of mind, consistent self-care and self-acceptance. www.sydneybell.ca