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Campus Well-Being

Combatting Body Stigma, and Reclaiming Your Space at the Gym

April 26, 2022

The following blog is written by Judimar Diotay, 1st year Electrical Engineering Technology Student, at Red River College Polytechnic.

Hello, my name is Judimar. I am in my first year of electrical engineering technology at RRC Polytech. I like to work out and attend the EDC and NDC fitness centers now that the doors have re-opened. I noticed that the gym has been quiet, and the attendance levels have been low. Unfortunately, the college hallways reflect this as well.

I know we are coming out of a pandemic, but it made me reflect on barriers that my friends and classmates were facing that stopped them from heading to the gym.

I decided to do an informal survey to ask my fellow students what was stopping them from going to the RRC Polytech fitness centers. A significant barrier for many of them was related to body stigma and self-esteem. Additionally, my classmates discussed uncertainty about how to use the equipment. Finally, there was an overarching worry about how they would be perceived while working out.

When I heard this message – it gave me flashbacks to elementary school and what it was like to be bullied for being fat. It got worse during physical education no matter the activity -basketball, baseball, soccer, etc. My classmates always told me to sit out of the games. I rarely got to play unless the teacher intervened. So, I could relate to my colleagues’ worries personally, and I knew that I wanted to share their concerns with the Campus Well-Being unit.

It is hard to feel comfortable in a space where society has expectations of what we should look like, and which bodies hold more merit. But I realized early on that I deserve to care for my body just like anyone else and that I deserve to take up space in the gym if that is what I wanted. Body positivity is so much more than just accepting other bodies, but it is also an acknowledgement of the systemic barriers that hurt people who do not fit into these stereotypes. We need to figure out how to combat those hurtful ideas and come together as a community.

I want to share my body confidence principles with you!

  1. Focus on the people who “get it” 

Other people’s opinions about your body are more about them than about you. Focus on the people who cherish you and use that as motivation to focus on caring for yourself in your body. whatever that looks like for you!

  2. What can I control? What is not my job to control?

You cannot fully control what a person thinks or says about you, but you can control who you are and what you are meant to do on this earth. We will have days where our body image is worse than other days. But find the things you can control. Take extra care of yourself and talk to a friend who supports you.

  3. Remember you are loved and wanted

Your family, friends, and people who care love you for who you are and will be there when you need them the most. You deserve and have the right to take up space in this world, no matter what your body looks like. Finally, you can reflect on what your body has done for you. Bodies have helped us navigate the world and create relationships based on so much more than our weight.

  4. Follow Body Positive influencers

Fill your feed up with influencers with diverse body types. You will see all types of bodies working out, living, and wearing the clothes they want to wear. This normalizes different body types, but it also supports people who exist outside of dominant beauty standards.

  5. Be an ally

Stand up for others, advocate for your needs, and challenge body image and beauty stereotypes. Speaking up against injustice is a small step towards creating a cultural shift. Critically think about where the messages about beauty are coming from.

My Closing Message

Rest assured! Individuals who feel they do not belong in the gym hesitate to go. I discussed creating a body-positive and accepting environment at the gym with the Fitness Centre Supervisor and Mental Health Coordinator. Safety and comfort are priorities for the Campus Well-Being unit. We discussed the processes to ensure people feel safe at the gym. There are many supports available, and if you are hesitant about attending the gym, please make sure to contact recreation@rrc.ca. They would be happy to help you with starting your journey at the RRC Polytech fitness centres.

 I hope that this message helped reach someone who may have been struggling with the same issues around body stigma – and that this will encourage them to reach out to someone for support or to try something new. Even though we at RRC Polytech represent a small corner of the world, we can turn this corner into a platform that promotes love and acceptance of an individual’s diversity and create a safe space for all people. We can challenge the norms together that often exclude individuals from certain activities. We can make body stigma and self-esteem issues a thing of the past through our combined willpower and perseverance.

Thank you for reading this, have a wonderful and joyous morning/afternoon/evening.

Sincerely, 

Judimar Diotay