Suzie Sawicki, the current titleholder of Miss Tecumseh, has always been drawn to the pageant world—mainly for the volunteer and scholarship opportunities presented to contestants. After placing first runner-up in 2017, she entered the Western Ontario competition of the Miss Universe Canada circuit, and noticed that it was a very different world from the local pageant scene.
“There is a ‘Best Body’ category and I don’t think that award should really exist. Because every body is beautiful in a different way and it’s not something that I found helpful.”
Suzie talked about the mental state of competitors and how even 20 seconds of swimsuit time on stage can be incredibly overwhelming and intimidating. Even though she didn’t find herself in this situation at first, there was one moment where her thoughts circled back to the competition photos, making her wonder, had she failed to place because she wasn’t the skinniest girl in the crowd?
“It wasn’t healthy, and my mom eventually snapped me out of it. I had to realize that I did everything I could to prepare for this moment, I knew my limits, and I didn’t cross the danger line. Women need to know what works for them in order to look and feel their best—we’re all different,” she adds.
How much of how we feel each day is based on our outer appearance? We want to make a good “first impression.” We boast that we’re having a “no-makeup day.” We’re groomed by a society that shows us filtered versions of reality on social media, logging us into a lifetime of self-doubt as we constantly admire others while comparing ourselves to them.
Even before the introduction of social media, there has been constant scrutiny of women and their self-image. Most of us have been putting on makeup since the age of 13 and shaving our hair in places we don’t think is attractive. All the while, we continue to apologize for our public appearance.
How can we survive and thrive in a society that is dominated by self-loathing?
In Suzie’s case, she’s a very positive person—about both her body image and self-confidence. Much of this has come from the Miss Tecumseh pageant, which has a very different vibe than the Miss Universe circuit. She has surrounded herself with the other contestants who lift her up, she has grown in her communication skills, and has become an active member in her community through volunteerism.
Not only is a negative body/self-image something that is socially ingrained in us from a young age, but it holds the attention of teenagers and young adults, becoming a lifelong epidemic.
My mother, Ewa Biniarz, the owner of BVogue Boutique, caters to many women over the age of 40 and says that more often than not, when women enter the store in sweatpants or casualwear, they feel the need to apologize.
“We have different places we need to be throughout the day, and we deserve the right to wear sweats,” she tells them, but that apologetic tendency is still there. “For a lot of us, not all of us, it could be because of our age group. Maybe we feel better when we’re put together, or maybe it goes back to the times when people told us that we had to look good for someone to notice us, or to take us seriously.”
Ewa’s goal is to make women feel comfortable and confident in their own skin, so they don’t feel that they have to cover up this imperfection or that flaw. Clothing shouldn’t cover up; it should accentuate the beautiful and unique qualities women have.
“There are so many women who put themselves down about every little imperfection that we all have. There is no such thing as ‘the perfect size’; we’re all beautiful and we have the power to be confident. We all have that within us.”
If anything, this negative mindset entrenches itself more as we age. We see articles like, “Seven Anti-aging Tricks that Every Woman Over 60 Should Know” and then we wonder why our sense of self-worth is directly linked to how we look.
But we have the power to change our inner narrative, just as these two women do.
When the world tells us to be one thing, we need to lift each other up and say that we are whatever we want to be.
It’s not about feeling happy with our image all the time, but what does matter is the respect we show our bodies through words and actions. CMHA B.C. Division quotes, “Body image and self-esteem directly influence each other—and your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. If you don’t like your body (or a part of your body), it’s hard to feel good about your whole self. The reverse is also true: if you don’t value yourself, it’s hard to notice the good things and give your body the respect it deserves.”
Be kind to yourself, and never say something about yourself that you wouldn’t say about a friend. Breaking this cycle starts with finding the little things about yourself that you love, shifting your language, and no longer comparing yourself to others. You are enough, and you are beautiful.
Below are a few tips from CMHA B.C. to encourage a healthier outlook on yourself and others:
• Eat well-balanced meals and exercise because it makes you feel good and strong, not as a way to control your body.
• Notice when you judge yourself or others based on weight, shape, or size. Ask yourself if there are any other qualities you could look for when those thoughts come up.
• Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, in clothes that fit you now.
• Surround yourself with positive friends and family who back you up and support you.
• Be aware of how you talk about yourself and your body around family and friends. Do you often seek reassurance or validation from others to feel good about yourself? Do you often focus only on physical appearances?
• Remember that everyone has challenges with their body image at times. Your friend may want the very feature you think is undesirable.
• Write a list of the positive benefits of the body part or feature you don’t like or struggle to accept.
The next time you notice yourself having negative thoughts about body and appearance, take a minute to see what may be going on in your life: Are you stressed out? Anxious? Low? Facing challenges in other parts of your life? Try to give yourself the same advice that you would give a friend.