by Lamis Abdelaziz

Victoria is a body-positive activist and researcher specializing in Body Image Psychology. Her goal is to advocate for the integration of modern psychological science into the body-positive movement

The journey from personal struggles to impactful advocacy is often marked by resilience, such is shown by Victoria’s transformation from a ballet dancer grappling with body shaming to a body-positive activist. In an exclusive interview, Victoria shared the profound experiences that fueled her commitment to addressing body image psychology and promoting body positivity.

Victoria’s journey began in the demanding world of ballet, an art form notorious for its strict beauty standards. As a young girl immersed in that world, Victoria faced body shaming that transcended isolated incidents. The pressure to conform to a narrow ideal of skinny persisted, leaving her feeling inadequate despite being only a size two at the time.

“I was told to lose weight; I wasn’t specifically told there was something wrong with my abdomen, but I was told everything else was wrong. It sounds brutal, and that was my main area of concern,” Victoria said. 

Her ballet studio teacher delivered the harsh message: “You gotta lose weight. Nobody will ever take you seriously as a dancer.”

The constant scrutiny of her body by authority figures left scars, fostering anxiety and fear. “I met girls who developed anorexia nervosa after being there. And then there’s some girls who developed nothing, but maybe they still had negative body image,” she revealed.

Despite the emotional toll and anxiety caused by the persistent criticism, Victoria’s perseverance led to a turning point. She refused to succumb to these pressures and embarked to challenge the norm.

Undeterred by the toxic environment, Victoria harbored a dream—to participate in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix competition. However, her teacher conditioned her participation on losing weight, a demand she couldn’t fulfill. Rather than giving up on her goal, Victoria left the studio, embarked on a solo journey, and, against all odds, became the first Canadian independent soloist at the competition.

“I was the first Canadian to ever do that. And I did it to say, hey, you know what? Everybody can be a ballet body. And that was how I got involved in body positivity as a movement,” Victoria declared.

Her defiance of conventional norms and her subsequent success echoed a powerful message—challenging beauty standards is possible.

Victoria’s journey didn’t end with her triumph as a ballet trailblazer. With an affiliation with a clinical neuroscience laboratory studying Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), she delved into the intersection of scientific research and body positivity, adding a unique dimension to her advocacy. She emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between scientific research and the body positivity movement since her involvement in the research enhanced her self-awareness, enabling her to strike a balance between personal experiences and scientific insights. She believes that integrating scientific components into the body positivity movement provides a strong basis for its purpose, beyond promoting individual well-being.

Victoria believes that understanding the scientific basis of body positivity contributes to societal change by dismantling unrealistic body ideals. She acknowledged the challenges of communicating scientific concepts to a broader audience but stressed the potential synergy between scientific insights and the movement’s goal of acceptance. Bridging this gap not only enriches the movement but also contributes to mitigating the impact of health disorders like BDD.

Social media, a powerful influencer in shaping societal norms, plays a pivotal role in Victoria’s advocacy. While acknowledging the under-researched connection between social media and BDD, she stressed the impact of visual platforms on self-perception. She emphasized that the body positivity movement, deeply rooted in social media, could reshape the narrative by promoting authenticity and minimizing unrealistic beauty standards. She also highlighted the need to address media literacy, particularly on social platforms, to combat unrealistic beauty standards and promote a more inclusive representation of diverse bodies.

“By [lessening] the Photoshop, the unrealistic standards, and saying, ‘Hey, you can be beautiful, glamorous, and still look like a human,’—this is something that the body positivity movement works on,” Victoria expressed.

Addressing critics who question the scientific basis of body positivity, Victoria dispelled the notion that the movement encourages obesity. Victoria clarified that there is no evidence to support such claims. She debunked the idea that body positivity leads to increased obesity rates, emphasizing the movement’s focus on shifting harmful body ideals rather than promoting specific body types. 

Victoria’s non-governmental organization, BodyIMG, serves as a social media platform to connect the body positivity movement with scientific research. Her goal is to translate complex but related scientific concepts into digestible content for a broader audience. This effort is poised to empower individuals without a scientific background, fostering a deeper understanding of the scientific basis behind body positivity. 

“I’m doing this by translating terminology and concepts in scientific literature on body image and body image disturbances into more palatable language for those who do not have the background. And I’m doing this through social media in order to connect a wider audience.”

In an unexpected turn of discussion, Victoria relatedly shared her involvement in beauty pageants, leveraging these platforms to advocate for change in beauty standards. By participating in beauty pageants and discussing body image issues within the industry, she aims to challenge established norms and foster discussions on inclusivity.

“I was a Miss International Canada finalist. Doing that and speaking about body image and body dysmorphia there to bring that to light in the beauty industry was definitely an accomplishment,” Victoria expressed.

In unveiling the behind-the-scenes motivations to Victoria’s TEDx talk, it becomes clear that her narrative is not just a personal story but a call to action. It urges individuals to think critically about “status quo” societal norms, embrace diversity, and recognize the profound impact that body positivity can have on well-being. It amplifies the message that everyone deserves to feel seen, valued, and beautiful.

Victoria Gracie will deliver an in-person talk at TedxUofT’s annual conference on Jan. 28, 2024, titled “Why We Need to Revolutionize Body Positivity into a Science – Body Image Psychology.”

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