A BEAUTIFUL TATTOO WRAPS AROUND VICTORIA’S RIGHT SHOULDER like a vine around a tree. In it, a fierce woman and a mighty bear stare ahead defiantly, ready to stand their ground against any challenge that comes their way.
The woman is an Amazon, a member of the ancient tribe of women warriors from Greek mythology, and Victoria decided to etch her into her skin just a few months ago.
“She’s a reminder that no matter what’s happening in my life, no matter how hard or stressful it gets, I have this deep internal strength,” says the 24 year-old from Kelowna, B.C. “She’s that warrior that’s inside of me and that I can rely on no matter what.”
VICTORIA DIDN’T ALWAYS FEEL LIKE SHE HAD AN INNER WARRIOR. In fact, she spent the vast majority of her late teens and early twenties riddled with insecurities and self-loathing.
These insecurities first appeared in high school, and were mainly tied to the way she looked. She constantly felt overweight, for example, and thought she looked bad in every single picture that was taken of her.
“I really didn’t appreciate myself back then. I didn’t appreciate the beauty I had, nor my strengths, nor any of my positive attributes,” she remembers. “All I saw were my flaws.”
“I was so sad and displeased by the way I looked that during my second year of university I started binging and purging to control my weight,” she remembers. “I really thought I was overweight, even though there was nothing wrong with my body.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but what Victoria had developed was bulimia, a life-threatening eating disorder that affects between one and three percent of Canadian women.
“What I had was a mental health problem, not a weight problem.”
“I really didn’t appreciate myself back then. I didn’t appreciate the beauty I had, nor my strengths, nor any of my positive attributes. All I saw were my flaws.”
WESTERN MEDIA PLAYS A HUGE ROLE in perpetuating unhealthy standards of female beauty.
Music videos, advertisements and Instagram posts all deliver a similar message to young women: that beautiful bodies only come in one size.
Victoria grew up immersed in this unhealthy culture, and remembers constantly comparing herself to the women she saw in media—and always coming up short.
“When you see these women on TV or on Instagram or Facebook, you start thinking that this is what you have to look like to be considered pretty,” she says. “But most women just can’t look like that.”
This distorted perception of beauty had a strong impact on Victoria. Looking back, she believes that these unhealthy social expectations were partly responsible for the way she felt about her body.
“For so long I thought that I had to be this dainty, cute, little girl that all the boys loved—no matter what it took to get there.”
A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR was the first person to openly talk to Victoria about the possibility that she was suffering from an eating disorder.
“As part of one of my psychology classes, I had to fill out a survey about eating disorders,” she remembers. “I didn’t think twice about it, but a week later the prof emailed me and asked me to come back and see her. The second I walked into the office she said: ‘Based on your results, you’re on your way to having a severe eating disorder.’ I was surprised, and I instantly started crying.”
Victoria’s professor was frank. She told her there were two options: she could either get help or end up in a hospital.
Deep inside, Victoria knew that her professor was right. She knew that she had been engaging in self-destructive behaviour for months and that something had to change. That’s when she decided to finally talk to her family about her mental health challenges, and put herself on a path towards recovery.
“Changing the way I looked at my body and my whole self was really tough,” Victoria says. “The self-loathing was so ingrained in me, that in order to get better I had to re-wire my whole way of thinking and start from scratch.”
“What I’ve learned is that the more you keep your mental health challenges a secret, the more the shame and the guilt and the self-hatred holds on. So I share my story with as many people as I can, and do my best to make an impact in terms of other people’s mental health.”
IT’S BELIEVED THAT A GREEK POET CALLED HOMER was the first person to write about the existence of the Amazons.
That first mention was nearly 3000 years ago, in a classic book called the Illiad. In it, Homer describes the Amazons as a tribe of fierce warrior women who were equal to men in strength, and would go into battle with them.
“The Amazonians were these female barbarians that used to hunt and fight battles and lead wars,” says Victoria, who has become somewhat of an expert on the subject.
Her interest in the Amazonians started when she was first recovering from her eating disorder. At the time, the struggle with bulimia felt like an ongoing battle, and Victoria found strength in the image of those mythic female warriors who were capable of fighting against the most aggressive of opponents.
But the image of the Amazonians also appealed to Victoria for another reason. Their bodies were large and muscular, and Victoria had just begun practicing a new hobby that was helping her get over her body image issues: powerlifting.
“I was starting to get inspired by women who were unafraid to be themselves in ways that are not considered the norm, and the Amazonians fit that perfectly,” Victoria says. “They were these physically huge women who rode horses bareback and fought with swords and carried shields and didn’t fit the mold of how women were expected to look, or act, or feel.”
“Changing the way I looked at my body and my whole self was really tough. The self-loathing was so ingrained in me, that in order to get better I had to re-wire my whole way of thinking and start from scratch.”
TODAY, VICTORIA IS PART OF A GROWING MOVEMENT of people who are using social media to destroy unhealthy perceptions of beauty.
Through her Instagram account @vicslifts, Victoria shares images of her new self: a strong and confident Amazonian who can squat and deadlift and bench press.
“On my Instagram bio I call myself an aspiring Amazonian because I think that it’s a really great way to remind myself that it’s ok to be different and not fit into these social norms,” she says.
Victoria also posts about her mental health journey, sharing stories about her struggles and her road to wellness.
“What I’ve learned is that the more you keep your mental health challenges a secret, the more the shame and the guilt and the self-hatred holds on,” she says. “So I share my story with as many people as I can, and do my best to make an impact in terms of other people’s mental health.”
Her main goal is to reach out to other people who suffer from low self-esteem, and get to them before they adopt self-destructive behaviours.
“Unfortunately there are too many women who are going through the same things I went through,” Victoria says. “That’s why I’ve been really vocal about what I’ve been struggling with and why I’m so passionate about helping other women find their own inner warrior.”
This story is part of a series aimed at sharing the experiences of young people across BC. As part of Foundry’s goal to work alongside young people, create connections and promote mental health and wellness, we are creating a platform for young people’s stories to be heard.
Article by Peter Mothe. Photography by Connor McCracken.
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