A conversation with body image expert Ivy Felicia

On body peace and holistic wellness

As a woman, learning to be at peace with your body should be a basic skill to learn as early as possible, to relearn often, to strengthen as a teenager in order to survive throughout your life in a space where insecurity is the norm, to thrive in a space that is benefiting from your pain – at last that is what I always had in mind.

A lot of money, energy and stress go into our bodies throughout our life regardless of the way one can look.  Weight definitely plays a huge part regarding those insecurities. The fear of becoming too fat or the trauma of being a woman of size can be a source of anxiety. What’s more, they can be other sources of frustration or misunderstanding concerning our bodies, some that are further from our control such as living with a chronic illness, an invisible illness or condition.

The politics behind those systems always fascinated me. So, when I encountered the work of Ivy Felicia a body image expert and community worker for womxn. I knew there were a lot to learn from her journey.

From grasping the concept of holistic wellness and how it can serve us in our journey, to understanding the politics and danger behind those systems, let us just say that my conversation learning the journey of this leader was mind-opening. Her words and journey not only emphasize the importance of individual healing for personal growth but also of collective care for thriving communities.  And, is there anything more powerful? A woman turning her past story of hurt and confusion to instill more consciousness for our communities.

You can discover more about her work on her personal website: https://ivyfelicia.com/

Her personal journey &  work

For years, a lot of my own identity was defined in my experience with my body, being a woman of size and also dealing with a chronic illness therefore I became interesting in studying body image and wellness. I went to school for holistic wellness coaching because I became passionate about holistic wellness. It was the answer for me. It helped me to learn how to truly be at peace with my body.  

I help women of all size and shape to make peace with their bodies through weight neutral holistic wellness and self-care. The weight neutral part is key for lots of people who work in wellness use it as a means to lose weight. I do not focus on weight loss at all. My work is to help people learn how to feel at home in their body.

Professionally, I worked for over 16 years in early childhood education. I have always had a love and passion for children and for teaching, part of that passion was for helping women and women’s empowerment. When I was working in education, I was also doing community work with women, particularly with mums.

A lot of things I do now is teaching, when I am not coaching individuals or groups. I participate in conferences where I teach about body image or food relations, so I still feels that I am teaching but instead of little people it is adults (laughs)! In the end, it takes the same level of passion, empathy, and compassion in both spaces.

What it means to feel home in your body

Peace is for you and positivity can be for everybody else.  Regarding body positivity you can feel the pressure to be positive and always happy. When I first came to doing this work, I used to say body positivity because it was what everyone was talking about at that time. Going from a space of body hate, where I did not like my body, discovering the concept of body positivity seemed new and exciting.

However, when I started doing work in coaching with people, I realised it was lots of pressure for many woman to love their bodies, to feel positive with their bodies was often unrealistic and actually, it is rare to come to a point where love you all your body.

It is more attainable to offer the concept of peace, for I feel like you could choose peace in any situation. You can be in chaos and chose peace at a certain moment. That is what I offer to give women the tools so that they can learn how to chose peace even in this moment of frustration with their bodies.  It is more powerful than trying to be in this constant state of positivity.

Her journey navigating a chronic illness

I live with Polycystic ovary syndrome, I discovered it in 1997, at that time there were little we knew about it. Nobody knew anything, no one had information, doctors tried different experiences. They told me that it was because I need to lose weight, that they need to regulate my cycle. I went to a lot of doctors, and experts and I experienced a lot of shame from the medical community.

When I went to an integrative doctor who practiced holistic wellness, she was the first person who treated me as whole person, because she took the holistic approach, she considered my emotional, my mental well-being, what was my spiritual practice like, did I ever try yoga and meditation. I started learning more of what it means to implement holistic wellness – which is emotional, spiritual, physical wellness – some also include financial, relationships, education and understanding how all of those things are important for they affect my wellness.

I help clients being aware of holistic wellness, to help manage their relationship with their body instead of just focusing on the scale or exercise. I really focusing on their whole being and taking care of their wellness from a holistic perspective.

Her journey to holistic wellness

When I first tried holistic wellness, I was interested in trying everything! I had a very narrow view of health for me it was food and exercise and if you get sick, medicine. I did not know there were all those other components such as meditation and yoga. To be honest, I thought there were white people things (laughts)! Because I was not exposed to it, I did not know the concept and also for it is marketed that way. Wellness is marketed to be accessible to White affluent people.

It was not made as accessible for some people especially black and indigenous, people of colour. It is becoming more popular recently yet for years we did not see ourselves in this industry and those spaces.

I love yoga and what it did for me just helping me connect with my body because I was very disconnected, I was living with so much trauma in my body.  I also healed my relationship with food, I understood that food could serve me, it was not only about controlling my weight, taking a holistic approach, it could also help me to prosper mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

When I work with women, I also help them release the impact that society have regarding their bodies, external messages, external expectations, which takes a lot, most of the work is there.  From always feeling like we are defined by society and turning into our beliefs, our  hearts, learning how to tune into ourselves.

The politics behind body insecurities

Those insecurities come from the patriarchy, men who are in power and also white supremacy. As long as women have insecurities and are unhappy of their bodies, it causes us to constantly look for security.

Let’s just look into the numbers of who buy the most – beauty products, hair related products, plastic surgery, weight loss products – all those things to make us feel good,  people are making trillions of dollars out of the weight loss industry. All these things that we do to make us feel beautiful people are making money out of that. They are constantly trying to sell us shit to make us feel like shit.

It keeps us as women financially disempowered because so much of our budget and our money but also our energy is put into our body. If women were not so engrossed, imagine what we could do and the system of oppression we could dismantle! It keeps us busy and keeps our pocket empty.

There is nothing wrong with us, we have been program to behave this way. Music, television, books, everything around us tell us what beauty should look like: tall, thin, white, rich and the closer you are to that the more you are considered beautiful. Then, we internalize that and live our life as if this is true and it is not!

The challenges regarding brown and black bodies

There is privilege when it comes to white woman, I can work with white women around their body image or chronic illness, we can work on those issues that she has internally and she can go in this world and it is going to be easy, specially if she is thin. She is not going to get the same signal and messages about her body. If she goes into the world, and she is says “I know I’m worthy and beautiful”, the world will tell her, “yes you are”.

Black and brown woman, particularly woman of size, we can do all the work, working together for six months to a year but when they step out of the work, the world constantly give them different messages about their body, their skin, their hair, their size. It takes more community, support to maintain that momentum, for the world is constantly telling them, no matter what you learn that in the end you are not worthy, that you  are not beautiful.

The intersection makes the difference White plus size women get way more acceptance that Black plus size women. The same goes for trans woman and the LGTBTQ community, the more intersections, the more a woman is going to experience some form of oppression and violence because of her body and identity.

Last but not least

Doing the work with our own body is essential!  Dismantling those systems is as important. We should not focus solely on our body peace, but also on collective healing, on making a difference so this do not continue to be perpetrated. Thinking together about how we can get rid of those problematic systems.

“Allow yourself to love and be loved exactly as you are” – it is a quote that I love. You deserve to be love right now, you do not have to change, you do not have to do anything or be anyone else to love and be loved.

Picture © Ivy Felicia

Illustrations © Naomi Storm