Welcome to the second installment of Vegans & Body Image, a biweekly series in which vegans share their stories and thoughts on body image in general, and what effect, if any, veganism has on it.
Gabrielle Pope is a writer, a thinker…and a Canadian. I’d say I’ve been lucky to present sessions at both Vida Vegan Cons with her, but luck had nothing to do with it—I totally planned it that way. Curl up with a mug of tea (or a glass of cider) and read what this smart lady has to share.
I’ve been vegan for ten years now, vegetarian for seven before that. I stopped eating meat as a teenager because I’d always hated it, but as teenagers tend to do, I became obsessed with this new part of my identity (The Vegetarian), and I read up on a lot of harrowing and awful things about the meat industry. I was horrified and vowed never to ever touch meat again, despite living in a redneck prairie town where friends’ families owned cattle feedlots. I definitely ate too many bagels with cream cheese, and I remember the day Burger King (the dining option of choice next to my high school) implemented a veggie burger. It was a revolting burger, but it was totally the best day of my life.
I went vegan at 20, after thinking about it forever (I knew the horrors of the dairy industry), but also because I’d just moved to a much more vegan-friendly city (Victoria, British Columbia), where there were vegan muffins on the university campus! It was such an easy transition—the only nonvegan thing I ever really liked was cheese, which I didn’t crave at all once I stopped eating it—and was actually really budget-friendly for a student. I still ate rather poorly, and at the time developed an eating disorder that became severe, but that had nothing to do with veganism and everything to do with a self-loathing and perfectionism that had haunted me my whole life. Even during hospital stays, I was offered vegan burgers and soymilk, so I thank Victoria for that! When I recovered (at 24-ish), I worked as an organic produce manager and became hyped on cooking and have loved vegan cooking ever since.
Today, I am pretty healthy, reasonably strong just from hauling things around at my job, but I am on the thin side as of late, and have a small appetite. I am completely disinterested in gyms and traditional fitness, but I do try to stay reasonably active just by walking, yoga, hiking, and swimming (actually, I am a terrible swimmer and I just let the whirlpool push me around while I gossip with friends). Because of my history, I get my back up when friends and strangers obsess about their bodies (because every body is beautiful) and punish themselves for whatever transgression has led to whatever they look like at a given moment. I have patience and understanding for it, because I’ve been there, but it makes me extremely sad that our culture encourages this obsession with weight and appearance.
I also really dislike it when people comment on my body. I would much rather they engage me in conversation, because though my body is important, my SELF and my mind could be encased in anything, and it’s like spending weeks criticizing a present-wrapping job rather than opening the present and finding something special from someone who cares about you.
Veganism does affect my body image, in that I feel healthy and passionate about cooking both healthy and totally unhealthy (but all vegan!) foods. Learning to cook was a huge bolster for me in finding acceptance with my body. I think so much more about what I’m eating instead of distractedly and shamefully shoving food in my mouth. I would even go so far as to say that my eating disorder was a direct result of my total and complete disconnect with food (due to oversensitivity and self-loathing, but still, food was just my drug of choice).
Healthy to me means happy. If I were on a no-oil, no-sugar, no-booze “plant-based” diet, I would be miserable. I need balance, and I need those rich Indian curries and that fried Buffalo seitan as much as I need huge salads and soups. In terms of diet, I think healthy means listening to both your body and your mind. Like maybe my body doesn’t need that bag of potato chips, but they are REALLY good chips so I’m going to eat them because I deserve it and they aren’t going to negate the healthier things I’ve eaten that day. I am vehemently against labeling certain things (oil, salt, sugar, booze) as evil.
The vegan ambassador question is interesting. Currently, I am very anemic (it runs in my family), and my coworkers who know about my veganism are quick to blame it on my diet. It makes me feel ashamed to be heralding veganism when I’ve recently lost a bit of weight and have very visible bruising along with fatigue, but it’s absolutely confounding that people are allowed to blame any health problem on a diet and lifestyle choice. When would I shame someone for being obese because they eat at McDonald’s every day? Never! We all get sick, and we can’t control genetics. Our bodies are all imperfect. Veganism is about spirituality for me just as much as it is about the animals. And I get to eat really delicious food. The End.
Thank you, Gabrielle!