It took me 39 years to love myself- my journey to body positivity

“Wow, you look amazing!”

“You’ve lost so much weight! How did you do it?”

“I can’t believe how good you look!”

*header photo by Lindsay Anne Delaney

It was early 2014, and I had probably lost about 20 lbs in less than a month without even trying.  I had just managed the ill-advised feat of filming a reality TV show while still working my full time job, and working on ADDICTED at the same time.  I hadn’t been sleeping or eating properly, and the rigors of juggling multiple schedules, on top of just existing as an adult human in Toronto proved to be too much for my body to handle.  It was par for the course however; I was unhappy at my job, I was trying to build up creative endeavors such as this one, which meant running around covering events at night and waking up early to go to work the next day.  I was working too hard and too much to truly take care of myself, so every year I would burn out and get very, very sick.  This particular year I contracted pneumonia.  Between being sick and losing my appetite, and being on meds that made everything taste awful when I finally did want to eat, it was no surprise that I lost so much weight so quickly. Everyone around me was in awe of my weight loss, and asking me how I did it.  The method was not one I would ever recommend.  I lost all my muscle tone, and felt weaker and more fragile than I ever had.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, when hyper thin fitness models in high cut leotards morphed into heroin chic, hollow eyed, emaciated Calvin Klein ad models.  Those bodies were the standard of beauty, not my fuller figured, curvy Middle Eastern girl figure.   Ever dimple of cellulite, every roll, every squishy bit on my body was an embarrassment.  I remember going to a swimming class as a little girl, and one of the super skinny white girls in my class pointed at me and said “why does your belly look like that?”  I looked down at my chubby little belly, that cinched at my waist, getting plumper above and below and wondered if I was just made wrong.  I still remember that moment clear as day, and for most of my life I refused to show my belly.  For years afterwards I would do sit-ups in my bedroom trying for a 6 pack, getting upset at my mom when she cooked with too much butter.  I thought that all the bad body feelings would go away if I was just thinner, if my stomach was flatter, if my legs were slimmer.  Well, I got all that with my pneumonia diet.   But instead of the relief or happiness that I thought would come with my newfound thinness, all I felt was weakness and misery.

Before and after my illness related weight losses, I had tried diets, and hated every minute I was on them.  I never liked the idea of temporary gastronomical deprivation for the sake of slimming down, and it never worked for me.  I’ve also never been athletic, generally because growing up I was too shy, awkward, and in my mind, fat for team sports.  So I never understood what it felt like to be fit, and to be comfortable in my own body and proud of what I can do with it.  That all changed 2 years ago, when I was invited to take part in a charity boxing even called the Red Carpet Rumble in support of the Unison Benevolent Fund.  Boxing was the only form of exercise I actually liked, so I was intrigued, though I knew it wouldn’t be easy. The physical and mental exertion of training and ultimately fighting was incredibly intense. I worked out multiple times a week and did my best to eat healthier in order to get into fighting shape.  And it worked!

*photos by Trish Cassling

This year, I had the honor of participating in an all-female charity boxing event.  We were fighting to raise money for Rock Steady Boxing, a health and wellness program to help those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. The same week I started training, I took in my first foster dog, a big, sweet and energetic Lab/Ibizan hound pup from Mexico. I was training 4 to 5 times a week for the fight, and walking a 65 lb adolescent dog for up to 2 hours per day, and focusing on eating more, better, healthier food so that my energy input matched my output.  My health improved, as did my energy and fitness levels.  But just like before, all anyone would talk about is how much weight I lost, something I admit I didn’t even notice.  And then it hit me: in taking on two charitable endeavors, both involving physical activity, and actually eating better, I’d felt better than I had in years. I was probably in the best shape of my life.  I felt healthy, fit, strong and most of all happy.  I’d set out to put some positivity back into the world, and ending up discovering my own version of body positivity.

*photos by Dylan Weller

It was also then that I finally realized that I’d never actually had a weight problem, I had a self-esteem and body image problem.  I thought that thinness mattered, that looking like women in magazines, on television or in movies mattered. It took nearly 39 years, but I finally understood that none of that mattered.  I was happiest in my body when I challenged myself to something completely out of my comfort zone, and saw it through to the end.  It was an especially stark contrast to my feeling of weakness and deprivation that came with my past weight loss. That strength, that understanding of my own abilities and how I can push myself, it made me feel powerful, capable and accomplished. And that felt better than just being skinny ever did.  Yes, I lost weight, but that wasn’t my goal, because in the end it never really mattered, and that was another huge realization.

Being healthy, taking care of your body so it will take care of you for years to come, is what matters.  Bodies, including mine, come in all shapes and sizes, and I finally realized that my shape and size was just fine, and, dare I even say it, beautiful.

So, like one of my idols, the great Samantha Jones of Sex and the City fame, I decided I needed some pictures of my body, the body I’ve come to love and cherish, now, rather than later.  “Because one day, when I’m old, and my tits are in my shoes, I can look at this picture and say ‘Damn, I was hot.”  The teachings of Samantha, they are timeless.

*photos by Lindsay Anne Delaney, wardrobe from Robust by Lesley Hampton, sweatshirt from Hilary MacMillan, pulled from Stylist Box

One of the many things I love about the work I get to do with ADDICTED is the people it’s brought into my life, and the incredible things we’re able to accomplish when we work together.  So to pull this shoot off, I reached out to three women I’ve very much come to admire: Lindsay Anne Delaney, shooting star in the world of fashion photography; Gail McInnes, fashion industry authority and PR powerhouse; and Lesley Hampton, innovative and inspiring fashion designer and advocate for the advancement of indigenous peoples.  In a matter of hours a shoot was booked, clothing pulled and looks planned. Within days I nervously stepped in front of Lindsay’s camera in her home studio, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, and feeling more self-conscious than I can ever remember feeling.  But being the fantastic photographer that she is, and one of the most straightforward and blunt people I know, Lindsay snapped me out of my shyness and the results were beyond my wildest dreams.

*photos by Lindsay Anne Delaney, wardrobe from Robust by Lesley Hampton, pulled from Stylist Box

It’s me, in the body I was given, the only body I’ll ever have, feeling healthier, happier and better about myself than I probably ever have.

Am I thin?  No.  Do I have a flat stomach complete with six pack abs? Hell no.  Have I achieved the “perfect body?” Definitely not.  But I wasn’t seeking any of those things, and I don’t even believe that last one exists.  What I did achieve was a peace and happiness with my body that I never thought I would find without those things.  I felt better, stronger, healthier and happier with my body and myself than I ever have.  And it wasn’t because of some diet, cosmetic procedure or someone else’s definition of what’s beautiful.  It was because I was living in a way that made me happy, doing things that brought joy to my life, with the intention of bringing goodness and lightness into the lives of others.

*photos by Lindsay Delaney, swimsuit from Myra Swim, pants from Code Vitesse, sheer top and kimono from pulled from Stylist Box

Today is my birthday, and one of the best parts of aging is the level of fucks you give about the little things drops proportionally to your age.  I’m 39 years old today.  And I feel fucking fabulous.

*photo by Lindsay Delaney, wardrobe from Robust by Lesley Hampton
*all styling, hair and makeup by me



Nadia Elkharadly

Nadia Elkharadly

Nadia Elkharadly is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Addicted Magazine. Her myriad of addictions include music, fashion, travel, technology, boxing and trying to make the world a better place. Nadia is also a feminist, an animal lover, and a neverending dreamer. Keep up with her on social media through @thenadiae.
Nadia Elkharadly