Even as the conventions of Western dualism rust and crumble, we nevertheless still too often think of mind and body as separate, unbridgeable realities.
But the mind is body; that it’s physical becomes alarmingly obvious if the body cuts off the mind’s oxygen supply. At the same time, the body is all in the mind, meaning not that the body is an illusion hallucinated by the mind but that the body more than ever occupies our thoughts and the hidden tunnels of our subconscious.
Certainly body issues are not only forms of mental illness but, says Sonia Seguin, they’re the most deadly mental illnesses, with anorexia-related suicide more frequent than bipolar-related suicide.
Sonia, the founder of Body Brave in Hamilton (1047 Main E.), knows profoundly whereof she speaks. She struggled with anorexia for eight years, and it almost cost her her life.
Yet scarce resources are devoted to dealing with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other such syndromes.
Recently, Body Brave, after a strenuous effort involving hundreds of pages of background material, has been afforded charitable status.
It’s a huge step because there’s virtually no government funding for the fledgling organization, which provides mostly free services (“body-inclusive, weight-neutral, recovery-focused”) such as counselling, workshops, education and advocacy around body issues, to individuals affected.
Body Brave, which Sonia founded with her mother, Dr. Karen Trollope-Kumar, in 2017, is on the frontier of our evolving understanding. Given the gravity of the issues and how long those issues have been around, you’d think Body Brave, when it started, would’ve been joining a whole furniture of already established institutional responses to address what is really a crisis. But Body Brave is one of surprisingly few resources in Canada, so it’s compensating for the lack by taking the lead.
It began after Sonia emerged from her own struggles and realized she had something to offer. “I was so excited and ready. I quit my job, to my parents’ chagrin,” Sonia says with a laugh. She launched into the set up. “And then I got roped in,” jokes mother Karen.
They didn’t suspect how little funding machinery is in place to help address such issues. So they’ve been operating with donations and their own money. The newly acquired charitable status allows them a much wider reach.
The funding is needed because there are long waiting lists. And there is a great need for followup after they’ve seen people.
Sonia, Karen and their Body Brave colleagues, Cynthia Boyede and Martina Mariglia, are quick to point out that the people who come to them do not fit shallow stereotypes about those with eating disorders and body image issues. There are both men and women representing a wide gamut of ages and personal profiles, both those who do and do not conform to narrowly conventional stereotypes of attractiveness and beauty, including athletes, exercise buffs and health food enthusiasts.
Many have heard of anorexia and bulimia but there are other issues like disordered eating and orthorexia (an irrational pickiness about appropriate food). There are people who exercise to excess, and even successful athletes who cannot square their reality with their perceptions of their bodies.
It’s complex. Other factors enter into it, like genetics, anxiety and depression. There’s an overlay of political sensitivities, expressed in movements like “size acceptance,” sometimes called “fat activism.”
Body Brave is scrupulous about being holistic, weight neutral, non-judgmental and LGBTQ+ friendly. And it’s rigorous about confronting the complexities and spreading education and information. It goes into McMaster to speak to medical students. They’re active on social media, helped along by Cynthia’s expertise.
One of Body Brave’s biggest pushes now is “e-platform,” a national online resource providing high- quality, accessible eating disorder and body image training and education for professionals, caregivers and individuals affected — an antidote of sorts to the woeful deficit out there now. They’ve attracted wide organizational collaboration on it.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, a bold way forward, and it’s where we need to go, with Hamilton in the lead. To help or for more, call 905-312-9628.