A word on hope

“Faith is closing your eyes, stepping off a ledge into darkness and trusting that either someone will be there to catch you, or you’ll learn to fly.”

The above quote, spoken from a man in end of life care due to a battle with AIDS was relayed to me at a conference in 2010 by Cindy Blackstock, a tireless advocate for First Nations human rights in Canada. So, what’s that got to do with body image, eating disorders and mental health more broadly? For me the answer seems obvious – mental health is all about hope.

Hope for self-acceptance.
Hope for belonging.
Hope for recovery.
Hope for connection.

Hope is something that we can cultivate for ourselves, but it is also something that we do together. We are all invested in each other’s wellbeing – we all have a role to play in maintaining hopeful contexts for each other. Sometimes the person who helps you to hang on might not even know their impact. At a recent taping of a Canada AM special on mental health, one of the panellists, a young woman who self-identified as coping with depression, was asked to talk about one experience she had when someone said or did something that made a difference for her. Her answer – a classmate in high school who asked her one day if she wanted to have lunch. For me, this was a powerful reminder that sometimes a simple act of kindness can go a long way.

But even thinking more broadly, how do greater social contexts help to create environments where it is either more or less easy to accept yourself? How do issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation play into things? Why are some experiences deemed as somehow less worthy of taking up space and what are some of the implications of privileging certain narratives over others?

Hope is certainly connected to body image.  Related to hope and body image, what are some of my hopes?  I hope for a world where girls will be defined by the accomplishments and successes that have nothing to do with their physical appearance.  A world where girls will feel encouraged to take up space – both literally in terms of body size and metaphorically in terms of taking up space with their hopes and desires – and to recognize the power of their unexpressed and unrecognized feelings.  A world where we will all be encouraged not to run from our own power, but to remember instead the message in one of my favourite quotes by Oliver Wendell Holmes, that “what lies before us and what lies beyond us is tiny compared to what lies within us”.  It is when we come to more fully accept ourselves and our bodies that it becomes easier to more fully inhabit our own space and connect with our own resources, which then makes it possible for us to share these with others.

I’ll close with another of my favourite quotes, this time by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, which is “what if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?”  Beneath this question lies hope, which in my experience is often sparked in quiet moments; moments when we are able to tune into the hope within ourselves.

Janice Kelly works as a research writer on the clinical team at Kids Help Phone.  She has volunteered with NEDIC since 2007.