Al Kuwaitiah  

Sunday, April 05, 2020

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Edmonton fashion show celebrates all kinds of beauty
They are a hodgepodge of beauty: a four-foot-10 political science student who no longer yearns to be tall. An international student who grew up being called elephant legs and pizza face in China. A person who identifies as agender: one day James, the next day Jamie, happy in her 190-pound body and curly red hair.
All three are taking part in a fashion show of all sizes Saturday, and will strut their stuff in support of diversity and the University of Alberta’s Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful Student Association.
The association was started by Vanessa Peynenburg when she was still in high school and determined to beat anorexia. The eating disorder started at age 15. Depression and two suicide attempts followed.
“It wasn’t like I was motivated to look like a runway model or anything like that,” says Peynenburg, now 19 and studying psychology. “I don’t think that it was so much a desire to look like somebody else as it was a drive toward perfection. That was something that I always struggled with growing up.”
Hitting high school after years of bullying left her feeling out of control. “I guess controlling my weight was a way for me to gain some of that back.”
She began restricting her calories, ate dinners alone and eventually lost about one-third of her body mass.
“You could see my ribs even through my clothes,” Peynenburg says without revealing her lowest weight because it can serve as a trigger for others struggling with the eating disorder.
Peynenburg checked herself into the University Hospital eating disorder program as a day patient, and while she achieved a healthy weight in seven months, it’s a lifelong process to remain mentally healthy to avoid an anorexic relapse.
Peynenburg and Jessica Luc, a 19-year-old science student, resurrected and expanded the Be-Youtiful students association at the U of A to help people facing adversity in the form of mental illness, low self-esteem, bullying or discrimination based on looks or sexual orientation.
Luc switched schools in Edmonton three times in elementary school, bullied for being an academic achiever and because her mother always made her wear dresses and tie her hair in bows.
Other girls stole Luc’s clothing during gym class, or said they wished she would fall over and crack her head. “Everywhere I went, I didn’t fit in.”
Now in university, both Luc and Peynenburg want to raise awareness of eating disorders, mental health problems and rising stress levels faced by many post-secondary students. A 2013 student survey at the U of A found close to 55 per cent of students had suffered from extreme anxiety within the last 12 months. More than eight per cent had considered suicide while 1.4 per cent had actually tried to kill themselves.
Peynenburg and Luc want people to know they’re not alone. Their Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful Student Association’s fashion show is meant to challenge popular ideas of beauty.
“The real definition of beauty is yourself,” Luc said.
 
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