On March 7 and 8th, the Toronto Congress Centre will open its doors to BOPO Expo, a body-positivity conference that brings together speakers, brands, artists, influencers, and activists to celebrate all things curvy womxn. The event aims to be as inclusive as possible, embracing all body types, abilities, ages, races, genders, and sexualities.
To get the inside scoop on this empowering expo, I chatted with co-founders Celia Adorjan and Kristy Beaulieu. So, snag your early-bird tickets here, and read on to learn all about the event, the discriminations that plus-size womxn face on a daily basis, and Celia and Kristy’s personal stories and inspiration behind BOPO Expo.
To start, tell us a bit about BOPO Expo. What inspired you both to launch this event?
Kristy: It was my own body positive journey that inspired this event. The more I learned, the more I wanted to connect and share with other womxn. Learning that I was allowed to love my body was such a new concept to me. It came with the realization that I had sat on the sideline of my own life for a long time. There were so many times that I missed out on things because I was worried about how I looked. I sat out on moments in life that I think a lot of people take for granted. I remember wanting to go to a dance class, but the thought of having to watch myself move and shake in front of a mirror while also being able to see peoples’ reactions reflected back at me was enough to make me stay home. Sometimes being in a larger body can feel isolating, but suddenly, there were womxn that could relate to me and share in my experiences. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone.
I also started to learn more about issues that impacted plus-size womxn. From fat discrimination to fat shaming, it made me realize that as a collective, we need to be talking about these things. Womxn are getting misdiagnosed for things like cancer because their symptoms are being prescribed with weight loss, and womxn can be in such fear of weight bias, that they avoid seeking medical treatment. These are real issues facing plus size womxn. I think that the more we’re informed, the easier it is to be advocates for ourselves and others. So, we really wanted to create that sense of community on a larger scale, where womxn could come together to learn, share their stories, and connect with other amazing womxn in a very real and unique way.
Celia: This event is completely inspired by our own struggles over the years. There are so many unrealistic expectations put on us as womxn on a daily basis. From flat tummy teas to meal suppressant lollipops, it’s very easy to internalize these messages and feel like we need to constantly be a smaller version of ourselves—that our plus-size bodies should only be a temporary state, and that we need to take up less space in this world. We want BOPO Expo to be a safe space to celebrate larger bodies.
What are you most excited about for the event?
Kristy: We’re really excited to create a sense of community. We did a body positive photoshoot in the summer and it was amazing to see so many amazing womxn come together. By the end of the shoot, everyone was cheering each other on, laughing together, and even signing Skidamarink as a group. It was incredible. To this day, most of the womxn are still engaging with each other online. I noticed we’re all following each other on Instagram, and I see all these fabulous comments supporting each other. We’re excited to recreate that sense of community at BOPO Expo.
Celia: I’m really excited to showcase plus-size bodies. I think that society has lost sight of the simple fact that there are people of all different shapes, sizes, races, and abilities. We really want to celebrate different bodies. We have live body art and performances where plus-size womxn are centre stage. I think that’s really important for womxn to see. We’re constantly bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards, so we wanted participants to be surrounded by like bodies.
Who are some of the participating speakers/influencers/brands?
Kristy: I am so excited for our lineup of speakers! Starting with our keynote speakers, Virgie Tovar, activist and author of You Have the Right to Remain Fat and Jes Baker, activist, blogger and author of Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and Landwhale. Virgie will be talking about ways to break up with diet culture and Jes will be having an important chat about self-esteem and mental health. We also have a lot of amazing Canadian speakers, including Dr. Jill Andrews, co-founder of Body Confidence Canada (@jillslastword), Body Confidence Coach, Sophia Apostol (@coach_sophia) Tracy Peart, plus size fashion expert and exclusive makeup artist for Toronto’s Breakfast Television and Cityline (@tracypmakeup). We also have plus size fashion blogger, Lisa Schornberger (@mustangsallytwo), Toronto’s Fluffy (@flawsofcouture), and BOPO Expo’s very own fitness ambassador, Sarah Taylor from Fitness by Sarah Taylor (@fitnessbysarahtaylor).
Celia: I’m really looking forward to hearing the discussion from our panels of experts. We have an important panel discussion called Fear of Fat: Talking Fat Stigma with Dr. Carla Rice, Dr. May Friendman and Dr. Jen Rinaldi. They’ll be speaking about fat stigma from the doctor’s office to public spaces. It’s important that womxn are aware of the stigmas they face so that we can talk about how to be advocates for ourselves, especially when it comes to our health. I’m also looking forward to hearing Dr. Ben Barry and Calla Evans talk about fat identity, fashion, and activism through the lens of inclusion and social justice in their panel titled Fashion and Fat Activism. We’re hoping to address what we can do as a community to encourage a more inclusive mainstream fashion industry.
How exactly does it aim to empower curvy womxn to embrace themselves in mind, body, and soul?
Kristy: No matter where you are on your body positive journey or even if you’re not on one, we’re talking about important topics that can impact the daily lives of plus size womxn. From fat activism and fashion, particularly for those who exist at the largest end of the fat spectrum; to diet culture, fitness, fat stigma and mental health. When you start to understand factors that impact your own self-worth, I think you can have a better relationship with your body and feel empowered to be a voice for yourself and others. It’s an opportunity for personal growth and for us to grow as a community.
Celia: Representation matters. It’s empowering when you see womxn of different ages, sizes, races and abilities represented. We really tried to understand the critiques of the movement and then create an event with that understanding in mind. The body positive community is typically represented by white, cis-gendered females, but lacks representation from different races, gender identities and abilities. We wanted to make sure that the body positivity movement that we’re talking about at BOPO Expo is inclusive and representative of the community that we serve.
What were your own personal journeys with body positivity like?
Kristy: My body positive journey started after the hardest and most traumatic year of my life. I had lost my father, grandmother and mother-in-law in the very short span of eight months. Through such a profound haze of grief and loss, came the realization that life is way too short and precious to waste any more time hating what I saw in the mirror. I made a commitment to trying to have a better relationship with my body. So I ordered a bunch of body positive books, including Virgie Tovar’s You Have The Right To Remain Fat and Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. I also deleted all the accounts on social media that made me insecure about myself and started following womxn that inspired me and openly talked about their self-love journeys. Most importantly, I’ve connected with womxn in the community that are plus-size body-positive warriors, and it’s been really freeing. I think it’s important to note that I’m still on my body positive journey, and I think I always will be. It’s not easy—we all have good days and bad—but I’m committed to dismantling the social conditioning that told me I need to be smaller version of myself in order to be happy in this life.
Celia: I spent my whole life trying to be a smaller version of who I was. Even when I achieved my goal weight, which I thought would be the defining moment of my happiness, I was miserable. I had restricted so much of my diet that I isolated myself from friends and family so I wouldn’t be tempted, and my mental health suffered greatly. I am still on my journey. I struggle with it like anyone else, but now I have a community to support me.
Why did you guys think that Toronto needed its own body positive event?
Kristy: Because I was looking and couldn’t find one. There are other amazing events around the world that focus on lifestyle and fashion for plus size womxn, but I couldn’t really find an event that was more focused on body positivity for marginalized bodies. There is an amazing community of really talented womxn in the body positive community right here in Toronto and BOPO Expo is an opportunity to bring a lot of them together.
Celia: Body positive events are few and far between, and Toronto allows us to reach a lot of people easily. While we expect many to be local, we have already sold advanced tickets from across the country, from Burnaby, BC, to Fredericton, NB, and even our neighbours in the US. People are willing to travel to attend, so we’re filling a need.
What are some examples of the subtle and overt ways that size is discriminated against in today’s society?
Kristy: Fat discrimination is a reality for people in larger bodies on a daily basis. From the workplace to healthcare to media and fashion. People in larger bodies have to navigate a world that believes that fat is the enemy that should be burned, blasted, or “worked off” even if it is at the expense of physical, emotional and mental well-being. Size is such a perceived determinant of health that womxn are being misdiagnosed or delayed treatment because their symptoms are attributed solely to their size. I think it’s important that womxn are aware of the stigmas they may face and how to navigate them.
Celia: Plus-size womxn are constantly made to feel like they should take up less space in this world. We are constantly made to feel like our size is a burden in public spaces. While physically larger, we are made to feel small when we don’t fit in the seats or when retailers don’t carry our size.
How would you like to see the conversation around inclusivity and representation reframed?
Kristy: I think the word inclusivity is thrown around lightly. I think there’s a general misunderstanding when it comes to using that term. I’ve noticed a lot of brands use the term inclusivity, but it isn’t reflected in their sizing or their marketing. For me, inclusivity is about recognizing the intersection of such factors like size, age, race, gender identity and ability. I think there’s been a shift away from aspirational marketing, meaning womxn no longer want to be like the images their seeing, they want to see themselves represented in them. Now we just need brands to catch on.
Celia: I don’t think I could have said that better.
How do you think that social media comes into play with our struggles for body acceptance? Do you have any body-positive Instagram accounts that you guys would suggest following in order to make our feeds more inspiring/inclusive?
Kristy: I think social media has a huge impact on body acceptance. It’s one thing to control the accounts that you follow, but it’s another thing to be constantly inundated with marketing that reinforces the message either subtly or overtly that you need to change in some way.
There are so many amazing IG accounts, that it’s hard to list them all! Here are a few to get you started:
@thebodyisnotanapology– Sonya Renee Taylor talks about radical self-love
@virgietovar– Activist and author of You Have the Right to Remain Fat
@Shayneary– Shay is the first transgender plus-size model to be featured in a major fashion campaign
Celia: Social media promotes images that are completely unrealistic. You easily forget how edited, and curated these images are. A great example is “fitspiration” accounts that feature beautiful, ripped, athletic people exercising (or at least making it seem like they are). These accounts can easily make you feel like you don’t have the self-control or the motivation to achieve such unrealistic results. This all influences our struggles with body acceptance.
@fitnessbysarahtaylor– It’s important to see larger bodies moving and participating in fitness with a focus on strength and confidence and not weight loss.
@themilitantbaker– Jes talks about things like body autonomy, self-love and mental health
@toughcookietee– Tobi is an amazing plus size freelancer wheelchair dancer
What’s next for you?
Kristy: Right now, I’m totally focused onBOPO Expo on March 7 & 8, but we are looking ahead to next year. I would really love to do a similar event for teens girls because it’s something that I really could have benefitted from growing up, and girls are now starting to think about dieting at the age or 7 and 8 years old.
Celia: Since it’s so close to our event, that’s really all I can think about at this moment. Because we’re not event through our first event, I think there will be a lot of learning that we can leverage to make future events even better. I’ve also always wanted to do a plus size pool party in the summer.
Is there anything else you would like to mention that we haven’t covered yet?
Kristy: There are some great event features that we’re including to make sure that everyone feels welcome. We’re making sure the aisles are wider and there’s extra space in between chairs for fabulously big butts, hips and thighs. The entire venue is accessible, including our exhibitor booths and we also have personal pronoun stickers for all event passes. We’re really trying to think of everything, because those details matter.
Celia: Yes! Tickets are on sale now at bopoexpo.ca.