Sookie (she/they) began her experience as a facilitator at Sheena’s Place in the summer of 2019, co-facilitating three workshops on challenging fatphobia, sizeism, and weight stigma and addressing their role in disordered eating. She’s gone on to facilitate Sidelining Sizeism – a ten-week workshop series with a similar focus on healing from and building participants’ capacity to respond to fatphobia, sizeism and weight stigma – and the ongoing Binge Eating Disorder (BED) support group. This spring, they will be co-developing a new mini-series focused on building a body liberation-centered movement practice alongside Christine Hsu (Body Buddies), another on navigating weight stigma during some of life’s more challenging moments of change (Sizeable Shifts), while continuing to facilitate the ongoing BED group.
Sookie first became familiar with Sheena’s place when they were invited to provide training for staff and facilitators to support increased safety and inclusion for 2SLGBQIA+ community members in the space.
She’s been very excited to have the opportunity to bring Body Liberation-centred programming to Sheena’s Place thorough the workshops and support groups that she facilitates. As someone who has lived with eating disorders, Sookie didn’t receive adequate support from her medical care practitioners. This was a result of weight stigma and the exclusion of larger bodies in the dominant understanding of what it “looks like” to engage in restrictive eating. She was left to manage her eating disorders on her own.
Over the course of conversations with other people of size living with this illness, it became clear that feeling deprived of home in their own bodies was a common experience and Sookie wanted to do something to address this violence and empower others. That’s why developing this series of workshops was so important to them.
Sookie was aware that many clients were requesting content focused on the underlying factors that lead to eating disorders. This mental health issue is mainly addressed at a personal level, without tackling the underlying interpersonal dynamics and systemic issues in order to help people understand that they are not solely responsible for the challenges they face. These include the larger social context of fatphobia, sizeism, weight stigma and other body-based marginalizations like racism, ableism, ageism, cissexism, etc., as well as interpersonal violences like body shaming and policing, alongside the complicated feelings that these experiences of institutional and interpersonal violence are somehow individuals’ “own fault” due to moral failure of being fat which makes you a bad person. All these experiences, when addressed in a supportive, non-judgemental environment, can affect a clients sense of well-being and empowerment in a positive way.
The feedback received from clients has been extremely positive. Many clients have expressed that they appreciate being able to talk openly about their experiences of body-based marginalization and oppression in a supportive, community-centred setting. It also helped them to understand that there were commonalities to the specific experiences they were having, indicating that this wasn’t their problem alone, but rather an issue of victimization in a fatphobic society.
Clients came out of sessions saying they were more equipped with skills, tools and a clear framework to more effectively increase their ability to address the harm they were experiencing and minimize its impacts by interrupting the cycle of violence and refusing to believe the negative messages all around them.
When asked if she thought clients received the level of support they need from Sheena’s Place, Sookie said the word that came to mind when she thought of Sheena’s Place was “grateful”. The range of programming, the unique and wonderful space used for groups and workshops, unique program availability-such as support for Binge Eating Disorder, BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ specific support groups, and Body-Liberation-centred programming is truly remarkable.
She added that not to be overlooked is the importance of the community connections formed between facilitators, clients and staff; how we all support each other through commitment to working within the community guidelines, increasing the feeling of safety for all when inside the house; and the incredible and robust work done by facilitators. All of this makes Sheena’s Place a transformative space of collective learning and healing.
When it comes to helping really fulfill client needs the only thing Sookie would add is more sessions, as now the clients are limited to how many workshops they can sign up for per season and also by continuing to address any gaps that could be filled in programming.
With so much on her plate in helping others, although she finds it very fulfilling, Sookie is also aware she needs to practice self care. Their relationships with supportive friends and co-facilitators, her creative visual arts practice, taking time for restorative yoga and to be in water in the pool or float tank, and spending time connecting with nature all assist her in bringing the best, most supportive version of herself to the clients she works with.
In her words, “I would definitely, 100% refer others to Sheena’s Place. The incredible strength and support of the connections you make there – you can tell people have the desire to keep coming and being a part of that”.