Helping women celebrate their bodies

Sarah Nicole Landry’s online followers value the message she sends in posts such as this one on Facebook.


Lynn Haddrall, In Grand Style

Sarah Nicole Landry puts on display what other women might cover up. Cellulite. Wrinkles. Loose skin.

Her personal style is about feeling comfortable in her body. And it is making her well known as an influencer in social media.

Her Instagram account @thebirdspapaya draws more than 430,000 followers, triple the number of people who live in her hometown of Guelph. She has become a sought-after speaker and model.

“What if we just believed that in every season of life, we were worthy, that we were worthy of being on the beaches, being in our bedrooms, walking in the clothes that we want to wear?” Landry says.

“We’re deserving of shopping in the same stores as each other, not isolating each other, coming together and having community and diversity in what beauty looks like. We no longer have to fit into this singular mould of what a woman’s body should be.”

Landry’s online followers value the vulnerability she displays and the message she sends – stop the body shaming and embrace your shape.

She has shared that message in media as diverse as British newspapers, podcasts, the covers of national magazines and ET Canada.

When she posted an Instagram photo showcasing her loose tummy skin in a heart formed by her hands, feedback included “so much power in this image and your words” and “I’ve been trying very hard to accept and love my body (loose skin, plethora of stretch marks, cellulite). You and your page have helped me so much.”

Landry, 34, married for the first time at 19, was pregnant by 20 and had three children by 25 – daughters Maya, 13, and Jemma, 11, and son Boden, nine.

Thebirdspapaya gets its name from her daughters’ nicknames – Jemma Birdie and Maya Papaya. (Boden wasn’t born when the social-media account launched).

A Guelph native, Landry moved to Ottawa for four years for her then-husband’s job, before returning home to be closer to family. In recovering from divorce, she found a personal resolve that has grown into a full-time job empowering women.

She praises new husband Shane Landry for his support.

“I’ve been so lucky to have the opportunity to have him beside me when women come up and share. They’ll say things like ‘I went to the beach for the first time with my kids in a really long time.’ I think when he hears those messages it reminds us of what we’re doing and why.”

Landry first captured public interest after losing more than 100 pounds. She was always ‘the bigger girl’ growing up and reached a point where she wanted to change.

“I just didn’t really ever have an understanding or grasp on my body. I thought for sure weight loss was going to be the answer to my problems.”

As she shed pounds, compliments poured in. She was praised for doing it as a single mom with three kids and no formal weight-loss program or gym visits.

“The flip side of that is I was doing it in a way that I was constantly trying to fix my body. I really thought that weight loss was going to make me happy, ” she says. “It brought me a lot of new ideas and it taught me a lot of things but, at the end of the day, it never brought me happiness.”

She was at her lowest weight, stressed out while divorcing and working two jobs.

“I was very thin and people congratulated me on it all the time. Suddenly, I was like ‘This isn’t a health thing anymore.’ People just love a thin body.”

Landry regained some weight and documented the move back to balance, ignoring scales and diets.

“It was funny because you’re very aware of it when everybody’s been congratulating you on your weight loss and now you’re gaining weight and everybody goes quiet, ” she says.

“I got really courageous in that time and really vulnerable. I started sharing a lot of real truths about my body and I stopped the over-perfecting of it.”

Landry chose to be open and honest.

“I didn’t know a lot of women who had gone through a massive weight loss and had loose skin. I didn’t have that community, so I almost had to put myself forth in the beginning to get that, to get that peace in my own body.”

Her first posts on social media unnerved her.

“At the beginning when I would post something that would be incredibly vulnerable, I would do it just scared out of my mind. I would post it and I would walk away from my phone and think I can’t look at this. I can’t look. I’m not ready for what might come.”

The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. It moved other women to share their stories, to don bathing suits for the first time in years and go to the beach with their children. There were some negative comments, often from men. Landry laughed them off.

She compares her willingness to be vulnerable to a deep secret you have held all your life. “When you take that secret and you tell it, it loses its power. It not only helped me feel less alone, but it helped a lot of other women say, ‘Oh my gosh, me too.’

Katie Zeppieri, founder of Girl Talk Empowerment, started following Landry on Instagram. They met at an event where they were both speakers.

“She was so commanding with the audience and very real and very vulnerable, all the things that we want in the speakers that we choose for our Girl Talk Day, ” Zeppieri says.

Girl Talk Empowerment has chapters in schools across the country and holds events encouraging girls to be more confident and pursue their dreams.

About 1,000 people attended the annual Girl Talk Day last June in Toronto where Landry’s message reached the primary demographic – girls 11 to 18 – as well as their mothers and teachers.

“What an inspiration and somebody who is measurably making an impact on so many lives for girls and women, ” says Zeppieri.

Landry was energized by the opportunity to share her story with young girls and to bring her son with her. She feels it is important for him to share that experience, because boys who share those values will become men who support women.

Landry chooses public appearances based on how they fit her principles. As her popularity grows online, sponsors have reached out, but she says she only works with brands that support her body-positive message.

“There was a time when I was a single mom and a brand reached out to me. It was an appetite-suppressing thing and I said no. They came back to me and offered more money and I said no, they came back and offered more money. I was like ‘I’m not doing this’ – and I needed that money.”

Landry’s latest online initiative is her own birdspapaya podcast. She won’t delete her early online posts because they reflect the full journey.

“I celebrated weight loss like it was the best thing I could be doing and then as time goes on, you can start to read where I shift away from that. I stop body-editing and I stop over-perfecting and over-dieting and over-exercising. I start to find my balance both mentally, physically and more.”

It’s important not to judge others, including women who shape their bodies through surgery, she says.

“I just want to step away from body-shaming at all. I think we should all respect each other’s choices and just come down to this basic core fact that we’re all worthy of being here no matter what we look like.”

Start with that body-positive mindset and your personal style can blossom from there, she contends.

“As my body has changed throughout the years, I’ve learned to dress for my body, not just try and make my body suit the latest fashion trends, ” Landry says.

“My personal style is always just whatever makes me feel good. I like to be comfortable and yet stylish. I thrift a lot of my wardrobe along with some staple pieces too. I love a good pair of jeans and a tee, with a faux leather jacket.”

Accessories are key to Landry’s style. She favours minimalist gold chains and hoop earrings. When we meet, she has layered three necklaces, one that says “mama, ” one with a heart with her children’s initials, and another with the outline of a female form.

Landry thinks of clothing as another creative outlet.

“It’s fun to dress our bodies, ” she says. “Clothing shopping can often be a shame-inducing experience. I like to remind myself and everyone that personal style is a personal journey. However you dress, and feel your best, is exactly what you should be wearing.”

Like her style choices, Landry’s story continues to evolve. “You change the conversations and you change the very fabric of society and I feel like that’s what we’re doing.”

Lynn Haddrall’s column appears regularly in Grand.