I have spent the last two days analyzing my views on this connection between weight and body image. My friend, Dale Howell, wrote a guest blog with some criticism for a piece I wrote called “You Got It Going On,” urging women to stop obsessing about weight and see their beauty regardless of their size. I won’t say I’m fantastic at taking criticism, but it usually doesn’t dominate my thoughts for multiple days when I receive it. I decided if it was on my mind so much, it must mean there is something there worth looking at.
First, I believe in my response to Dale’s blog, I did a disservice to women. Almost as soon as I posted it, I didn’t like it. To me, it came across like a racist trying to defend himself by saying “I have a black friend.” It read like “I used to be fatter, I used to struggle more, I know what you are feeling.” While everything I wrote was true, I don’t believe writing it served my point. It was merely some misguided attempt to be a credible fat girl by sharing my story. I don’t think it’s very interesting. I think the story of who I am now is far more exciting.
My main point was that the number on the scale does not determine whether or not you are beautiful. I stand by that. I can look at Queen Latifah and Halle Berry and think they are both luscious. Beauty does come in all shapes and sizes. It is not reserved for a certain number on the scale, or a certain size of jeans. I feel it is important for our children to be taught that all body types can be attractive, and that starts with us. If we send the message that we are only allowed to feel pretty when we reach a certain size, how are we going to feel when that message is received? In the process of thinking about this topic, I got dressed to go running. I wore the shirt in the photograph below. My son, Liam, said “Mom, that’s you on your shirt,” and then made muscles like the woman depicted. I thought, that’s right. I am that woman. I want him to view me as the lady flexing and posing, not the lady complaining about her thighs.
We can measure ourselves by all kinds of standards, but the most important one is whether or not we are happy. For people that gain weight because of emotional issues, the weight can be lost, but the issues are still there. I don’t think it does any good to solve one and not the other. I tend to believe if you lose the issue, the weight will follow.
Am I saying ignore your health, numbers be damned? Am I saying it’s easy? No. I’m saying numbers are tools and not necessarily synonymous with health. When I weighed 176lbs, my body couldn’t run 13 miles. But my 126lb body couldn’t either. This body that I have today, this slightly overweight by BMI standards, slightly within normal bounds according to % of body fat, is the healthiest I have ever been. Use the tools, let the numbers tell their story- but realize that story is just a chapter in a much larger book.
Many women will think “how can I tell myself I’m beautiful if I don’t believe it? If I look in the mirror and see rolls and wrinkles and things I don’t like?” I think it is a matter of changing your focus. When I started running, I couldn’t even run half a mile. I could have easily berated myself at how pathetic I was, how I had let myself get so out of shape. But I chose to focus on the fact that I kept improving. Maybe I couldn’t run a half mile when I started, but a couple of days later I could. My approach might not be the answer for everyone, but I am motivated by my success, not my failure.
I see a lot of women putting their lives on hold until they reach a certain weight. They won’t go out because they don’t want to be compared to smaller women. They won’t buy clothes for themselves because they aren’t the right size. They won’t have sex because they don’t want their husbands to see them. I know it is a hard hump to get over, but I hate that they are missing out on so much life waiting to be thin. It makes me sad that they think they are only deserving of happiness if they fit into a certain package. You are worthy and deserving of happiness at any size.
I don’t think liking your body and wanting to improve it are at odds with each other. Maybe that makes me weird, but I’ve certainly been called worse things (try making it through high school when boys determine Kat sounds an awful lot like Cunt.” I like my body, rolls, stretch marks, saggy boobs, and all. But I’d still like to see myself get stronger and faster. I’d like to see if I am able to keep meeting the challenges I set for myself as they get progressively harder.
Dale’s piece stuck with me because I did see hypocrisy in my own life. I still weigh myself almost daily. I don’t let the fluctuation in number affect my day as much, but I still do it. Well, if I’m going to talk the talk, I’m going to walk the walk. I am going to use weight as a tool. I’m going to weigh myself monthly. I believe that should be sufficient to keep me on track for health, without letting the number determine my worth. I will admit, this is not an easy prospect for me. I might have to have my husband hide the scale so I don’t sneak a peek. But I hope in the long run I truly can come to terms with how to use the information in a productive way, and not let it mean more than what it is.
Dale also mentioned wanting off the emotional eating roller coaster. I am fully on board with that suggestion. I readily admit using food and drink to celebrate and cope. I’m hoping to change that. I’m going to try to examine what I am really seeking when I reach for the beer or the cupcake, and see if by consciously looking at it, if I can’t satisfy that craving in a more healthy way. I’m sure the answer is going to be no sometimes, as I really like beer and sweets. But I’m hoping with conscious thought, I can make these things the treat they are, not the daily necessity they have become.
Are these things going to come easily? Probably not. But I think being a little kinder to myself in the process will help me gain strength to keep going.
Be kind to yourself today. You are beautiful. You are worthy of love just the way you are. Maybe it sounds like fluff to say that, but if that’s the case, call me Fluffy.
And now, I’m going to take a break and maybe not write for a couple of days, because this was just too draining. Ugh. I feel like a complete narcissist. I gotta get back to complaining about my kids and making bad art.
Thanks again to Dale for her thoughts. It may have not been my favorite way to spend the past two days, but her words did help me to challenge my thoughts and beliefs. That is the mark of true friendship. Much love to you.