I swore to myself not to talk about body image issues for awhile, before I got forcefully removed from my soapbox by a barrage of jelly donuts. But a few recent articles have started a great bit of dialogue among friends and readers. Everywhere I go, every time I run into someone, they have something to say- whether it’s “way to go” or “you missed the mark.” I actually think this type of communication is essential for growth, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll fill you in on some recent comments and stories, from readers and myself.
This article was forwarded to me about the issue of being a “fat” person at the gym, knowing everyone there is struggling not to be like you.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about a time I went picnicking at a lake with a group of family and friends. My friend, Linda, was with us. Linda is obese. When it came time to go swimming, I nervously made my way to the edge of the lake, removed my clothes with lightning speed, and hopped into the water before anyone could catch more than a blurred glimpse of me in a bathing suit. Linda confidently spent most of the day in her swimming suit. I shouldn’t even really say confidently, because it wasn’t as if she gave it any thought. She simply knew she was at an occasion where she would be swimming and wore the appropriate attire. I noticed other people in our vicinity as they glanced her way and either began chuckling among their group, or shaking their heads in disgust. In revisiting this memory, I was reminded how it is not acceptable to simply be fat. You must be trying to lose weight, or outwardly proclaiming how much you don’t like yourself. It is simply not suitable to be heavy and ok with it.
However, it is acceptable and almost expected to complain about your weight. I visited a café a couple of weeks ago, and stood in line behind a high school girls’ soccer team. Directly in front of me were a mom and a daughter. The mom asked the daughter what she wanted to eat, and the daughter replied “I shouldn’t have anything, I’m so fat,” before ordering her sandwich. I could be misreading it, but the way she said it came across as she knew she was expected to say something along those lines and then wait for a teammate to reply “no, you’re not fat. You are beautiful.” I have utilized this same tactic so many times I can’t even begin to count them. I hate that saying “love yourself at any size” is met with a dizzying array of complexity, but a svelte teenager saying “I’m so fat” is a social norm.
I like to believe that I am above this type of behavior, but I am figuring out I still have some progress to be made. Last week, I decided to stop weighing myself daily, as I didn’t feel that number was a reflection of my worth. It should be a simple act- just don’t step on the scale. But I am surprised at how reliant I have become on that number to make me feel ok about myself. My weight fluctuates by about five lbs at any given time, but otherwise has remained relatively the same for about ten years (excluding pregnancy). So it’s not like I really have that much invested in my weight- I pretty much know what range it is going to be in. But not weighing myself, I found myself craving some other way to let me know I have not gained. I wanted to take my measurements, or try on a pair of “skinny” jeans to see how I was looking. I heard my husband weigh himself this morning and sort of craved the feeling of getting on the scale. Ugh, gross. You can punch me for saying that.
My girlfriend and I met for lunch. Over the course of the meal, she provided feedback on my recent posts, and this lead to us discussing our own issues. I believe we could both be considered success stories when it comes to weight. We both used to be significantly overweight, and by eating healthier and working out, we have managed to shed the lbs and get healthier. She has made considerable changes. She has lost 60lbs, converted to a clean food lifestyle, works out 5 days a week, and for the most part, abstains from alcohol.
Yet, we both still have this lingering fear that rules our lives- the fear of slipping backwards. I can never eat a cupcake and just enjoy the cupcake. I have to justify the cupcake by working out, which is arguably not so bad. But immediately upon finishing, I feel guilty for giving into the temptation of the cupcake, for ruining the good work I did on my jog. She schedules her workouts in her planner a week in advance, despite working out at home and working from home. If she misses a workout, she beats herself up for being behind, and views herself as a failure for the week.
I don’t say any of this in the “credible fat girl” way I described in my last post. I am simply trying to be as honest as I can about this issue. I view myself as a confident, strong, attractive person. But I also still find myself needing a metric. I don’t feel like I can just trust my body, even though I have been maintaining my weight for roughly a decade. That is strange to me.
For my friend and I, it’s a slippery slope. Because giving ourselves permission to enjoy is what got us overweight in the first place. But feeling guilt to rival any catholic over any slight slipup is more than a bit obsessive. We can make our bodies healthy, we can view information logically with our minds, but how do we get our hearts on board.
It is a tough battle because this societal norm has been handed down for decades. I think there was an entire generation whose weight loss secret was Tab and cigarettes. We may feel the pressure to have our bodies tucked, sucked, and sculpted, but our ancestors wore girdles, popped prescription diet pills, and went to sleep in lipstick. It isn’t as easy as saying “love yourself as you are” but that doesn’t mean we just throw in the towel.
One thing that might help is to quit sabotaging other women in the name of making ourselves feel better. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a backhanded compliment, but are we willing to admit that we’ve given a few as well? I have always been very curvy, and developed a figure at a very young age. Growing up, I had a slender relative who would comment on my blossoming physique by saying “I can’t believe how voluptuous you are. I didn’t even weigh 100 lbs when I graduated high school.” It was her way of saying “I’m as good as you are,” even though I never implied differently.
In looking at my recent posts, I can admit that I want fuller figures to be viewed as attractive because I am a fuller figured person. No one wants to think they are outside the norm. But in doing so, did I come across as “I am better than you. I can love myself as I am”? Perhaps. I long for the day when I wouldn’t even dream of writing a blog on this topic, because it just wouldn’t enter my mind. I’m sure you do too, as you’ve got to be like “Jesus, enough already!! We get it! You like your chubby thighs! If we agree to like them too, will you blog about something else?”
One reader asked me to remind that in talking about numbers, we can’t focus only on weight, BMI, etc. Numbers are not the enemy, but should be looked at in conjunction with other numbers- like blood pressure, glucose levels, etc. This is sage advice and puts the focus back on health, which I really like.
I was also reminded that health is not a fat person’s issue. Everyone needs to be healthy. I have a friend who by nature has a supermodel body. If I had her body, I would wear nothing but pasties and as I swam in a pool of crème brule. I thought it was so weird when she started talking to me about making dietary changes to improve her health. In my mind, I thought “you’re skinny. Why are you thinking about these things? You got a gift from the gods. Enjoy it.” That is just stupid, jealous thinking. Everyone has to think about these things, even the Heidi Klums of the world.
This is also not a pregnancy issue, although of course weight gain and loss are a topic of importance to women who have watched their bodies drastically change. Positive body image is something that all women are deserving of, and many women struggle with, despite whether or not they have had children.
One thing I have heard from a few people is “You make it sound too easy. Having a positive body image is not an easy thing to achieve.” I agree, I just wish it wasn’t that way. So help me out. If what I’m saying is too simplistic, what should I be saying? How do we raise the next generation to not need the backhanded compliments, to view their bodies in terms of strength and health not size, to not resort to unhealthy means to achieve an unrealistic version of beauty? Maybe if we can figure it out for them, we might learn something about ourselves in the process.