When we are in school getting our nutrition degrees, we learn all about food safety, how to counsel a nutritious diet, a metric ton of chemistry, and medical nutrition therapy to treat various conditions and diseases. We spent some time learning nutrition counseling techniques too.
But rarely are we prepared for what is often at the root of so many eating problems: a fractured relationship with our body image.
In school, they never gave us the language to understand this, for ourselves or other people, and they certainly never gave us the idea that we might also help the healing.
But in fact, we need to be able to help our clients heal not just their relationship to food and eating, but also their bodies.
I’m not talking about doing the work of a therapist. I’m talking about being able to listen and validate and understand WHY someone could hate their bodies so much that they lose their ability to eat in any peaceful, nourishing way. And helping them to find ways to reconnect with their bodies with self-compassion.
We CAN and SHOULD talk about this with our clients, and in the below episode of Dietitians Unplugged, Aaron and I talk more about how we as dietitians can start doing this work.
I’ve been hearing this a lot in my Facebook group lately, and it’s not a sentiment I’m unfamiliar with, having passed through it myself on my Health at Every Size® journey to normal eating.
For some people, giving up dieting is easy. Dieters are “falling off the wagon” half the time anyway – this is just like falling off and just staying off. Dream come true, right? Never diet again!
But then the reality of why you dieted in the first place comes crashing through. “I’m still fat!” or “I’ll get fat again!” is a stark realization that breaks the reverie of your no-diet bliss. And if you’ve been living with the fantasy of getting thin, or maybe even the reality of being thin, through dieting, then you’re facing some serious shattered dreams.
So yes, body acceptance is a HUGE part of diet and ED recovery. But where to start?
I think the first thing anyone should know is that you did not learn to hate your body, or fat, in a vacuum. We live in a patriarchy that enforces beauty ideals as a way to keep women busy and unable to achieve real economic and political power. Think I’m kidding? Have you seen the stats on wage disparity and representation in government for women? You may have been very busy dieting and chasing after the false currency of beauty and not noticed, so I’m telling you now: many people benefit when women keep hating their bodies. The diet and beauty industries are great examples of this.
I understand that just knowing that isn’t enough, so I recommend immersing yourself in some of the fabulous work of the many fat activists out there. I’ll take you through my own personal body acceptance journey as an example of how to do this.
The first blog I stumbled across was Ragen Chastain’s fabulous Dances with Fat blog. I read it obsessively for months. I began to see the societal fat phobia that had shaped my life and caused me to keep dieting even when I was unhappy with my body as a thin person. I’ve met Ragen several times and she is just as awesome in person as she seems on her blog. (Plus she’s the guest of our latest podcast episode which you simply MUST hear!)
I also happened to find the book Fat? So! by long-time fat activist Marilyn Wann. Marilyn is one of my early heroes and this book really set me straight about how I could start to feel good about my body no matter what size it ended up at. I also met Marilyn and I loved her. It’s some kind of amazing thing to get to meet your fat activist heroes and find out that they are truly good and cool people.
Along the way I tumbled down the fabulous rabbit hole of fat fashion blogs. I was like, “This is a thing? Fat fashion is a thing?!” I’m sad to say I’d never seen fat women proudly wearing beautiful fashion in such an unapologetic way. And the hilarious thing is, I thought the first fatshion blog I found was the only one! Turns out, no. There were many, and even more now than a few years ago (hell yeah body positivity!). There was something so incredibly liberating about seeing so many fat bodies portrayed so positively. A big first step for me, before I could totally accept my own fatness, was normalizing the fat bodies of others. Fashion was a great medium to help me do this because I like looking at pretty clothing. It wasn’t too long before I bought GabiFresh’s famous fatkini (yep, I own that exact one, although since then I’ve realized I find one-pieces much more comfortable) . Suffice it to say, fat fashion blogs were integral in my own body acceptance journey. My favorites are listed at the bottom of this post, although the list is by no means exhaustive, so do some of your own research too.
One of the reasons you’ve probably felt your own fat body isn’t fabulous is that we’re surrounded by media images of only one kind of body: thin. Here’s how to fix that: flood your social media feed with fat positive posts, pages and groups. They’re actually pretty easy to find. Most fat fashion bloggers have their own Facebook pages, so start there.
Finally, check out the work of Vivienne McMaster of Be Your Own Beloved. She has e-books and programs that will get you to explore self-compassion through self-portraiture. I took her course last year and it was not only fun but also instrumental in stomping out my inner critic.
And then, once you’ve immersed yourself in positive images of fat bodies, and you’re starting to see how your fat body is also awesome, realize this:
You are so much more than a body.
It’s important to come to peace with this body you’re in, but feeling pretty isn’t required. Physical beauty, however it’s defined by the society you’re in, isn’t important to the actual living of your life. You may think it is, and others may try to reinforce this, but in fact, it’s bullshit.
Your value as a human is more than your ability to fit into made-up societal beauty standards that were created to control us. We don’t need beauty standards and you are not an ornament for others to admire.
You are a person with a life to live, dreams to fulfill, gifts to give.
I have grey hair. Not a lot. Just some right now. There will in all likelihood be more down the road. This aging thing doesn’t go in reverse, Benjamin Button style.
When I was younger, I always thought I’d dye my hair. My grandmother did, until she was very old and couldn’t make it to the hairdresser anymore. My mother did too, until she got sick enough to no longer think about the dreaded roots (amazingly, only the last couple months of her life; and I think she still probably thought about her roots).
I thought there was no other option than to dye your hair because grey hair was simply to ghastly to be allowed to run unchecked on one’s head. If one’s head belonged to a female, at least.
Until one day I figured out there wasn’t just one option, which was to “hide” grey and pretend like it just wasn’t happening. If I no longer believed in societal beauty ideals, there were suddenly multiple options! I could let my hair get grey. I could shave it off. I could dye it not to hide it, but to bring attention to it, in unicorn pink-blue-purple! I could do whatever the fuck I wanted with it. That’s at least four more options right there.
I chose going grey, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because, as it came in, I kind of liked it. I liked it a lot, actually, once I decided that I’d see it as 1. simply another hair color that I was going to get to experience without having to do a lick of work 2. a way to buck patriarchal beauty rules that weren’t providing me with any real power, and 2. a symbol that I wasn’t afraid to get older — that in fact, I was going to own the hell out of getting older.
It hasn’t always been easy. As I dropped quickly and dramatically out of thin-and-acceptably-young-and-cute and deep into pudgy-grey-and-middle-aged, I noticed how people changed in reaction to me. Because I slipped out of the realm of fuckability in many people’s men’s eyes, it’s gotten harder to have my opinion heard around them. This would be a much bigger problem if I worked in a male-dominated profession, which thankfully I don’t anymore (frankly it was already hard enough to have my opinion heard by male co-workers and managers at any age); but not everyone has this luxury.
Anyway, I’ve thought about this stuff a lot as I’ve witnessed myself going from young-hot-mess (20s) to confused-but-getting-there (30s) to mature-and-on-a-mission (40s at the moment). I like me now better than me then. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still suffer the indignities of aging in a society that is distinctly anti-aging for women.
That’s why we got my friend and fellow middle-ager Michelle Vina-Baltsas on the line to chat with the Dietitians Unplugged. Aging affects our body image in a profound way, and it needs some processing. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as we enjoyed having it.
Ready to move ahead in your non-diet path to food freedom? My program, Dare to Eat, might be just the thing you need to get you to that blissful place of food peace. Program starts Monday, June 19th. Check out the details here.
One of the most common reactions to what I write about learning to accept our bodies at the weight they are and taking a Health at Every Size® approach is, “But I’m not at the weight I’m supposed to be…I should be XXX pounds because that’s what I was [when I was my healthiest weight; when I was an athlete in college; before I had three kids; before I developed this knee condition; when I ran marathons all the time].” I totally get it. Lots of us have that utopian time in our lives when our weight was perfect (or so we think in hindsight), our health was optimal, and we were going to live forever…and we so desperately want to get back to it.
Even when, intellectually, we know that dieting doesn’t work, that weight loss is typically short-term (<3 years) at best, that even when our own personal experiences tell us that previous weights were not sustainable, we resist in accepting this. I recently read a great term for this: data resistance, meaning no matter how clear the science is on this topic, people still want to believe that long-term weight loss is possible for more than a tiny fraction of people. The propensity for magical thinking is strong in us humans, and weight is no exception.
Let’s roll with it, then. Maybe you aren’t at your optimal weight. Do you want to diet to try to get there? Is that something that has been sustainable for you in the past? If not, why do you think things would be different this time? What happens if, despite all your efforts, you never get anywhere close to your desired weight? How do you live your life then? What happens if the weight you are now is your weight for the rest of your life? I think it’s worth it to have this conversation with yourself, so you at least have some options.
There are also important things to know before you decide what to do next. First of all, despite what we have been told ad nauseam by the diet industry, your weight is not really within your control, at least in the long term. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are well aware by now that intentional weight loss has a 90-95% failure rate over the long haul (>5 years). If you’re new to this blog, head on over to my Scientific Lit page and have a look for yourself.
Your weight is really determined by a combination of your genetics, your metabolism, and your environment (past and present) – and not so much by the weight you actually want to be. Do you have fat parents or family members (genetics)? Have you spent any part of your life restricting calories or foods (environment)? And if so, did you know that your metabolism is probably running slower than if you hadn’t (metabolism, obviously)? Possibly most significantly, if you have made multiple weight loss attempts throughout your life or were put on diets as a child, your natural set point will be higher than what it might have been had this never happened. Unfortunately, we’ve all been fed the calories in/calories out bullshit, and have been taught that calories out are totally within our control, when in reality our sneaky metabolism comes along and adjusts everything to make sure we aren’t spending too much energy, because Lord knows the body loves homeostasis.
So now you’re well-armed with information about the spectacular failure of long-term weight manipulation. That’s all well and dandy, you think, but maybe I’ll be one of the 5% who keep the weight off. Maybe you will be! I was for a long while – before The Diet Monster took over my life and made me more miserable than I had ever been as a fat person. It’s a dicey gamble to make – you might be one of the 5% who manages to maintain long-term weight loss by making it your life’s work, OR you might be one of the 95% who gains some, all, or even more of your weight back, leaving you even fatter than you started. In the words of Dirty Harry, “You gotta ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya??
“But I’m simply not healthy at this weight.” Hey, you might not be. I don’t know your particular health habits or your lab values. Just remember, though, that weight is not a health behavior; it’s a size. Health at Every Size® does not purport to say that everyone is healthy at whatever weight they’re at; it simply means that whatever weight you are right now, you can start to work toward better health. So maybe your health isn’t great right now – is losing weight truly the only way you can improve your health? What about improving your eating habits or activity level? If you consider yourself too large to exercise, check out The Fat Chick’s webpage for activity for people of all sizes. Plenty of studies show that fitness is a better determinant of health than fatness and recently even more are showing that weight loss in some populations is associated with greater mortality rates.
“Well, I’m just not comfortable at this size.” I understand; moving in a thin body is different than moving in a fat body. While I personally don’t notice all that much difference (I’m lazy at both ends of the weight spectrum!), I also recognize that my weight difference might not be as great as someone else’s and that my experience is not universal (I also developed osteoarthritis in my feet at my thinnest, so even that wasn’t a guard against joint problems). Whether your discomfort is physical or psychological, how much do you think our culture’s prevailing attitudes about weight are influencing your discomfort with your weight?
I used to feel like I had to suck in my stomach, no matter what weight I was. As I regained weight, my stomach was beyond sucking in – I could tighten those ab muscles all I wanted, but that layer of fat wasn’t going anywhere. Sucking in made me feel physically uncomfortable. Not sucking in made me feel psychologically uncomfortable. I felt out of proportion, and I felt like I was being outed by my tummy as a fat person. When I finally acknowledged that how I felt about my stomach had more to do with how the world views fat people and less to do with how I actually felt, I eased up on my expectations of my body. If your feelings of discomfort are 100% physical, consider a HAES® approach in which you could find activities that you are comfortable doing right now, and work your way up from there. Bodies are amazingly adaptable, especially when we are being kind to them.
I wish I could tell you that our desires controlled our weight. That it’s just a matter of trying really hard and you’ll have some satisfying weight loss that lasts forever without totally ruining the quality of your life. My own personal experience, the experiences of all the other people I’ve met in the fatosphere, and the bulk of available science on the subject does not permit me to do so. I can only recommend a kinder approach in which you let your body decide what it will weigh – it will do that eventually anyway – while you find your own way of living as healthfully as you want and can. That will give you a stable weight that is right for you. Because, with this one life you have, how long do you really want to struggle against your body?
You’ve been doing pretty well making headway with internally regulated eating (aka intuitive/attuned/mindful eating/eating competence), enjoying formerly forbidden foods with ease and seeing a decrease in the number of times you overeat. You’re feeling pretty relaxed around food and making choices based on what you actually like instead stupid diet rules. Food restriction is becoming a distant memory.
You’re doing a great job of embracing body acceptance, learning compassion towards yourself, and generally feeling much more comfortable in your skin. You’ve even bought a few new outfits and think you look pretty damn awesome.
You’re feeling so confident, in fact, that you decide to get on the scale. “If I’m feeling this good, I must have lost weight!”…even though that was never the point of all this good work.
Then you see the number. Surprise! It’s your highest weight ever.
Your mood comes crashing down. You feel the need to dive into a gallon of ice cream and get lost forever while simultaneously tossing out every last delicious food in your cupboard. You feel that all the clothes that looked cute on you before you got on the scale now make you look horrible. Worst of all, you feel completely unacceptable, unlovable, and unworthy. You so desperately want to diet to “correct” this weight situation even though it wasn’t even a problem a few minutes before.
If this has happened to you, it’s time to get rid of your scale.
At the height of my diet addiction, I sometimes weighed myself three times a day. The act of weighing was not an emotionally neutral act. I was constantly attempting to reassure myself that my societal acceptability – and depending on the number, superiority – was intact. If the number didn’t jive with what I expected, I was obviously a failure. I used these feelings to ensure that I never ate enough to satisfy my appetite.
Wow, just writing that kind of makes me feel sick.
After I started eating to satisfy my appetite, my weight started to go up rapidly. This, of course, is a normal bodily response to weight suppression below one’s natural set point, and I knew that, but before I was fully there body acceptance, the number glaring back at me, judging me, was just hard to see.
But because I had finally committed to letting my body do its own thing, to trust in its wisdom as I learned to enjoy eating again in a relaxed, healthy-for-me fashion, I knew I had to get rid of the scale that had the power to take me from a perfectly fine mood to a much darker, critical one. I knew, at last, that I didn’t need its judgement anymore.
The act of stepping onto the scale is one of self-sabotage. We are telling ourselves that we don’t trust in the process our body needs to go through to reclaim joy and normalcy in eating. We bargain with ourselves: “I’ll eat normally only if I haven’t gained weight…” And then all our good work in eating and body acceptance is undermined. We start restricting – maybe even unintentionally – and the next thing we know, we are overeating again.
If this has happened to you and you’re in a tailspin of bad body feelings, ask yourself – how did you feel about yourself before you got on the scale? If you felt good, why can a number that only represents the Earth’s gravitational pull on your body take that away? What was it you were hoping to find from the number you saw there? Approval? Acceptance?
The scale is simply not a way to gauge your non-diet journey progress, especially if you came from Diet Hell. Metabolic alterations from dieting and other processes that are out of your control have much more to do with what happens to your weight than eating-without-a-diet-plan.
Society puts so much emphasis on the weights of women and their ability to achieve and maintain smallness. This is not about our health; it’s about keeping us obedient. As long as you keep buying into this obedience by judging yourself by a number on the scale, you will continue to prop up the anti-female diet culture that denies us everything. And I know you don’t want to do that!
So the fix is easy: Get. Rid. Of. The. Damn. Scale. You don’t need to know the number to have a great life. It doesn’t tell you anything about your eating progress. It doesn’t measure your worthiness. And it makes you feel bad.
Sayonara, scale. We’ll do better without you.
Food got you down? Feel like your eating is out of control? Are you tired of fighting with your weight? Do you want to get to a place of normal eating but just don’t know how? I can help with all those things. Let’s talk for 20 minutes and come up with some strategies for you. Click here to schedule.
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Needless to say, I’ve been remiss in posting the last few Dietitians Unplugged podcasts here, on my blog. I’m particular about things being complete, so I’m going to tuck the last few eps into one neat and tidy post for you all to find some day in the future when you’re casting about the internet, looking for some vintage HAES podcasts…
If you’re ready to stop dieting, or already have, and would like some help with your intuitive eating skills, check out my new online course and group coaching program, Stop Dieting, Start Living, which will help you do just that. Class starts February 6! Registration is open until February 2 or until the class is full.
Free Group Coaching Call January 28
I’m hosting a free group coaching call on January 28 at 10 am PST. The topic is “Why can’t I stop eating even when I’m not hungry?!” I’m only sending the call details to people on my newsletter list so sign up here if you want in on the fun.
Join our Facebook group community!
We have a very cool little community going on over at Facebook called The Dare To Not Diet Society. Members give each other support, cheer each other on in their non-diet journey. I’m there too! It’s a body positive, non-diet, non-weight-loss focused community, and we’d love to have you.
Is anyone else physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the Julian calendar year? This year was no exception for me, and with the addition of an emotionally draining U.S. election season that did not end in a way I had hoped it would, well, I went into a bit of a tailspin.
Actually, it was a huge, tornado-style tailspin.
Long story short, I ended up in a mildly depressed funk. I’d been here before, in the past, and I knew it would only last a few weeks during which I would remain a reasonably high-functioning human. But it doesn’t feel great. I do not sit will with the yuckiness of malaise.
As time marched on, I began to find myself preoccupied with my body. Specifically, how it looked. I found old, distant feelings arising – namely, dissatisfaction. As a result, I suddenly felt the tug of an old relfex: the desire to diet to control my shape and weight.
Now, luckily for me, I have a few things going in my favor: 1. I committed way back to never diet again. I never wanted to experience the bitter combo of futility, sadness and hunger that dieting left me with. 2. I have wholly committed to honor the wisdom of my body and have promised to fully support it in whatever shape and size it takes, even if it’s a size and shape that takes me out of the realm of societal acceptability. So dieting again IS NEVER an option for me, and for that, I’m so glad. I know that feeling bad about my body in these instances is the symptom, not the problem.
I started to remember other times I experienced depression, and my reactions in those times.
At the age of 22, when my mother was dying, I turned to dieting to distract myself and exert some form of control on my clearly out-of-control life.
At the age of 31, when I found myself in a committed, long-term relationship that didn’t satisfy me, I turned to dieting to get my “perfect” body to solve my unhappiness.
It’s obvious that dieting or a smaller body could not possibly have solved either of those problems, yet that’s exactly what I did to try to ease my suffering because diet culture tells us that we only need to lose weight to make our lives better. So it wasn’t surprising to me at all that this reflex arose at this time of sadness and insecurity and fear. The urge to deny myself my most basic need – food – in order to gain control at a time when I feel I have no control over what happens is so strong, but makes so little sense and is not kind.
Instead of diving back into restriction, though, I decided to just sit with those feelings. I made space for them. I pondered them. I thought about how that solution worked out for me in the past (spoiler alert: not so well. I still had to deal with all those messy feelings and situations in the end, and I was hungry on top of it). I knew I would not diet, and I knew I would have to sit with feelings of body and life and world dissatisfaction and just do my best to deal with it.
In enough time, I felt myself emerge, ever so slowly, from the darkness of these thoughts. I have a great support system at home and that helps. I did some gentle yoga to get myself back in touch with the physicality of my body — to sense what it felt like rather than what it looked like. I’m living with uncertainty without using starvation as a proxy for control. I’m caring for myself in constructive, not destructive ways. My body is not actually the problem, and I don’t need to try to change it.
If you’re finding yourself going down this particular road, stop and give yourself a hug. Think about what you really need. You’d be better off in a Snuggie with a hot cup of tea on the couch doing some comfort-TV binge-watching than trying to diet again. If you need to reach out for help, do that. Just know that dieting and weight manipulation is not real control, it’s not real power, and it just weakens us further. That’s not something that any of us needs in hard times.
Tired of struggling on your own?
Exciting news! I’m launching a 30 day online course/group coaching program in February to help you get free of diet mentality and further along toward normal eating. I’ve created this very affordable option because so many of you have wanted to work with me one-on-one but it’s just not within your budget right now. Make sure to get on my newsletter list as this will be the first place I send out more information about the course, and enrollment will be limited and offered to those on my list first. Get on my list here.
Dietitians Unplugged News
Missing us? No fear! We’re just on a little end-of-year hiatus until January. In the meantime, catch up on all our episodes on Libysn, iTunes, or Stitcher.
By now you’ve seen the article Tim Gunn wrote in The Washington Post about how the fashion industry has long-ignored plus-sized women and how that needs to change.
In a statement I can totally get behind, he said:
“I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”
Yep, we can’t figure it out either. Though soon enough, the picture becomes clear:
“I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.” They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt. “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009.”
It’s no surprise that size bigotry and a laziness to design for any body outside of the narrow range of sizes represented by fashion models that leaves us with so little to wear – but it’s shameful as all hell. Again, nothing new to those of us who live in the plus-sized fashion world, though that designers find our bodies so repulsive to dress hurts a little a lot. If you’re a skilled designer, how hard it is to draw a few more round lines?? So I really liked that Tim was calling out this bullshit front and center.
But then he rounded a corner at the intersection of WTF and Hell, No!:
“The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked.”
“Half the [clothing] items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade.”
Oh. That old trope. Adjust the proportions and the fat body simply just disappears into slimness! Pastels, ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads are all fine for thinner women – but not fat women. Yes, our bodies are different – but they aren’t so different that we can’t wear the same styles that thinner women wear. With limiting rhetoric like this, no wonder fashion designers don’t want to make plus-sized clothing.
Tim, allow me to enlighten you: that “flattering” shit is old and doesn’t even work. We don’t want to hear it anymore. We don’t need tips and tricks on how to appear less or different than we are because it’s damaging to our self-esteem to think that way. What many of us want (I won’t speak for all of us) is simply the same cool clothing choices that are available for “straight” sized women. We’ve all tried that small patterns/wear all black/vertical stripes are slimming/avoid ruffles and ruching crap and guess what – we were still fat, and with a boring wardrobe. Worse, we were paranoid that we looked fat and that looking fat was so, so wrong. In short: it sucked.
That’s when it hit me: Tim still thinks fat bodies are wrong and need to be disguised. That he can’t envision fat women in anything other than the most slimming silhouettes tells us that he can’t envision a fat body that is just fine as it is. Even worse, he tells us how bad we would look if we were naked. Gee, thanks a bunch!
He then takes Project Runway to task for allowing Ashley Nell Tipton to win with the first plus sized collection the show has had because she dared to design haute couture clothing that looked easily as ridiculous as it usually does for thin women. High fashion, in my opinion, is more about art than about practicality, and from what I saw of her collection, it didn’t look all that different from what is usually designed for thin women, except that it was on fatter bodies.
The article was a much-needed plea to the fashion world to make clothing for bigger women, and for that, I truly do thank him because he has a public platform to affect the kind of change that most of us can’t. But I do hope that he doesn’t get to be in charge of this project. His comments about what fat women should wear smacked of old-school patriarchy and condescension toward fat bodies, and I’m not having it. Tim, please challenge your assumptions about fat bodies, and maybe even consider asking a few more fat women what they want to wear and how they want to feel in their clothing. My guess is it would simply be a request for more more more choices, from the sublime to the silly. I also invite you to check out the work that fat fashion bloggers have been doing for the last few years to bring about change in the fashion industry (see my list of favorites below). They don’t worry about whether their clothes “hug” vs “skim” their bodies, they just wear what they like and they look fucking fabulous because their best accessory is confidence.
I want to embrace Tim’s plea wholeheartedly but I’m weary of any sort of non-change change, ya know what I mean? This kind of “disguise your body” thinking is what led me to hide my French Connection sample sale orange and teal floral satin dress in the back of my closet in 1997 with nary a wear because I thought it made me look “fat” (this was back when I wasn’t). So what if it did make me look fat? It was a fabulous dress and it deserved to be worn. Worse, the mentality of creating the illusion of thinness from my very wrong fat body is what led me to starve myself more and more, wanting to create the reality of thinness instead of embracing exactly what I was.
“Flattering” is the concept I now eschew when I’m putting on my swishy pleated floor-length skirts that make me feel like a fierce and formidable fashion princess. It’s the symbol of all that I’m not supposed to wear on my fat body. We all deserve our own version of that swishy skirt without worrying if it transforms us into alternate versions of ourselves.
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I’m thrilled at how the body positive movement has really taken off and gone mainstream in the past year. I remember when it was little more than what seemed like a fringe movement only a few short years ago. I’m not even sure I remember anyone using the words “body positive.”
After suppressing my weight on diets for so long, my body naturally gained weight when I stopped dieting and started to eat normally (yep, it can happen). I was dismayed at the change but I knew I couldn’t go back to dieting, so I decided to immerse myself in this body positivity stuff I’d been seeing a bit of on the internet. After poking around the web for a while I found some wonderful body-acceptance bloggers and advocates to light the way for me. Because literally no one else I knew in real life knew about this stuff, I felt like I had discovered a true body-acceptance treasure trove to which I and a handful of others had the secret key. Which sounds kind of awesome on the level of “Goonies” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, but in reality, when learning how to finally accept and like your body after many years of culturally installed body dissatisfaction, it’s not really a place you want to be alone.
That was in 2010. Flash-forward six years and it now seems like the words “body positive” are on everyone’s lips. While the spread of a body positive movement has, in my opinion, been a good thing, its lack of a codified definition has left it open to misinterpretation and hijacking by less benevolent forces (like what happened to “lifestyle changes”).
“Body positivity” is a pretty general, undefined term, and therefore it’s open to anyone’s interpretation. It can mean something different to everyone. For me, body positivity is about accepting the bodies we have right now, no matter how well they approximate the cultural beauty standards and ideals. It’s about having respect for our bodies and what they do for us, not just about how they look to others or in the mirror. For me, it is also about rejecting a diet-and-weight-loss culture that tells us we need to change our appearance in order to feel good about ourselves and become socially acceptable.
I’ve noticed recently that my definition isn’t necessarily everyone else’s. I’ve read a few “body positive” blogs in which the bloggers talk about their efforts toward weight loss for health purposes. That disappoints me; if it’s truly about health, we know that a person does not actually have to lose weight in order to make positive changes toward good health. Eating well, exercising, managing stress, getting social and emotional support are all things a person can do without requiring the number on the scale to change. And knowing what I know about just how unhealthful and futile dieting is both physically and mentally, I simply cannot equate the pursuit of weight loss with body positivity.
I’ve also seen people draw a line in the sand with body positivity and weight. Like, “It’s okay to feel good about your body up to a certain point. But some people are too big and need to lose weight.” No, this is absolutely not body-positive. This imaginary line in the sand is why I believe in fat positivity. It should go without saying that fat positivity is included in body positivity, but considering that the word “fat” is still largely wielded as an insult, and fat bodies are almost never accepted and celebrated as other body shapes and sizes are – well, it’s going to take a lot of extra effort on behalf of fat activists and advocates to normalize fat bodies. Part of that effort includes saying, unapologetically, that we are fat positive.
This movement needs to be inclusive and accepting of all weights even if it is not necessarily the best or “healthiest” weight for that person at that moment (example: people with illness that cause unintentional weight loss or gain). This is why the banning of very-thin models in France or ads of very-thin women in England is not the answer; this still puts a value on certain body sizes (and if they can ban thin bodies, they won’t hesitate to ban fat bodies at some point either). It doesn’t solve the problem of inclusivity; it only makes the problem of exclusivity worse. The real problem is that women have long suffered from being valued for what our bodies look like; body positivity needs to be about putting that particular valuation aside and embracing the other great things about our bodies and what they do for us, how they enable us to take part in the world.
All of these problems are merely problems of definition, or lack of. The thing that really gets my blood boiling is when industries that profit off of our body insecurities start using the language of body positivity to sell products that aren’t very body positive at all. Dove, I’m looking at you and your cellulite reducing cream. Weight Watchers, I see you trying to get “beyond the scale” with some #bopo language, but I bet you didn’t remove any of the scales from your meetings, did you? Products that propose to change your body are simply not body positive, because they insist that the body at its starting point is flawed and requires changing.
Body Positive Australia recently illustrated this point perfectly when they took Weight Watchers to task after WW put some naked larger women in its magazine and declared they would end fat-shaming:
“Don’t try and manipulate body positivity, mindful eating and other ideas that HAVE NOTHING to do with weight, or weight loss. At the very least – please get real because the veiled attempts at pretending you give a shit are really tiresome. Your advertising directly preys on people’s insecurities and promotes the idea that you’ll be happier and more confident by losing weight. You use fear of fat, and shame, to perpetuate the idea that we’re not enough as we are, we must change & that if we’re smaller, we’re better, more valuable, more worthy. Yours is a shame-based business that is built on the idea that smaller is preferred, and that controlling your food makes for a better person. It keeps the narrative alive that self-worth is contingent on weight, shape and compliant eating behaviour. Whilst we’re keeping the focus on weight, we’re not really addressing the REAL reasons we’re not living the life we want, and deserve.”
Becoming truly body positive is going to require vigilance as the diet industry continues to defend its turf against the potential self-satisfaction of millions of people and therefore the loss of profit for its shitty products that don’t work. Likewise, many people who are personally invested in and benefit from the status quo of cultural beauty ideals will want to continue to enforce these ideals, only letting a chosen few into the club under the guise of “body positivity” in order to continue to keep it exclusive and their power intact. Don’t be fooled, none of this is really body positivity. Being truly inclusive, compassionate, celebratory and accepting of all body shapes, sizes, colors and abilities is what body positivity really needs to be about.
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Do men get eating disorders too? Long regarded as a disease of girls and women, people sometimes don’t realize that men can also be affected by eating disorders. Aaron and I talked to Andrew Whalen of The Body Image Therapy Center, a treatment center for those with eating disorders, substance abuse issues and self-harm disorders. They also happen to specialize in eating disorders for men, and that’s the subject of this podcast. Andrew shares his personal story of suffering with an eating disorder, body shame and muscle dysmorphia.