Feeling Left Out of BoPo?

BoPo heartOne of the things I’ve heard said recently is that thin or “normal” weight folks feel left out of the Body Positive movement.

It totally sucks to feel left out.

Some feel that the body positive movement is too focused on fat bodies, and this feels alienating to those with thinner bodies. Because fat bodies are highly stigmatized in our society, they do get a lot of attention within the BoPo community because this is radically different from how they are treated outside the community.

So if you are not fat and feel left out of the Body Positive movement – you are not alone. I understand your need for the body positive community to be inclusive of all weights and shapes because body shame can affect someone of any size. You belong in the body positive movement as much as the next person.

But there is a reason why there is often a focus on larger bodies.

First, there is a difference in the way body shame is experienced by fat people and thin people. When you, the non-fat person, experience feelings of shame around your thin or “normal” sized body, you alone experience those feelings. You may feel that others are judging you, but in reality, your body still largely conforms to the expectations society has for women’s bodies: it is within an “acceptable” weight/size range, and is not deemed in any sense “overweight”, “obese” or “fat”. Dealing with feelings of intense body shame is no small feat and the body positive movement is important for you.

When you are fat and dealing with body shame, both you and society feel your body is not “right.” So you experience the double whammy of not feeling good about your body, and also society reaffirming that feeling through institutionalized, accepted weight bigotry. This is underscored most often in fat people’s visits to the doctor, where they often cannot get the same treatment for conditions as thin people do because all problems are blamed on their weight. That is a really big load of stigma to carry, not to mention life-threatening at times.

So, some things to know:

The Body Positive Movement is first and foremost a social justice movement. Body positivity used by individuals as nothing more than a personal tool to improve self-esteem is not the sole purpose of the movement. The Body Positive Movement is about dismantling systems of oppression that keep us in a state of body hatred. So while you can certainly be positive about your own body image in any way you want, Body Positivity, The Movement, hopes for more, for more people, and therefore requires more effort. (and if you’re wondering about how weight loss fits into this, I wrote about that here)

Thin people are not the only people feeling left out the body positive movement. Melissa Toler, Aaron and I talked about this problem on this podcast. The Body Positive Movement feels to many like it only includes the “right” kind of fat body: not too fat, hourglass, white, cis-gendered, symmetrical-faced, able-bodied, female.  This is a huge problem for something that started out as a social justice movement to include all bodies as good bodies. ALL OF THEM.

We need to include all the shapes, sizes, colors, abilities and genders because it takes all of us to lift up not just ourselves but everyone else in need of lifting. So you can be thin in the BoPo Movement while still recognizing that some bodies are not treated equally in the world and therefore need more help in achieving this equality, and that you can help with this kind of advocacy. And there’s a  whole lot of feel-good around doing that.

Also, if you are thin or “normal” weight/shape/size, I want to invite you to join the Fat Acceptance/Fat Positive movement.

Yes, really!

Why? Because we need you as allies. You’ll be helping to address a major civil liberties issue. And you may find that in helping to liberate other bodies, you’ll find some liberation for yourself as well.

You will be with people who are working on accepting themselves just as you are, while also trying to change the culture. We all lift each other up.

PS – just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I came across this brilliant article that says everything I’m trying to say here but SO much better.

Want to join my Facebook group where we all lift each other up??

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Is Weight Loss Body Positive?

BoPo heartI’ve been waiting a while to write this post. Like, months. Because it’s a complex issue, and it deserved some thought. (Also, I figured I’d probably piss a few people off with my take on this, and I really needed some time to galvanize myself)

I think this question breaks further down into three questions:

  1. Is it body positive to want to lose weight?
  2. Is actively trying to lose weight a body positive act?
  3. If I happen to lose weight, am I no longer being body positive?

Let’s start with the first one:

1. Is it body positive to want to lose weight?

We live in a culture that reviles fat bodies, heavily endorses one type of beauty (thin, white), and insists that if you just work hard enough you can change whatever body you’re in and suddenly fit into the impossibly stringent beauty standards that have been set up for women (and now increasingly, men).  With all this pressure bearing down on us, I see it as completely natural to still wish for thinness in order to fit into the mainstream so we can get all that love that society sends out for those who’ve made it.

So no, I don’t think it’s necessarily unbody positive to still have this desire for societal acceptance. We are geared to want to belong, which is why we humans have, for the most part, gelled into tribes and communities and civilizations. We’re also geared, in general, to strive, to move forward, to achieve (though this is not true for everyone nor should it have to be). And often we want all sorts of things that we might never get, even when that desire isn’t rational or achievable.

The problem with body positivity and weight loss is not the wanting, which stems from a society that tries to vilify or erase all sorts of bodies. The problem is with the actual attempting of weight loss. Which leads me to…

2. Is actively trying to lose weight a body positive act?

This is where it gets complicated.

Diet and weight loss culture is not body positive because it is rooted in the belief that fat bodies, bodies that do not conform to the very narrow beauty standards (thin, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered), are wrong, unattractive and/or unhealthy. Diet and weight loss culture simply does not respect the broad diversity of body weights and sizes that exist.

In addition to these nefarious underpinnings, dieting to lose weight simply isn’t sustainable, based on all the best available data (and for this data, you should read Traci Mann’s Secrets from the Eating Lab in which she reviewed all the most rigorous weight loss studies and discovered that…long-term weight loss doesn’t work). And when we say “diets don’t work,” what we mean is that they work for a little bit at first, and then, usually within three to five years, some, all or even more of the weight is regained for most people. Failure on this level is simply not a lack of motivation or willpower, and the diet industry is unable to show that long-term weight loss is achievable for more than a tiny fraction of people.

Weight loss for health is wholly unnecessary. Studies show that our health habits (balanced diet, fitness, not smoking, not drinking excessively, etc.) make more of an impact on our health and longevity than weight ever could. We can begin to work toward fitness and eating well at any weight. Weight loss may be associated with health improvements, but there are three problems with concluding that weight loss is the solution to health problems: 1. Studies that show this association rarely take into account the health habits that typically change when someone tries to lose weight, so we really don’t know if it is the weight loss itself OR the change in health habits that are affecting health. 2. We’ve seen from other studies that health improvements can be accomplished through change in health habits in the absence of weight loss (eg. Eating a more nutrient dense diet, exercising more, etc.), and 3. Since weight loss is typically short term, any improvements made to health based on weight loss alone may end up being short term as well.

Body positivity is founded on the belief that all bodies are good bodies and that a person’s value is not based on her/his body. Weight loss culture is founded on the belief that all bodies are better smaller. So no, participating in diet and weight loss culture is not, in my opinion, a body positive act.

Please know that I never blame or judge those who participate in diet and weight loss culture. They are victims of a society that profits from their insecurities. Keeping women busy with smallness keeps us from fully participating in society and therefore unable to change the rules to actually empower women; it also means we will buy whatever is offered to help us fit into this rejecting society, including weight loss “solutions.” Dieters are, by design, pawns of a $60 billion diet industry. But all of this is why an anti-fat-body culture is not body positive.

Allowing diet culture messages to highjack body positivity renders it just more of the same, and we are left with a culture that continues to insist that some bodies are good bodies, while others aren’t.

3. If I happen to lose weight, am I no longer being body positive?

Changes in body weight and/or size can occur for many reasons. Often a person’s body will change as they age. Sometimes bodies lose or gain weight with illness. Sometimes body size or weight changes can occur with improvements in diet, eating more intuitively, or increase in exercise. Change in diet or activity level is not a guarantee of weight loss, however weight loss may occur. Weight loss as a result of self-care is not inherently unbody-positive. It is simply something that happened while you were looking after yourself.

It’s important to remember that this loss may be temporary, or it may be permanent, but a focus on weight loss will eventually undermine attempts at sustainable self-care as we attempt to coax the body into a shape or weight that may not be natural for it. That is why Health at Every Size® is weight-neutral.

Focusing on caring for oneself in the best way possible while also learning to accept the inherent shape and size of your body is body positive. However, how the body responds weight-wise is better treated as a side-effect of self-care, not the focus.

These are, needless to say, my own opinions. I don’t own body positivity, I merely promote it. Also, it’s not a club where you can have your membership revoked if, heavens forbid, you do something unbody positive. It’s a movement that is trying to change the status quo of body hatred.

I did meet the woman who owns the body positive trademark (and she is pro-HAES®), so if you want her take on it, her website is here. She didn’t trademark it for financial purposes, but to protect it from the diet world co-opting this term for profit, as we see happening now.

Recommended further reading: This is a great article by Virgie Tovar that further explains why body positive spaces need to be free of weight loss talk.

Last week to register for Stop Dieting and Start Living

If you’re ready to stop dieting, or already have, and would like some help with your intuitive eating skills, check out my online course and group coaching program, Stop Dieting, Start Living, which will help you do just that. Class starts February 6 and this is the last week to register. Come join us!

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Why Body Positivity Needs Your Help

BoPo heartI’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.

Want to Work With Me?

Are you over dieting but don’t know how to handle eating normally? Are you over living a life of restriction and binge eating? I can help. I’m now taking clients for drama-free eating coaching sessions. Click here for more information.

Latest Dietitians Unplugged Episode!

Aaron and I talk with Andrew Whalen of The Body Image Therapy Center about eating disorders in men. Give us a listen!

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You’ll Be Happy When You’re Not Fat and Other Possibly Untrue Things

yellow skirt
Feelin’ easy & breezy these days

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been experiencing an emotion that hasn’t been entirely natural for me for most of my life…I’ve been happy. Happy and completely content, both with my life and myself. I’ve felt happiness before, but it often felt tainted with mild-but-persistent anxiety.

It has only been very recently, when I’ve begun to embrace who and how I really am and the gifts I have to share that life started feeling really good. When I shucked off the expectations I thought the world had for me and just went with my own expectations…my life really started to open up.

And yet, I am as fat as I was before I started my first diet. We are frequently told fat people can’t be happy with themselves, so how is this possible? (Sarcasm meter: 10/10)

Looking back before my first diet, I cannot recall truly disliking my body. I knew that society saw my body as “wrong” but I didn’t have problems looking at myself in photos, and I didn’t look in the mirror and think “yuck.” I went out dancing a lot back then and remember feeling pretty awesome when I rocked an outfit I really liked. However, I went on a diet anyway because as much as I liked myself, I became tired of being the butt of society’s joke. I didn’t want to be seen as “wrong” any longer. When I began to lose weight rapidly and relatively easily, it just reinforced the diet mentality for me. When people around me started to congratulate me on my new body, I was hooked.

So in fact it was after I had lost weight that I learned to hate my former fat body.

When you lose weight and everyone tells you how awesome you suddenly look, that is some seriously addictive mojo. Now you know: before, not so good. Now, good. I decided to blame my former fatness for all that was wrong with my life before: the lack of love, the lack of self-esteem, the choice of bad hairstyles, feeling invisible. Since I had been able to “fix” the fat problem, it did not fully occur to me that this was actually a societal problem and not an individual one — that everyone knows the message that fat bodies are worth less and just maybe that negatively impacts our experience in the world.

I got into a relationship that I was pretty sure would not have happened had I remained fat. On the one hand I was relieved that I was no longer fat and could be in relationships, yet on the other hand, I was angry that my romantic life depended on something so trivial as my weight and appearance (little did I know, it didn’t have to). This, I guess, is what is meant by cognitive dissonance. It was hard to get relaxed enough in my life to fully feel happiness or contentment in any meaningful way.

Many years later, when I started to regain my lost weight after giving up dieting, I was disconcerted to say the least. I had somehow convinced myself that this was not possible or likely, and yet there it was – a straight shot back to my starting weight, pre-dieting. I was unhappy but also determined that I would make peace with my body and even try to like it. I was determined I would not let fat bigotry dictate how I felt about myself.

In the past few years, after a LOT of rumination on how fucked up this societal fatphobia bigotry bullshit is, I’ve come closer than ever before to accepting and liking my body, and feeling right and relaxed in it. Knowing that my body didn’t need to be my part- or even full-time job has freed me up to pursue my career (which, ironically, is about food and nutrition – but not about my body or my nutrition) and magic started happening. I finally garnered the confidence to start this blog and a podcast; I’ve been offered guests spots on other podcasts (check them out here, here, and here), I’ve been published in a magazine, I’m getting offered speaking opportunities, and soon I’ll be starting my own business and helping those who need it to find peace with food – essentially my dream job (more info on that to come in future posts) . I discovered that being loved did not depend on the size and shape of my body. On top of that, I’ve met a whole community of amazing people who also don’t buy the fat=bad thin=good BS we are sold on a daily basis.

When I was thin, I thought I should have been happy, but I really wasn’t. When I was thin, I longed for a career that I was excited and serious about, but I was too self-conscious to pursue. When I was thin, I wanted my relationships to feel like they were based on more than how well I approximated the cultural beauty ideal. When I was thin, I wanted to feel relaxed and unworried in my body, but I couldn’t. I got all that, but not when I was thin. That all happened when I got fat again.

I can’t guarantee this outcome for anyone else, and I can only speak to my own experience. My fatness is not someone else’s fatness. But I do think it’s important that we challenge the myths that the diet industry and society sells to us which few of us profit from.

We might not be happy with ourselves when we lose weight; we might not be unhappy if we are fat. As much as we are able, let’s try to determine our own levels of happiness for ourselves, and then, hopefully, also change the world.

Dietitians Unplugged Ep 10 – Be Your Own Beloved with Vivienne McMaster:

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The picture I used this week was taken during Vivienne’s Beloved Beginnings class. I hope you’ll join Aaron Flores and I for the Be Your Own Beloved 30 day class starting July 1. I have had so much fun in this class so far. I’ve started to learn to hush my inner critic and see myself with compassion. I can’t recommend it enough – and I don’t even get paid to say that.

Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – Episode 8: The Beach Body Episode

Cover2Aaron & I explore the “Beach Body” message and body image issues so many of us struggle with.  We share some of our own experiences with accepting our bodies and why we advocate for “body neutrality” rather than just “body positivity”.  Lastly, they issue very special challenge that involves embarrassing-yet-hilarious consequences for your hosts…will you be up for it?

 

You can also listen on iTunes and Libsyn! Like our Facebook page to get all the latest news on our podcast and other non-diet podcasts! And if you like our podcast, please give us a rating and review on iTunes – this will help more people find us!

 

 

Body Confidence and The Wizard of Oz

ruby slippersI love a good pop culture analogy, and so I was pretty happy when this one popped into my head while I was walking down the hall at work recently. In the voice of Glinda the Good Witch no less!

I wasn’t dressed particularly well, I wasn’t having a great hair day or anything, in fact I’m pretty sure I looked a little meh, but I just felt happy to be alive. And because of that, I was walking tall and I was smiling. If I had to guess, I was probably the picture of easy confidence. People smiled back and said “Hello” as I passed by, and I greeted them in kind. It was a good day.

That’s when it hit me – this must be what confidence feels like. And it surprised me, because this was not something I came by easily when I was younger, thinner, probably cuter. Which is ironic, because isn’t that one of the reasons, or so we are told, that we try to lose weight in the first place? For a long time, I was pretty good at faking confidence. Faking it can be useful – you know the old adage, “Fake it till you make it.” But frankly, in those years, I never quite made it. Maybe because this particular brand of confidence was but a thin veneer over a deep layer of insecurity about my looks and my general worthiness. It was based on others’ approval of my appearance, not my own sense of self-worth.

I’ve always been a bit of an oddball (so my significant likes to remind me of OFTEN, but he means it as a compliment) which was fine until about the age of ten, when I became self-conscious about not quite fitting in. Coupled with becoming aware of apparently being in the “wrong body” – a fat body – well, this was not a recipe for confidence building (as it probably is for no one).

As I made my way through high school, college and early adulthood, although I became less self-conscious about my oddball self as I learned to make the most of my sense of humor, I became increasingly more self-conscious about my shape and weight (especially after my doctor told me, at the age of 15, that I was getting too fat). I did everything I could to deflect notice from my real self: big distracting hair, lots of make-up, clothes that shrouded my body. I was hiding some serious insecurities.

So when I went on a diet and lost weight – my personal adventure to the Land of Oz, where everything was new and shiny but also illusory and threatening – and suddenly had a body that I felt more approximated the mainstream ideal of beauty, I did feel like I was owed a little more confidence. Not that I actually was more confident – but that’s all a part of the deception of Diet Oz.

Here’s why: that confidence was built on a house of cards. I secretly felt I only fit in because I now better approximated the cultural standard of beauty. While I was still me on the inside, I thought people’s attitudes changed toward me because I had gotten smaller, more “normal” looking, and if I ever changed back, I’d lose all that approval that was the basis for my confidence.

And in fact, the “worst” – in my mind – did happen: I eventually gained back all my weight after I had decided I could no longer tolerate the miserable life of dieting I had created for myself. The consequence, for me, of becoming a normal eater was weight gain. At first, I was dismayed at the unraveling of my external image, but committed now to a quality life, nothing in the world would make me go back to dieting. I decided to learn to like and accept my body, however it was going to turn out. In for a penny, in for a pound (or 40), and damned it I was going to go back to feeling bad about myself ever again. That’s when I decided I needed to get the hell back to Kansas.

Remember at the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glinda the Good Witch says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas…” That’s what I realized, this confidence — this feeling good and okay with being me in my fatter body — was in me all along. I only had to decide on it.

In a world that fosters and profits from our self-doubt of our bodies, it has become more necessary than ever that we believe in ourselves and like our bodies and not rely on others for that validation.

So I clicked my ruby red slippers together (and perhaps this explains my life-long obsession with red shoes), decided on being just fine with me, decided that I was the only approval I needed, and after some serious emotional and intellectual work around this (and, I must add, a soupçon of “Screw you, stupid society standards!”), I arrived at some real confidence (the kind that remains even in the face of a bad hair day).

I am by no means saying any of this was easy. It was not. This journey will be different for everyone, and may be harder for some and easier for others. But I do think it’s worth the trip. And hey, if you can skip that totally futile jaunt through Diet Oz in the first place, even better.

Dorothy got back to Kansas and realized that what she had all along was pretty damn good. It took her a long, dangerous trip through Oz but she figured it out in the end. I learned to feed myself and let my body be what it was going to be, and gained a genuine sense of confidence about my whole self. Because, like Dorothy, I had the power in me all along.

Need some help getting started with body love? Here are some suggestions of places to start:

Buy this book: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living

Check out fat fashion blogs. This really helped me normalize fat bodies. These are some of my favorites:
Gabifresh
Curvy Canadian
GarnerStyle
Le Blog de Big Beauty
Flaws of Couture
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
Nadia Aboulhosn
Nicolette Mason
Clothes and Shit
A
nd one for the dudes: Chubstr

These are just the ones I check out. There are SO many more!

Boogie Boards, Bicycles and Body Image

beachAs summer gives way to fall (well, not in LA, it is still blazing hot as I write this in the middle of October), I’m thinking back to my August staycation-vacation.

One of the reasons I love staycationing in LA is that it’s got everything I love in a vacation: heat, beach and no need to fly anywhere. We took advantage of some of LA’s best: biking along the Pacific Ocean bike path (“The Strand”), and of couple of glorious beach days.

We own boogie boards but had never quite mastered the art of catching a nice wave all the way into shore. On this day, though, the waves were perfect for it. We waded through a kelp forest to get to the sweet spot and then sped inward to shore wave after wave after wave – pure, unadulterated fun. On one turn, I passed by a couple of young teenage girls gingerly wading in the shallows, their dad recording their every pose on his phone. Wearing a look of manic joy on my face, I screeched, “THIS IS AWESOME!!!!” as I passed by them; the look on their faces was best described as mild, pleasant embarrassment for this middle-aged lady. However, not long after, I saw those girls back in the water with their own rented boogie boards and wearing the same thrill in their faces and no longer paying attention to their dad with the camera (or the middle-aged lady, probably).

Things I didn’t think about while boogie boarding at the beach: how my body looked in my swimsuit. I am WAY into body positivity and feeling good about oneself and accepting what we have now, but this is a process. After at least 34 years of being so focused on the size, shape and look of my body (I became aware of my body in that way around age 10), it’s not easy to just stop (It’s easy to decide to stop. But after that…process). The beach, however, is one of the places I am happiest and most in-the-moment and therefore least aware of how my body looks to others, despite being in the least amount of clothing. Maybe it’s all the other sensory input: sand on my feet, cold salty water on my skin and stinging my eyes, the sun warming and sometimes even burning my exposed skin, the waves crashing into me – I love all of this. I become aware of my body in another way that has nothing to do with how I look, and everything to do with how I am experiencing the world at that moment.

On another day, we rented bikes and rode along the bike path that follows the ocean. I haven’t ridden a bike with any frequency since I was in grade school. It was so fun!! I felt so lucky at that moment to live in Southern California and to be able to ride a bike. We rode to a restaurant in Playa Vista and had the most delicious sandwiches. Bonus: former child actor Anthony Michael Hall was having lunch in the same place!! (The Breakfast Club is seriously one of my favorite movies). It was a hot day and my honey and I were both sweaty. I probably looked pretty messy as I always do when I’m doing any sort of exercise or activity. As always, I was in my fat body. And once again, I just didn’t care. My body was a vehicle to enjoy these wonderful moments – how it looked was irrelevant.

I’m not saying that in order to appreciate our bodies we need to completely forget about what they look like. But once in a while, I think it can help. Boogie boarding and biking reminded me that our bodies are here to allow us to live life. In our appearance-focused culture, it can be all too easy to let worries about our fat bellies, thighs or hips, or our sweaty armpits or our disheveled hair distract us from the real living – the fun or the learning or the meaning of what we are doing. When we can let go and focus on those things, we truly become body positive.