I Love Me, I’m Perfect, Now Change

I am often asked if it’s ever ok for people to want to diet, or get plastic surgery, or change their bodies.

The short answer is that it’s none of my business. I respect the decisions that other people make about their bodies just like I want mine to be respected.

But I understand that the question is deeper than that.

Weight loss is a good example – no matter how much we love our bodies, we are still stigmatized for our size and would get much more approval from society if we were thin.  I wonder sometimes:  If this stigma/approval situation didn’t exist, would people still try and fail at dieting many times?

At any rate, I can understand the desire to want to lose weight for aesthetic reasons – I just think it’s important for people to have access to information not paid for my the diet industry.  Information regarding their odds so that if their attempts fail it softens the self-esteem blow.  And information about the health issues linked to weight cycling. I don’t think that they are required to do the research or justify their choices, I just think that they should have access to the information.

Plastic surgery is the same way: The more we conform to society’s standard of beauty, the more approval that we get from society. But people should be able to easily ascertain both safety data and efficacy for previous clients who wanted to make a change for a similar reason.

Another example would be people who believe that being thin is the key to health, and feel that they need to lose weight for health reasons. They should have access to true and correct data about health and weight.

No matter what change you’re considering making, my suggestion would be to consider why you want to make the change, and then make sure that’s really ok with you.  So let’s say that you decide that you want to have botox so your co-worker stops talking about your wrinkles.  Is that ok with you? What if once you’ve filled your wrinkles she starts in on your nose?  You’ll have to decide how far you want to go.  It’s always your choice. I do think that no matter what you choose it will work better if you start from a platform of loving yourself as you are.

Social change is more important to me that societal approval.  I think that the cure for stigmatization is to change culture and end stigma, not to insist that members of the stigmatized group change themselves so that they can get the approval of the stigmatizing group.  If they offered me a pill that would make me into the perfect stereotypical beauty I wouldn’t take it.  I’m happy with my body and my health and I see no reason to change.  That doesn’t make me worse or better than those who make different choices. Our bodies – our choices.  I don’t see how we can ask for our choices to be respected unless with we respect the choices of others.

So maybe our new motto could be:  I love me, I’m perfect, now choose…

Study Shows Self-Hatred Not the Key to Health

Study finds Fat Acceptance Blogs Can Improve Health Outcomes, or so says the headline.  The study looked at a sample of 44 fatosphere bloggers and sought to determine how their involvement in the FA movement had affected them. (Just to clarify – I was not one of the bloggers studied. But the very awesome Fat Heffalump was and her beautiful picture is on the article – double awesome!)

This study has its limitations –  44 people do not a statistically significant sample size make, there doesn’t appear to have been a control group etc.  Still, I’m quite happy that people are studying this, as one of the researchers pointed out that “We saw there was a lot of opinion about the movement but very few people had actually studied it.”

I think that’s a significant thing to realize, that the backlash against the FA movement is not based in research or science. So what is it based on?

Why is there so much push back against a movement that simply says we won’t hate ourselves?  Is it that people have been inundated by the message of the diet industry that they have to be thin to be healthy; so they are starving themselves, restricting food and working their asses off trying to be thin and most of them are failing and blaming themselves and trying again repeatedly. Thus when a community that says “we won’t buy into this cycle”, there is a backlash?

Maybe it’s because people have allowed themselves to be fooled by marketing that says that fat is the same is lazy, unhealthy, unattractive, unloveable etc. and so they think that fat people should believe that drivel about ourselves?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m not surprised that the study found that people who took part in a movement that supports them overcoming stigma and liking themselves had better health.  Among all of the ridiculous diet headlines I’ve never seen a single headline that reads “Self-loathing Proven to be Key to Health” or “Five Quick ways to Hate Yourself Healthy” or “Study Shows That Constant Stigmatization Leads to Better Health Outcomes”.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m believe the word that we’re looking for here is DUH.  I’m incredibly glad that people are studying this because somehow we’ve lost whatever bit of common sense would tell us that people have better health outcomes when they don’t hate themselves.  My guess would also be that people take better care of things that they like, so liking our bodies probably gives us a better chance of taking care of them at any size.

So, Dr. Danceswithfat says “take two blog posts and call me in the morning”!

Encouraging Obesity. Riiiiight.

I’m completely frustrated with the idea that anyone who doesn’t try to make fat people hate themselves and their bodies is somehow “encouraging obesity” or “promoting obesity”

Showing a fat person being successful at anything other than weight loss.

This is among the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard.  As if someone will see me dancing and think “I wish I could dance like that.  I guess I’ll gain up to 300 pounds and then go from there.”  It’s insulting to my years of hard work and training, and it’s insulting to your intelligence. Like’s it the new V8 commercial:  millions of thin people, who see the same 386,170 negative messages a year about fat people, will see one of us being successful in some way, smack their foreheads and say “I coulda been fat!” The end result of this is that fat people are robbed of representation and role models.

Suggesting anything other than weight loss as a valid life choice

Take my word on this. If, for example, you suggest that people who want to be healthy have the best chance of doing so (although obviously not a guaranteed chance) by eating nourishing food and moving their bodies- you better brace yourselves for a whole lot of ugly coming at you from a never ending parade of stupid (bonus points if you get the movie reference)   People will freak out on you. When you calmly ask them “So are you suggesting that I tell people to eat non-nourishing foods and not move their bodies?” in my experience they will suggest that you are too stupid to understand or just call you a “fat bitch”. Okie dokie then.

Asking that mental health be considered as part of overall health

Whenever someone suggests that shame and health do not go hand in hand, that people are unlikely to hate themselves healthy, or that living under constant stigma is not part of a healthy life, they seem to get accused of encouraging obesity.  I must have missed the study data that shows that self-loathing is causally (or even correlationally) related to good health.  I must also have missed the logical argument that suggests that telling people not to hate themselves is tantamount to telling them that they should attempt to be obese.

Making anything that accommodates fat people

If a business does anything to accommodate people of size – larger chairs, seat belt extenders, a policy of non-shaming, etc. people will say that it’s promoting obesity.  Because apparently creating a world where fat people can’t leave our houses is the beeline to a healthy nation.

Making attractive plus-sized clothes

A subcategory of the above – apparently making attractive clothes in larger sizes will cause thin women to say “Hey, that dress isn’t completely hideous and it only costs 3 times as much as what I usually buy. I’m going to try to be a size 26 so I give up shopping at almost any store I want with access to a multitude of styles and price ranges to choose from so that I can wear that one not-totally-ugly dress”. As if, since the size of my body doesn’t garner enough unfounded hatred and vitriol, I must wear ugly mumus like a Scarlet F to show my ultimate sin of having a body that others don’t approve of.  I simply can’t believe that wearing pants that actually fit me is going to make people think that it’s all fuzzy bunnies and unicorns on this side of the BMI chart and start guzzling whey protein weight gainer.

I believe that bodies come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons.  So I don’t think that making beautiful plus-sized clothing is encouraging obesity any more than selling petite clothes encourages shortness.   The only thing that discouraging obesity does is make people feel like they are less because there is more of them (thanks to reader Mari’s comment for that line).  The cure for social stigma is not weight loss, it’s ending social stigma. So stop hand-wringing and banshee wailing about encouraging obesity as if you know better than everyone else what their body should look like, and let fat people live in peace and clothes that fit us.

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Our Big Fat Guts

I was picked up on a “fat hate’ board again and somebody said, for the millionth time, that Health at Every Size (r) is just “taking the easy way out…”  Dude, are you serious?

Does anybody remember the movie The Truman Show?  Where a guy finds out that his entire life has been a TV show and that everyone except him knew it? In the show he leads a fairly ordinary life but what if the script was different?  What if, from the time he was born, the world was set up to tell him that he was unhealthy and unattractive? What if his whole life people, magazines, television shows and commercials told him that he was unhealthy and ugly.  What if doctors ignored his actual issues and said that just by looking at him they knew that he was unhealthy? What if the media reported stories that everyone who looked like him was sick and ruining the world?  If he was conditioned like this from early childhood, what kind of man do you think he would grow up to be?

That’s the show of my life.  And sometimes is just sucks, sometimes I get tired of it.  I never try to tell anyone else how to live but I find that I am rarely extended the same courtesy.  I’m more than confident in my decision that my best (but certainly not guaranteed) chance for health is healthy behaviors and not a smaller body. I’m also prepared and comfortable with the consequences if I’m wrong.  But my very own Truman Show (sponsored by the weight loss industry as it turns out) is set up to tell me every day in every way that the only path to a happy, healthy life is to change the size and shape of my body, no matter how unhealthy I have to be to get it done.   And the diet industry has done a great job of making other people into little marketing machines – running around telling the fatties that they know what’s best for us.

It’s difficult to buck that mainstream.  It can be terrifying to be the person who points to the evidence and says “you can excommunicate me if you want but the Earth moves around the sun and that’s a fact”.  It’s not easy to wake up in your own version of the Truman show and tell everyone that they can do whatever they want but you’re going off script.

So today I just wanted to take a minute to celebrate those of us who choose a Health at Every Size (r) model in a thin=healthy world.  Of course it’s not the only valid choice and it’s not better or worse than anyone else’s choice.  But you can’t really deny that it requires some serious guts. And today as I reflect on my amazing friends on this blog and in the HAES community I just wanted to give a hip-hip-hooray-kick-ass-and-yay for standing up for our truth in the face of a bunch of people who can’t seem to stop reading to us from an old script.

Compliments That Don’t Suck

One of my Facebook friends posted about her intentional weight loss.  Someone commented saying “You’re looking so great! Congratulations, keep working at it. And did I mention that you’re looking great!?”

I immediately fast forwarded to five years from now when there is a 95% chance that she will have re-gained the weight.  Then what is she to take from all of these compliments for her now former body size and shape?  How will she feel? Also, “keep working at it” seems to say “what you’ve done is not good enough”.  Yikes.

I have had friends and blog readers who’ve lost weight because they were sick, or stressed, who’ve said that this kind of compliment makes them cringe.   They couldn’t help but wonder how the person thought that they  looked like before.  And it made it awkward when they regained the weight.

I recently saw someone I know who had lost a huge amount of weight in a very short time.  She looked gaunt and her color was off.  I thought that perhaps she had been sick but I didn’t want to assume anything so I just asked how she was doing.  It turns out she lost the weight on purpose and is super happy with the results.  That’s absolutely her right, my goal is to compliment her in a way that will be supportive whether or not she keeps the weight off.  So when she said “I’ve been losing weight, don’t I look great!”  I went with “You’ve always been beautiful, I’m glad that you are happy.”

So compliments can be a minefield.  But they’re also awesome.  So what’s a girl to do?

Come up with a compliment guide, that’s what:

No Body Comparisons

Bodies are beautiful all the time.  Some people’s body size changes because they want it to, some people’s size changes because of extraneous, even undesired, circumstances.  Either way, it’s impossible to tell people that they look better without telling them that they looked worse, and that’s no good.  So, don’t do it. Try this:

  • You’ve always been beautiful and I’m glad that you are happy.
  • You are beautiful at every size

No backhanded compliments

This should be a “no duh” kind of thing but you’d be surprised. A compliment should never include:

  • “For a” as in “You’re really athletic for a fat girl”
  • “I guess”  as in “That dress is great I guess”
  • “such, but” as in “You have such a pretty face, but you need to do something about your weight.”
  • “brave” as in “You’re so brave to wear a sleeveless shirt”.

Drop the “for a” and “I guess”. Drop “such”, “but” and everything after, consider adding an adjective.

  • That dress is great.
  • You have a very pretty face.

Any mention of “brave” that is not followed by “for fighting off those wild animals” is a bad call.  Try “You look great in that shirt.”

Ah, that’s better.

No putting yourself down as part of a compliment

  • You look great, I wish I had legs like that
  • wow, great job, I could never press that much weight
  • I love your hair, I could never pull that look off

It ruins the compliment the person feels like they have to make you feel better at the end of it.  Just drop the part about you:

  • You look great.
  • Wow, great job.
  • I love your hair.

Easy squeezy.

So go forth and compliment fearlessly!

I Just Gotta Be Defying Gravity

I’ve been watching The Glee Project.  (Go ahead and judge me if you want, that show is great).  In one of the episodes they use two of my favorite songs of all times and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to geek out with music lyrics as framework for my HAES (sm) journey.

How can you not love this song?  I think that the lyric that most speaks to me is:

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me

It’s how I think about Health at Every Size(r).  I believe that it’s my best chance for health, but beyond that, a life lived through HAES is life lived – being truly alive.  A life of dieting and trying to manipulate my body into a different size and shape is just surviving.  So even if I’m wrong, and to be clear I don’t think I am, I’d rather be truly alive for fewer years than have a longer life just surviving.

And then there’s Defying Gravity

This is probably my favorite song of all time. I love all of the lyrics but some of my tippy top favorites are:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game

This is exactly how I felt when I walked away from the diet industry.  The world was the same – still barraging me with messages that I had to be smaller to be healthy, or attractive, or worthy of respect.  But I was different, I had changed and I didn’t believe it anymore. To use another Wizard of Oz reference, it was like I had found out that the wizard wasn’t all knowing, it was just a sad guy behind a curtain.

I’m through accepting limits
’cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try, I’ll never know!

If I had a nickel for each time I did something that somebody said I had to lose weight to do, I could quit my job and blog full-time.  And about as many people told me that it’s impossible to change the thin-obsession of our society, to create a world where every body is respected. But I won’t know until I try.  I don’t do the right thing because it’s sure to succeed, I do it because I’m sure it’s the right thing.

Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost!

For a long time I tried to make my picture fit other people’s frames. Once upon a time I tried to lose weight because I allowed myself to be sold the idea that nobody would ever love me or think I was beautiful until I was thin.  I’ve since found out that it’s not true, but even if it was, if that’s what it takes to be loved then it’s absolutely not worth it.

I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down

Some days I just feel it all weighing down on me – the diet culture, the thin obsession, constantly being assaulted by people yelling that I can’t be healthy.  But when I was obeying those laws, I was miserable.  So I remind myself that I chose to defy gravity, and that I won’t let it pull me back down.