Let’s Talk Body Image

I have been trying to start writing about Body Image. But every time I start, something stops me.

I think it is because I am afraid to sound too lovey- dovey, and I am afraid to alienate male readers when I start talking about women loving themselves. I am also afraid to alienate bigger women readers when I talk about difficulty accepting an extra 5-10 lbs. But most of all, I am afraid I am not worthy to talk about a subject in which I am only half-way healed.

So what to do?

Can I instead open up a dialogue? Ask some questions and get some answers, and also get some questions in return?

Because, if there is one thing I am sure of, healing your relationship with food alone isn’t going to help your life if you still senselessly hate your body.

There is no good in hating your body. Though, sifting through the many beliefs and feelings surrounding our own Body Image is much easier said than done.

Hating your body is debilitating, depressing and … truly…. arbitrary. Shaped by the media, unhelpful perfectionism, our brainwashed cultural preference for thin, and fear of the “perils of fat”. Yet it can have the power to control so many of our thoughts and feelings about ourselves.

Why Are Women So Judgemental

Readers wrote in subjects for my podcast, and many people wanted to talk about Body Image. And since the podcast project is on the back burner for a little while longer, I want to start the discussion now. One reader, Susie, wrote: “Why are Women so judgmental of their own and other women’s bodies? Like, “Oh look at her butt!”

My thoughts? I think we are mean to ourselves because we have it ingrained in us that we must be beautiful and slim to be appropriate and desirable and controlled. And the idea to us that we could accept our imperfect selves and bodies seems foolish and weak, so we think that constant disapproval is the answer to whip us into shape. And we are cruelly judgmental of others because it makes us feel like at least we aren’t the worst ones. At least we aren’t as big as her. At least we are able to control xyz and be good enough to be abc even though we aren’t quite good enough to be  123. Oh God, it sounds like its going into a song. But of course none of these things help. And it just digs us deeper down into the hole of projected perfectionism and starts to alienate us from other people.

UGH, there are so many many more things to say on this topic. And it is so very complicated and difficult to mull through. But it is necessary. This is just the beginning of the dialogue, and I intend it to go a lot further.

Recommended Reading

I recommend the book by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby“Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere”.

It has opened up my eyes to more of the Health at Every Size movement, as well as helping me see that fat is not the health hazard people and the media pin it as. It is the guilt and the self-destructive habits that are actually the health problems.

Fat acceptance, even though I am not technically “fat”, has been very helpful for me. Because the way I was treating myself was like scum. The authors argue eloquently why it is essential that fat women (and men) treat themselves wonderfully. And I have been able to apply their lessons to myself, and also start to change the way I see other people.

The Thin Fantasy Exercise

Write out all the things you tell yourself you’ll do “when you’re thin (or fit)”. Write out all the ways you’ll be. Write out that awesome person you are expecting to be when you finally aren’t afraid of food, and eating intuitively and are wonderfully, beautifully, acceptably, perfectly and enviably slim. (notice any sarcasm? yet I DO still catch myself thinking this way).

Write it all out. How you’ll look. How you’ll feel. What you’ll do. What you’ll say. Get specific. Write the drink you’ll order at Starbucks and the shoes you’ll wear and what people will think when they see you walking down the street.

Now read it, and circle all the things you can do, think and be right now.

And then, fucking BE IT. Because that’s what you want more than being whatever you consider a “perfect body”. You think the perfect body will bring you these things. So start with the things, and let the body work what it will.

13 comments

  1. Tom says:

    “How you’ll feel. What you’ll do. What you’ll say.”

    Perhaps some people focus on their image (or ‘health’) because they don’t know what they want. All they know is something isn’t right in their life but can’t define exactly what it is.

    This is what makes it difficult for some to ‘let go’, they haven’t answered the deep spiritual question and removing the fixation on their image/health leaves an emptiness in the soul for which there is no (known) way to fix.

    • Caroline says:

      This is true. However, writing this stuff out, and starting to see what they THINK they want, can be the first step in figuring out who are you are and what you really want.

      I’d say if you don’t know the answers to these questions, that’s normal. ANd if you have answers to them, but find out soon enough that those answering aren’t happiness either, that is another step to realizing that happiness is much simpler than that.

      It is hard to come to that realization without noticing the emptiness of our physical expectations on things.

      No?

      • Tom says:

        Yep, very good points.

        My problem was I noticed this was happening to me (over-thinking food to fill an ’emptiness’ in my daily life), but my response has also been wrong – I threw myself into other activities just to avert my attention from food and it soon morphed into me finding tasks just to ‘put off’ eating and fill the void between meals.

        So yes, search for answers to the questions, but make sure its done completely honestly to yourself 🙂

    • AaronF says:

      I have to play Devil’s Advocate and say a lot of what we need is intentionally missing. I believe we are wired to belong and for most of human history that would have been whatever tribal group you were part of. Modern society is very isolating and alienating. I’ve thought a lot about those questions of “finding what’s missing” and “using other things to fill the void.” I pretty much know what I want and I doubt others are any different. I want to feel safe. I want to feel like I belong to something. And I want to be accepted. These are exactly the things our culture attacks for women who aren’t desperately thin so if those are the things you crave (which most people do) it just comes back around to food. How do you get around that for most people without fixing the culture?

      • Caroline says:

        Good food for thought. This is just one reason why the topic is so hard to broach. Of course, the best way would be to change society so these feelings of not fitting in never arise. But of course, easier said than done. And, even if we did, then it would be another group that felt left out and unnapproved of. The very thin, maybe? And all of this IS very human. But it isn’t very spiritual. The idea that just because one is not the “ideal” shouldn’t make them unacceptable? Right?
        AND, just because we may not be able to hope for society changing their song anytime soon, that shouldn’t mean that we can’t take steps to accepting ourselves and each other first. Maybe coming from the more spiritual side, and less of the “human-I-need-you-to-accept-me” side. People need people, its true. But to say and feel that my friends won’t accept me 10 lbs heavier is just not true, even though something inside of me is scared of that.

        Anyway, good stuff to think about Aaron!

    • Tom says:

      Thank you for sharing your story Camila 🙂

      But don’t leave us hanging, what was it you really wanted to do?

  2. Kait says:

    I’ve had eating exercise and binge problems my entire adult life up until about the last 6 months or so of f*** it. I’m a totally normal size, and have been the whole time which is another story but I digress…. My taste buds crave ridiculously healthy food most of the time and chocolate the rest…and I’m ok with that. My body image is pretty good for the most part; however, I obsess about my stomach fat and sometimes that pushes me back into the “must restrict” whatever my mind thinks is the offending food that week and head first into a jar of peanut butter. Seriously. Like I need to have a six pack under my business casual. F*** that S***!

    • Caroline says:

      I agree! F that S! You can take solace in the fact that stomach fat is normally very stress-caused. So stress not and consider that the best medicine!

  3. Trill says:

    Caroline, would your friends accept you if you gained 30 pounds? How about 50? Or 100? I’m not attacking you, not at all. Just offering some food for thought from a woman whose first diet was forced upon her at age 9.

    I’ve watched the way friends/acquaintances/men react to me at various weights, and believe me, the differences are just as huge as the differences in my size.
    I’m not saying you don’t have the right idea — you do. And it works on an academic/intellectual level. But the baggage can be so fucking heavy. Those of us who have fluctuated from the very heavy to the kinda thin-ish can testify.

    Right now I’m somewhere between the two, and the idea of going back to the really heavy is terrifying. Despite the “health at any size” mantra, my body simply didn’t function well. I was invisible to most men. A job interview was over before it even started, when the employer saw my plus size. And buying cute clothing…daunting.

    On the other hand, I’ve been fighting with food and my body for a long, long time. I don’t want to fight anymore. Most of us don’t want to fight our deprive ourselves. We just want to be vibrant and healthy, inside and out. Forums like this are a great place to start.

    Matt Stone has so much of this shit right: there’s no known cure for obesity. Oprah, a woman with every means available, can’t sustain an “ideal” weight without following one of our modern, low-something diets. But the idea of healing the metabolism as a place to start, and to eat the food…it’s like the holy grail, isn’t it? So I’m going with that.

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Trill,
      See I am so glad you commented, because I am definitely coming from my own experience, which is at most a 25 lb fluctuation. Which is still significant to me mentally, and quite noticeable from the outside. But still. I wanted to hear from people who had even more dramatic fluctuations or were always at a higher weight, because I know there must be a different experience with that.

      Our society IS unfairly judgmental of fat people. It is true and it is unfair. People do look at you differently. Even just the way my own parents look at me when I gain 10 lbs is entirely negative.

      So I guess, the only place to start, is even knowing people look at you differently, to not look at yourself differently. WAY easier said than done. I know. But, as much as people may have judged me, I can guarantee I judged myself way worse. Do you identify with that? Do you think there is anything to that?

      I don’t know what I think about the “there is no cure for obesity”. I only know what I have read. (conflicting things) However, I would agree that the best chance is to heal the metabolism, eat the food, and start being kinder to yourself than you think other people will be. Sometimes that changes the way they act!

      Thank you so much for commenting. I agree that having this discussion is important, and comments on blogs like mine are a great place to start! I do believe that ending the fight can ONLY lead to better and happier times.

      🙂

      • Trill says:

        Hey Caroline! You’ve read about cures for obesity? Please share! All I’ve ever found are diets that temporarily alleviate its symptoms. In other words, diets that temporarily make you less fat. If you stop or suspend the diet, the symptoms return (ergo, you get fat again).

        I thought a lot about your questions: I can guarantee I judged myself way worse. Do you identify with that? Do you think there is anything to that?

        I dunno…yes, no, maybe.
        As I child and teen I was forced to diet by (well-intentioned?) adults. I never wanted to be on a diet, I didn’t see anything wrong with me. But my lithesome mother probably was mystified by her chubby daughter.

        The job interview I mentioned earlier — I’d like to think I would have given the lovely yet heavy woman a chance at the job. Let me color this in a bit – my work is specialized. I wasn’t going for a job in a factory or convenience store. I take care with my appearance and am an attractive woman. At the time, I was fat. Not sure of my weight, but I probably wore a size 22 or 24 dress to the interview.

        The prospective boss and I had had an ongoing dialogue via phone and correspondence and he was quite enthusiastic about my talents, until he saw me. The interview was over before it started.

        That day he judged me far more harshly than I judged myself, I think.

        That was years ago, I’ve moved on, I’m a lot smaller now.

        I’m just saying…unlearning is a process.

      • Caroline says:

        “What I’ve read” was more about how I’ve read recently a lot about how “there is no cure”. But I feel like I have also read instances where when people started intuitively eating and healing binge eating disorders etc, the weight came down naturally and permanently. So I don’t know!

        I also was “forced” to diet by my ‘well-intentioned’ mother at 14 when she was nervous about my health/PCOS and also about my weight + acting career. She also saw something way more wrong with me at the time than I ever did. So I can sympathize.

        Unlearning IS a process :-/

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