Why I Wanted to Be Thin (And How I Learned to Stop.)

Body positivity.

Like other social justice movements (yes, this is a social justice issue), body positivity is a reaction to a silent cultural norm that nearly everyone participates in. It’s the unspoken, unnamed¬†body negativity.

You are practicing body negativity when you think that your health, your worth as a human, your attractiveness, your ability to do things, your ability to wear things, your ability to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and feel good about yourself (….etc. etc. etc….) are related to¬†how your body looks.

I’m going to write a random thought here that I had in the car the other day. Maybe you’ve had it too?

I want to be thin.

I have thought it, silently and insidiously, for my whole life. Ever since middle school, my body has not been how I want it. It has been literally 15 years of wanting to be thin. In my core, in my brain, with desperation and a sense of futility, I have wanted to be thin.

Why? Because being thin is a sign of success, attractiveness, sex appeal, acceptance, belonging, victory, confidence, health, and worthiness. I don’t even think I’m wrong right in this moment. I’m totally right. Thinness is associated with these things on a social and cultural level whether it’s right, good, and healthy…or not.

Here’s a radical, countercultural idea: thinness does not represent¬†literally any of these things.

You can be thin and sick. You can be thin and poor. You can be thin and fail. You can be thin and insecure. You can be thin and loathe yourself. You can be thin and completely unsexy. You can also be thin and happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.

You can also be FAT and be happy, healthy, self-loving, super hot, confident, and worthy of belonging.

I used the word “fat” there not as a negative judgment (which IS how most people use it), but as a word that describes somebody in a body that’s larger than “thin” – whatever that means.

The comment “you’ve lost a lot of weight” is synonymous with “you look better than you used to!” What if the person lost a lot of weight because they became so desperate to be thin that they stopped eating? Is that happy or healthy? Should that be encouraged? But we are also disgusted when people are too thin.

Maybe the problem isn’t actually¬†the size of someone’s body. Maybe it’s actually that we have arbitrarily equated size with health in a damaging way for anyone who isn’t “just right” – whatever that means.¬†I’m going to write another post on this framework I’ve learned about called Health at Every Size. It’s based on the idea that we have culturally defined “health” wrong.

We have culturally defined one type of body as ideal, as healthy and happy, and another type of body as a thing to worry about and negatively judge. One problem with this: there are not even just two types of bodies. This video, called “Poodle Science” is incredible at showing in a brief and humorous way how this happened. It’s 2 minutes, watch it.

The other problem is that this attitude perpetuates the problem. The real problem. The social justice issue. Which is that:

Weight stigma helps nobody.

When we think that all fat people are unhealthy (or worse, unworthy, ugly, etc. etc. etc.), we are mis-defining what “health” is. Contrary to popular belief, health cannot be measured by a scale, and it can’t be identified by observing someone’s body and making judgments about it.

I wrote a post on some of my personal definitions of health. Everyone should get the right to decide their level of health for themselves. Everyone is worthy of making that decision on their own and doing what it takes to feel healthy for themselves.

Shame¬†and judgment¬†do not help people lose weight, they help drive people to practices that make them sick. Not fat, SICK. A thin person can be sick. So can anyone in a body larger than “thin” –¬†whatever that means.

Anyone can be sick, and anyone can be healthy. 

What helps people be healthy is¬†trusting their unconditional worthiness and humanity¬†along with¬†listening to their inner voice. What helps people be healthy is¬†connecting to others¬†and¬†having positive and healthy relationships with people who accept them for who they are, regardless of their body size.¬†There is research to prove that these matter more than weight. There is research to prove that weight stigma does more damage than anything else when it comes to people’s health.

 

Your body size. My body size. They are not even close to the most interesting thing about us. And yet we spend so much time thinking about them?

Time to stop.

I need to be positive about my body. I need to challenge body negativity. I need to confront comments and beliefs that perpetuate weight stigma in order to keep myself and everyone else healthy.

A healthy person is a happy person. Let’s stop confusing “healthy” with “thin,” and then we can identify for ourselves what our own health and happiness are really all about.

I’ll leave you with a screenshot of this poem, by (I think) Rupi Kaur, with the caveat that it almost always moves me to tears:

rupi body posi

 

Why I Wanted to Be Thin (And How I Learned to Stop.)

An Ode to the Body

Why are so many of us so ashamed of and negative about our bodies?

Earlier this month I¬†was¬†sick, unable to leave my bed, for about twelve¬†days. I had to cancel a trip to Central Europe with friends because I wouldn’t have been able to rough it to the necessary extent. I was disappointed and frustrated, and for a while I was angry at my body for not allowing me to go.

Being sick does something to my mentality: I become totally apathetic about how I look, because all that really matters is how I feel. The sick days were a blur: hours and hours of Mad Men, sick episodes and intense pain, the dire need to take care of myself and get better, and treat my body well to do so.

The weirdest thing about inhabiting a body is that nobody really knows how it feels to be in that body. In that way, emotions are easier: we can imagine similar situations, we can conjure up and remember and articulate similar feelings to someone else’s. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t ever know how someone feels, either. But I think there’s a better chance of approximation.

Even more relevantly, emotions are totally internal. It’s a choice to externalize them, and we choose what to externalize. Bodies are external whether we like it or not. We can’t erase or change or manipulate or re-articulate them like we like to think we can do with feelings. We can’t filter them, and we can’t hide them. We try.

We look at skinny, beautiful supermodels and think they must feel skinny¬†and slender. We look at fat and ugly people and think they must feel fat and ugly. But these are not feelings. These are labels. Labels are cultural constructs, imposed by a long tradition of thinking that fat = ugly and skinny = beautiful. Guess what! In the middle ages, fat = beautiful and skinny = ugly. Pale = beautiful and tan = ugly. Tan & skinny used to mean poor and working class, now it means¬†beach babe. Labels are what “other people” (who have been influenced by these cultural constructs) think. We have also been influenced by these same cultural constructs, and we have been influenced by what people think and say about us. Double whammy.

But here’s what I think: What other people think¬†means nothing about how someone actually feels in their own skin.¬†

I have had beautiful friends tell me that they feel: bloated, pale, insecure about such and such body part, like every day is a bad hair day, that they wish they had this instead of that body type, etc. etc. etc. I have friends with chronic illnesses, with sensitive stomachs, with other health issues that affect everyday life in their body. I have had all of the above, and my concept of myself changes all the time.

My new personal rules for my treatment of my body are these:

1) Do what feels good. If it feels good to stretch, do it. If it feels good to go outside and run around, do it. If it feels like something hurts, don’t irritate it more. If it feels hungry, feed it. If it feels tired, rest it. And the most important first step to this is to pay attention to what it wants in the first place!

2) Respect and appreciate it for what is special about it, and what it can do. My personal challenge to myself is to notice one thing I love about my body every day. I write it down, as often as I can. Some days, I like my freckles. Some days, I love the way my freshly-polished fingernails look on my keyboard. Other days I appreciate my soft stomach, on still others it’s my red hair and the way it’s nearly orange in the sunlight. Every person’s body deserves a whole lot of respect for what it¬†can do and is, not negativity for what it¬†can’t do or isn’t.

3) Even if you push it, push it lovingly. Parents love you and want you to be your best self because they care so much, so they push you out of your comfort zone sometimes; be a loving parent to your body. When I push my body, it’s because I want it to feel like it is its best self. Exercise is a privilege, not a punishment. When it does something awesome that exceeds expectations, take a moment and appreciate that!

Paying attention to all of the negative thoughts and feelings is the first step. Learning to transform them is the second. Cultivating unconditional love for my body will be a process that will have its ups and downs for my entire life, because it will constantly be changing. But I think loving it unconditionally is the most important way to improve my quality of life; life is best when I feel super awesome in my own skin. And, since having a body is one of the most basic things we all have in common, everyone can help each other have less shame instead of more!

An Ode to the Body