I’m at the Y, walking on the treadmill. I’m surrounded by fat people, thin people, old people, young people, all of them trying to make their bodies stronger. It’s peaceful. I have a view out the window and Adele on my iPod. My legs feel good, strong. Today I’m walking a little faster than I did yesterday, I’m a little less out of breath.
But I’m not present.
In my mind I’m eight years old, hiking with my family. It’s spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful. Today I have the honor of walking in the front of our line, but I’m doing it wrong. I’m too distracted by everything around me, thinking about everything but my feet. When you’re the leader, you have to be the pace setter, have to pick a speed and stick with it, have to concentrate. This is about responsibility, not pleasure.
I’m ten years old, walking in the park with my dad, around the pond. I’m watching the ducks. Dad is watching the woman walking ahead of us on the path. “Do you see how her thighs are rubbing together when she walks?” he whispers to me. “You don’t want that. Listen, you can hear them rubbing.” I say nothing. He adds, “But at least she’s doing the right thing – walking it off.”
I’m twelve and I’m terrified of being fat, so I get up at 5:30 four mornings a week to walk with my stepmom and some of her mom friends. I’m walking because it’s junior high and kids are awful – I’m being bullied by the mean girls and overlooked by the popular ones. If I can just lose weight, maybe I’ll fit in, maybe junior high won’t be so hard.
I’m twenty-six, and in my head I’m trying to work out how many Points I’ll earn for walking around our neighborhood. There’s a box of Girl Scout cookies in the freezer, and I am walking for Thin Mints. I’m tired, I want to go home and read a book with my kids, but if I walk once more around the block I’ll earn another cookie. Earning that cookie outweighs everything else.
No. No no no.
How many positive associations do I need to make about walking before they overwrite the negative ones? How many rights does it take to erase a wrong? Why is it so hard to shake off the past and simply take pleasure in this present, this movement?
I breathe deeply, straighten my shoulders. Now in my mind I’m thirty, celebrating my tenth anniversary with Aaron in New York City. We’re exploring the city, sight-seeing like the tourists we are, gawking at Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, and I can walk without having to stop and slow down, without running out of breath. This is why I’m on the treadmill today – so that by July, I’ll be stronger, have more stamina – I’ll be able to enjoy walking with my husband.
I’m twenty-nine, and I’m on the treadmill at the Y, surrounded by fat people, thin people, old people, young people. It’s peaceful. I’m getting stronger every day.
Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive about my choice to abandon dieting. The past couple of weeks, I’ve had midterms to study for and a major project to complete, things that turn me into a bundle of stress and trigger the perfectionist in me to go into hyperdrive. I struggle a lot with the need to be perfect – a major recurring theme of my past four years of therapy has been the struggle to accept myself as good enough, to embrace and reveal my authentic self instead of hiding behind a faux-perfect false self.
So when it comes to mainstream diet culture and the societally-embraced notions of diet and exercise, of what a woman’s body is supposed to look like, of the requirement to self-flagellate when we “fail” at dieting, of the equation of thinness with health — it’s awfully hard to choose to reject these; because even though I believe I’m making the best decisions for my body and my (physical, mental, and emotional) health, I worry that to everyone else, it looks like I’m failing. I worry that people will see me and think, She REALLY shouldn’t wear those pants. Or I can’t believe she just ordered french fries, when she looks like that. Or I hope I never get that way.
Success at dieting — even though it’s statistically elusive, temporary, and unhealthy — is at least visible. Success at rejecting diet culture — I’m not sure it looks like anything. Sometimes — like now, when my need for perfection is going full-speed-ahead — I want success others can see.
In our culture, people give compliments for losing weight. People do not give compliments for having a great self-image.
Right now, I’m feeling surrounded by reminders that I’m “doing it wrong.” This morning, a well-meaning friend added me to a Facebook group for “healthy moms”; I clicked through to find a lot of women criticizing themselves for not sticking to their eating plans, or not making time to do their daily 100 crunches, or caving in and having a snack after the kids were in bed. I immediately went abort abort abort! and closed the page, but I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I’m feeling pretty vulnerable to these sorts of messages right now.
A lot of this vulnerability right now is because I haven’t been making time for good self-care this week. I spent eight hours sitting in a booth at Panera yesterday, drinking too much coffee and pounding away at a research paper, while my husband and kids were out at the park, enjoying the first glimmers of spring. I’ve been staying up too late studying and worrying about making an A+, I’ve stopped making time for exercising, I’m letting myself eat food I’m not hungry for to medicate my crabbiness instead of dealing with the things that are making me crabby and stressed.
So I’m taking time, right now, to do some things just for me. I’m going to re-watch the body-positive Emma Thompson video that Fat Heffalump posted this morning. I’m going to turn on Adele and dance around the living room. I’m going to set my homework aside and snuggle with my boys. I’m going to eat a grapefruit, which is sounding amazing to me right now.
And if all of that doesn’t work, I’m going to re-post this tweet from @sween on the “healthy moms” facebook page:
Lately my five-year-old has been experimenting with the word “stupid.” This morning he called the cat stupid, his oatmeal stupid, and was dancing on the edge of calling his little brother stupid before I swooped in and told him to stop using that word.
In our home we’ve talked to our kids about using “sword words” – that the Bible says words can pierce like a sword, and we have a ground rule in our home that we don’t use words to cut down and hurt others.
Later my seven-year-old told me, conversationally, that he knew he wasn’t supposed to call other people stupid, so he would just call himself stupid, instead. I think he was just trying to find a way around our house rules, so he was surprised by how strongly I responded to him. I was a little surprised, too.
“Don’t you ever call yourself stupid,” I said, a little sharply. “It’s not okay to call someone else stupid, and it’s not okay to call yourself stupid, either.”
David looked a little startled. “Okay, but…why?”
“Because God made you,” I said. I felt like I was hearing the words myself as I was saying them. “God made you, and he didn’t create anything that isn’t special. So don’t call God’s creations stupid, even yourself, but treat His creations with honor and respect.”
My therapist has talked before about how I can be re-parenting myself as I parent my kids, sort of saying things to my own kids and to kid-me all at the same time. This was one of those times. I wish I could erase all my years of negative self-talk, of thinking I’m worthless because of my body. I hear myself saying things like this to my kids now, and I think, Holy crap, that’s right. God *doesn’t* make worthless things.
I think sometimes I substitute self-deprecation for humility, but that’s a mistake. True, God-honoring humility comes in recognizing our unique, innate worth — not because of anything we do, but because of how we’re created. If one of greatest commandments is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” doesn’t it follow that we’re supposed to love — and honor — ourselves?
This is a new blog for me. I write a personal blog about a little bit of everything, Closet Narcissist, but lately wrote several posts in a row about my new perspectives about size and weight loss and health and food, and I decided to give myself a separate outlet for this topic. I think I’ll have a lot more to say about it, and this is a better place, away from the posts about my preschoolers and my husband and the rest of my life. Partly, I wanted to give myself some distance from some earlier body-shaming posts I’d written (and since removed). Having a whole new blog on which to do so is symbolic of the new start I’m giving myself with food and my body.
Here’s more about me, from my shiny new About page:
I’m Abi. I’m nearly 30 years old, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t think something was wrong with my body.
I’ve been dieting in one form or another — monitoring my weight, measuring and limiting my portion size, counting calories and Points, eliminating entire food groups, or just straight up eliminating food altogether — since preadolescence. I’ve hated myself, my body, my shape, my size. I’ve felt guilt and anger and regret over my lack of willpower.
I’ve spent an awful lot of time thinking about food, trying not to eat food, exercising off food, obsessing about food. I’ve believed that nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. I’ve bought clothes that were too small because I knew I was going to lose weight, and then they’d fit perfectly. I’ve donated the same unworn clothes to Goodwill.
I’ve spent excessive amounts of energy trying not to be fat. And I’m still fat.
So I’m beginning to recognize that the problem isn’t with my willpower — it’s with the goal. Through the amazing community of Fat Acceptance writers online, I’m learning about how my body is designed, and I’m discovering that what it isn’t designed for is shrinking.
So I’m working on this. I’m practicing loving myself as I am, as a creation of God — instead of assuming He created me to be thin, and blaming myself for destroying His creation. I’m practicing listening to my body for what it needs, instead of trying to eat according to a system of external regulations that aren’t designed for my body. I’m learning to trust that God made me in a fearful, wonderful way that’s as capable of regulating food as it is of regulating my breathing and heartbeat.
I’m learning that being thin or fat doesn’t have to feel like anything, any more than being tall or short does. And I’m learning that sometimes, food tastes really good.
I believe that a thin body is not necessarily a healthy body, and a fat body is not necessarily an unhealthy — that a person’s health cannot be determined by just their size. I believe that a person can be healthy in any size body, and that intentionally trying to lose weight is nearly always unsuccessful, and leads to a less healthy body, not a healthier one. And most importantly, I believe that hating one’s body is completely antithetical to improving one’s health. I’m writing this blog as I try to integrate these beliefs — which I believe are validated by scientific research — into my lifestyle.
For more information and the science behind these beliefs, please read:
Thank you for being here, reading this. I hope we can get to know each other a little better.