The last few days I have been in touch with a reader who needs some help. I post here, with the reader’s permission, the questions and my responses. I do so in the hopes that my thoughts might be of use to others and also so that others can chime in with their own suggestions and thoughts on the very “weighty” matter of finding your ability to move through a world of hatred and judgment in a body prime for being hated and judged without giving in to those pressures to change who you are. How do you find self-love and acceptance? The reader’s questions are indented as quotes and my responses follow.
I’m in a bit of a self-acceptance melt down right now and wanted to pick your brain for some insight but I don’t really want to have a public discussion on the blog. Sounds sort of stalker-ish I know but I promise I’m not a stalker. I’m just someone struggling with issues you seem to have put to bed a long time ago and I’m desperate to understand how to do that.
I’m not sure what sort of insights you’d hope for me to share but I can certainly do my best. I have my days that are better than others, as does everyone, but if anything I can say can bring a ray of sunshine into someone’s day then I would be remiss for not trying!
What are you trying to work through right now?
I have struggled with my weight my entire life. It’s been that ever familiar roller coaster ride of really high highs (number on the scale that is, ha) and really low lows. For me, I really think it started when I was very young because I was a gymnast and with that sport comes constant and continual body criticism and awareness. Even if you aren’t being subjected to comments about your weight, you knew that your body was being evaluated as far as form and technique. So this creates just an insane awareness of your body and a constant need to feel like it’s perfect.
Right now I’m at the lowest I’ve ever been but the absolute hell that it has taken me to get here was incredible. The problem is that I just know at any moment I will be back on the upswing and I want to just finally get over myself and be able to love and accept myself no matter what my weight is – something you seem to have done. I basically have two choices right now and that’s to live genuinely and happy or falsely and miserable.
If I let myself live as the person I am which is a person who just loves foods of all types I know that I will gain weight again. At that point it is of course a tradeoff because on the one hand I’ll be relaxed and happy because I can enjoy life and the foods it has to offer but since I’ll gain weight I’ll be unhappy because of that. If I choose to remain on this restricted way of eating I am depriving myself of one of the joys in life (food and good taste) but I’ll be happy when I put on my jeans and look in the mirror. Which is the “happy” I can live with the easiest? That’s the conundrum.
Either way there is an obsessive hyper-focusing on whichever compulsion I’m not satisfying. If I’m eating like I want to, I am hyper-focused on the weight gain and how I look and how it makes me feel. If I’m restricting, I’m hyper-focused on all of the foods I’m not allowing myself and that makes me miserable.
I guess what I wanted to try to understand from you was when did you really finally make a decision to just allow yourself to be heavier than our society accepts and truly be happy with it? I just don’t know how to stop judging my self-worth by the number on the scale or how my pants fit or how I think I measure up physically to other people. Where do you find the inner strength to live outside of what the world tells us is acceptable and beautiful?
I hope that last paragraph didn’t sound judgmental because I think you are an absolutely beautiful, gifted, insightful, and fabulous person. But I know that some people would look at you and judge you because of your weight.
I know I sound a little crazy, but aren’t we all when it comes to this?
As I sit here between laundry and dance practice; watching the slushy ice-snow harden outside on the driveway lot, I am pondering your questions and how best to answer them.
I think, and this may be in part the librarian in me coming out, that you’d benefit most from having someone professional to talk to about what seems to be a very serious struggle. But, that said, I’ll do my best to answer as well 🙂
“when did you really finally make a decision to just allow yourself to be heavier than our society accepts and truly be happy with it?”
Well I think growing up and always seeing myself as the Fat Child (something that others were also keen on imparting upon me) has made me always hyper aware of my body. It is not an awareness that has gone away. But it has shifted in its focus.
I think two+ years ago I was directed to the Shapely Prose post: “The Fantasy of Being Thin”. And I cried. It was, indeed, how my life to that point had been led. Diets, wishful thinking, self-hatred inspired by the smallest weight gains, total despair at larger gains. I made goal lists, I made reward lists, I counted points, I counted carbs, I counted calories, I counted ounces or grams or bites or anything any plan would tell me to. And yet I was NEVER happy. I always wanted to be “just a little bit thinner. Just a tiny bit smaller. Just a few sizes lower”. It took reading that post to trigger it but really I had been wondering for some time, “Just why do I hate my body so much because it won’t be smaller? Why can’t I JUST BE HAPPY the way I am?? Who says I have to be smaller? WHY?!?”
My next step? Was to literally throw out my scale. That one little device was not only a symbol of everything I struggled with every day; it was measure of my life for so long that tossing it aside felt therapeutic, refreshing, and needed.
For me, the seed of dissent was there for a while. After months, years, nearly decades of the rollercoaster of sizes and self-loathing and self-restriction, the seed germinated and with the extra boost I found by my intro to the Fat-o-sphere and it’s (to that point) extremely radical ideas (Love myself as is? Say “to hell with it” and live my life without constant dieting or self-hatred?) I let that seed grow.
It has been slow. It IS slow. There are some many messages and so many ways that we are constantly bombarded with the INSISTENT demand to be smaller or, at the VERY least, be WORKING to be smaller. Some days it takes a LOT to push past those messages and grind my teeth and continue to say “No. FUCK YOU.” Some days I have to ignore such messages and take myself away from places where I see them.
And in some ways I still fight against my own hateful thoughts. I’d love to go back to France to see the family I was so lucky to board with during my school year abroad. But some (not so small) part of me still worries about what they’ll think/see/say when my more confident but definitely larger body goes to greet them. Despite them being never worried about weight (although my “City Mom” certainly was, and was often on the French versions of WW and such); *I* still worry.
So perhaps that ramble was to say that it is a process. Part of my own self-healing has been to write my blog. To post pictures that I would have shuddered at years ago. To reflect a lot, look back and realize, “My gods, why did I waste so much time and energy on that? What else could I have been doing instead!?”
So you finished by asking me: “Where do you find the inner strength to live outside of what the world tells us is acceptable and beautiful?”
I find it, a lot of it, from people in the sphere, from those friends who ARE supportive, from my loving husband and also from my own writings on RoundShape and the fabulous community of commenters there. I find strength to be myself from many external sources, much as I used to find validation in my form while dieting by measuring myself against those larger than myself years ago. Only now I also have internal sources to consider as well. I don’t look for validation in my body as it compares to others. I look for it in my ideas, my actions, the way that I feel every time I post a picture which gives someone strength to even THINK about looking at their body with a bit more love.
The world has always loved to tell us who counts as beautiful, who is “normal” and there have always been dissenters. Growing up I used to joke that, had I been around at the time of the Tea Party, I would have sided with Britain because it was easier. Well, it turns out that in the past few years I’ve discovered that I am not a lazy woman and I DO hold some ideals firm. Turns out I WOULD have been a dissenter. I am one now, against all those who say that my health, my looks and my body are not only available for public discussion but for public judgment and resulting scorn. I shun these ideas because I am tired of being told from all sides that no matter what “I am not enough.” I’ve looked inside myself and I feel that I AM enough. Just as I am.
So some days it is tough. That inner strength sometimes struggles to fight to the surface and guide me through the morass of bullshit out there; the press of the world which wants to insist that you are never what you should be. But most days I grow a smidgen more sure, a bit more confident and always I am moving along a path that reaffirms with every step: no human deserves to be judged for their body and found wanting. I, am a human. So I TOO deserve to respect myself and not submit to such judgments. It might be tough but it is a battle I find worth my mental and physical energy; so much more so than I ever did while trying in vain to make and keep my body in submission at a smaller size.
Does this in any way help? It explains, at the least, the path I’ve been on thus far.
I saw a t-shirt growing up that has always stuck with me, “Inside every mean skinny person is a happy fat girl just waiting to get out!” It says so much in so few words about the struggle for identity. I can identify with the ‘mean skinny part’ from the perspective that when I am smaller (and therefore judged to be more acceptable by society), although I’m happy about how I look and feel more acceptable, I’m not necessarily content because if I’m skinny – I’m restricting and that just sucks. It sucks because it means not embracing who I am and fully enjoying one of the biggest joys in life which is indulging our sense of taste. But the ‘happy fat girl’ also comes with a bit of reticence because although I’d be happier because I’m not constantly restricting and depriving myself of such a carnal pleasure, I won’t be content because I would be heavier and would again be judging myself and feeling judged by others. I have always tried to find the balance in life that would take me to a true sense of contentedness, not just happiness. Happy is a more temporary state and may only relate to a certain circumstance. Content to me says that you are generally in a good place in your life and feel pretty fulfilled.
I remember one time when I was on one of the thousand diets of my life and it wasn’t going well. I was talking to a friend about how hard it was and that it wasn’t really working (this friend is one of the genetic freaks of nature who is naturally thin no matter what she eats) and that I was frustrated. She said to me, “well you just must not want it badly enough because if you did, you’d just do it.” Instead of immediately retaliating and defending myself, I took it as an arrow to my character. I figured she was right, if I really wanted it enough and worked hard enough, it would be effective. But since it wasn’t working, I must be doing something wrong and that means I’m less of a person.
I guess ultimately it all comes down to self esteem and where that comes from. If you let it come from outside of your own head where there are variables you can’t control and situations and standards that always changing and evolving, you’ll never really get there. But if you let it come from within, from your own soul where you can create your own sense of self, it would be easier to hang onto during those moments of assault
It sounds like you really do have a good feeling in yourself of what it would take to make you happy versus content and balanced. Sometimes the largest mental hurdles I find are the fights between what you know will make you content versus what you know will make the world in general look at you with, if not approval, at least sympathy (ie: being ON a diet which is seen as at least an EFFORT towards meeting unapproachable standards).
It is sad that your friend was so uncompromising in her belief that “I am thin therefore anyone larger must just be Eating Too Much and Not Moving Enough.” I’d have to say that this is the one mind-set that I strive hardest to push against. No one’s experience is universal and yet that remains so difficult for people to understand.
Having a bit of self-esteem come from inside does help on those dark days when the assault seems heaviest. I liken it to having a self-love powered mental engine. Some days I’ve soaked up enough to coast through the roughest of patches. On others, like a solar-powered calculator left to languish in a dim cave, I’ve got just enough to power through a day if I avoid the internet and television and concentrate on being okay. It is a delicate dance for which I (after probably 3 years? 2 years?) am still learning the moves myself. And the dance will look different for everyone. Some people have a tougher “skin” so to speak and can field all sorts of 101 FA battles on blogs and in real life. Others are content just knowing what works for themselves with no need to proselytize the wonders of HAES or IE or what-have-you. There is no wrong answer; just what works for each of us as individuals. And frankly just the ability to look at yourself and say, “You know what? I’m OK. Just as I am” is huge in this world of constant self-minimizing messages.
I will post this at the start of the week on the blog and see what other responses we get as well as folks from other vantage-points and other intersections of body-hatred and judgments may just have answers that I don’t at this point.
So what do you think folks? This may describe (in a round-about way) the path my own journey has and is taking. What hurdles have you found more (or less) daunting? What moments of triumph stand out for you? What gives you confidence in the darkest days of hateful messages?