More Thoughts on “Fitspiration,” and On Letting Go of Body Molds

by Gena on April 24, 2012

(Image source)

Thanks for the exam well wishes. It was pretty awful, but I’m honestly too tired and demoralized at this point to talk about any of it, so let’s move on and talk about something more interesting: our conversation about body image and “fitspiration” on Sunday. I think the comments speak for themselves–check them out if you’re so inclined–but I wanted to open this up into a slightly broader discussion of our bodies, and how we relate to them, touching on a few key points that were raised.

First, in response to one reader who was pointed out that “strong,” by definition, has nothing to do with any body type whatsoever, I should say that I was talking about these sayings in context, rather than on their own. The context in question is the food blog world. This world has always been very fitness oriented, but BodyRock, Tone it Up, and Cross Fit have added new ingredients to the pot (and slogans like “strong is the new skinny” are becoming popular in tandem with those programs). Additionally, because these series all feature spokespeople, they do, whether they mean to or not, attach an idealized image of body/shape to their programs. My admiration for the series aside, I am struck by how little the Tone it Up girls’ bodies (or Zuzana’s) resemble those of most women. Nothing shocking there–Fitness gurus devote careers to being fit, and the chances that any of us will look just like them are slim–but I do sometimes fear that people will start to think that the goal of these exercises is to look like Karena or Katrina, rather than simply to be active in a new and fun way.

Of course, the fact that we’re being presented with an unrealistic image of shape isn’t surprising: that’s the story of being a woman in our culture. I’m simply suggesting that, just because a body type is associated explicitly with fitness, rather than diet, that doesn’t mean it will not not evoke some of the same feelings of inadequacy that, say, underweight models do. “Strong” may be the stated goal, but “better/leaner/thinner/tighter” may be the take home message. Again, this is no knock against fitness programs and the benefits they might confer upon us all. It’s just my take on some of the messaging.

One of my readers, Abby, had an interesting response to the post. She tied it into her recent musings about being underweight, which bring a new perspective to this ongoing discussion. I was moved by this post because it reminded me of periods of my life in which I was underweight, but trying to gain, which were quite different from the periods in which I was underweight because I was trying to be. I am the last person who will suggest to you that being underweight isn’t dangerous: it is, and if you are underweight because you are trying to be (as opposed to women or men who have maintained slightly lower BMIs throughout their lives without any effort, which is typically the result of genetics), I will urge you gently to gain the weight you need.

I know, however, what it’s like to struggle with the gaining process. Sometimes, the process is stalled because one isn’t working hard enough to eat adequately, or hasn’t truly embraced the goal of bodily health. Sometimes, as Abby points out, it’s because the challenge of “gaining” is tied to a deeper challenge, like overcoming OCD or letting go of comforting rituals. Sometimes, it’s a little mysterious: I know this, because it took me quite a long time to recover from my last relapse, which was in my early twenties. I ate sufficiently–indeed, I ate enough surplus to gain weight by the books, and I ate as much as had allowed me to gain after my other two bouts with my ED. But for some reason, I gained more slowly this time. Perhaps it was a different eating style (I became a plant-based eater at some point during this time, and was not accustomed to planning weight gain as such), perhaps it was physical activity: who knows. But I tried in earnest, and, given that I was eating adequately and working hard to get better, my thinness became a source of embarrassment and frustration. Patience and persistence paid off, and I returned to my own “normal” weight over time, but the comments I received about my thinness during these years stung, especially if they came from people who knew about my history.

Gaining weight after an ED is very hard. It was necessary to my recovery, and I think it’s necessary to most peoples’ recovery, at least in so far as it restores the body (restoring the spirit takes more than added pounds!). But it is an difficult process; you wake up each morning uncomfortable in your skin; you feel terribly ashamed of your changing body, and enthusiastic remarks about how “healthy” you’re looking only make it feel worse. It gets better, but it’s challenging. If you’re seriously trying to gain weight and it’s not happening quickly enough, it’s easy to feel like a “failure” in recovery, which is also painful.

When I meet a woman or man who looks underweight to me (dangerously or unusually so), I try not to comment unless I am genuinely concerned for that person’s health, and I never assign blame. Instead, I acknowledge the possibility that this person is not perpetuating his or her own precarious thinness, but rather trying–in painful fits and starts–to get better. It may not always be true, but it’s always possible. And the last thing that person needs to hear is a comment that will make him or her feel more ashamed, more uncomfortable, and more unattractive. Negative, barbed remarks about how “skinny” or “sickly” someone looks are likely to do just that. And anyone who has had an eating disorder has experienced more than his or her fair share of such sentiments already.

It’s hard for some of us to extend body acceptance to thin shapes, especially since we all want to be cognizant of the distinction between “thin” and “unwell.” But in the case of those who are not well, and are trying to get better, negative body commentary certainly won’t help speed the process. And those who are thin without unhealthy intentions are just as entitled to body acceptance as everyone else: it makes me cringe when women who are thin without struggle are told that “real women have curves.” There is no single body attribute that “real” women have.

This all gets me to thinking about my body, the 30-year-old body that has recovered from many highs and lows. The body that is now a stable, relatively unchanging weight. I am thin, but I am no longer fragile and waif like. It is no longer a guarantee that I’ll be the thinnest woman in any given room; indeed, now that I spend my days on a college campus full of 18 year old track runners (many of whom, it seems to my outsider’s eye, may be battling their own demons), I am often far from it. I exercise, but I don’t have a six pack (or a 4 pack!), and my arms don’t look particularly muscular or toned. My shape has softness to it, but I have smaller breasts, and I’m not really “curvy” the way the women on my mother’s side of the family are.

So I don’t really fit any of the common “molds” into which we like to categorize attractive female shapes. When I was anorexic, I clung to my stick-thinness as a mark of being special. When I recovered, I clung to sit ups and pilates and any means of getting “toned”; if I couldn’t be a waif, I figured, well then I could at least look like I belonged in a fitness magazine. When I gained some weight in my senior year of college (the tail end of gaining after my first relapse), I tried to think of myself as suddenly having “curves,” because at least that was a gloss by which I could attempt to accept myself.

Today, I don’t look for a formulation into which I can squeeze my body. In fact, I try to limit how much time I spend thinking about its outward appearance at all. I’m not immune to feeling uncomfortable with my looks, but I have found great freedom in thinking not about how my body appears, but rather what it enables me to do. My body is the vehicle through which I experience pleasure: sexual pleasure, the pleasure of eating food, the pleasure of smelling freshly brewed coffee and feeling sun on my face. My body allows me to feel and smell the change of the seasons. It allows me to hear, and become elated by music. It allows me to gaze upon my little apartment with feelings of tenderness, to watch brilliant sunsets against urban skylines, and to read. It allows me to hug, kiss, and comfort people I love. I spent about fifteen years of my life in battling my physical self, only to realize that it is the gateway through which I experience the world.


In some ways, I guess that this is actually the point that “strong is the new skinny” is trying to make: appreciate your body not for how it appears, but for what it enables you to do. I like that point, which is why I don’t hate the saying. I do, however, think it’s important to divorce that saying from any particular body type or appearance. And I think it’s also important to remember that, as wonderful as physical activity is, you are no lesser for not being sculpted, just the way you are no lesser for being thinner than the norm, or lesser for being fuller than the norm. You possess a body that allows you to interact with the world around you, and for that, you are simply very, very lucky. Treat that body with respect and care.

I always have more thoughts, but…it’s late. To be continued, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xo

Print Friendly
Be Sociable, Share!

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

sarah April 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm

This was a really beautiful post, Gena.

It took me a long time to accept my body type for what it is. I spent many years lusting after the fitness ideal (and have been lifting weight since even before my ED began), but I have never been able to achieve it. A few years ago something finally clicked, and I realised that in my case…this body does have curves. I am well within an average weight and my body always gravitates toward a soft appearance, even as my body fat drops and I become stronger. To be honest, that softness was really hard to get used to. I had thought, like you, that at least if I couldn’t be a waif, I could at least be super fit. Even as I noticed huge gains in strength and fitness, the overall look of body has actually changed relatively little. It took years of taking “progress photos” and lifting heavier and heavier before I finally realised that even as I became stronger, my body shape and weight changed very, very little.

It’s good reminder for me that the challenges some people have gaining weight after an ED, illness, or whatever are very real. I never had this problem, so it is easy for me to forget and challenging to understand at all. When I began eating normally, my weight restored really quickly and at first I even exceeded what seems to be a healthy weight for my frame. I resented women who struggled to gain weight, whether it was after an ED or otherwise, and for a long time I didn’t even believe their struggles with weight gain were genuine. So as you eloquently laid out, I do think there are dangers on both sides of the spectrum when we make assumptions or try to pigeon hole everyone into a particular ideal.

All that said, I have always interpreted the “strong is the new skinny” trend in a way that focuses on actual strength. Perhaps because I am not on pinterest, twitter, tumblr or most other sites means that I didn’t see much of the ‘fitspiration’ images, but I’ve found the recent blog commentary on these images really interesting. Having chased the type of body that is shown in these images for many years, I believe that it’s unrealistic for many people. I am glad I’m past the point of lusting after something I can’t have, but I do genuinely wonder if I would have been able to learn that lesson had I not tried and failed. I guess sometimes I just need to learn by doing.

Reply

Anastasia@healthymamainfo.com April 25, 2012 at 12:30 am

Thanks for such a beautiful and honest post! The very first step to be taken is accepting our body, respecting and loving it. It’s a cure. Everything material begins with invisible spiritual.

Reply

Sarah April 25, 2012 at 12:37 am

Super post, Gena!

I love and totally agree with your point that women come in many shapes and sizes (and the rest of the post too). I don’t fit into any of the body ideals either. I’m not curvy nor am I toned/muscular. When I had to gain weight and was in recovery from my ED both times I held the curvaceous figure in my mind as an ideal in order to help me accept my body more as it was changing. Now that I’m weight restored and the ED demons feel more distant I’m trying to strike that healthy balance with food, body and self-acceptance. I’m tired of fighting with my body, wanting to change it, and having my body show the inner thoughts and feelings I’m struggling with instead of dealing with them. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had a relapse and have mostly recovered from that or if it’s because I’m almost 30 (in under 6 weeks, eek!) but I’m defo feeling more relaxed about my bodily self and am thinking of it in new and more balanced ways- what it enables me to do etc rather than how it looks.

Sorry that your exam wasn’t the best. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, Gena. It sounds like you’ve been working really hard and there’s only so much you can do. Hope it turns out better than anticipated xoxox

Reply

Northwest Herbivore April 25, 2012 at 1:09 am

THIS. Thank you for this exceptionally well-written post (and you set a high bar!). I’ve been mulling whether to write something along these lines, but for now this covers so much of what I would say. I’m one of those people who has always been thin–sometimes too thin for health–and I’ve been stunned and dismayed by some of the comments I’ve gotten to my face about my size. From perfect strangers to coworkers, people seem to think it’s just fine to refer to me as anorexic (I’m not, and never have been), to ask whether I “ever eat,” to guess at my size as a negative number, etc. And yes, that “real women have curves” line is both popular and particularly galling to a naturally un-curvy woman.

For me, the reasons for of my thinness are many and have varied over time. But I can’t think of a single time that a comment to the effect that I’d be more attractive if I were heavier has helped me reach a healthier weight. When an idiot neurologist put me on a drug to prevent migraines without considering that a major side effect is weight loss (causing me to drop ten pounds I could ill afford to lose), was I motivated by visions of pleasing others with a curvier body? No, I was helped by my GP, who recognized the poor choice of drug (and got me off it) and referred me to a wonderful RD, who told me for the first time in my life that I ate well and provided information and support that let me get those pounds back on.

As you say, it’s easy to see someone who’s obviously underweight and to jump to conclusions about why that is, assuming they are intentionally taking steps to be so small. But I’m walking proof that not everyone who looks that way does so by choice or with that end in mind, and I know from experience that even well-meaning remarks from someone who doesn’t know the full story can be excruciating. Whenever I feel the urge to put some stranger in a box, I remind myself of those things.

A common saying that comes up around this subject is “I wish *I* had that problem.” I would never dream of saying such a hurtful thing to someone who remarked on how easily they (against their wishes) gained a few pounds. Yet messages like that often come my way. Yes, I get that with thinness comes a lot of privilege in American culture, even sometimes when the thinness is past the point of health, and I try to remain aware of ways that I benefit from my size even when I’m not happy with it. But telling me that my lifelong struggle with anxiety and resulting nausea, days-long migraines that leave me unable to eat, and external factors like drug side effects are enviable? It would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive.

On one occasion so far I’ve had the presence of mind and the strength to matter-of-factly tell a person who made such a comment that my size has been a struggle–not a point of pride–and that what they’ve said is very hard to hear. And the person seemed to really hear that, and apologized to me, which was quite gratifying. More often, though, I’m stunned into silence, and only later think of the snappy comebacks or blunt truths I wish I’d said. I’m hoping to improve that ratio, and in the meantime I focus on speaking out against body shaming when it comes up in less immediate (and generally less personal) ways, and I can put some thought into how to respond.

Thanks again for getting it–and for speaking it loud and clear.

Reply

Emma April 25, 2012 at 3:38 am

So pleased you shared your thoughts and experiences on this matter, it’s also really encouraging that you’ve got to this healthy mental and physical place. I’ve been battling my demons for probably 5 or so years and It’s only now at 22 when I feel like I’m actually making a genuine effort to gain weight and get my health back. I think as I learn “who I am” and feel more comfortable in myself as an individual I will gradually be able to let go of my extreme thinness or my body in any shape or form being my defining feature. Thank you for this, it’s really what I needed to hear :)

Reply

Lisa April 25, 2012 at 4:21 am

Thank you so much Gena! I am in recovery for my 2nd ED. The first time was in my early teens so I had no control and put on weight at my doctors pace whic was fast.

I am a new vegan and I find this is helping more than anything! I am starting to respect myself as i am respecting the animals and the environment.
Though Like you said it is hard to put on weight and as much as it is uncomfortable and I eat so much but then not gain weight it does feel like failure.

I like to focus on being healthy but what i find difficult to deal with is when you see “fitsperation” pictures in magazines ect and say this is how to get healthy, I feel as I am recovering I look the same weight maybe more than these “fit” models but the doctors say I need to put on more weight & I still havent got my periods ect. So even though someone has these images to work towards every body is different and I am now starting to learn that I may have to be heavier for my body to work.
I love how you stand up for this and I back you 100%!

Reply

Sarah @ The Healthy Diva April 25, 2012 at 5:55 am

Great post Gena! So many women struggle with this issue but it’s not often talked about. Thank you for putting it out there :) I’m still a few kilos away from my target weight, but my mindset is much healthier now than it was before. It really is a long slow journey for some, but that’s ok. Just as long as I keep at it right? Thanks again for a lovely written post

Reply

Laura@keepinghealthygettingstylish April 25, 2012 at 5:58 am

This is such a wonderful post, your second from last paragraph made me well up! I could not agree more that we need to remember what our bodies enable us to do rather than just seeing them in the context of how they look. I’ve been overweight and then lost weight to a point of no longer being healthy. The struggle for me was accepting that I was actually too thin as I had a normal BMI but definitely did not look or feel my best. I thought because other women could be that weight and be fine then I could too. I needed to realise that we are all different and healthy looks different on each individual. To help me with gaining weight I have looked for inspiration and acceptance in images of more curvy women because I feel that is how my body is naturally. However I completely agree with your commentary on the sayings that suggest your only a real woman if you have curves etc. Healthy women come in all shapes and sizes, I just wish more people could appreciate that.

Reply

Elizabeth April 25, 2012 at 6:04 am

thank you so much for sharing your wise wise words gena! you can tell so little about a person from their weight-high or low, and sometimes gaining is the hardest thing in the world, especially for those recovery from an ED. You are such a inspiration-continue to write in such a positive manner!

Reply

Abby April 25, 2012 at 6:25 am

Excellent post Gena, as always. But I was a little confused when you said my post was “a contrast to the many appeals (my own included) for us to abandon unrealistically thin body ideals.” I feel like my post was on the same exact page as your line of thinking, but perhaps I misunderstood…

Anyway, yes, Being thin unintentionally is often seen as a “good” problem, but in reality, no outward appearance is a guarantee of health or happiness, so who are we to judge?

As contradictory as it may seem, I have also never viewed my body as something to physically perfect or alter as much as I’ve seen it as a vehicle to help me do all the things I value–be a good friend, a good daughter, a productive worker, an athlete, a compassionate vegetarian, etc. It’s never been about looks, but OCD is a disease, and unfortunately, sometimes my body takes the brunt of my mind.

I’m slowly trying to apply the compassion I take with other things and apply them to myself and my body. A slow transition to a completely plant-based/vegan diet is a step, and it’s not to achieve a physical ideal. It’s to ensure that I am making the healthiest choices for me so that I can continue to do the things I need to do, like ramble in your comments section. ;)

Reply

Gena April 25, 2012 at 8:33 am

Thanks for commenting, Abby!

What I meant was that, while many people who write about body image (myself included) tend to write about body acceptance from the vantage point of telling people it’s ok not to be very thin, one thing I took away from your post is that we should also remind people that it’s ok not to be curvaceous, depending on your circumstances. In other words, it’s relatively rare over the underweight perspective, and I think it’s important. I’ll go back and edit to articulate that properly. But yes, we are I the same page, which is to slice through an “ideal” of any particular type.

Thanks again for the inspiration.

Xo

Reply

Gena April 25, 2012 at 8:36 am

“over” = “to hear”. Thx iPhone.

Reply

Abby April 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

Got it. I know we’re always on the same page, but I guess I was hypersensitive to the issue. Go figure, huh? ;) Thank you for the daily inspiration as I try and move slowly from veg to vegan with baby steps here and there. I often need reminders that recovery isn’t a straight line, and neither is veganism. Progress, not perfection, and these types of discussions help reinforce that notion.

Reply

Gena April 25, 2012 at 9:14 am

My bad! Wasn’t clear. Edited :)

Reply

janet @ the taste space April 25, 2012 at 6:27 am

Great post, Gena, and you summarize my thoughts exactly. I never try to comment on other people’s weight because you never know where they are with – trying to increase, decrease, stay still – and even positive affirmation from losing weight can start a downward spiral. Whenever I question how I want my body to be, it is always the same: HEALTHY. I want to be able to bike to work, to lift my groceries, to hug my partner and do it all while feeling great about myself. :)

Reply

Alisa April 25, 2012 at 6:28 am

Gena,

Thank you, so much, for this post.
I don’t comment here very often, but I read your posts regularly and always appreciate your ability to get right at the root of issues such as these. We all need a reminder, once in a while, to be our own friend and appreciate what we have; I’d like to very, very sincerely thank you for giving us this reminder today!

Reply

Sam (the Quantum Vegan) April 25, 2012 at 6:36 am

Funny you should post this…I’ve been thinking about doing a post of my own on “thin talk” as the converse of the one I did for “fat talk” during NEDAwareness Week.

I appreciate your comments about how the body is a vehicle to experience the world. Being Christian, I believe that God granted me the body I have–not to abuse it, but, as you said, to care for it in a healthy way and experience Creation. Focusing on any one “ideal” steals the joy of that gift and puts anyone, men or women, in a dark place that can suck away years or even decades of their lives.

Personally, I enjoy being fit. But I’m shooting for visible muscles because I *want* to, not because some magazine or website tells me I have to be or look a certain way to be a woman!

Reply

c April 25, 2012 at 6:38 am

everything have been said, but maybe its not bad to add a “thanks you for this post”. I read you daily, and today I wass seeking for something as insiring and comforting as this, so the happiness was doubled! you are very clear to explain and share your thoughts that reading your blog is always very pleasing. Thank you (and thanks for post ing practically every day? is very intresting)
xox

c

Reply

c April 25, 2012 at 6:38 am

p.s.: excellent photo of the (5) senses!

Reply

Marlena Torres April 25, 2012 at 6:40 am

“Today, I don’t look for a formulation into which I can squeeze my body. In fact, I try to limit how much time I spend thinking about its outward appearance at all. I’m not immune to feeling uncomfortable with my looks, but I have found great freedom in thinking not about how my body appears, but rather what it enables me to do. My body is the vehicle through which I experience pleasure: sexual pleasure, the pleasure of eating food, the pleasure of smelling freshly brewed coffee and feeling sun on my face. My body allows me to feel and smell the change of the seasons. It allows me to hear, and become elated by music. It allows me to gaze upon my little apartment with feelings of tenderness, to watch brilliant sunsets against urban skylines, and to read. It allows me to hug, kiss, and comfort people I love. I spent about fifteen years of my life in battling my physical self, only to realize that it is the gateway through which I experience the world.”

This is poetic! Beautiful writing! I have especially enjoyed these posts on “strong is the new skinny”

Reply

Alex @ Raw Recovery April 25, 2012 at 6:46 am

This was a great post, but for some reason difficult for me to read. Perhaps because it hits so close to home? One thing that pushed me further down the rabbit hole of my ED was watching others in treatment centers who needed to gain more weight than I did. I know this is a common phenomenon in centers because it’s hard when you have a certain meal plan and to put it bluntly, someone else has a feeding tube or 3 ensures in front of them. When I actually was in need of gaining a lot of weight, I found it so difficult on my body and on my mind. Refeeding was an absolutely horrifically painful process for me; stomach aches constantly, bloating, and night sweats so bad that I’d have to change my sheets every night or sleep on top of them.

Creating a positive body image during recovery is for me the hardest thing, especially now that summer is coming up and the jeans and sweat pants are being exchanged for shorts, skirts, and dresses. I admire your strength to let go of body molds and I assume that comes with lots of work, dedication, and some time, but it’s so difficult to hear “It’s the last thing to go.” I still struggle with distorted body image even though I’m at a healthy weight, but I know that it’s often because of an emotional problem (i.e. when I’m upset about something the way I see my body changes).

Thank you for a thoughtful and very thought provoking post.

Reply

Melissa April 25, 2012 at 6:52 am

Been reading for a few years and rarely comment, just want to say thanks for always being so thoughtful in your posts. Your blog is one of the few that I have never been annoyed with in some way. More than anything I think that is a testament to your intelligence. I have no doubt that you will make an amazing doctor one day. All the best Gena.

Reply

Susan April 25, 2012 at 7:04 am

I’ve had similar thoughts on the “strong is the new skinny” campaign. While I think the underlying message is correct (as you said, appreciate what your body does rather than how it appears), I think that plastering pictures of toned girls across various media outlets is the same thing as plastering pictures of skinny girls. It’s about creating an “ideal”, which makes me uncomfortable.

As someone who is limited physically, it doesn’t make me feel very good to have the media tell me that beauty come from going to the gym and building visible muscle because to an extent, I will never have this. I’m sure there are other women in my position who may have different circumstances, but similar feelings. There are always some of us (many of us?) who are incapable of reaching the “ideal”. It makes me so sad!

Reply

Annie April 25, 2012 at 7:16 am

Beautiful post!
I fully understand that, often, issues concerning weight and body image emerge from somewhere deep inside, particularly for those struggling with an ED.
What strikes me (hard), though, is just what this post and some comments are getting at – “fat talk” and “thin talk” and how influenced we are by other people’s opinions of our bodies. We all seem to want to be accepted (and loved and found beautiful) for exactly the way we are (whether transitioning up/down or not) yet feel there is some type of social, all-seeing eye locked on us at all times, dictating how we should look. On the flip side, we tend to accept other people (and love them and find them beautiful) for just the way they are! (I hope that comment isn’t mere optimism.) Does that all-seeing eye really exist?
If we try to accept and love ourselves (and all others) for exactly the way we are, will that eventually transform into feelings of acceptance and love BY all others (and ourselves)?
I love this site because it makes me feel like that’s a real possibility. Because I truly think it is.

Reply

Kathleen April 25, 2012 at 7:42 am

Your description of the value you see in your body is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. A bit off topic, but I’m curious: While you were in recovery, did you ever think you’d get to a place where you would actually celebrate your body or was that something that came long after? Was it something you “worked on” or was it inherent to fully recovering? (Apologies if that is too personal.)

There was a meme going around a few months back that paired two photos of different sized women. One was a picture of Marilyn Monroe and the other was a picture of a tall, very thin, lithe model. I believe the phrase underneath the pair was something like, “When did this become more attractive than this?”. It was certainly harsher than the meme above but it similarly idealized one body type and vilified another. I really do think the intention of these memes is not to be hurtful, but rather to make a certain group of people feel better about themselves. However, they use the tactic of “stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” in order to accomplish the goal which ultimately overshadows the message.

Reply

Gena April 27, 2012 at 6:48 am

Well, it’s a slightly complex answer, in that I rarely ever stare in the mirror in the morning and think “I LOVE my body!” But I also find that kind of enthusiasm to be a frustrating recovery goal, because (and I hope I’m not being cynical here) I’m not sure how realistic it is for women with ED histories — or even without. So my healing came from transferring energy away from the goal of body love in the sense of loving my shape, and toward body love in the sense of loving the experience of living in my body. Does that make sense? I don’t know when I’ll be a person who wakes up every day with total pride and adoration of her shape, but I do know that I can and do wake up with serious appreciation for inhabiting my shape. And that’s something.

And oh yes, I did work on it. Hard. And it has taken years. So I think that’s proof that working on it actively is worth while.

Reply

Sara April 25, 2012 at 7:47 am

Hi Gena- I’ve been following the comments on FB and your posts on here with interest. I don’t comment often, but I do want to share my perspective. I was overweight all through highschool and college…at my heaviest about 215lbs…I’m 5’7″. Looking back I now understand I really had disordered eating..stress eating, out of control portions, etc. After college I took control, lost weight and felt way better. However, at that time it was all about being thin and about how I looked. I struggled to keep the weight off and regain about 25 lbs. However, when I found out I had high cholesterol, and also realized my body did not tolerate gluten well, that was when I began to eat to be healthy, and exercise to be healthy, and it no longer became about the way that I looked. I am happy to say I have maintained a heatlhy mid 140′s weight for almost two years now….the battle largely abated when I embraced strong and healthy instead of skinny. I am not tiny….I am curvy, but I am more fit than I have ever been and more healthy than I have ever been. I still struggle from time to time with the old patterns of disordered overeating, but I am more easily able to resist those impulses because my focus is healthy.

One last comment….the obesity in our country is more horrifying all the time:( I really think some of these messages are trying to combat that…but maybe going about it the wrong way. However, overeating is a disorder too….and we do need a message that will reach people and help them want to reclaim their health!

Thanks for your wise words.

Sara

Reply

Lily April 25, 2012 at 8:12 am

Best post ever, Gena. Thank you.

Reply

JL goes Vegan April 25, 2012 at 8:32 am

As ever, a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of writing, Gena.

This morning I was doing some reading and stumbled upon a statistic from a survey conducted in 2004. Only 4% of women – globally – felt beautiful. And there, I suppose is my fundamental issue with campaigns such as “go vegan and get skinny,” “strong is the new skinny,” “15-day fat blast,” etc. It implies that one is not beautiful right now.

As for the “thin talk.” You would not believe the number of emails I get saying that I should not have a blog called Stop Chasing Skinny because I am skinny. Though I have written about it, somehow people are not making the connection that 20 less pounds ago was skinny- on ME. I may be smaller than you but that doesn’t make me skinny.

But, really, who cares if people think I am too skinny to write a body image blog? Or too soft and round in the belly – from eating oil, salt, sugar, BREAD (hello my name is human) – to represent a “good” vegan lifestyle on my plant-based food and fitness blog? Ultimately our own health is personal and unique to us. Campaigns pushed on the masses simply do not take the individual into account.

Reply

Heather @ For the Love of Kale April 25, 2012 at 8:41 am

GIRLFRAND! I love this post. I could write a novel about every detail that I appreciated but I will refrain from that. Being a fan of both Tone It Up and Zuzana (not BodyRock anymore – far too sexualized for my liking), I feel like, sometimes, it’s a Catch 22. I love how they both encourage happiness, confidence, and inner strength but I sometimes have to check myself too. It’s really easy to get swallowed up into thinking you should “look like” them but, thankfully, I don’t feel that way. However, I know many of the women who follow those ladies DO feel that way. It makes me so sad when I see girls say “I’ll get those abs!” In reality, we don’t want those abs. We want to be happy and fulfilled with who WE are as people. I did a post yesterday on what I’m learning from my relationship with exercise and, as silly as it sounds, I am more connected spiritually and mentally with myself as I have been challenging myself more and more. But that’s just what has been working for ME. I could go on and on too…but I have a care plan to write up on renal disease. WAPOOSH. Love you, girl. Your intelligence never fails to amaze me.

Reply

Hoshigaki April 25, 2012 at 8:51 am

Thank you for this post, Gena.

I know that as a blogger, you have to address these types of memes. However, these women’s magazine taglines have become exhausting to me and sometimes I feel like ignoring them is the best thing to do.
Lamenting about the unrealistic “ideal female body” feels, first of all, like the most broken-est-est-est record of all time that I’ve been hearing since I got tits and could read0 seriously! I mean, really, REALLY- it’s been 24 years of this constant worrying and monthly recycling of the same tired messages about women’s worth. We need to learn to ignore it. Read Joan Didion (so you can REALLY feel meloncholy (haha). Or science writer, Natalie Angier to know how amazing your body really is. All of the Fortune 500 female CEOs are middle aged women who look like middle aged women.

…and also, it feels a lot like giving power to a worry that really shouldn’t effect any one of us in any way. A worry that is artificially created by an entire industry and I just find that the topic is so inherently unintellectual. No matter how much analysis is done, the concern in fundamentally useless (and at the same time important because it’s widespread and impactful- gahh, we can’t win!). The only qualifier I would give to this is its effect on young women who, like in the case of dieting, aren’t fully developed and get caught up in the outside sway to artificially manipulate their bodies to “fit a mold”.

The comfort I give myself every time this chimera of “outside pressure” penetrates my psyche even a little bit is to say to myself: there are 7 BILLION people in the world. The only people that matter are my friends and family and they will love me no matter what I look like or what decisions I make as long as those decisions are within the rather wide range of integrity within which we all operate. Go to school. Take the job. Quit the job. Buy the house. Marry the guy/gal. Put on weight. Lose weight. Have wrinkles. ANYTHING is possible for us. We are not, individually, being watched by the media so why should we listen to and watch them as if they are speaking to us personally? They are not. We are watched by those that matter. Ladies: only your chosen few will watch you live, age and die. And if you don’t pay attention to the memes and the magazines, you will not be important to you.

This was not a rant.

Reply

Gena April 27, 2012 at 8:35 am

No, this was a not a very smart, very articulate, very good rant.

Reply

Pure2raw twins April 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

great post, and you said some many things I would of said too. it is not about appearance (as much as everyone does battle with that even if they are strong inside and out), but it is about how working out makes you feel!! I work out because it makes me feel strong. It gives me confidence. I am more curvy, so getting more toned helps me feel better. And to be that is the point. To be confident with our bodies, and there is nothing wrong with doing a little fine tuning. As long as we stick to what makes us happy. What works for us, not worrying what others do or look like. I will admit it can be hard not to compare because there are so many beautiful ladies (in all shapes and sizes, not just fitness models). It is about finding your own strength. I look up to many of the ladies I for fitness inspiration because of their confidence! Not because they have great arms or whatever. I love my body. And enjoy working out and plan to continue it because it truly makes me feel my best.

And only wish everyone else to find what makes them happy. There are so many great “exercises” people can do. And it is not about getting this or that look, but to sweat, move the body, exercises the heart, ease the mind.

xoxo
M

Reply

Amelia April 25, 2012 at 9:16 am

Thanks Gena for an awesome post! I am naturally thin and have been called “skinny” (in degrading tones) so many times in my life. I do work out and have to really be mindful not to compare myself to the girls in the workout videos I use. I also never weigh myself because I have the tendency to start obsessing that if I’m not in the 120s then I’m not “thin enough.” I’m 5’9″ and currently around 140 (the only way I know the approximate weight is because they weighed me at my last physical). I have never had an ED, and most of the time I focus on being “healthy,” but sometimes it is a challenge. Our culture is so obsessed with appearance that nothing is ever good enough. Women who look “normal” to me are vilified as being too thin or too fat in the media. Thin girls are told to “eat a burger” and curvier women are told to “eat a salad.” No one can win (unless they are airbrushed to alien perfection). This is why, as a guidance counselor, I think it is so important to focus on helping girls with self acceptance and self esteem. I love your focus on what our bodies allow us to do, and not their appearance. There will always be negative opinions out there, and campaigns that stress value on one group vs. another. We have to remember that no matter what the popular opinion may be, we all have insecurities and accepting ourselves and others is the only “healthy” way to be.

Reply

Tommy Fowble April 25, 2012 at 9:23 am

Very good, well written article. I cringe any time I hear women (and men, too) make comments in the gym about what they look like, whether related to clothing not fitting anymore, or simply how they appear. My favorite saying as a CrossFit Coach is: “Stop worrying about what your body looks like and start worrying about what your body can do.” The body will then mold itself to meet the demands placed on it. How it looks is how it looks. The media and society in general puts way too much emphasis on body image, so I appreciate this counterpoint article. We need more of this.

Reply

Ilana April 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

This whole discussion is very fascinating to me. As a fitness teacher (I consider myself to be more than that but on the practical day-to-day basis it’s what I do) I am constantly confronted with my students’ neuroses about their bodies and try to navigate ways of helping them to become more comfortable with what they’ve possibly struggled against for many years. I consider myself lucky in many respects to have not consciously struggled against food or my body for a very long time, and that brief struggle ended up catapulting me into a way of life that has thus far made me very happy, internally and externally. The more closely I stick to the things that make me feel good, the happier I am, and the happier I am the less I feel the need to obsess over my body. Last week my boyfriend came home from an extended business trip and made a comment about how my body had changed significantly in the time we’ve been apart, at which point I couldn’t remember the last time I looked at my body critically in the mirror. Every now and then, particularly after seeing my mother (a recovered anorexic who gets hypercritical about my choices, shes my mom of course), I sit back and evaluate and try to make sure I’m consciously and actively making healthy choices and not getting sucked into some pattern of habitual feeding just to get through the day. So far so good. But sometimes it feels like I’m living a half-lie, I really wish I could offer more to my students beyond the physical practices that help me feel good. Unfortunately most of my students don’t share my belief that the vegan diet is the key to unlocking the final bit of happiness, but oh well, and I don’t push it, but if anybody asks I’m very happy to share.

Reply

Gena April 27, 2012 at 8:36 am

Fascinating to hear a yoga teacher’s perspective. Thanks, Ilana.

Reply

Amy @Health Hungry April 25, 2012 at 9:58 am

Great post! I too have actually appreciated what that new saying is attempting to do… Having been “morbidly obese” for most of my life, I forget that the feelings on the other end of the spectrum are so similar. I was aware of how closely all disordered eating really is when I lost 200lbs – and became obsessive about being thin to the extreme… The reality is, women – and America, needs to shift their definitions of health from a number on the scale, or a reflection in the mirror… If we are lucky enough to see 90, I can bet we won’t be discussing our weight. We are so much more than a number, and a body!!! We are loving, thinking, creative, feeling, spiritual beings – good health is a journey as individual as the person.

Reply

Fiona Schmidt April 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

Wow! You rock as a writer! That was so eloquent and meaningful. You just made me feel great about myself! I love how open and honest you were. If you get tired of being a doctor be a writer! You could write a book about all of the different issues vegans deal with, like Ed pasts, vaccinations, etc.

Reply

Gena April 27, 2012 at 8:37 am

At this point its very unlikely I’ll pass Orgo, let alone get into med school, so thank you for the plan B ;-)

Reply

Anonymous April 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thank you so much for this post. It is probably my favorite and is so beautifully written. I feel that often times we feel the need to categorize ourselves into physical similarities with others when in fact we just need to be our own category so to speak.

Reply

Marissa April 25, 2012 at 11:05 am

I love this post Gena! I think you’re absolutely right in saying that we all have different body types and that all of those are beautiful in their own way. When I think of the phrase “strong is the new skinny”, I take that to mean that we should all find our inner strength and project that outward. We’re all different, and we need to embrace that.

Reply

The Delicate Place (@misathemeb) April 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

i can’t even go to bodyrock anymore, it’s like soft core over there complete with fake hair, lip fillers & plastic jugs. all that aside, this really struck a chord with me: ‘I try to limit how much time I spend thinking about its outward appearance at all.’ i don’t really either until someone says something to me about it which happened recently. honestly, i was shocked because i don’t look online for inspiration to be thin or fit or skinny. i get ready and go about my day, often i’m so busy i hardly look past my face in the mirror so it’s a strange concept to me that some are fixated on this new mantra.

Reply

kate April 25, 2012 at 11:48 am

it makes me cringe when women who are thin without struggle are told that “real women have curves.” There is no single body attribute that “real” women have.

I am not sure I can add much more wisdom to the comments above, and I adored your paragraph on how your body allows you to interact with the world, but the quote above outlines for me the sheer idiocy of appending any notion of an ideal to the female body shape. Women are castigated for either being “fat” or for not being “real women” . We can’t win. The point is health, and health is as individual a concept as body shape is to each of the 3 billion of us (or perhaps more) that reside on this planet. And health is as wide an interpretation as the strength of our muscles, the flexibility of our joints or the relative buoyancy of our mental state.

Reply

Heather April 25, 2012 at 11:49 am

Thanks for bringing this topic to light, Gena! I admit to feeling that my body is inadequate a lot of the time as a result of seeing these extremely fit girls. It’s inspiring yes, and also a downer as I struggle to attain the same look. I appreciate the reminder that not many are going to look the same as these gals and that healthy is more important than a super chiseled 6 pack. I am fit, strong, and I eat whole foods. So what more do I need?! I look forward to more on this topic from you. :)

Reply

Ali April 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I feel that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I feel that our bodies innately know exactly how to be human, where as our spirit selves really struggle with this. I think that our bodies are one of our greatest teachers and greatest guides to life. I know that I used to hate my body, to not trust that it knew what it was doing. Now I am learning that it has ALWAYS known. I think it is so important for us to view our bodies, as you said, as the vehicle through which we experience this life, and to love, appreciate and nourish them so that they can do that job more effectively.

Reply

Sylvia April 25, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Lovely post. Beautiful. This is really relevant for all women, and the expectations and pressure we put on our bodies. I never gave much thought to my body, although growing up, and in my teens and early(er) 20s I was naturally thin and a bit boney and when people would comment negatively about it, or accuse me of eating disorders or say “real women have curves” it stung. I thought “why is it not ok to criticize an overweight person but not a thin person?” Now that I have gotten older and developed a bit of a curvier shape, I am coming to terms with my new body. I realized that I did have some sort of attachment to being seen as a thin person. Now I wouldn’t really be described as thin or skinny. I still have a healthy and slimmer body shape than average probably but it’s strange to see my body as this curvier thing than it was before. Sometimes I dislike it, other times I embrace it and genuinely enjoy it. I try to avoid negative body talk with other women.

You say you never comment when someone is looking under weight. What if it is a good friend and you are concerned? I have had several friends with eating disorders and I have tried everything from ignoring it to commenting that they are looking unwell in a concerned and gentle way. It feels wrong to me not to say anything. I want them to know that I care and that I am worried. From the perspective of someone on the other side, what’s the best way to approach a close friend about being dangerously thin, or about under eating?

Reply

elizabeth April 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I wasn’t familiar with the “strong is the new skinny” campaign until I saw it on your blog. I guess if it’s associated with the image of a ripped body, it could be as problematic as any other unattainable ideal, though I must admit I find “strong” a more valiant pursuit than “skinny,” so I’m inclined to throw my support it, for now. I’m not so much a feminist that I won’t let someone else haul heavy objects for me, but I do maintain a very strong mental link between “strength” and “independence,” and both are important to me. It’s not always easy to find elevators, and travelling like I do, I’m grateful I can carry my luggage up and down subway steps, etc. Thankfully, I was never so weakened by my eating disorder that I couldn’t run 5 miles, whenever, or carry my groceries up five flights of stairs. And I’m not sure, given my personality, if I’d ever have allowed myself to have been incapacitated by my ED, to a point where I couldn’t manage my life (which, as a single person, involves some heavy lifting here and there).
As someone who recovered emotionally from my ED before I gained any weight at all, and as someone who to this day finds it impossible to maintain a “normal” weight, I am somewhat restentful of the idea of BMI as a marker of recovery. Not every skinny person has an eating disorder, but I think that people who’ve never been anorexic deflect the label more readily than someone who – even if they’re not hiding their past – is trying to put it behind her. Because I remained so thin, even years into recovery, I think I focussed on markers other than weight gain – like, for instance, eating more mainstream foods – that in the end made me feel quite lousy. But eating pasta, was, for a time at least, one way I proclaimed my recovery to the world. It took me a long time to get to a place where I could deflect the “anorexic” label (as long as my recovery felt precarious, I couldn’t). Nowadays, I don’t feel I have to prove anything to anyone. I LOVE to eat, I can’t abide restriction, but I don’t eat by the clock, I don’t eat to make others around me more comfortable, I don’t eat if I’m not hungry, and I don’t eat 99% of what gets sold as “food” in this country. I’d get away with all the above if I’d only gain 7 lbs, and I do make an effort from time to time, but as you know, gaining weight is easier said than done. So, as long as I’m healthy, getting ample calories, etc., I prefer focussing my energy and attention elsewhere. At the very least, I’ve gotten to a point where maintenance is effortless, and that wasn’t the case during my illness.

Reply

Gena April 25, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Great comment, as always.

I agree that BMI is not and should not be the only “standard.” Weight gain actually was an important part of my recovery, for various reasons, but it certainly was not the major part. After all, I gained weight after my first two bouts with my ED without coming even close to a healed or restored relationship with food. So while I do encourage weight gain–especially if one’s health is being impacted negatively by being underweight–I also would never suggest that BMI is the whole story. It’s not. It’s a chapter in the recovery story.

As for exercise, I don’t know: I see so much obsessive exercise on the college campus I live on and among readers of my blog, and it can certainly result in stress fractures, injuries, and overall caloric deficit, which can lead to amenorrhea, and so on, and so forth…but I agree totally that it’s not the same as crash dieting or starving. And not as scary (to me). Still worthy of attention, though.

xo

Reply

elizabeth April 26, 2012 at 11:20 am

Thanks, Gena, I was referring not to “crash dieting,” which is dangerous enough over time but to the truly life threatening behaviors some people engage in in an effort to achieve an unnatural body weight (like, purging, abuse of diet pills, emetics, and laxatives, etc).
I realize that given your readership I should clarify that I wasn’t hobbling around with a life-threatening BMI and trying to rationalize it in any way. I did regain, a good bit of weight, under medical supervision, both times. But I stopped short of “full weight restoration” and later, when I recovered for good, I didn’t gain additional weight. It’s an important distinction. I agree with you, absolutely, that in most cases, mine included, weight gain is necessary to turn off the ED-brain – below a certain point, one really can’t trust oneself to guide one’s own recovery. One could argue, compellingly, that if I’d achieved a complete physical recovery the first time around, the psychological recovery might have followed immediately, instead of getting drawn out over a decade, leaving me vulnerable to relapse(s) and to developing a bunch of coping strategies for my anxiety that make it hard for me to maintain my weight today, despite very healthy relationships with food and my body. We’ll never know, I guess. At the time, I was more vulnerable to bulimia than to another drastic weight loss, and I was trying to keep that demon at bay.

Reply

Gena April 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

Well, as we both know, one can’t really go back and second guess recovery, because who knows if another avenue would have spared more pain than the one we took? I often wonder if I’d found veganism earlier, would I have avoided two relapses? But I also suspect that veganism came in tandem with a moment of personal growth and “readiness” to recover that I hadn’t had before. So yes, we’ll never know. That said, thanks for clarifying; I didn’t think you’d been hobbling around, but I do think it’s important to be explicit for the community here, indeed!

Reply

elizabeth April 25, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I guess another reason I’m inclined to support the “strong is the new skinny” is that there are very few “unhealthy” ways to get strong. I mean, there are steroids, but barring ingesting an illegal and not easy to come by substance, getting strong involves putting in hours at the gym and eating enough to power those intense workouts. Whereas there are SO many “unhealthy” ways to get skinny, to the point where many people “chasing skinny” are putting their lives in danger. Of couse “getting strong” can become an unhealhty obsession – one can spend too many hours at the gym, etc. But I don’t think pursuing strength is life-threatening except in the tiniest minority of cases whereas chasing a body type that for most women remains a genetic impossibility is rarely without deleterious consequences.

Reply

Ela April 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I agree with many other commenters that this may be your best, most eloquent tour de force ever–what a wonderful phoenix to project from your feelings about your exam (which I hope was better than you thought, btw).

I love both your summary of appreciating the body for what it makes possible and the beautiful ways in which you dwelled on every detail of that thought. For the record, you are so beautiful physically too!

Was just thinking yesterday how unhelpful comments can be when a person isn’t at a “normal” weight in either direction.

Part of my current struggle is predicated on the fact that after my last relapse (two years ago), I gained more weight than I was comfortable with rather quickly–the opposite of what you say, and of what had been my experience previously, that gaining weight back is hard. My thyroid was through the floor, though, and my adrenals were crashed so I could hardly move, so that could be why. But that’s an additional fear that’s keeping things difficult for me right now.

Thanks again for being so inspiring–sending you love from my heart.
Ela

Reply

Lauren April 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Beautiful and well written as always! I recently struggled with being underweight. I have been underweight in the past from Crohns and my own eating issues. But this time, it was from stress, breastfeeding and having no time to eat. So gaining it was a must! I needed to have enough weight on me to be able to supply milk for my daughter. Luckily, I have gained 5 lbs which brought my weight up enough so I don’t have to worry. it was different gaining this time, in the past I didn’t care if I gained or not (just had to according to my doc), this time it was for my daughter and that was very important to me! My milk never diminished and I’m feeling strong and healthy again! Sorry to go on.. Just wanted to share my experience! Thanks for sharing your story, Gena. Xoxo

Reply

AmandaRunsNY April 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Great post, Gena.

I think commenting on other people’s body’s is a major social taboo. I think that it’s only allowed if you also feel comfortable enough to ask that person about their income, the number of sexual partners, or to read their medical file – and even then, comments should only come after a lot of thought and for a true concern for well-being. I hate when people comment on my body – in a good or bad way. Which isn’t to say, I’m against comments on my appearance. By all means, compliment my outfit, tell me my mascara is smeared, ask me how I managed to get my stick straight hair so curly, but please don’t tell me my body is thin/fat/athletic/skinnier/fatter/curvy/whatever you can imagine. I just don’t want to hear it. Dealing with the demons in my head is enough; I don’t need another person’s thoughts to deal with.

I know a lot of people like to be complimented when they lose weight, and I struggle with handing out this compliment…errr…comment. Sometimes, I see a person who I know really needed to lose weight and even if I have heard from the grapevine that they are engaging in the most healthful of habits, I still don’t want to give it for fear that I give the message, that thin is rewarding, or that they are somehow more as a thinner version. I will often times brush it aside or try to find another way to praise the person by asking what is new and hoping they gush about a new zumba class or newfound love for vegan foods, activities which I can unabashadely compliment, but I always try as hard as possible to never comment on weight loss, unless the person is literally begging for it. (you know what I mean, like when the person keeps on saying, nothing fits me anymore, or something of the like.)

Reply

AmandaRunsNY April 25, 2012 at 6:32 pm

oopps, *unabashedly”

I’m blushing over that.

Reply

Kait @ yogabeautylife April 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm

I don’t know if you’ve seen this…and I apologize for sharing an outside link…but your post reminded me so deeply of this one that I couldn’t share: http://sensualuniversity.com/2012/02/28/this-body/

The very first gym I signed up for had articles on the wall about loving your body not for the way it looked but for what it did for you. This is a lesson its taken me several years of consistent yoga practice + dance to truly understand and appreciate. Even on the worst days, my body can move in graceful and strong and beautiful ways. I can twist and bend and balance and flex and open and release. It took years before I could appreciate that my “thunder thighs” are not just big but also powerful…and that my little bit of belly pooch helps connect me more to my dancing. Do I still envy other’s bodies at times? Of course. Do I still have days where I hate all of my clothes and how I look? Absolutely. But I know now that this is simply a safe place that I can retreat to when I feel like I’m not longer in control or that things are changing too quickly around me. And I know the feelings will pass once I take the time to reconnect to my body and all of its wonders.

Reply

Hannah April 26, 2012 at 7:29 am

There is such beauty in this post, and these word, of yours, Gena. The paragraph about what you see, feel, experience, and can do through your/the body made my heart jump with “oh!”, and I found myself nodding, nodding, celebrating.

Yes, there is that moment of recognising that our body (okay, grammatical error there, plural-singular, but it’s also late here, so please forgive me) is no longer the thinnest in the room, and of standing in a group of people who are talking about someone’s stark thin-ness, and realising this is no longer always you. And then, all at once, there’s such a relief in that, and a glory.

I’ve never paid much attention to my body; in fact I think part of my issues related to a subconscious determination to ignore it as much as possible, but now I find that it is the softness, the curves in unique places and not others, that I notice and which give me strength to keep going.

Thank you again for this piece, dear Gena. And keep your head up high – this world of ours is always just outside the window, beckoning with a myriad shining moments amidst what sometimes feels like heavy gloom. xo

Reply

Jay April 26, 2012 at 9:28 am

I have very conflicted feelings on this issue based on my own history of turmoil with weight and OCD. On the one hand, I agree completely that derogatory comments directed towards those who are underweight are completely inappropriate and harmful though for some reason they generally seem to be much more socially acceptable than derogatory comments aimed at those who are overweight. When I was about 14 I developed a paralyzing case of OCD following the occurence of a series of extremely traumatic events in my life, one facet of which was orthorexia (which in the sense that I use the word is a subset of obsessive compusive disorders rather than eating disorders). I had been *slightly* underweight throughout my entire life up until that point, but because of the OCD/ orthorexia I ended up losing about 10 pounds, a loss which seriously endangered my health and even my life (putting me about 15 pounds below a healthy bmi). Because the weight loss arose from extreme phobias about food purity, cleanliness, contamination etc. rather than a desire to lose weight, I became hyper-sensitive and selfconscious about my body and felt hideously thin. This was only fed by what I saw as stinging and cruel comments from those around me. I remember one teacher in my high school who would wrap his fingers around my arm and tell me to eat a pork chop or would stop me in the middle of a busy hallway surrounded by my peers and ask me how the weight gain was coming along. While I’m sure he was probably well-intentioned and worried about me, these comments tortured me; I would spend breaks and free time hiding in the bathrooms so no one would look at me and lunches hiding in a secluded spot in the library, unable to eat in front of others because of my fear that they would criticize the food I was eating (which obviously didn’t help me put on any weight).

So while I agree that we should NEVER judge and assume things about OTHERS based on their weight, I also feel that anyone who has fraught relationship with food or eating in any way needs to seriously examine the objectivity of their thinking before they decide they are just “naturally thin” and halting their efforts to try to gain weight. A few years after the onset of my OCD I had gained some weight back but was still not healthy. There was every reason for me to just “accept” my body as “naturally thin” (at the time I was eating a fairly normal amount, had a history of being underweight throughout my life, small bone structure, etc) but instead I decided to keep fighting through the extreme OCD phobias surrounding food and continue attempting to gain weight. When every morsel of food you put in your mouth can cause panic attacks and extreme anxiety (again, for me it was because of my fears of contamination, germs, chemicals, etc.), gaining weight is an arduous task. But today, at a healthy weight, I’m really glad I didn’t totally accept my body as just naturally thin as a way to justify a refusal to put in the work to gain more weight (which is something I feel that a lot of people who struggle with food issues do). As a side note, I obviously do think that some people can be underweight and healthy and realize that for people with certain medical conditions gaining weight is nearly impossible, I just would encourage everyone to reevaluate their assumptions about their “natural” body size/shape. Sorry to write an essay :-/ I guess it all just comes down to trying to find that difficult balance between loving and appreciating yourself and your body exactly as they are at this moment while also constantly striving to become a better, healthier version of yourself!

Reply

Jo April 27, 2012 at 4:49 am

So much of this post resonates for me and I experience healing even reading and hearing your story and recovery insights. Even though 10 yrs have passed and I’ve been a healthy weight – the thoughts, and the relationship I have to myself and body have taken longer to heal. Much appreciation to you for your ongoing sharing and inspiration xox

Reply

wendy (healthy girls kitchen) April 27, 2012 at 5:18 am

Oh my gosh. I am really LOLing right now. You have put in words what I have been wondering for months Gena. Seeing all of these fitspiration images on Pinterest, and I have been thinking all along, “Why are you pinning that? Why does that completely unattainable for most people image of a totally cut woman give you inspiration when almost no one ever looks like that?” But it NEVER occurred to me to have the same reaction when I see a photo of a generally slim (not waif like) person (without all of the muscles). Is it possible that I have bought into the “thin is possible/realistic/desirable” myth that the media inflicts upon us but I can’t even see it?

Reply

L April 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I think that while some molds can be dangerous to compare oneself to in a manner that belittles oneself, sometimes, at least for me, it can be fun to give myself a goal based on these pictures. I have had eating disorders in the past, but by no means have I had one in over 2 years, maintaining a healthy weight, and I rather liked my smaller body–and while the strong images are a good reminder for me personally to tone up in a healthy way, it’s only the scrawny model images remind me of unhealthier approaches, although maybe that’s because I’m already naturally small in comparison to the average person. I do carry all of my weight in my belly–to the point where separate, various people in past occasions have asked me if I’ve been/was pregnant (I’ve never), so that can be very disheartening and flat stomach images can be a bit triggering, but other than that I do enjoy having healthy goals, and as my arthritis pains go away with the new medication I switched to (because although all my other health problems have drifted away, I’ve been finding more and more that healthy diet alone isn’t enough with this disease–I experimented with natural only and suffered some consequences), I’m looking forward to being able to exercise again–something I whole-heartedly enjoy and have never used in a self-deprecating manner. I think it depends on who you are and how you view things. I’m such a different girl from the one I was 2 years ago.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: