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Body Image... Ugh.
December 8, 2008 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Tips for improving persistently miserable body image? Warning: emo.

This is sort of hard to write and explain.

I have, overall, GREAT self-esteem. I accomplish things in a fashion I can be proud of, mostly, I have healthy relationships, etc. I've been in therapy on and off several times, and I feel highly self-actualized. I mostly can control how I feel about myself. I am all successfully post-CBT for generalized anxiety, could that work for body image too?

BUT my body image just always makes me miserable unless I'm like, actively defeating the thing about it that bothers me (my weight). Unless I'm dropping a pound a week, I am in a state of "don't think about it you're fabulous don't think about it you're fabulous don't think about it OH GOD SOB SOB SOB."

There has never been a time when I didn't feel like my body was the worst problem in my life. I remember being called fatso in the schoolyard at preschool, in fact. I always fear that my weight is the source of unseen social judgments. Of course, there has been plenty of input from the outside world to confirm that yes, I am overweight but nothing unusually cruel. Really, I probably shouldn't think that this is constantly threatening to make me a pariah and prove me unlovable, despite all evidence to the contrary, but I do. These fears remain. And I'm almost thirty. The weakness of it makes me kind of sick.

I want, more than an anything, to show how powerful and capable I am by being in charge of this, by having that determination and control to either FIX the weight or FIX my head, but so far, I am not, not to my satisfaction. I feel like a failure for not being able to, and I have to SEE this failure on me as fat that I think makes me LOOK like a loser. Do I see other overweight people as losers? No, not really. But I think a lot of people do. I seriously have been thinking that it's making a bad impression on my new grad school classmates, for example. I dunno, that's probably crazy.

So, I'm not asking for tips on staying on a good diet. I'm asking for tips on fighting this fear and self-hate that has had me in tears now and then, and not infrequently, for over 20 years. My mother still hates her body, too. I don't want to do this forever. I don't want to stay on the rollercoaster. I would like to stabilize my body image, and accept my body as it is. HELP!!

I've been to Weight Watchers, they don't really address the body image.

I've been in therapy and not really addressed body image, what work could be done there for this? I can't imagine.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur to Health & Fitness (56 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
another perspective you might want to consider, if you'd like to stop beating yourself with a large club, can be found at Shapely Prose. I am a member of the beating-with-blunt-object club so I do not judge.
posted by micawber at 1:57 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am by being in charge of this, by having that determination and control to either FIX the weight or FIX my head

I won't pretend to have a total solution for you, but I've had great success in just chilling out over my body image over the years. I fight with the same body issues as you do, and while I still care about them, these days I care a lot LESS.

It seems to me that there's some relief to be had in setting the bar lower than "I will completely fix this issue".

The weakness of it makes me kind of sick.

The idea that people are, or are even supposed to be, completely in control of every aspect of their lives is both laughable and the source of much suffering.
posted by tkolar at 2:11 PM on December 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


So, I'm not asking for tips on staying on a good diet. I'm asking for tips on fighting this fear and self-hate that has had me in tears now and then, and not infrequently, for over 20 years.

You aren't having those feelings because of your weight or body image. Your weight and body image is because of the fear. Dieting is pointless unless you address the self-image problem underlying the feelings of self-loathing.

First, stop thinking about what other people are thinking. Most of the time people are looking for someone, anyone, they think is slightly worse off than them so they can roll the shit a bit further downhill (from their point of view).

You might need to get back into therapy and work on these feelings.

My mother still hates her body, too.

What a surprise. These things have a tendency of getting passed on even if the problems aren't genetic. Having absolutely no idea about your lifestyle, but hearing that you are constantly fighting your weight, leads me to suspect that you have an unhealthy, emotional relationship to food, i.e. you may have some food addiction. Do you look forward to meals as a high point or defining part of the day? When you eat is it mostly comfort type foods? Would you describe your feeling as you are eating as being euphoric, or more numbing. In other words, do you find that you never think about the problems bringing you to tears when you are eating? Do you micromanage and rationalize your food?

These are questions to get you thinking about how you think about food. You need to develop an internal critic about this. Do the same for exercise and physical activity.

The reality is that if you have a food addiction or some other psychological problem involving food, addressing this is paramount. As you make progress on the root problems, it becomes surprisingly easy to incorporate a 30-minute workout 3 times a week into your lifestyle. But this kind of behavior modification require you to understand what behavior you currently have that needs modifying.

As an aside, I think women have a harder time with this then men because their mothers start in early with the "watch your figure"/"just lose five pounds"/"you want to attract a man" bullshit. Mothers are the primary enforcers of society's demonization of fatness.

In other words, get ye to a therapist.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:11 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I am in a state of "don't think about it you're fabulous don't think about it you're fabulous don't think about it OH GOD SOB SOB SOB."

God, I thought that was called being female. The bad news is, I'm not sure you really get over it so much as it can become less frequent. The things that have helped me get over my body image issues, at least temporarily have been, frankly, sex and the realization that there are people out there who genuinely find me attractive, and having friends who are overweight and have positive body images. If you're hanging out with the skinny-but-always-on-a-diet-crowd, that's enough to make anyone scream.

Other than those rather lame suggestions, I have nothing but solidarity.
posted by threeturtles at 2:16 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel you, man oh man do I feel you. Most of the time, with various degrees of obsession and quietly destructive fuckedupness, I strive to be a tall willowy waif instead of short and sturdy and hearty-ish. It's funny, because I know that it would be physically impossible for me to look like that, no matter how much I weigh or don't weigh - which should be freeing, right? Wrong! Instead, it means that my perfectly-fine-for-my-frame size is just as bad as being twice the weight, since they're both hopelessly far from the ideal.

But! Occasionally, I do feel nearly completely comfortable and *happy* with myself - when I get to a place in my head that lets me look at my body as a good, useful tool that makes me strong and capable, and needs to be kept in working order. I'm no athlete, but running, rock climbing, diving, and other physical things I do can be really empowering this way - my thick thighs and calves aren't horrible tree trunks, but strong muscles (mostly) that help me run and jump; my pocket-size height makes me compact and fast; my squishiness keeps me warm in cold water. Not fat, strong, and I would disdain to be a wilting, delicate flower - grateful, even, that I'm not. It's hard to stay in that mindset past the run or wave or dive, but it's a start at least.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


I could have written this post. I was going to point you to Shapely Prose - maybe particularly start here and here. I am only barely exaggerating when I say that about a year and a half ago, that website saved my life. Check out Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata. STOP GOING TO WEIGHT WATCHERS. That place is like a pay-per-symptom eating disorder inculcation franchise. Also, maybe avoid BBW communities like Lard Biscuit - being a fetish object isn't exactly emotionally fortifying. If you want to see images of happy, stylish fat women, check out Fatshionista or the Adipositivity Project (NSFW). To the best of your ability, avoid nests of bullshit fat hatred (like the comments to the MeFi thread about the Adipositivity Project).

I could have written this post 18 months ago, but the cool thing is that I feel better now. The above mentioned resources helped, plus some other stuff that I'm not going to talk about here. Everything isn't perfect and I still have some bad days, but that constant internal bludgeoning is gone. It's GONE! You can email me about it if you want.
posted by jennyb at 2:24 PM on December 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


It helped me to start finding the beauty in the fat people I knew. Not the inner beauty; the outer beauty. Not in a fetishist kind of way, either, but like when you're talking to a close friend and you realize that you absolutely love their glasses or their haircut or their face, not because they're objectively beautiful but because they're a part of your friend. And when I could say, "S has a great laugh, and she is a wonderful storyteller, and her fashion sense is so whimsical, and also, she's fat," then -- 'fat' started to become just a neutral descriptive word.
posted by Jeanne at 2:25 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


You aren't having those feelings because of your weight or body image. Your weight and body image is because of the fear. Dieting is pointless unless you address the self-image problem underlying the feelings of self-loathing.

That's bullshit. Weight is not a symptom of mental disorder.
posted by jennyb at 2:25 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Big deal, you're fat. Me too. You're super hot. Let's make out.

You have everything - EVERYTHING - else going nearly perfectly your way. You seem to live something of a charmed life, in my opinion. If not therapy - perhaps something to remind you of some very valuable perspective is in order?

You know, if you were lean and thin and "perfect" - we might have never become friends. You would have been way too unapproachable and intimidating and "perfect" for me. This thing you loathe about yourself may be your greatest asset.
posted by loquacious at 2:32 PM on December 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh gods, I've been there, AV. I really have. Eventually, I just got sick and tired of obsessing about my body all the time. I found some great blogs on the internet like Shapely Prose, Fatshionista, and The Rotund, which all have amazingly funny, supportive, beautifull women.

I accepted some tenents about myself. Like,
1) for every negative thought someone else thinks about me, I think 100 negative thoughts about myself.
2) My body is wonderously functional, from a biological perspective. As a corrolary, it's not necessarily unhealthy to be fat, just as it's not necessarily healthy to be thin.
3) There will always be something "imperfect" about me. If I weighed 135 lbs, I'd still have mousy hair and bad teeth and weak ankles. It's the human condition - I will never look like the women in magazines. Furthermore - the women in magazines don't look like the women in magazines.

I tried to fall in love with one part of my body that I had previously been so mean to. One at a time, instead of tackling the whole thing. It takes some practice, to transform, "I hate my thighs" into, "My thighs are soft. My thighs are strong. My thighs jiggle when I laugh. The stretch marks feel smooth and alive. My thighs are good to me." and so on. I mean to say, it was really, incredibly hard to do this, but worthwhile.

Maybe it was easier for me to silence my Inner Critique of other women. You know, that monologue "She's way cuter than me.... at least I'm not as fat as THAT woman.... She needs to wear a bigger shirt...." Once I stopped that, I found I could go weeks before I even thought about my own weight. Any time I had one of those thoughts, I replaced it with one nice thing about that person. "I like her shoes... she must work very hard... she has a great smile..."

This isn't something that happens overnight. When I mess up, I can't criticise myself, because it just feeds into the self-dislike that got me here in the first place. This is tied into controlling behavior and perfectionism, so maybe you can work with your therapist on this?

Also, I stopped reading beauty magazines and watching television commercials. Fat hate is a personal problem, but also something that's created and fed by cultural transmitters.
posted by muddgirl at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


Yeah, you need to get hooked up with the size acceptance community, and maybe a therapist who specializes in eating disorders/body image (I'm not suggesting you have an eating disorder, but the body image piece normally goes along with it, and I think therapists who treat eating disorders are more likely to understand your issues with body image.)

There is a body image workbook with exercises in it.

There are also support groups for body image and/or fat ladies (I've been to both) that can be really helpful. I found support groups at a local eating disorders support center, and they were free and self-referred.

But really, reading books about feminism and fat acceptance is probably mainly what helped me the most. This is the one that really changed my mind about my body and weight struggles.

I had to come to an understanding that my body was not the problem, no matter what other people might think of it. My body belongs to me, and it does a million things for me every day that I take totally for granted at the same time as I worry that it doesn't look good enough. My job is to take care of it, and to learn to be happy with it, not to make sure other people find it beautiful at all times, in all ways.

Another thing that helps is looking at pictures of people of different shapes and sizes than are normally allowed to be considered "beautiful." And it helps to take some photographs of yourself and work on looking at them without judgment. In short, expand your definition of beautiful and acceptable. Work on figuring out why you see being fat as being a "loser."

And, while fat prejudice and discrimination are real, it's important to remember that people are often kinder in their assessments of others than you'd expect. Don't play mind-reader with strangers and colleagues...until you have evidence they think poorly of you, don't assume anything. And if you receive that evidence, there are a multitude of ways to go about raising their consciousness, because that's what the problem is -- their consciousness, not your body.
posted by peggynature at 2:37 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, and I stopped reading Metafilter comments on any post related to women :)
posted by muddgirl at 2:37 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


God, I thought that was called being female.

In my experience (and I'm active in the HAES and fat acceptance movements and do what I can to love my body and eat intuitively), all women, and a surprisingly large number of men, participate in exactly this kind of struggle on a daily basis; it's as if bodily self-loathing is just part and parcel of being a member of our society. I don't know how to overcome it completely. Even the most enlightened body positive women I know struggle with it at times. I'd definitely second Shapely Prose and also suggest you read The Obesity Myth (which I think was retitled "The Diet Myth" or something else awful like that) by Paul Campos and The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. I've found that being aware of why our society encourages us to self-loathe is the first step to nipping it in the bud before it brings me down completely.

Here's an anecdote that might make you feel like you're in good company, at least: the women in my graduate program do a yearly clothing exchange where we get our old clothes together and swap them. Before the exchange, there's usually a lot of hemming and hawing from just about everyone about how no one is going to fit into our clothing. We all seem to think we're the fattest girls in the room, or have the "most problematic" hips or boobs or bellies or whatever. In one way or another, we all feel like lumpy freaks. Well, the exchange was last night and, as usual, trying on other women's clothing was incredibly liberating and enlightening (and I hate trying on clothes in stores). There wasn't a single woman there who didn't go home without at least a few things, and most nabbed much more. I think part of the problem is that women of all sizes don't really talk about their size, and so we all assume our normal bodies--and normal is a huge range, mind you--are really freaky instead of being wonderful.

Which I'm sure yours is.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:40 PM on December 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


That's bullshit. Weight is not a symptom of mental disorder.
posted by jennyb at 5:25 PM on December 8


Alone? No. But I did say "weight and body image". And the OP very clearly mentioned a negative body-image, which is precisely a metal problem.

Read the post. "I want control...to be powerful...capable" "worst problem in my life..." "make me a pariah...and unlovable". Memories of the schoolyard. And Mother. This is what an intake looks like if the patient is very highly functioning, is bright, and insightful. In other words, its not a frustrating morass of denial, projection, blame, etc. that take a year to be broken down before getting a breakthrough that reads like this post.

It has nothing to do with actually being overweight. Objective reality is not at issue. At issue is the poster's subjective impressions of reality. Whether the OP actually weighs 90 or 290 is not relevant. It's that you (a) think you are overweight and then (b) immediately attach to it all this emotional baggage that is the tipoff that the weight is tied to something more fundamental. A functional emotional system says "I'm overweight. I am told this is a health problem. Therefore I will take action and follow through on it." We are breaking down on the take action part. Therefore the emotional system at least as it relates to food is out-of-order, i.e. disordered.

You can be fat and beautiful, sure. But if you THINK you are not beautiful even if you are you will have the problems the OP is having. No amount of saying "no, you really are beautiful" is going to change that, because the mind is unconvinced. I have no idea what the underlying problem is. It could be one scar or a thousand tiny cuts. But there is a problem. Sorry if I'm too blunt.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:41 PM on December 8, 2008


Oh yeah, and I stopped reading Metafilter comments on any post related to women :)

Don't do that! We need as many sane, body positive, feminist women as possible who are willing to speak up against bodily hatred least some poor teenage girl wander in and think she has to look like a Barbie doll to be beautiful!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:43 PM on December 8, 2008 [10 favorites]


Every woman I've ever dated, from the size 0's on up, has been obsessed with her weight. If my experience is any judge, you're perfectly, neurotically normal. It's a function of living in a society which aggressively fosters mutually incompatible images of bodily perfection.

I'm nobody to give advice, but I'll ask: instead of thinking about some standard to which you should be conforming, could you refocus your attention on feeling good in the body you have? Try more physical activity, more varied physical activity, and to develop a relationship to good nutrition that involves enjoyment of diverse foods prepared well instead of cycles of privation and guilt. All these things could help you ground yourself more fully in the body you've got, appreciate it for what it does and how it feels, and, parenthetically, could nudge you in the direction of healthier behavior patterns. Like I said, I'm no poster child, but when I'm feeling good about myself, that's what I'm doing.

Also, if the people you're involved with aren't telling you all the time how hot you are, and if you're not believing them, then something needs fixing there.
posted by felix betachat at 2:52 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Lots of really good-feeling answers already, I don't really know how much to respond to since I don't think this is really only about me, and I would like to keep it broad.

I think I'll add that, while being hit on is nice, it doesn't last. Even my longterm relationship (with an attractive and attracted fella) doesn't shake my inner notion of hideousness. This is a lot like being depressed, when you talk about it, people say "oh, don't be sad, blah blah blah you're so pretty be happy" but the words just can't get in. Just thought I'd make that clear. "I feel fat" is not always a call for people to compliment you, it's also a cry for help. Yeah, HELP!

Pastabagel, mmmm.... paaaasta.... thanks, yeah I have a not-normal relationship to food, but it isn't quite like that. I am a stress eater but I can be very very good about managing my diet. When I'm busy, lazy, and distracted, I slowly eat more and more at each meal, no longer paying attention to portions or calories. As to eating comfort foods? All foods are comfort foods! I love to cook and eat! But, as I've said, controlling the eating is one half of the problem, controlling the feeling is the half where I'm lost. I would RATHER be this size and happy about it than thin. Period.

So, answers that foreground how to get through my issues to manage the weight are really not what I need. I could tell you much, much more about what my issues are, and they're nothing very complex or unusual. I know, well, how to eat healthy and work out, even when I'm falling from the wagon, and I think being overweight all my life is a big strike against my metabolism, too. This is a harder question than that. On preview, you're now sort of agreeing with this perspective, but asserting that my being overweight is indeed a symptom of the body image stuff. I don't happen to agree, but I'm the, heh heh, intake patient, doc!

Also, just for the record, because I love them, women in my family actually never ever ever gave me grief about my figure, they just modeled this.

and micawber and mudpuppie: WOW, Shapely Prose has Ani singing a song that goes "There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Face." It reminds me, I don't live in hippie northern California anymore, I live in Southern California now. I may not read chick rags or watch commericals, but I'm not ingesting enough Ani and Bitch, etc. to counteract the body image pollution in LA. :)
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:59 PM on December 8, 2008


Not sure this will be helpful, but the way that I eventually made peace with my body image issues was by becoming convinced I could change my body if I really, really wanted to--and realizing that I wasn't willing to make those sacrifices.

Okay, bear with me here. From the time I was about 9 or 10, I intensely loathed my belly. Loathed it so bad that I would sit and stare at it in the mirror and whisper angry things to it. (NOT CRAZY.) It got more intense as I was a teenager, and I became convinced that my body would be PERFECT if only I didn't have that damn belly. That Kate Harding blog post about the Fantasy of Being Thin hits some notes, oh yes it does. Then, at some point in my early 20s, I realized that if I really really wanted to, I could diet myself into a flat belly. I mean, I've always been an overachiever, and I knew enough women with either sufficiently disordered eating or actual anorexia to be familiar with the mechanics of how one can lose a lot of weight beyond what the body's set point is. I just... convinced myself, I guess, that if I wanted it bad enough I could change it. But I thought through *exactly* what that would mean, what exactly would be required for me to actually do that--and in my case, it would take near-anorectic eating habits and a near-total level of attention to exactly what I ate all.the.time, as the ole Buddha Belly remains even when I'm relatively skinny--and I just thought, "You know what? I like my beer. I like eating as many of my veggie fajitas as I can make. I don't want to be someone who is always anxious around food, and spends that much time thinking about it. I don't want to live like I would have to live in order to change this piece of me; it's not worth it."

And boom! That was it. It was bizarre--I basically went from being insanely self-conscious about it and feeling waves of revulsion whenever I'd catch a glance of myself nude to just being okay with it, in the space of a few weeks. I could change it if I was willing to make all sorts of crazy sacrifices and devote 90% of my brainpower (and a fair chunk of my happiness) to being obsessive about it, and on balance, that's not worth it. As soon as I recognized that it's an actual choice I'm making--and gave up the fantasy that there's any magic fairy-dust that will come down and change any one piece of my life without affecting any of the other parts--I realized I was okay with my choice.

I've come to believe that this type of unhappiness, the kind we get when we feel unsatisfied with ourselves--not only with weight, which a lot of women struggle with, but also with things like feeling we don't measure up in how much money we make, or how nice our house is, or whatever--arises when we fail to explicitly recognize the choices we've made to be who we are, right now. They arise when we want to convince ourselves that we could take just one little piece of our life and change it, keeping the rest of our life the same, which is really just failing to recognize that everything in life is trade-offs. Being okay with the trade-offs you've made--which requires actually recognizing them as conscious choices you've made--is the key to taking the sting out of the disappointment that life isn't perfect and we can't have everything we want.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2008 [35 favorites]


the first thing I can think of is: actively boycott and avoid mass media depictions of women. I don't mean to avoid going to the movies or watching tv, necessarily, but rather keep away from magazine racks at supermarkets and bodegas. do not watch tmz tv or The Soup. Avoid all gossip and tabloid related web sites. Don't go out of your way to watch ads. Even though you're smart enough to know what's up with these depictions and to refute them in your head, things like that have a subconscious and conscious effect no matter how much you can intellectually, and perhaps even emotionally, put them aside. The end result would hopefully be that the fewer reminders you have of how shallow people can overly and cruelly criticize women (and it seems like the powerlessness associated with how others view fat people is part of what bothers you) will the less often that nagging voice in the back of your mind will heckle you on their behalf.

as far as therapy, if you choose to see a therapist, you'd be surprised how simple it can be to get the ball rolling on any topic you want. It's really as easy as saying "look, I have issues with my body. what the fuck do I do?" it's their job, and if they're competent they can help you get started talking about it and working on it with ease. they'll immediately help you start talking about it in whatever way you're comfortable with, and that includes helping you figure out what ways you're comfortable with. The pressure is really not on you in therapy. You say what you want how you want to say it. They work with you. If they don't, don't be afraid to find another therapist who will. There are plenty of them for it.

Take care of yourself. I'm sure you know this isn't a problem with you, but in case it helps to hear it: For realz, this is not a problem with you. This is not a problem with you.
posted by shmegegge at 3:03 PM on December 8, 2008


Oh, shoulda previewed! Damn.

I totally second shmegegge and muddgirl that eliminating your exposure to mass media depictions of women, plus working on silencing any inner-bitchy-critic of other woman thing you might have going on, helps so very very much.

The attitude change I had about my body was so influenced by the fact that I was in a small college without a lot (almost any, actually) access to television or movies or glossy magazines, and a campus that had a sufficiently crunchy feel that I got used to seeing hairy armpits and no makeup on women. That environment really helped me detach from the totally-unrealistic ideal I had carried around in my head for a decade; absent that environment, I'm not sure that I could have felt so certain about my choice that I was okay with a softer body because it wasn't worth the crazy discipline and hunger I'd have to endure to change it. You might not be able to enroll in a hippy college, but I bet you could try a month-long blackout of all mass media + being aware of catching yourself if you find yourself making uncharitable comments in your head about other women.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:21 PM on December 8, 2008


Print out a copy of this post (just what you wrote, not the comments) and stick it some place where you'll see it often. Your attitude here is far more realistic than it is during the down moments, and anything you can do to remind yourself of your own rationality is a good thing. Nobody's gonna be better at convincing you your body image is good than you.

That being said, it helps to have a friend who will tell you all these things on the phone too. Don't underestimate how much other people want to help you.

Good luck!
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:23 PM on December 8, 2008


iminurmefi wrote...
Not sure this will be helpful, but the way that I eventually made peace with my body image issues was by becoming convinced I could change my body if I really, really wanted to--and realizing that I wasn't willing to make those sacrifices.

I had a similar experience a few years ago. I had about six months spent stress free and able to concentrate; I was able to diet quite rigorously and lost a ton of weight.

Then I went back to work. I love my work, I even love the stress that comes with it, but like you I'm a stress eater. As much as I wish it wasn't so, poor diet is the price of doing what I love.
posted by tkolar at 3:30 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just want to nth The Fantasy of Being Thin from Kate Harding. It sums up the epiphany I had about 9 years ago, when I was nearing 30, and feeling stuck in my career and relationship. I mean... I was fat so that was the root of all my problems, right? But after one more dieting/regaining adventure (Adkins, woohoo), I decided to say "fuck it". All the energy (and money) I was putting into angst, dieting, and self-loathing could be channeled into, you know, actually fulfilling my dreams.

So in the last 9 years, I moved to NYC, worked for some of the most esteemed organizations in the US, made wonderful friends, found a rent stabilized apartment in Chelsea, and have the most wonderful man in the world as my partner. All while 250lbs (or more). Are there days that I still get a little squicky when I look in the mirror? Absolutely, but everyone has those, even the supermodels.

And let me also applaud the comments in this thread. When I started lurking on Mefi about 4 years ago, one of the few failings was that it was an ugly fat-phobic place to be when the issue of weight came up. Holy cow, what a turn around.
posted by kimdog at 3:42 PM on December 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


And let me also applaud the comments in this thread. When I started lurking on Mefi about 4 years ago, one of the few failings was that it was an ugly fat-phobic place to be when the issue of weight came up. Holy cow, what a turn around.

That's what I was thinking, too. I would like to personally shake everyone's hand.
posted by peggynature at 4:03 PM on December 8, 2008


I've made this suggestion before, I think, but here goes again: become an artist's model. You can even earn money while you're reclaiming your body image!

When I was younger, I worked as a nude figure model for art classes. I just called up the art department at a few local colleges, and found work that way. It was great to see my body turned into art. I'd spent lots of time on the other side of the platform before I did this, so it was comforting to remember just how objectively I saw the models I was working from. Yes, every bump and ripple will be recorded, but the students are much more worried about getting you on paper and making it look good than judging you. In fact, beginners tend to prefer models with a few extra pounds - they're easier to draw! If you're thinking that it's something that only starving young artists get to do, think again: my friend's mom, who is almost 60, a breast cancer survivor, and a Ph.D. loves it.

If you don't like getting nekkid, call up the photography department. I've seen pictures of you, and I can tell you right now that you'd make a fantastic subject for portraits.

Modeling for students isn't about fitting some bullshit standard - it's about letting other people work overtime to squeeze out every little bit of beauty they can find in you. That can be a very, very powerful experience for those of us who grow up thinking that beauty is something that other people have, or something that we have to work hard to acquire.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:22 PM on December 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


Ugh, I have similar issues that you do, except I tend to waffle between "Oh, I'm fat, whatever, who cares" and "ZOMG FAT LIKE GODZILLA". Just depends on the day, the outfit, the lighting or the angle :)

I read a lot of the blogs mentioned above. I try to do things that make ME feel good - stupid things like wearing a different color eyeshadow or curlling my hair. One thing I've been trying to do (but have only done twice because I am nervous about it) is to wear more dresses out and about, because they make me feel feminine and girly instead of The Incredible Hulk. But then, of course, crazy body image girl rears up and thinks, "Your arms, they are the size of Kansas" so I immediately switch back to normal jeans/t-shirt.

This sounds really weird, but I also occasionally have naked time. Naked time is where I stand in front of a mirror for 5 minutes and look at myself. I still get the oogy, please-don't-look-at-my-fat-roll cringe when I'm naked in front of other people, but I am much more comfortable with myself.

Good luck <3
posted by kerning at 4:30 PM on December 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Celexa is used to treat anxiety and/or body dysmorphic disorder. I've been on it for a month now, and it works. I'm kinda doughy. Not obese, but definitely overweight, and it's bugged me for years. I am otherwise in great physical condition (at least, according to the last battery of tests I took).

Anyhow, it actually works two ways for me: it's suppressed my appetite such that I'm losing weight, and it levels my anxiety. I feel better than I have in decades.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:58 PM on December 8, 2008


I just have to second (or third?) iminurmefi. Earlier this year, for the first time in my life, I dieted. Embarrassingly, it was for my wedding, which is something I never thought I'd do and god DAMN it's almost unbelievable to even think that I'd consider doing such a thing. I didn't get to the point of buying a too-small dress or anything, but I very obsessively counted calories and tracked every damn thing I ate and drank. I was successful - I lost weight, looked "better" than I thought I could, and people complimented me on it. (I've been exercising for a few years now, so that wasn't something I needed to start doing.)

But I was miserable, and even worse to my eager-to-please self, miserable to be around. My mind was full of constant calorie counting and food analyzing, and thus it became the only thing I talked about. As an example, I posted an entire page to my blog about the dilemma of what beer to drink, which involved an entire weekend afternoon of research to try to determine the best drunk-making + flavor : calorie ratio.

God, what a fucking mistake dieting was. After gaining back some of what I had lost while I was traveling for work and just didn't have healthy food options, I gave up in despair. I quickly went back to my set weight.

For a while, it was worse than ever before. Before, I could tell myself that my ass and thighs were genetic, and no amount of diet/exercise would make them smaller. Dieting taught me that I was wrong, I could get smaller if I just tried hard enough, which lead to a spiral of shame and self loathing. But then, slowly, I came to grips with just what iminurmefi was talking about - it just wasn't worth it. The cost - obsession and being unpleasant company and a complete rearranging of my life, in addition to not being able to enjoy fancy cheeses and delicious microbrews - was *so* not worth the benefit of being thinner.

I still have moments when I look down at my thighs and wish the stretch marks or the cellulite (which didn't go away when I lost weight anyway) weren't there. But every day it gets a little bit easier to brush away the emotions that accompany those thoughts with a quick "It's worth it because these here childbearing hips allow me to be the person I should be - a lucky woman with great friends and a wonderful husband; a woman that enjoys life and shares that joy with those around her."
posted by misskaz at 5:17 PM on December 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Try getting in shape. I don't mean lose weight per se, but just work on building your strength and endurance, doesn't have to be anything heavy. But the way you can physically feel after training your body to run a bit faster and longer and be stronger is FUCKING INCREDIBLE, it's like walking around with permanent high, which gives you a lot more confidence and general feel good vibes about yourself.

This worked well for me and no, I don't have six pack abs or anything close to it, but I feel great and that shows in my body language. It also helped me comes to terms with the fact that I have a large body and that's just the way I'm built. I will never, ever be skinny (professionals tell me I probably shouldn't weight less than about 220 'cause I'll look sickly thin) and that's perfectly fine. It's not important that I be thin, just that I be healthy and work with what I got.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:50 PM on December 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm going to nth several of the cognitive techniques here - actively enumerating the things you like about your body, evaluating for what it can do not just how it looks at a given moment, and finding ways to derail the inner self-deprecating.

It may sound silly, but literally talking aloud when you catch yourself wandering down the "OH GOD MY THIGHS" path and telling yourself, "I'm not going to do this. I can walk five damn miles in these legs..." Unlearning destructive patterns.

The same goes for the desire to exact iron-fisted control. You're bright and strong-willed, no question about that - but it leads you to being punishingly cruel to yourself when you can't live up to your standards. It's time to really examine those and see if maybe they're unreaslistic. Learning to accept - "No, it's not perfect, but it's pretty good because..." is a much healthier place to.
posted by canine epigram at 5:51 PM on December 8, 2008


I can't add anything as wise as the other responses...but- I have a practical tip for feeling good: take care of and pamper your skin. All over your body. Loofah in the shower and moisturize- pamper yourself with lotions. It's invigorating and sensual- Any insecurities I have about my shape are greatly lessened when my skin feels soft and smooth- in and out of my clothes.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 5:57 PM on December 8, 2008


I am all successfully post-CBT for generalized anxiety, could that work for body image too?

i would think so. it sounds like this is all about your internal dialogue about your weight, and CBT could help address that.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:07 PM on December 8, 2008


I think the CBT could still help as well. In fact, I wouldn't say you're totally post-CBT yet, as you still have this one remaining issue that's totally susceptible to the technique. I'd look more into the stuff about how you set up your self-esteem based on the approval (often only imagined) of others. For example, say someone really did look down on you because of your appearance: why would that actually be a problem? etc. (There are plenty of examples like this in the Burns books.) Your guessing at your classmates' opinions seems like a clear "mind-reading fallacy", for example.

You have to buy into the validity of the judgment before it can hurt you. And that tendency is something you can dismantle mentally.
posted by dixie flatline at 6:55 PM on December 8, 2008


Try getting in shape. I don't mean lose weight per se, but just work on building your strength and endurance, doesn't have to be anything heavy. But the way you can physically feel after training your body to run a bit faster and longer and be stronger is FUCKING INCREDIBLE, it's like walking around with permanent high, which gives you a lot more confidence and general feel good vibes about yourself.

I second this, but I will take it a step further: it DOES have to be heavy. Find something physical that you enjoy doing and do the hell out of it. Lift weights, bike, run, be in the roller derby, take up karate, whatever you can find that is enjoyable and that you can imagine really pushing yourself at (for the goal of that thing, NOT for the goal of weight loss). Going through the motions at the gym is probably not going to do much for you. Set goals and beat the shit out of them. Your body is capable of doing amazing things and you can really feel amazing when you make your goals.

I have the occasional body image issue days. But I can't hate on my body too long when I remind myself regularly of all the things it can do and the ways it is capable of growing, even as I start to age out of the "prime" of (athletic) life. I was never an athlete at all growing up and I hate team sports but the zen satisfaction of lifting more than twice my body weight off the ground, or sprinting faster than I ever thought was possible has done great things for this woman.
In short: get out of your head, and into your body.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:03 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I second this, but I will take it a step further: it DOES have to be heavy.

To be clear, I meant you don't have to shoot for six pack abs or for specific body type/image. Otherwise, yeah, push yourself, it's incredible what you'll find yourself able to do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:37 PM on December 8, 2008


Echoing the posters who are talking about exercise and lifting heavy weights. Find something you enjoy, be it lifting weights, cardio kickboxing, going out dancing, doing x amount of push ups at home.

I would recommend working with a personal trainer, at least to get started... find a trainer who you trust and respect. Someone who's going to be instructive and encouraging, not shouty or gung-ho in ways you don't like.

Here is the important thing though: Exercise is mood medicine. it doesn't have to be fun and easy, you don't have to want to do it. It's not about the way exercise changes your body, though being stronger is neat, it's about exercise changing your mind. Endorphins are a free shot of happy chemicals that you get by moving your muscles. So it short-circuits the brain chemicals fueling self-loathing thoughts.
posted by SaharaRose at 8:01 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've met you several times in real life, AV, and I see you as a big curvy girl with occasionally bright pink hair. You're not an amorphous blob - you have a nice shape that curves in and out in the right places. So here's my suggestion: spend a day or two primping for the camera. Dress up and use all the fashion photographer's cheats you can manage, and I bet you'll be surprised by how good you look in the pictures. Then you might find you feel a little better about your body.

I say this because it happened to me. I'm sort of your opposite, a small skinny stick with no boobs, no hips, bad hair, etc, and while I'm not terribly concerned with my appearance I generally don't like it. But I wanted to photograph some stuff I'm trying to sell in my Etsy store and I don't have anybody to model it for me, so I put on a padded bra, sucked in the pot belly, stuck a hip out, pulled the blouse tighter with clothespins, and cropped out the big nose and bad hair. Totally fake, and no way could I actually walk down the street like that, but you know what? I look pretty damn hot. And it's really me in those pictures, despite all the cheats, so I know that if I wanted to make a huge effort and spend lots of money and be really uncomfortable, I could probably look pretty hot in real life too. And then I just laugh and think it's totally not worth it, and feel a little better about the body I actually live in.

I wonder if there's something about the allure of the impossible versus the inconvenience of the difficult - I yearn for things I totally can't have, but I'm not willing to make a huge effort to get things that are slightly out of reach. Once something moves from impossible to merely inconvenient, it's not so alluring any more.

So grab a camera and a friend and conjure up your own glamor and beauty through the magic of digital photography. Realize that you can look totally hot, but maybe it's just more work than you're willing to put in, and maybe you'll feel a little better about yourself. Best wishes and a big internet hug, too!
posted by Quietgal at 8:18 PM on December 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Your body is beautiful. In fact, your body is awesome.
Your body does incredible things every day, every moment of every day.
Your body is full of goodness and health. Your body is so wonderful it even has reserves of energy on hand.
Your body is unique. There is no other body like yours.
Your body, along with your story, is the only thing you can really and truly call your own.
I've never seen your body, yet I love it. Because it exists. Because underneath all the confusion you love it too.
Embrace yourself.
posted by Kerasia at 1:17 AM on December 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


I love this thread, I love that you didn't post anonymously, and I know where you're coming from.

I'm mostly here taking notes for myself, but one thing that helps me is exercise - not because it changes my body, but because without even trying, it gets me thinking of my body as strong, as bone and tendon and muscle and blood oxygen levels. I see myself getting faster and stronger, outstripping people who look fitter and healthier (to me and my internalised fatphobia), and by the time I finish I'm entirely distracted from the usual "don't think about it you're fabulous don't think about it you're fabulous don't think about it OH GOD SOB SOB SOB".
posted by carbide at 1:54 AM on December 9, 2008


Hi AV,
I didn't read any other comments in this thread (not cause I'm an asshole, just because I was ready to answer, and I don't want to read a better answer from somebody else).
First up, your username is one I usually stop scrolling to read a comment from - I think you are genuine and witty. And, of course, I still think that if you feel a bit fat.
When I was young I used to also worry about body image stuff. Since then I've been skinnier and fatter, but pretty much realised it doesn't matter.
Without saying count your blessings, it sounds, and everything I have ever read from you indicates, you are pretty great. Maybe as great as you can reasonably expect to be?
As I get older, I kind of find there are lots of other things to spend energy on - in my case kids suck up a lot, and it becomes a case that worries that used to be paramount, well, at least major, become more incidental.
I still think I need more exercise, and feel morally strong if I take a small slice of cake, but I also feel pretty good if I take a big one. And really, truly, someone could tease or goad me and it would be water off a duck's back. I just feel more comfortable in my own inadequate skin, because everyone's skin is a bit inadequate .
I remember my Dad trying to say something similar when I was an awkward teen.
I wonder about my own kids (oldest is 7) and if there is any way to help them grow into themselves quicker, or at least with less anguish, but I kind of think it takes some time and experience.
Now I'm going back to read the other comments!
posted by bystander at 4:53 AM on December 9, 2008


Even my longterm relationship (with an attractive and attracted fella) doesn't shake my inner notion of hideousness. This is a lot like being depressed, when you talk about it, people say "oh, don't be sad, blah blah blah you're so pretty be happy" but the words just can't get in.

There are a lot of really good comments here. I just wanted to touch on this aspect, which (as the partner of a person who has gone through similar body issues to you, but managed to mostly come out the other side) I feel competent to address.

You are right, it is just like depression. And one of the ways it is just like depression is the disconnection from reality. Recognizing that doesn't magically fix the problem, but it's a good beginning step.

In the same way that most depressed people's lives aren't actually objectively worthless and awful, you have outside, independent confirmation -- in the words and actions of your "attractive and attracted" partner -- that your body image issues are anchored in a false perception of your attractiveness.

If you kind of like and trust your partner, I think you need to find a way to actually hear what he is saying on this. Rejecting his perception of you as beautiful and hot is just as rude as it would be if you yelled at him for his bad taste in literature.

I like the advice about finding things to do with your body that are intensely physical -- that feels good, and empowering both literally and metaphorically. But at the same time, find ways to reconnect with your partner, and really listen and trust what he is saying. He's providing you with the gift of a perspective on your body that is not filtered through the baggage of your mother's body issues, or all the ways in which women judge each other's appearances.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on December 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


AV, Thank you, thank you for posting this question. Long story short, I too have my own body issues, and the discussion here has been amazingly valuable. I'm printing this out, and keeping it close to help me on the tough days.
posted by lucyleaf at 7:24 AM on December 9, 2008


i've said it previously on mefi, so i'm fine saying it again here: i am very fat. HURF DURF, even. on the fatshionista blog i am referred to as "supersize". i am one of the few "extended sizes" members of that group. i hate my body A LOT. but i hate it less than i used to, mostly because of the fatshionista community. not because they helped me learn to like my fat, but rather because i learned to see other fats in a positive light. i used to eyeroll and snark at fat people on the streets of philly, but now i can see that there are attractive, put-together, beautiful women who are fat. and that was a big step towards hating myself a little less. so, basically, i'm nthing what other have said: check out some of the fat positive blogs--one that posts pictures--and appreciate the attractiveness of others who are your size or larger. it may help you appreciate yourself more.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:13 AM on December 9, 2008


I've been wrestling with body image myself. I thought I had conquered the negative voice in my twenties, more or less. I had a good decade or so of mostly loving my body, whatever my shape or size.

Then two years ago, I suffered an injury that makes physical activity --- structured exercise, long walks, running, dancing, sex --- more challenging a good deal of the time. Inevitably, I put on weight. Sex compounds the emotional effect of all this: I not only struggle with the idea that being heavier makes me less attractive, but with the alarming feeling that I am less sexual than I used to be. I'm struggling to get past these painful bouts of self-disdain.

One personal circumstance that shapes how I view thinnness: I've seen several loved ones suffer from wasting illnesses, which seems to have permanently disabled my eye's association of "thin" with "healthy." It's helpful to be able to read plumpness as an index of well-being. (I know thinness is natural and healthy for some people. I also know that's not nearly as common as our cultural cues tell us.)

I wrote about some of this --- about body image, beauty, fatness, self-love --- a while ago. Here's an excerpt from that writing:
My determination not to vilify my own body was cemented by my first partner's illness and death from AIDS, and my father's decline from emphysema and a constellation of smoking-related maladies. I watched both of them waste away, their bodies increasingly frail and skeletonized, and I fully internalized the truth: your body is a machine to carry you through this world. If it stays reasonably strong and performs daily tasks with little complaint, you are one of the rare lucky people with a perfect body. Enjoy it. Celebrate it.
...

It seems appropriate that this reflection roughly coincides with a celebration of the Woman of Willendorf, the profoundly rounded figurine you see above. It She was discovered in August of 1908: it's her 100th anniversary, though of course her private history began perhaps 25,000 years ago.

In 1908, she was dubbed "the Venus of Willendorf," a winking misnomer that seduces the viewer into making comparisons between the Willendorf figure and the classical Venus of antiquity and the Renaissance. The classical Venus was both erotic and demure, making a (necessarily failed) attempt to cover herself, thus perfectly displaying her attributes to the male gaze.

By contrast, the Woman of Willendorf gloriously displays her sexual characteristics: lavish breasts, belly, and buttocks swell to meet the hand and eye. More than that, her prominent navel and labia proclaim that it is not mere erotic beauty on display here, but fertility. She is not a sex object; she is female sexuality itself.

Her very fatness is a fantasy. Consider how unlikely a figure she would be in her presumed culture of origin: in our current understanding of gatherer-hunter subsistence modes, such lushness of frame would be a practical impossibility for most women. Her lavish rolls and swells suggest ample resources at her disposal, prominent among them food and leisure.

...

Though I conjecture that she is an object of fantasy, and perhaps a fertility symbol, the art historian in me admits the simple truth. We know little about the Willendorf figurine: her origin, her cultural purpose, her maker.

I do know she's lovely. Those curves, the oval form punctuated with carved swells and valleys, the sense of luscious mass packed into that small shape --- it all makes my hands ache to hold her, to feel the grainy texture of her shape in my cupped palm.

She's beautiful.

I am beautiful.

And so are you. Yes, you.

If you can't see it, look closer.
posted by Elsa at 8:23 AM on December 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hello, fellow traveler! I was so embarrassed and perplexed by my body that I didn't even mention it in my first two rounds of therapy; like you, I did a lot of cognitive-behavioral stuff for the anxiety and depression, but at the end of it I still had my body. I felt like my self was entirely brain-based, and was carted about by a physical being I neither understood nor particularly liked. Although I had been an athlete in my younger years, it was all cerebral stuff like golf and synchronized swimming. A few years ago, I lost 80+ pounds on supervised liquid fasting and promptly gained it back - not because I wanted to eat, but because I had not realized all my coping strategies were intimately bound by food, and because much of my identity was tied to being so good at things that people would have to acknowledge me even though I was morbidly obese.

This year, something happened, whether it was therapy, or rejoining the Y and finding unexpected delight in what my body can do (yes, lift big weights - our bodies are strong from years of carrying us), or the life-coaching work, or just a slow awareness that I can inhabit this body in hatred and sickness or I can inhabit it in joy and surprise. Something clicked, so much so that I am moving toward a career working with people similarly disassociated from their bodies.

That said, I found particular bookish help from Geneen Roth and Martha Beck (particularly Four-Day Win). I stay far away from popular magazines - their airbrushed perfections and monthly New Best Diet Ever. I had my metabolism tested to determine a calorie range that's right for me, and while I think the basic plan of WW/SouthBeach/SparkPeople are healthy and decent, I do not participate in the message boards because there's a lot of disordered thinking there. Also, as forktine said, let your partner in, and listen to him. Don't let your own story about your body deafen you to what he says.

You are a strong, powerful woman in mind and body, even if you're not convinced of the latter part yet. Don't focus on the fix: it's a process, not a state change.
posted by catlet at 9:22 AM on December 9, 2008


A timely essay from one of my favorite people in the whole world, Kate Harding of Shapely Prose: Dear Oprah.
We are all still working on it. Even me, even people who have been waving the fat acceptance banner for decades longer than I have....

Some days, you feel like it would be so much easier to take on that old part-time job again — especially when you’ve done it so many times, for so many years, you could do it in your sleep. All you have to do is carve out three or four hours a day to exercise more vigorously, obsess about what you’re going to eat next, and prepare it; stop listening to your body and only pay attention to your food plan and workout schedule; cut out some hobbies and social time to make room for the job; ... and — most importantly — continue to believe with a religious fervor that your body is an ugly, hateful thing that must be punished and diminished. As long as you really believe that, the rest isn’t so hard to keep up, once you get used to it (again).

Some days, all that sounds a hell of a lot easier than resisting the messages — especially when you think of all the praise you’ll get once you’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight ... How proud and in control you’ll feel — again, for a few minutes at a time, for as long as it’s working. How much better people will treat you, as long as there’s less and less of you. I totally get that.

But I stopped giving in to it.
posted by muddgirl at 11:07 AM on December 9, 2008


This is a good thread.

I was much happier years ago when I decided to stop busting my ass trying to make everyone else happy, and started making myself happy instead. Yeah, I'm a big guy. I like big girls. That doesn't mean I hate skiny folks; everyone I know gets an equal-opportunity chance to prove they're not an asshole.

I just find that the non-skinny folks are more likely to be impulsive and go eat Greek food with me at the 24-hour place at 3 in the morning. 8-)
posted by mrbill at 1:44 PM on December 9, 2008


I am a very short size 16. For me my body image is more about how happy I am about what my body can do. It's been lived in, given birth to three children, carried me places...see where I am going? It's not about it being eye candy for someone else (altho to my husband I am just cuz I am me) but instead it's about me appreciating my unique body just as it is.

I didn't start feeling this way till I started exercising, for some reason, but feeling better and feeling fitter really enabled me to appreciate this body of mine in a whole new way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:31 AM on December 10, 2008


iminurmefi said: Not sure this will be helpful, but the way that I eventually made peace with my body image issues was by becoming convinced I could change my body if I really, really wanted to--and realizing that I wasn't willing to make those sacrifices.

That's exactly the thought pattern I went through. I know *how* to be thin. I danced ballet, I know what it is to live on a container of yogurt and celery each day.

Never again. I'd rather be able to eat cake at my son's birthday, or have a Snickers without feeling like I need to be chased through the streets of Palermo by a torch wielding mob. I'm fat. I know I'm fat. I don't really care that I'm fat. I wish other people didn't care that I was fat, but since none of them that do are my doctor, my husband or my friends...meh.

I wish there were better clothes for big women though. Seriously, everywhere I've shopped recently, there were a zillion size 1 dresses, and almost every size above 14 that wasn't hideous was sold out. Could designers please stop pretending we want to wear giant floral print mumus, and could buyers please buy enough clothes for the demographic?
posted by dejah420 at 1:37 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


My self-esteem has gone way up since I started reading the body-positive blogs everyone's linked above, like Shapely Prose, Big Fat Blog, Bombshell Beauty, and many more.

If you ever feel overwhelmed by this obesity crisis nonsense, Junkfood Science has a lot of great posts on it.

Does anyone know of the link to that Flickr set where it shows girls and women who are, by BMI standards, overweight or obese, but look downright skinny in some cases?

FWIW, AV, I have seen your pictures and I think you're beautiful. Looking at your pictures, "fat" is not a word that even enters my mind.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:17 AM on December 11, 2008


Some days, you feel like it would be so much easier to take on that old part-time job again — especially when you’ve done it so many times, for so many years, you could do it in your sleep. All you have to do is carve out three or four hours a day to exercise more vigorously, obsess about what you’re going to eat next, and prepare it; stop listening to your body and only pay attention to your food plan and workout schedule; cut out some hobbies and social time to make room for the job; ... and — most importantly — continue to believe with a religious fervor that your body is an ugly, hateful thing that must be punished and diminished.

While I am all for being "body positive" and all that, I think that it bears emphasizing that this piece is presenting a really problematic choice between two unhealthy extremes. In reality, there are other (much healthier and happier) choices in between hypercontrol and letting it all hang out; this piece reads to me as someone who is choosing between two aspects of an eating disorder, not someone who is celebrating a healthy and inclusive body image.

There's a serious chicken and egg problem here, and I think each person has to figure out which part to address first in their own case. But I don't see any way to have a happy body image without having a healthy relationship with food, and vice versa. Some people will need to address the food issues in order to feel good about their body, and others will need to rethink their body issues in order to feel good about food. But both are so intertwined that I don't think you can really address either in isolation.

And this is why all the advice to go lift weights, rock climb, belly dance, and other awesome physical things is so good -- if you body is able to do great things, and you are enjoying doing them, then that can begin to reframe your relationship with food. Food can begin to be something wonderful that supports this incredible physicality, rather than something tied up in guilt and emotional baggage.

So sure, read some of the "body positive" writing that has been linked here, but read it critically, and watch out for the unintended messages that some of it carries. Just like with any body of writing (pun not intended), there's good and bad in there, and the responsibility is on the reader to be selective and probing.
posted by Forktine at 5:51 AM on December 11, 2008


While I am all for being "body positive" and all that, I think that it bears emphasizing that this piece is presenting a really problematic choice between two unhealthy extremes. In reality, there are other (much healthier and happier) choices in between hypercontrol and letting it all hang out; this piece reads to me as someone who is choosing between two aspects of an eating disorder, not someone who is celebrating a healthy and inclusive body image.

I'm just not seeing the "let it all hang out" that you are reading in the piece. Did you read the whole article, by the way, or just the (very very very short) exerpt I provided? From what I can tell, Health at Every Size and similar philosophies DO encourage exercise and sensible eating. Disordered eating is exactly the opposite of what Kate Harding advocates for.

I guess I'm just confused as to what is a "food issue" for you. When you say, Some people will need to address the food issues in order to feel good about their body, and others will need to rethink their body issues in order to feel good about food, it sounds exactly like nearly every fat-positive piece I read. I don't see where you're taking exception to anything Ms. Harding has written. Unless you think that dieting is a way to deal with "food issues".
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 AM on December 11, 2008


Yes, I did read the entire piece, plus most of what she links to in that article. But I don't think that this AskMe is the place to really delve into it, honestly -- there's easily enough there for a great FPP, or if it's my perspective in particular you want we could just continue it via email. I suspect that we are largely in agreement in the big picture, at the same time that I find some of her premises extremely problematic.
posted by Forktine at 9:09 AM on December 11, 2008


Go ahead an email me, Forktine. I usually take these conversations off-thread, but in this case since most people here are taking a body-positive stance, I don't see how critiquing body-positivity is off-topic.
posted by muddgirl at 9:29 AM on December 11, 2008


Does anyone know of the link to that Flickr set where it shows girls and women who are, by BMI standards, overweight or obese, but look downright skinny in some cases?

Illustrated BMI cateogories set on Flickr.
posted by tallus at 5:20 AM on December 12, 2008


Thanks, tallus.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:52 PM on December 12, 2008


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