Eating and Body Image
April 8, 2009 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Help me put my eating and body image issues into perspective.

Sorry, this is going to be long. I grew up in Los Angeles, land of the thin and beautiful. I was always overweight as a child, not obese but certainly not slim like most of my friends or the women I looked up to in fashion magazines and on TV. Weight was always a big issue in my family and it was basically not acceptable to not be dieting at any given time. My weight haunted me until my senior year of high school when I feared that going off to UCLA fat would leave me friendless and alone. So I stopped eating.

Fast forward several months. I had been hospitalized three times and been in an in-patient program for anorexia. I was finally skinny but I was sick and depressed and a shell of my former self. Sadly though, I got more compliments for the way I looked during this time then any other period of my life, leading me to believe that that body is really what people, men specifically, admire. It's two years since I got out of my last hospitalization and I have since gained an exorbitant amount of weight. I struggle everyday with what to eat and how much to eat and when to exercise and how much to exercise. I have even considered leaving school because I can't seem to get myself away from this obsession with my weight enough to even focus on my school work.

I have been to every kind of therapy, intensive therapy, group therapy, CBT, three separate nutritionists, etc... Nothing seems to help me. I've recently realized it is going to come down to making a choice. I am either going to have to spend my life depriving myself and obsessing over food and my weight and in return get to be the beautiful size 0 woman praised for her aesthetic perfection that I have dreamed of being for as long as I can remember or I will eat what I want, try to learn how to not abuse food the way I do, and live my life as the slightly fat, but sane, size 12 woman who is trying desperately to live the life she wants despite not being a size two. I guess what I am asking is, for any of you who have been through something similar, how did you get through it? How did you finally give up on your dream of having an ideal body? And for those of you who are overweight and are living happily, how do you ignore the constant social pressures to be thin and the negative stereotypes that come with being fat? And lastly, for any men that may read this, how important is a woman's size to you? At what point does overweight equal repulsive? Thanks for any help you can give.
posted by GComes to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Get out of Los Angeles.

People who like anorexic bodies and want people to be anorexic and unhealthy are seriously disturbed morons.

There are plenty of threads on here about women's body image. Look for a few.
posted by kldickson at 1:31 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

* I am either going to have to spend my life depriving myself and obsessing over food and my weight and in return get to be the beautiful size 0 woman praised for her aesthetic perfection that I have dreamed of being for as long as I can remember

* or I will eat what I want, try to learn how to not abuse food the way I do, and live my life as the slightly fat, but sane, size 12 woman who is trying desperately to live the life she wants despite not being a size two

I'm so sorry that you feel so terrible, and I know how overwhelmed you feel. I can relate to having a horrible body image and wanting to force my body into thinness... but I'd like to suggest that this is an example of black and white thinking. Feeling comfortable in your body doesn't need to be a expressed as: fabulous, insane and tiny or sane and 'slightly fat'.
posted by grippycat at 1:37 PM on April 8, 2009

I am either going to have to spend my life depriving myself and obsessing over food and my weight and in return get to be the beautiful size 0 woman praised for her aesthetic perfection

That's probably not possible for you at this point, seeing as it makes you sick to the point of hospitalization when you try it. Insanity=doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

live my life as the slightly fat, but sane, size 12 woman who is trying desperately to live the life she wants despite not being a size two.

All size 12 women can live the life they want, unless "the life they want" is to be a professional gymnast, jockey, or ballet dancer. Or runway model.

Wearing size 12 or 14 or 16 or 18 or 20 or whatever doesn't stop people from going to school, getting good jobs, meeting partners and spouses, running triathlons, having tons of friends, having kids--you name it.

And for those of you who are overweight and are living happily, how do you ignore the constant social pressures to be thin and the negative stereotypes that come with being fat?

I don't think of myself as "overweight" but you probably do, because I wear the dreaded size 12 and sometimes the size 14 and sometimes the size 16. OH NOES! Of course, my blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, aerobic fitness and everything are great, so people can't pull the "but it's not healthy" shit with me.

As to the social image stuff: I mostly say "Fuck it" and I find that works really well. Here's the thing: yes, the socially-defined US beauty norm is a slender (but big-busted) young white woman with long blonde hair. Old, thin white women with long blonde hair are mocked constantly as "pathetic cougars trying to recapture their looks." Even if you're white and manage to get "thin enough" and can afford the maintenance on everything else, you will get old eventually (and therefore "ugly" in the eyes of people who buy into this nonsense) so why chase the tiger at all? Why not find your own beauty and your own style of self-presentation, and surround yourself with lovers and friends who dig that?

Also, doing sports or yoga or Pilates or swimming or any kind of physical activity that isn't focused on how your body looks, but on what it can do, is a good way to get out of thinking of your body primarily as an aesthetic object and into thinking of your body as a) you, and b) your powerful physical self that can take you places you want to go.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:37 PM on April 8, 2009 [19 favorites]

Also, if you're in recovery from eating disorders/body dysmorphia, avoid all exercise and exercise classes that involve mirrors. Full stop.

That may limit your options, but it will be a huge benefit. If what you're doing is aerobics in a mirrored studio, you need to take a really long break from that until your recovery is solid.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2009

My opinion on this (as a therapist who works with women and adolescent girls at a practice that aims to prevent girls from getting to the places you've described) is that therapy is meant to be a consistent support for you through all of this. I know that you are struggling, and in your situation, therapy is not supposed to be something that you do for a little while and then get cured and then magically life is perfect... it is supposed to be a support for those struggles that you describe happening for you every day. Doing it alone is having some really high expectations for yourself (and I imagine there are other areas of your life where this may be true too), and it's not a bad thing to get a little help. Have you just not worked well with the therapists you've had before, had bad experiences, just got sick of it? I am in L.A. (and am familiar with area resources) and would love to talk more about it with you over private messages or email, if you are interested.

That said, it sounds like none of your core beliefs have changed from that ED mentality--you still see yourself from the outside, still find it a struggle to appreciate yourself and your body. This is probably the biggest hurdle for anyone with these types of things going on, and I can only imagine what that is like on a daily basis for you to get through. Best of luck to you... you really deserve to feel great about yourself and be happy.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:40 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

And for those of you who are overweight and are living happily, how do you ignore the constant social pressures to be thin and the negative stereotypes that come with being fat?

Hm. Not to be flip, but the answer is to ignore them. Don't pick up women's magazines, and don't watch much TV. Put your attention elsewhere. That stuff exists to sell you products, and you don't need to buy the images any more than you need to buy the products.

Also, do more noticing. As you go through your life, look for people who don't fit the media beauty ideal. Look for them and notice that many of them are happy. They are loved and appreciated. They are friends, lovers, parents, children. They contribute to the world. Notice all the kinds of beauty that are less celebrated in media, but real, and probably more important when it comes down to human kindness and a better world. Notice this everywhere you go. Stop judging other people's looks - you might be surprised how much that lets you stop judging your own. Look at people who really love and are loved in life, who are really happy and creating value. You'll find that all kinds of people can be happy - perfect looks are definitely not a requisite for happiness.

Finally, cultivate a different/better body image, based not on how your body looks, but its capabilities - what can it do, how does it feel? Notice and pursue good physical feelings. One of the best things I ever did for my body image was become more of an athlete. Running, biking, swimming and lifting weights completely changed my relationship to my body. I no longer looked at myself with dissatisfied expectations that I could never achieve, but with optimistic plans that I could realistically achieve - measurable, pleasurable goals that made me see my body as an active tool for living and joy rather than as some sort of failure of perfection.

You need to reject the stereotype - so reject it. Aggressively reject it. You have value. Find out what you love about life and what you want to do with it. Develop some interests outside of judging your appearance. That's a huge waste of time. Draw up some better goals, things you really will enjoy working toward (and achieving). Once you are engaged in real attention to your own unique abilities and the gifts you have to give, and once you're attuned to the things you are and you offer without even trying, you will likely find you are a lot less interested in some strange mental ideal that's only about appearance. Who gives a shit how you look - we're all going to get old (if we're lucky) and die, and we won't look too hot then. What matters is who you are, and knowing you have value. Find it. Make the most of the time you have on earth. Let yourself experience joy.
posted by Miko at 1:41 PM on April 8, 2009 [23 favorites]

You're presenting this as if your only options are the polar extremes: Size 0 anorexia skeleton, or ++size eats-with-no-restraint-whatsoever lady.

How about a third option: Ask your doctor what a normal, healthy weight for YOU should be, and then target that. Pursue this with a common sense diet: No junk food, and eat in moderation. If that diet is too hard to follow, then how about having a nutritionist put together an exact menu so you don't have to make decisions about what to eat?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:52 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

First thought that came to mind while reading this was "WHOA WHOA, I'm a size 12 (on my good days), and while I have days where I feel fat, I do not think of myself as fat." So you're probably not fat. Overweight, sure, but it's definitely not the most noticeable thing about me. Or at least I hope it's not. Despite being a size 12, I am training for a half marathon (quite successfully, too!). I also feel really good about myself most days. Overweight is not repulsive if you carry yourself well, take care of yourself, are healthy, and can do some kind of athletic activity.

Do you live alone? I remember when I lived alone I was more obsessed with eating, cooking, counting calories, and I definitely binged some nights. Then I moved in with a roommate, and the binging just stopped, because I was too self conscious about it. Every time I want a snack I think "is roommate going to think I'm a fattie?" and sometimes skip it. 6 months of not being obsessed with food changed the way I feel about it. So you need to do something with your life for a few months to a year to change your attitude about dieting and exercising. Distract yourself. If you still live with your food-conscious family, see if you can get away from that for a while. And it shouldn't be one extreme or the other - if you "choose to be fat" you shouldn't eat ANYTHING you want, still moderate the desserts.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 1:56 PM on April 8, 2009

Fact: Men's bodily ideals for women are about a size larger than women's bodily ideals for women.
posted by kldickson at 1:57 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Start here.
posted by jennyb at 1:58 PM on April 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

You're presenting this as if your only options are the polar extremes: Size 0 anorexia skeleton, or ++size eats-with-no-restraint-whatsoever lady.

Not even that. She's presenting this as if being a size 12 would somehow make it impossible for her to lead a normal life because of her weight.

Which is prima facie ludicrous.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:00 PM on April 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this will help you or if this will just come off as whining, but skinny people have body image issues too. You're living under an illusion that simply being size 0 makes a person happy. Trust me, it does not. The women you see in LA most likely have other things they dislike about themselves - hence all the plastic surgery that goes on. You're much better off accepting yourself as you are while eating healthy and exercising.
posted by desjardins at 2:02 PM on April 8, 2009

Step one: do not worry about what men find attractive. If you're damaging your body to please the hypothetical tastes of hetrosexual males without even thinking about the idea that it's not like you're attracted to all straight men, that's not healthy. The issue is not at what point overweight becomes repulsive, it's what a doctor tells you is healthy. If someone told you that guys really like women without noses, would you cut yours off?

Among the people competing to be thin, there's never going to be a slim enough. True, visible bone structure will get you compliments for some people, but some people would praise you for a host of self destructive behaviours from staying with an abusive partner to refusing a life saving abortion. If we did what other people wanted 100% of the time, or even half the time, you'd never get anything done for yourself.

Personally, I'm a woman in the in between of your size zero corpse and size 12 normal body weight. To some people I'm a skinny girl, to others, I'm beyond hope. Plenty of guys, of all shapes and sizes would pick a twelve over me or my naturally super model shaped sister. Plenty of people are attracted to me, but they liked me when I was a chubby teenager (I didn't lose weight through dieting) who was this horrible '12' you fear. It's not a big deal. Having the average body weight for a US citizen makes you... Average.

Would you hate on a women who was a size twelve? Would you lose respect for her? Never be her friend? Why are you hating on yourself? It's not even like you can't find clothing that fits and is fashionable. You think you've got troubles? Try being a size 22. Oh man, some of those poor women would kill to be your size just for the shopping advantages. You can dress nicely, use you body properly, fit into theatre seats... There's nothing wrong with 12 except that you hate it.

This might come across as a little unsupportive, but you've got to recognize that your eating disorder isn't about what other people want, as messed up as our culture is when it comes to body image. Your desire not to eat is based on anxieties in your head.
posted by Phalene at 2:03 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

And lastly, for any men that may read this, how important is a woman's size to you?

*raises hand*

I can't speak for all men, of course, but I can say that everyone has their own personal preference, and that there is such a thing as too skinny.

I think the other posters who have already answered your question have made some good points and given you some great advice. This sounds cliche, but it really is true - finding your own health and happiness is more beautiful than any specific size or weight you could be.
posted by owtytrof at 2:03 PM on April 8, 2009

Oh and btw, though he loves me the way I am, blah blah blah, I know my husband would prefer me to be heavier. (I am a size 2.)
posted by desjardins at 2:04 PM on April 8, 2009

I'm with qxntpqbbbqxl on this. There is a healthy medium -- although with your history of anorexia it's entirely possible that the "fat" end of the spectrum to your mind IS the healthy medium. Either way, there is a healthy range of weights for your height, and you should be somewhere in the middle there. I haven't read it personally, but a book like Intuitive Eating might be good for you.

This may sound like common sense, but I'd like to point out that we call it a healthy weight not only because it is healthy to BE that weight, but because it is also healthy to MAINTAIN that weight -- as in, if you eat healthfully and there aren't any underlying problems (hormonal issues, etc) you will be a healthy weight. This may look "fat" to you, but it's the real ideal.
posted by telegraph at 2:04 PM on April 8, 2009

You may feel like you've tried everything, but you can't expect yourself to simply snap out of deeply ingrained beliefs. You seem to have made some progress-- just the fact that you recognize that you need to change your thinking is proof of that. Give yourself some credit for that, and allow yourself time to change (as so_gracefully said).

You're trying to let go of perfectionist beliefs:
- There is such a thing as a perfect body.
- You should have a perfect body.
- Everyone judges your body against the perfect body.
- Nobody will find you attractive if you do not have a perfect body.

These are all rules that are so strict as to exclude reality as a possibility. Try taking on each one individually, and list reasons why they're not true. Change your beliefs so that they can reflect reality instead of trying to bend reality to far-fetched beliefs.

And for those of you who are overweight and are living happily, how do you ignore the constant social pressures to be thin and the negative stereotypes that come with being fat?

It works better to judge yourself for all the enviable things you are than for all the enviable things you're not.
posted by zennie at 2:06 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't read women's magazines. Seriously, that'll help. You'll save money too. They just make you want to buy things and hate your stomach.
posted by sweetkid at 2:06 PM on April 8, 2009

Hmm. I'd recommend that you make some external changes. Move out of LA, as someone has already suggested. Move just about anywhere else. Don't read women's magazines, don't watch much TV, don't watch the kind of movies that have model-type starlets in them, avoid shopping malls. Get rid of any clothes in your closet that are too small. If you have any diet books around, throw them out. Avoid spending time with people who talk about their weight, and don't talk about your own weight to anyone.

Take up a sport or activity you enjoy and get right into it, reading about it, buying good quality equipment, making friends who do it too, setting goals for how good you're going to get at it. Learn to cook really well with healthy, non-processed food. Devote yourself to your hobbies, or a cause.

You say you've tried every kind of therapy and it hasn't worked, so I recommend that you get on with living the life of a healthy, fit person. I think if you do that singlemindedly and without reservation, eventually you'll find that you are a healthy and fit person.
posted by orange swan at 2:07 PM on April 8, 2009

The only thing I can answer is that I like a wide range of women's bodies, definitely veering toward the more substantial. Women who are active and take care of themselves at a size 12 are way more attractive to me and 90% of guys than a size 0 who complains about her sidefat and doesn't drink beer because of calories. Ideally it's about confidently making an effort to look good as you can with the body you've got--I would contend that that's what turns men on rather than some arbitrary weight or size.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:19 PM on April 8, 2009

Be 100% you so that the people that like what they like about you get the full dose, and the people that don't like what they don't like about you can fuck off and hangout with the uncool not you people.
posted by nola at 2:34 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

...size zero corpse..

I know size zeroes and size two's who can eat anything they want and they're healthy as horses. Enough already with the single-digit-size = sick bullshit.

As you can see, there is just as much hate for single-digit-sized women than as there is distain for the plus-sized. Maybe more. So think of your problem from that perspective.

You are putting too much pressure on yourself. Men are not all the same. Everyone has different tastes for the female form.
posted by Zambrano at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

I also like a wide range of female bodies. Generally not too skinny, though. Size 0s have never attracted me unless the woman was very short and thus proportionate to the waistline. I have also found size 12s attractive (especially the super-curvy tall Amazon types, rowr!). Hell, I've found sizes larger than that attractive. It depends on girl to girl.

I'm female too, and I've struggled with my body image. I want to echo what others have said about taking up a physical sport or hobby that will focus you on what your body can do and not simply what it looks like. I started lifting/conditioning a few years ago, and last summer started Olympic weightlifting. I've been training about five days a week for the past half-year and it has completely revolutionized how I think about my body and what I'd like to look like and what I'm proud of. For example, big thighs are not an embarassment when they're supporting a 190lbs squat!
posted by Anonymous at 2:41 PM on April 8, 2009

This might sound a bit silly, but check out

It's theoretically a support system for helping disorganized people keep their homes neat and comfortable, but the underlying theme is 'finally loving yourself.' It helps with building routines that help you feel a sense of control in your life while at the same time letting go of perfectionism and beating yourself up.

Give it time - it took you plenty of time to get where you are and it may take time to get where you want to be, but as long as you're doing something you're moving. It sounds like you're already a fair way from your lowest point.

One more suggestion I don't see yet - check out the fat acceptance blogosphere. My weight has fluctuated, but whether I am low or high (for me, and even my high was at the low end of the plus size stores), I find a great deal of encouragement and support reading blogs like Shapely Prose. They take apart some of the bullshit - generally I find it empowering. Especially, reminding me that I am a person first for myself, not for the visual appraisal of others.

Another thing that's helped me personally someone else did suggest - looking for the beauty in other people, especially women bigger than you are. I also echo tuning out the thin magazines, tv, etc, as much as you possibly can.

One more - this may not be true for LA but what I noticed is that as I got older, I stayed the same, and most of the thin girls grew into average women. Without doing anything, I started to be average. Many teenage girls, especially from privileged backgrounds and who play sports, are just thin. The metabolism, everything, that's just how they are. But people's bodies are different - I was full sized, and I mean full sized, by age 13. I was just ahead! But feeling big was hard.

Finally, in terms of male attention - I find that I get more general attention when I'm thinner, BUT, more than a few of the guys I felt the most intensely about (physically as well as otherwise) were plenty attracted to me at my largest size.

Good luck and take care of yourself.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:56 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Would it be hard for you, in the land of gyms, to workout for an hour a day? I bet you'll feel a lot healthier and you can keep eating whatever you are right now while losing fat\gaining muscle.
I don't know if that's something you're currently doing or not but figured I would suggest it since I didn't see it mentioned.

Other advice in here is good but if you've been to every kind of therapy, etc and are still just beating yourself up about your weight every day I don't know how it's going to make you feel better.

I think a large part of the problem is you living in such a weight focused area. If you could move maybe that would be a good first step. Take a vacation to austin or something =]

I've read a lot of articles on what men look for in women on a standard and being from size 6 to size 12 is fine as long as it fits the woman.
Here is a great example of a size 10-12 woman who looks way better than a 0\00 in the same outfit. Linky
Mail me if you just want someone to talk to or vent to a stranger.

Overweight isn't repulsive to me until it's someone who doesn't fit into a chair or someone who is wider than tall.

/Disclaimer: Me = male, have gf of 6 years who I think is thin (size6?), think some of the "plus" size women look pretty damn hot though.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:58 PM on April 8, 2009

I agree that you should focus on function, not appearance. Muscle tone looks tight and sexy no matter what size you are-- and physical fitness will give you a sense of comfort and confidence in your body that will be very visible to others in your posture, demeanor, etc. I've been average-ish (size 8-10) and I've been quite thin (size 0-2) due to thyroid issues, and I was able to stop obsessing by making a decision (i.e. I was the one in control, not the media, not double takes, or not, from men, etc.) that, as long as I was eating healthy, exercising, and in great aerobic shape, I wasn't going to worry about how my body looked, size-wise.

(That being said, can we stop having these discussions where people reassure heavier women that they're beautiful too by stating how unfeminine, bag-of-bones, unhealthy, disordered, "corpse-like", etc. thin women are? It never ceases to amaze me that people--women especially--think it's OK to revile one body type by way of calling for more acceptance for a different body type. That kind of hypocrisy drives me nuts-- happens all the time, on line and in person, and is hurtful, to boot. )
posted by availablelight at 3:59 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've gained quite a bit of weight over the course of my 11 year relationship and you know what he notices? Not my belly, or my cottage cheese thighs. He notices my huge boobs, and the lovely feminine curve of my hips. What we women think men want and what men notice are a lot of times not in sync.

That being said, I feel a lot more attractive when I visit my home state of MN. I feel like I get a lot more appreciative glances there than I do in NYC. They like the look there of a woman who can make through winter. So. realize that what you see and what men see are probably 2 different things. And that maybe moving to a more healthy culture might be good for you. L.A. is weird.
posted by munichmaiden at 4:13 PM on April 8, 2009

I have what many people would probably call the ideal body. I'm very thin but I have a large chest and curvy hips. If I were a bit taller and had a bad spray-on tan, from the neck down I'd probably look like the average FHM model.

And I still feel like shit about my body quite often. I'm too short, my breasts are grotesque and droopy (because they're, y'know, made of fat, not silicone), my skin is bumpy and pasty, I'm too hairy, my hands are weird... and don't get me started on my face. I spent high school thinking I was fat (I was even skinner then than I am now) and ugly and nobody would ever be attracted to me.

I'm not saying this to be all "My problems are just as bad as yours! Wah, pity me!" I can't even imagine how hard it must be to be an overweight woman in this culture. Saying "every woman feels bad about the way she looks" minimizes the particular insidiousness of the anti-fat-woman messages that are omnipresent in American culture.

But it does point to something important, which is: Jesus Christ, this shit is fucked up. The messages and images that we are bombarded with from the day we're born make us hate ourselves no matter what we look like -- and, moreover, make us think that if we don't look good, nothing else matters, because nobody will ever love, respect, or listen to us if they look at us and see FAT and UGLY. How is this acceptable? How is this civilized?

When you find yourself thinking about how much you hate your body, you shouldn't be getting miserable because you're fat or feeling guilty because you can't get over it -- you should be getting angry. Angry at a culture filled with messages that simultaneously tell you that a) if you don't fit the ideal standards of beauty, you're worthless, and b) the ideal standard of beauty is so unrealistic that even MODELS need to be Photoshopped.

Read feminist and fat acceptance blogs. Become aware of all of the messages that destroy your self-esteem on a daily basis, because once you're aware of them you can critique them instead of slowly letting them eat away at your sense of self-worth. And think about the women you admire and love -- think about the fact that they, too, sometimes think of themselves as ugly and therefore worthless. Think about how messed up that is.

Sure, maybe anger isn't the best emotion. But anger can spur people to take action, to effect social change. What has self-loathing ever accomplished?
posted by pluckemin at 4:14 PM on April 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

know size zeroes and size two's who can eat anything they want and they're healthy as horses.

So do I. However the poster explicitly stated that size zero is not healthy for her body and like her, I'd be a corpse if I got that tiny (or it would be one heck of a vanity sizing drop). I was addressing her, not the entire slender side of the spectrum. But yeah "You're at death's door! Eat something!" needs to be stopped.
posted by Phalene at 5:47 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's not the weight that will keep you from living the life you want to live. It's the obsession about the weight that will keep you from living the life you want to live. To you, I might seem to be a scary cautionary tale. Currently I weigh around 280lbs, and I've never been less than 200lbs in my entire life. Your "fat" size is smaller than my "dream" size when I was still dieting. I spent 15 years and thousands of dollars losing and regaining. But at some point, a switch flipped for me. If I was going to wait until I reached my ideal size to start my life, my life would never begin.

So, while weighing around 230lbs, I moved to NYC, started a career, made new friends, and dated lots of interesting men (2 lawyers, a dentist, a personal trainer, a pundit who has been discussed on Mefi many times, and a wealthy philanthropist who still calls me from time to time trying to get me back.) (Just to name a few).

Currently, I have a good paying job at a well respected NGO doing satisfying work. I have a rent-control apartment in Chelsea, which I am leaving only to move in with my boyfriend of five years. Who has several gold records and and Emmy. And who stood by me during my diagnosis and treatment for thyroid cancer last year. I spent my 36th birthday (three weeks ago) in Paris, literally partying with rock stars.

I've had opportunities beyond belief, and it's not because I am extraordinarily blessed, or beautiful, or lucky. But because I have simply opened myself up to what the world has to offer. That's not to say that I don't run across people who give me ugly looks or hurl insults from a speeding car. I do. But the more I reap from life, the less those horrible things mean. And why should I care more about what strangers think, than the people in my life who love and accept me as I am?

And I tell you these things, not to brag... but to show you what's possible AT ANY WEIGHT.

Loving yourself and finding contentment with your body is not something that happens in the blink of an eye. But if you just try a little bit each day... it becomes easier.
posted by kimdog at 6:14 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

a fat rant
posted by logic vs love at 6:43 PM on April 8, 2009

I had a friend who was anorexic and bulimic for years. She went through therapy and it helped but she still would back slide. The one thing that really made a difference is she really wanted to have a baby. She'd had several miscarriages (5 or 6?) that I suspect were caused from her not being able to keep at a healthy enough weight to support a pregnancy.
I hadn't seen her during the years when she was having all the miscarriages but we ran into each other shortly before she became pregnant again. She was 5'6" and probably about 101 lbs. when she found out. About 3 months in, she'd managed to get to 111 lbs. but her doctor was telling her she had to gain more weight and she asked me what to do. She was really having trouble making herself gain weight..
I told her she had to put the baby first and eat to be healthy, not to just be thin if she really wanted to have a child. I'm not sure why it clicked with her so much but it did. She managed to gain enough weight that it put her in the normal range for her pregnancy and she had a baby girl. She never did lose all the weight but she has boobs now and hasn't had trouble getting guys. I think it made her more confident to wear some sexy stuff. Before she had to pick clothes that covered her arms because they were the same size as her wrists at times (95lbs. isn't pretty on someone 5'6").
Anyway, I do actually have a point. Focus on being healthy, not skinny. It's just a better way to look at food and eating. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight range is for you at your age. Try to stay close to it. If you need to lose some weight, do it in a way that treats your body well. Lots of veggies, some fruit, whole grains, protein. Skip highly processed stuff, deep fried everything and anything else that's bad for you.
Don't worry so much about having a perfect body. Competitive thinness is really bad among girls when they're younger but it levels off as they get a bit older. It's more important to have the energy to get things done than be super thin. Guys are less hung up on weight the older they get too. After they've dated more, they realize how overboard most women have to go to be that size 0 and that it's not good for them. Hang in there. It does get better. Dress attractively, do your best to be confident and friendly and you'll be able to meet guys no matter what your weight is.
posted by stray thoughts at 6:58 PM on April 8, 2009

I'm 42 and I still haven't figured this out. I hope to everything good and right in this world that someday I'm not 52 and still worried about what should be superficial nonsense. I don't want my whole life to go by feeling like this - it's so discouraging.

The only thing that's come close to helping me so far is the Health at Any Size movement - I see Kate Harding's fabulous blog is already linked here.

You're so not alone GComes - I'm hoping you find some peace in all this.

I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:56 PM on April 8, 2009

Firstly, as an amateur psychiatrist (I have severe OCD), Ive always looked on anorexia as part of the same spectrum, in that one 'obsesses' about weight/body image to the point of not actually being in touch with 'reality'. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is I believe considered part of the OC spectrum. You mention various therapies, such as CBT, which is considered very useful for OCD, but in my experience Anti-depressants have changed my life. I can function now almost 'normally'. What the pills have in effect given me is a 'reality check'. That is to say, I just dont care as much as I used to about things I was previously very anxious about. I am relaxed in every sense of the word, so that I react 'normally' to things I used to OVER-react to. You are over-reacting in your relationship to food and your body size. If all the other sound advice here doesnt help, you might want to consider medication, if what is really going on with you amounts to a psychologial problem rather than your actual body size. As youve been hospitalized with anorexia I think you'd qualify.
Secondly, as a red-blooded male, let me say something about female shape(s). Here in the UK, the average woman is size 12. I have always seen it as something of a personal quest to convince women I meet that the body image presented by the fashion industry, that is to say by other women and gay men, is not really what heterosexual men are attracted to.Gay magazine editors will have you believe that a woman approximating a 12 yr old boy is the optimum. Straight men want curves. I am involved in an online relationship, soon to be 'real' with a Peruvian woman. She's great, the only thing that has caused me any pause for thought is that she's rather slim. Decent bust but very slim legs/rear. I find myself seeking out images of slim women now to acclimatize myself, having always been an 'ass' man. There's somethig hard-wired in straight men that reacts on a visceral level to the raw sexual attraction of a 'curvy' woman. Ive always found also that the woman Im with/involved with, becomes my ideal over time. Mother Nature turns her face and form into my ideal. For instance, Im no longer attracted to Caucasian women now that my Amerindian queen has filled my senses! In short, you will find many many men attracted to your present body size, and will also find that the more they develop a relationship with you, the more attractive to them you will become. Your only 'real' problem is your own present perception, which as I say may be 'unreal' to the point of warranting medication, at least to let you see what life is like without your preocupation. Good luck.
posted by stumpyolegmcnoleg at 8:13 PM on April 8, 2009

As someone who has had body-image issues and harbored a borderline eating disorder during her 20s, I can relate. I also have a very dear friend who has more tenaciously rooted body dysmorphia, which is all the more serious because she has a digestive illness that could kill her if she doesn't take care of herself. But she still agonizes to me frequently about her weight, and she is all of 95 pounds dripping wet. My reaction--and it is probably not the best, but we pull no punches with each other--is to get PO'd because she could easily put herself in the hospital again if she doesn't consume enough calories that her body can absorb. She just doesn't want to accept the fact that she needs to have another 10 pounds (at least!) on her frame. (Not to mention that she needs to quit smoking, too, but I digress.)

My own solution, as others have suggested, was to focus on what my physical self could do. I found bicycling, and I realized that it fills so many needs for me that I literally can't imagine not doing it. There is nothing like the accomplishment of knowing that you got yourself up that hill, or rode 30, 40, 50 miles. And it is a very accommodating activity; anybody can do it. Strong legs are big legs! I am surrounded by women who may not be rail thin, but who can ride their bikes really hard and go just as fast as (if not faster than) men.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:25 PM on April 8, 2009

Off the beaten path, but I'll suggest two things:
1. Volunteering. Get your mind set on important local or global issues instead of fashion and meet other people who just don't care about that sort of stuff. The best volunteering might be working outside at a community garden. Exercise, healthy food, and few superficial people. It's a food culture focused on ethics rather than OMG WILL THIS MAKE ME GAIN WEIGHT111!!!?
2. Living with others. Where I lived in the U.S. there were lots of opportunities to live communally, which I did for a time in a house that was focused on eating earth-conscious food. So I learned healthy eating habits like how to cook soup and use vegetables properly... and stopped binging, because since we shared food, binging would hurt more than me.

Yeah, but LA may not be the right place for these things or for you. I've ruled it out as a place for me because of the culture, but you are on the West Coast, so there are lots of places with grubbier people like Seattle or Portland, that might be better for you.
posted by melissam at 6:48 AM on April 9, 2009

If you are interested, I suggest contacting the LA Master Gardeners. I volunteered to help them a few times in college and it was a great experience. looks promising too.
posted by melissam at 7:00 AM on April 9, 2009

Sane guy input: Be healthy. Be happy. Women are supposed to have curves. Women are supposed to be be able to carry a baby if there is a famine and breast feed when the food is scarce. Women are supposed to look different then men. Women aren't supposed to look like wire clothing racks or androgynous pre-adolescents.

Sane curvy-girl input by husband proxy: My wife will never be a size 2. Ever. She runs an average of 10 miles a day, she's strong as hell, extremely fit... but I don't think you could fit her very bones into a size 2 dress, she has hips like a South American goddess. When we were younger she wasted a lot of time wanting to be smaller or thinner or have the tiny arms that the stupid models in the magazine have had airbrushed into existence. Now she embraces who she is... a radiant and curvy woman.

So my advice? Be healthy. Whatever size healthy ends up being for you. It'll boost your mood, extend your life, improve your confidence, and impact every single part of your life. If you're healthy at size 14 or size 8, the size doesn't matter. You'll feel it, the size of the pants you can buy won't matter.

A somber note: I hope none of the above advice comes off as superficial or dismissive. I dated a woman for six years with a combination of anorexia and bulimia. I know how everyone can say the nicest things in the world to you and sometimes you can't even hear them over the internal monologue that screams at you how you're never going to be good enough. I hope you find the balance and self approval you seek.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 7:54 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

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