I have come across a couple of intriguing and insightful conversations recently, both in the general media and my surroundings, about body acceptance and the positive and negative affects this may have.
A surprising amount of these conversations were about a blogger named Tess, who is incredibly body positive and not afraid to show it. Reactions to her range from “you go girl” to “why is she promoting obesity?”, and I just wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts and feelings on the entire phenomenon of body positivity and image – from my perspective.
Now, being a heavy woman myself (I have always been bigger than average, as long as I can remember), weight, size, fashionable clothes, sexiness and attractiveness are all things that I have struggled with during all of my adolescence and now adult life. I try to dress well, show off what I like (my cleavage) and hide what I hate (my mid-section); given that I am a very social person and enjoy being out in company, I don’t like letting people know how uncomfortable I can get around traditionally “beautiful” people and that I definitely harbour my fair share of green eyed body envy. Meaning, I will crack jokes about how much sugar it takes to “maintain my curves” while secretly wishing that I too could participate in a sisterhood of sharing clothes and wearing bikinis. However the fact that most of my girlfriends could cover their whole heads in my bra (a party trick that has garnered many laughs) and physically get lost in my dresses, should be enough to tell you that most of their trousers don’t even fit over my calves. For the purpose of this blog, I am willing to share that I have been measured for a J-cup bra, wear a (Canadian) size 16 -18 pants and usually need dresses sized 22 – 24 with cinched waistlines or belts in order to fit both my waist and my chest.
There is a lot of body shaming going on these days, whether someone is too big or too small, everyone gets criticized, and all of it is shameful. However there was an article that I read about “thin privilege” that had a profound impact on me, because I hadn’t even realized just how much the word “discrimination” really suited some of the situations I had encountered and simply blown off as people just being jerks.
The most pointed of these examples was my first appointment with my new doctor in Northern Ireland. She hadn’t sat with me for more than 5 minutes before she declared that I was “morbidly obese” based on nothing but my BMI, (which as a concept for personal health measurement baffles me completely anyway, given that it was invented by a 19th century statistician… but I digress) …. she didn’t even bother to ask what I eat, where I work or whether I exercise. She declared my obesity as a certain fact and then ordered me to come back for blood tests since she was almost certain that I would also have some sort of other “fat people” problems such as a fatty liver, high cholesterol or undiagnosed diabetes….. When I protested and told her that I have always been bigger even though I eat really well, she giggled at me and said “I’m sure you think so dear, but I would recommend that you join a help group like Weight Watchers who can help you get your eating problems under control.”
F*CKING EXCUSE ME??? I have a home made 3 fruit and spinach smoothy for breakfast (almost) every day, eat primarily vegetarian during the week and treat myself to butchers meat for my weekend meals, when money allows…. I am getting better at forcing myself to get out of bed 30 minutes early in the morning to do some stretching, core work and Yoga before I walk the 20 minutes to my office (where I take the 3 flights of stairs by the way.) But this woman… this alleged medical professional wanted to hear nothing of it. She just looked at the numbers and determined that I must be an unmoving, gob-stuffing couch potato. I just thought she was a bitch. A nasty judgemental bitch and I went home and cried.
But now I know she wasn’t just that, she was actively discriminating against me based on her belief about body-image. I had asked her for a medical check up, since it was my first time meeting her and she didn’t actually do anything but tell me that any ailments I may have (I had none) were based on my size. (By blood tests all came back normal, by the way, a fact she never commented on thereafter.)
I am telling you all of this, because it is people like that doctor, and all the other cruel and judgemental people in this world that make people like Tess necessary and vitally important. I have never met Tess, so I don’t know her or her lifestyle, but she writes in her blog that she exercises regularly, eats well and that she simply looks the way she looks, which sounds exactly like me and I really appreciate that. Even though lots of fitness experts out there may question this, I have no reason to believe otherwise. I tell my stories here and hope you believe them, since I have no way to prove any of it to you, so I am in no position to question her either and I have no intentions to.
What it boils down to is this: women like Tess, show women like me that it’s okay to love ourselves. I used to really hate my body, wishing it were thinner, shapelier, tighter and more appealing and like I didn’t deserve nice clothes since fat people don’t get to look pretty. People like Tess actively fight against this stereotype and even though I eventually did find my own confidence (or a good deal more of it) before ever discovering Tess, when ever I am down or feeling the old nagging feelings, reading her stories lifts me up.
I used to turn down all of my husband’s compliments, telling him things like “thanks but…” or “that’s sweet of you to say, but you just say it because you have to”… and one time he looked back at me as though I had really hurt his feelings and I had to take a pause. I didn’t understand why my frustration with my own body could possibly hurt him, but then he explained to me that it felt like I was ignoring and dismissing both his opinion and his feelings as unimportant. He explained that putting myself down, calling myself names and rejecting his compliments and advances made him feel like I didn’t value his opinion or the fact that he chose to be with me and that he loves me and wants me; I made him feel like those things didn’t matter to me. I was horrified. It had never occurred to me that he might really see me differently than I see myself and that my never ending negativity, was demeaning not only myself but his wife. (It’s hard to think of yourself in the third person that way, but I saw his point and it was an incredible eye opener for me.)
With the help of my husband, my friends and strong, body positive people like Tess, I am reminded every day that I am beautiful the way I am and that as long as I am doing my best for me, it’s enough. I don’t have to hide my side boob, if my belly rolls a little while I sit on a couch enjoying time with my friends, it doesn’t matter. My arms look chunky? No more covering that up! I refuse to be too warm just so other people don’t have to see my ams. No more hiding. No more hating.
More than that, people like Tess remind me that I do deserve better. That I am good enough the way I am and that I do not have to change to be allowed to treat myself well and expect to be treated well by others.
I deserve to be respected. I deserve to be treated equally. I deserve to feel beautiful, wear nice clothes, nice shoes, make-up and splurge on the occasional trip to the salon. I am not too fat, too gross or unworthy. I am perfectly fine as I am right now and I have discovered that the more I love myself, the better I can take care of myself. I have started losing weight in a healthy way since I stopped hating my body and started loving it as it is. I came to realize that my body is mine and it deserves healthy nutritious foods, even if that costs more than I am used to. My body deserves good walking shoes and a gym membership, my body deserves to be exercised and it even deserves to be shown off…. and this is the toughest one: both my body and I deserve to be loved.
All of this applies to you as well… to all people – men and women – big and small, WE ALL DESERVE BETTER!
Just because you may not fit the norm does’t mean you don’t deserve to be respected, appreciated, loved and spoiled. Treat yourself to that new dress or shirt, indulge in a spa day that will make you feel like royalty and yes, even if you’re afraid of other people at the gym – other people don’t matter – you deserve to be there.
Start loving yourselves more, and like Tess and now myself, accept the beauty in yourself and your body and surely you’ll find that once you start, you’ll automatically start treating yourself better, no diets or pills or therapy needed.
In conclusion, I would like to say to those people who criticize people like Tess for “promoting an unhealthy lifestyle” and for “glorifying obesity”, that she isn’t. She is promoting a healthy mental attitude, allowing people to find their own dignity and appreciate themselves just as they are and please take a second to consider that acceptance does not equal complacency. I don’t “accept that I am fat” and stuff my face all day long; I accept that without extreme measures I can not easily change my body type and have discovered that simply loving myself the way I am now, has helped me become a better me – mentally, emotionally and physically. You can not loathe yourself and treat yourself well. Any psychiatrist can tell you that. If you’re concerned about someone in your circle because they may be over or under weight, don’t judge them, don’t force them to the gym, but remind them that they deserve good things. That they too deserve to live a long and happy life and that the fearful, hateful attitudes are not helping them. If you can help yourself and/or your loved ones just love yourselves the way you are, I am sure that you will see, just how much of a difference acceptance can really make.
I just wanted to get that off my chest. As always thanks for reading, and take care. xoxoxo