Friday, November 27, 2009

There are so very many things that taste as good as being thin feels.

Anyone following along with the stuff in my google reader feed may have noticed that I have lately liked to share articles debunking obesity panic and promoting Health at Every Size (HAES--it has its own abbrev!). You would think that HAES would be the kind of thing that ladymags would embrace when they're telling you how to love the body you have, but strangely enough those "love your body" articles always come with tips for, you know, weight loss and spot-toning and dressing to cover your body's "flaws." And naturally, since Health At Every Size isn't a particularly sexy concept, it never gets the same media coverage as fad diet and workout plans OR obesity studies that upon closer inspection are funded by drug companies. I mean check it out:
Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.
Right? Refreshingly sensible and healthy, therefore completely outside a mainstream that equates thinness with health and therefore makes thinness an end in and of itself.

I've never been fat, though I was what you might call a chubster during my early teenage years, which was a source of grief, especially because all jeans back then were tapered and impossible to fit. I'm 5'8" and as an adult I've been anywhere from 145 to 170 pounds. I haven't been on a scale in ages, but I'm guessing I'm around 165, which incidentally gently nudges me into "overweight" territory on the useless BMI chart (which health professionals are inexplicably still using). When I weigh 145, on the other hand, I'm veering toward gaunt, with my build. My upper body shrivels and my nice booty disappears. Regardless of my weight, I have always had big old legs--no self hate or body snark here, that's just the plain truth. I've finally accepted that I got what I got, body-wise, and we're in it together for the long haul--but man, I wasted a lot of time as a youngster wishing I had great legs instead of appreciating the ones I have.

Anyway, all this background is to say that I guess you could now call me a fat ally or fat sympathizer, or something. It's a new idea for me, in large part because I've always had the privilege of being able to walk into a store and buy clothes off the rack, and I haven't had to struggle much to be thinner. And I didn't grow up with a bunch of wack messages from family members about how I should look or eat--I can't even imagine what that does to a kid's brain. Not to mention that it's pretty socially acceptable to make a bunch of assumptions about people who are fat, and to blame obesity for all of society's ills. This stuff is so ingrained as to be practically invisible to those of us who aren't fat and don't have to deal with the fat-shaming on a daily basis. I don't see fat as a sign of moral failure, lack of self control, or flat out ill health, and it's clear to me that a lot of what we're told regarding weight, health, and nutrition is straight up bullshit anyway. (For more on these ideas, please read the awesome Kate Harding. The first time I read that post, I bookmarked it, and I keep coming back to it.)

Still, it's tough for even a sensible person like myself to ignore all the messages that are fired at all of us on the daily. As I get older and find that my body actually seems to be happier up at the 165 end of my adult weight range, I vacillate between feeling good and fine and cute, and then thinking I better watch it or even actively work to take some weight off. And while most people I know are not into the self bodysnark, it does occasionally happen among certain groups of my friends. I want to get away from that, and I want to get away from that "better watch it" feeling.

That's why it's so refreshing to read HAES advocates/nutritionists giving very straightforward definitions of normal eating (highly, highly recommended). Normal eating is not going to look the same for every person; people have different needs and desires, and the only rule of nutrition is eat or die. There are still huge problems with access to healthy, whole foods and information about nutrition, so as with any "movement," the movement's no good unless all kinds of people are empowered by it. I suspect that HAES supporters are pretty much middle to upper middle class women right now.

Anyway. If you're still paying attention, you may be wondering what's up with the sugar-eschewing I've been doing lately, and that's a fair question. Bearing in mind that normal eating looks different for everyone, I do know folks who are off sugar completely and permanently not because they are control freaks, but because sugar is such a clear determining factor in their moods and overall sense of well-being. They'd rather not eat foods that cause them to crash and suffer depression and anxiety. So that's sort of where I am, even though I don't know how much sugar really affects my mood and energy level. Mostly I find that once I start eating the sweet stuff, I just keep eating it without necessarily enjoying it, and then afterward, I don't feel physically good at all. So it's easier and better for my brain, I find, just to cut it out. Not entirely, not permanently (you damn right I ate Thanksgiving pie), but mostly. It's pretty weird, actually, to get to a point where I'm trying to buy a baked good to go with my coffee in the morning and instead I walk out of there with Kung Pao tempeh because the muffins don't look good.

So that's what normal eating looks like to me right now. It will probably change, and I'm cool with that.


  1. I gained a lot of weight about 7-8 years ago and haven't lost it yet. I might never. Meanwhile, I am active and obnoxiously healthy. I say "obnoxiously" because it pisses of my doctors that my blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar readings are so very, very good. They all but say it shouldn't be so, as if I am a status offender for not suffering in every way possible.

    Just in the past 18 months or so, I've made that long emotional and mental journey through the hellishness of fat-shaming and judgment about me because of my weight, and while there will likely always be residual anxiety because society will probably never stop fat-shaming and blaming the fatties for everything, especially the female ones.

    Um, sorry. This is all me, me, me.

    I love this post and the good information and attitude contained herein. You're awesome and beautiful.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Sorry, that was me, deleting.

    I have a long way to go in terms of body comfort and confidence. On one hand I really do like how I look, but I confess I often assume that a hardbody would ensure sexual confidence. And I assume that working out more regularly (and doing yoga maybe) would improve my life in a lot of appealing ways.

    My dad called me "thunder thighs" when I was 17 and weighed 120. My brother told me I had "big legs for a girl." I was sexually abused as a child, and it comes with a certain amount of indirect ingrained body shame. I never think about any of those three things -- I seriously don't -- but I'm chiming in on how women's bodies are the world's favorite plaything and punching bag.

    Thirty pounds after high school, I know I'm healthy. I like my shape, my new boobs. But I still want it always to be better, and I still shame myself. I still feel very self-conscious about sex.

    I watched some dancers recently and became aware that I spend time hiding and trying to forget my body. I would love to be more physical -- more sexual, more athletic and more confident.

    I will never, ever, ever, ever count calories or fat grams, I'll tell you that.

    You guys are awesome. Thank you for continuing my education, always, and opening my mind.

  4. Thunder Thighs? Nice.

    When I was 12, I weighed 125lbs and was probably about 5'3" so not bad at all but that didn't stop my grandmother from marching me into the bathroom and onto a scale and excoriating me for weighing so much. This came in the middle of practically shoveling food into my mouth to show me she loved me of course.

    When I was in college, she reached over one evening and squeezed around my shoulder blade and explained that she was checking to see how much back fat I had, her tone indicating it was clearly too much. That was right around this time:

    And that was probably about 100lbs ago. If I was too fat then, what must I be now? Oh, wait. I know: "extremely obese."

  5. Love this post! I've struggled and still do so every single day with my weight. It doesn't help that I've been called "built like a brick shit house" by my dad everyday of my teenage years either. Some days I feel awesome and other days not so much. My husband thinks I'm awesome and sexy and one day I'd like to really believe it too. For me, it means being more active because as you know, I love to eats.

  6. Oh ladies, I love you. I have a lot I could say about years of rigorous ballet training, and what the weigh-ins and constant focus on attaining a very specific body type will do to budding adolescents. I'm kind of still processing though, so for now: just love.

  7. Word, word, word.

    Ah, those "certain groups of friends" most defintely include the one I'm a part of, and I feel you. Being a performer does not help with that.

    I've also been trying to be happy with my body at the size it is, and that degree of contentment really depends on the day. Being 5'11" with big, broad shoulders does draw some "big" comments from people, even when I have been on the thin side of my normal, happy weight, and I hate that I take those so hard. I also hate that I get drawn in by all the stupid "thin = healthy" crap we get. Come on, look at professional athletes across the board!

    I'm so glad that my parents didn't make crap comments about my weight when I was a kid. I knew too many girls in college (and after college) with mild to severe eating disorders who were much less affected by media images than by their own parents' comments towards them as children.

    Sorry, this comment is totally scattered. What I want to say: GREAT post, and I feel you.

  8. One thing that I find weird/alarming is how normal it is for women to relate to each other by trash-talking their bodies. Heaven forbid that we have any confidence about or even acceptance of ourselves as-is! What then would we discuss??

    However, poking gentle fun at your goods, like the time my sister and I stood up pantsless in front of a clothing swap howling about our pasty, big, nearly identical legs, is just fine with me.

  9. oh wow...thank you for writing this entry. i discovered you shortly before you started blogging here, and have followed you ever since over here. anyway, i'm your age, female, and have struggled w/ body image on and off over the years. i hit menarche at age 10, and so the body image stuff hit early, when i was taller and more mature than my peers. (funny enough, though, i never grew beyond a petite height in the end!). some medical issues caused me to need round of treatment with steroids, which made me rapidly gain 25+ pounds in a short amount of time. (i had been at my "ideal" healthy weight prior to that medication, but the medication-induced weight-gain took forEVER to lose). that really screwed with my body image about eight years ago, and now again, those issues are creeping back into my life and it's been very rough waters in this arena.

    i'm with you on so many levels about this issue. i agree about trusting my body to know how to eat healthily, and about not jumping onto the "i'm so fat" girl-talk bandwagon. i'm "feminist", an alumna of an all women's liberal arts college, where appreciating all shapes of women was encouraged (though a fair number of people struggled with eating/body image stuff). i've also worked as a certified professional counselor, and i consider myself a confident woman overall.... so... it's crazy how hard it is even for me to get away from these issues at times--maybe b/c they are so long-standing.

    times are a little bit tough on this front right now for me, so it helped me so, so much to come over here and see this entry. thank you.

  10. I can't believe I missed this post. It's a great one, and really important.

    It's so interesting how cultural differences play a big role in womens body confidence. I grew up with a very tiny white mother who dieted a lot when I was younger and I had a PR ass and legs and I was always perfectly fine with that. I thought she was build like a bird, so scrawny. I only gage myself by how I feel and you KNOW I connect completely with the sugar blues thing. I'm astounded at how much it drags me down. And working out is the same. I feel best when I super fit and I make no apologies for that.

    And about women dragging each other down with insults. . . I see it around my girls now in school and recognize it as a power thing, like the most self depricating holds power, and I don't let them play that shit. Maya's built really lean, but Mina's starting to fill out with the nicest butt. We have high regard for nice big butts in our house, and she'll strut around in her chones and make us admire it. HA. Anyway, your build and weight is the standard of perfection in many a PR circle, including mine. Love all y'all.

  11. Bellcurves, thanks for delurking to share your perspective.

    Ms Madness, go on with your fine booty.

    Same to the rest of you.