Skinny is the new beautiful. It doesn’t matter what body type you are – if you don’t have a petite frame and a size 0, you could do better. This is a message twelve year old girls and fifty year old women alike get bombarded with relentlessly. We see it in movies, we see it on billboards, we see it modeled on the mannequins in storefronts. We see it everywhere. We are a society obsessed with skinny.
Sadly, our enthusiasm for “healthy” doesn’t even come close to such levels. As our main concern continues to be “skinny”, obesity rates, together with cancer and heart attacks, rise at increasing rates. Did you know that retail sales for weight loss products are near $4.5 billion annually? The total industry revenue exceeds $40 billion. Source
60% of US adults are currently overweight according to the CDC (source), so something is clearly not working. The more we strive for skinny the more sick and obese we become. So what are we doing wrong? There are many answers to this very emotionally provocative, question. Doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, psychologists, writers, bloggers, and lay people all offer various theories. Weight loss fads come and go faster than skinny teenage pop stars.
I wish I could tell you that, having lived on a small farm, enjoying my mama’s wholesome meals and homegrown produce, protected me from this fat phobia…. but it didn’t. This phenomenon spans all of Western culture.
While counting calories, cutting carbohydrates, eating whole foods, and going on Paleo, Atkins, or raw has helped many of you loose weight, my purpose here is not to recommend any diet. Instead, I would like to examine WHY so many of us feel pressured to follow a weight loss program.
I’ll start by telling my own story:
When I tell someone who is struggling with weight issues that I’ve struggled with diet demons myself – even though I have always been a very petite girl – they often think I’m just trying to relate and give me an unsympathetic look. The tragic truth is that regardless of whether you are smaller or bigger, the guilt and greed-inducing image of the perfectly shaped body is force-fed to us all. No one is spared, no matter what size you are!
My sweet sixteen found me trying to conceal my ever expanding hips behind large T-shirts and baggy jeans. Dinner with my family stopped being a time of joy as I increasingly tried to hide my food in my pockets. But mama wasn’t interested in allowing me to diet, so to my chagrin she continued to make me big hearty meals three times a day.
When I moved to America for college, things got even worse. Word had it that American food made you fat. So on top of stressing out about homework, language barriers, and fitting in with my classmates, I started cutting my calories down to only 1000 or less daily. I would control it – I would make sure my body would stop expanding and growing! I wanted my slim boyish figure back! I was determined to go back to size 0. But I didn’t, even though eventually I cut my meals down to one per day. By my sophomore year I hit the dreadful size 2. Going from a 0 to a 2 can be just as devastating as going from a size 12 to a size 14. You can’t control yourself. Try harder, they say.
As a result people often embark on a new diet and hope this one will finally shed the pounds. Since the number of women suffering from bulimia and anorexia has reached unprecedented highs, it is sometimes more acceptable for women to say they are simply trying to be healthy and fit. They focus their energy on excess exercise and even eating healthy, but not because they want to be healthy. It is because they want to loose weight. If it backfires and we instead gain some weight we decide this new diet or lifestyle change is not working. How could it be healthy if its not helping us loose weight?! This destructive way of looking at our bodies comes from the inability to accept all different body shapes as beautiful. Women of all shapes and sizes starve themselves and rob their bodies of valuable nutrients so they could fit in in our fat-phobic culture.
At what cost?
I married a man who loves cooking elaborate, delicious meals. His passion for food is intoxicating! I still remember the first day he made me steak and eggs for breakfast. I hadn’t eaten breakfast since I left my parents farm when I was eighteen. At first I panicked and tried to find an excuse not to eat it but when I saw Clayton’s disappointed face I grabbed my plate and took a big bite of the tender juicy steak. It was delicious! I didn’t put my plate down until it was licked clean.
This hearty meal gave me a stable dose of glucose that kept me going for longer than I was used to. (I have struggled with hypoglycemia all throughout college and first few years of marriage. You can read my story here. I was also severely anemic, and struggled with severe pms, colds, digestive problems, and allergies. Slowly I realized that as I added hearty wholesome foods like raw milk, pastured eggs, fresh vegetables, bone broths, fermented foods, back into my diet, I started to feel better and have more energy.
Sadly, the hardest process was acknowledging that even though this new way of eating made me feel better it also implied more (a lot more) calories than I had been eating in a long time. Being healthy meant being heavier than I was when I was eighteen, and that was a huge struggle!
If someone implements a healthy lifestyle and they get heavier as a result, we all tend to think something didn’t work right. It took me a lot of emotional self control and nutritional research to become comfortable in my body. I had to learn that I was worth being loved even if I gained weight, a lesson my husband taught me, and still teaches me every day. I am still petite, but I am not a size 0 and I never will be a size 0. Do I have a small voice in my mind still saying I failed when I see a fashion magazine? Yes, sometimes.
Any time you are in line at the grocery store, the front cover of Vogue or People shows some new Hollywood mom who bounced back to her post baby bod in less than a month. About two weeks ago princess Kate gave birth to a son and the next day the radiant mother showed up on the steps of the hospital with her new baby and a post baby belly. The world was in shock at her brave move. She didn’t wear something baggy to cover it, she showed the whole world she was a new mom in a REAL post baby body. The media coverage was relentless. While a few magazines praised her, even more articles talked about her “jelly belly” as some novelty.
Yes, it is now perceived as a novelty to have a body that doesn’t fit within the parameters. So I encourage you to embrace that novel feeling and be proud of your body. It is this attitude that will inspire a change in the status quo of the perfectly skinny mannequin body. I am not saying don’t go on diets or change to a more active lifestyle, but be aware of the pressure and check in with yourself about the reasons you are making changes. Don’t give in to this fat phobia. We are all built differently try to be in tune with your body and figure out what is YOUR ideal weight, the weight you feel healthy and comfortable in. Trust your body, not the media. You will be healthier and happier both emotionally and physically for it.
This post is featured on Fat Tuesday,