mandemonious

Thoughts and things…

How I learned to stop worrying and love my body…despite my lack of a “thigh-gap”

| 15 Comments

Content Note: dieting, restricting, distorted body image, body shaming language.

So – What’s my story, anyway?

Do I really love my body?

Let’s just say: I’m a work in progress, but I AM progressing. Have I reached my “ideal” body weight, whatever that is? No. Did I lose my belly pooch? Nope, it’s actually grown a bit. Do I have a “thigh-gap?” Not even close! Then how the hell can I be so damned happy? It’s not a simple or short story, so let’s just start at the beginning and see how far we get today. Likely, this will become a series of posts as I piece the whole thing together.

Tumblr: Finally getting serious about 'thinspo' and eating disorders.

Tumblr: Finally getting serious about ‘thinspo’ and eating disorders.

When I was about 10 years old, before the internet came along, my aunt told me that perfect legs have three triangles: one that extends from the top of the ankles up to the bottom of the calf muscle, one that goes from the top of the calf muscle to the bottom of knee, and one at the top of the thighs, just below the pubic area. She stood up and demonstrated her “perfectly” shaped legs. My young body was just beginning to develop the curves that would come to define my adult body, yet I only had the two lower triangles. Where was the top one that is now the highly sought after “thigh gap” of Tumblr and Pinterest fame?

Lacking any developed critical thinking skills, my 10-year-old mind decided that my thighs must be imperfect and that I needed to “fix” them.

When I was 11, my body filled out rather quickly as I began puberty. I was already self-conscious of my developing breasts and hips, and I frequently opted for bulky sweatshirts and poor posture in attempt to disguise the woman’s body that was developing on my child-sized frame. I just knew that anyone seeing the budding form of my breasts would cause me to die of embarrassment. If adults can get all wrapped up in the majesty that is the female breast, it stands to reason that a pre-pubescent, pre-adolescent girl can become quite confused when she is one of the few in her peer group to develop so early.

Around this same time, I became the butt of family jokes – quite literally, as my wide hips provided the perfect space for a large derriere. It so happened that a popular song in 1989 was EU’s “Da Butt.” The creativity of my family knew no bounds as they took the chorus of “Tanya gotta big ol’ butt, oh yeah!” and supplanted it with my name: “Mandy gotta big ol’ butt, oh yeah!” I didn’t learn that this song was a celebration of big butts or that ‘thick girls’ were revered in black culture until I was 17. That awareness may have mitigated some of the damage. Instead, in my 11-year-old world, the worst thing a girl could be was fat. Big butts meant fat. I had a big butt, so I was fat. And being fat is the worst thing a girl could be. This was the ‘logic’ that drove me to begin modifying my eating habits to change my body.

When I was 14, I bought my first diet and exercise book. I don’t remember the name of it now, with countless others having followed it over the years. What I do remember is that I did the exercises recommended by the slender, perky blonde in that book nearly every morning and afternoon for that year, and most of the next. I probably weighed about 115 pounds and have no idea what my goal weight could have been, though I surely had a journal that stated my goals and measurements very specifically, as would become my habit for the next 20 years. Despite decades of effort, I never became a slender, perky blonde…

As I look back with my adult mind that has been upgraded to include critical thinking skills and a stronger analysis of the cultural factors that played into my young self’s premature and misguided decision to diet, I wish I could give that child a hug and explain the wonder and beauty that exists in all bodies.

A year ago, I quit dieting. The catalyst for me was an accident that nearly took my boyfriend’s leg. Just before the accident, I lost 25 pounds by endless calorie counting and restriction, yet a few short months into his recovery I had gained it all back. It didn’t escape me that this seemed to happen every single time I quit dieting, creating the typical “yo-yo” effect many dieters experience. Despite the overwhelming shame and self-loathing I felt for yet another failure, there was a spark of clarity that whispered: This isn’t working anymore. You can’t diet for the rest of your life. At some point you have to LIVE and find balance. 

Just the thought of “giving up” filled me with fear and anxiety. If I “gave up,” I’d surely lose all self-control and eat myself into 500 pounds, wouldn’t I? My mind did frantic math, calculating how many years it would take me to reach that terrific weight if I continued to gain at the rate of X pounds per month. Luckily, I stumbled across several online resources that helped me begin to rewrite my internal script for how I view my body, and the fat that happens to be attached to the muscle, skin, and bones that carry me through this world. I tend to joke that it was harder than quitting smoking, but that’s not really a joke. The cravings to restrict linger. The moral judgements of food and shame hangovers from being ‘bad’ still creep into my consciousness. Yet, I remain resolved to live my life and love my body. That means nourishing it with food that doesn’t have a noose of guilt attached to it. And, yes, sometimes that means gloriously full-of-fat ice cream. Despite my new willingness to shamelessly indulge in foods previously forbidden or eaten in secret, my weight stabilized about nine months ago.

Here are a few of the steps I took to begin appreciating my body for what it can DO, instead of judging it for how it looks:

I began by “unfollowing” many Facebook pages and blogs that reinforced the status quo message that all women must be thin at all costs, no excuses! I did the same for pages that decry a different food as evil toxicity each week. In their stead, I began following pages that celebrate body diversity and women who do cool things. Some pages even show happy, confident, fat women, gasp! Then, I initiated conversations with friends and family to let them know where I was and how they could support me by not discussing weight, diet and exercise. This one can be tricky, but it is okay to set personal boundaries with loved ones. It can be scary, but rewarding. Next, I sought out blogs and pages that educate and support a Healthy at Every Size approach, which encourages eliminating body shame and making healthy choices, no matter your size or weight. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • *Michelle, the “Fat Nutritionist,” rocks! The sessions I was lucky enough to have with her were integral in me getting more than a few steps down this path. She likes to rely on science when discussing weight and nutrition, which is refreshing in our Dr. Oz tainted world.
  • *Jes, aka “The Militant Baker” has a fun, in your face blog about radical self-love. She’s also working with a bunch of folks (including me!) to put on a rocking Body Love Conference in April 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.
  • *I found Amber at “GoKaleo” during an extremely low point a few months before my recent wedding, and just in time, too! I was frantically searching juice cleanses, detoxes, and crash diets as a way to lose a few last-minute pounds before the big day. Spending an hour on her site grounded me back into the reality that I wanted to heal, not get on another diet.

 

Hello, my name is Mandy and I am a reforming dieter and body-loather. I began recovery 1 year and 8 days ago. My hope is that, through sharing my story, I can inspire others to find the strength and courage to enrich their lives with self-compassion and to feed their bodies with plenty of nourishing and delicious food so that they may follow their passions instead of another diet.

 

15 Comments

  1. I am the same but different. I started life being super skinny and was constantly teased for it by my family and at school. i was told to eat up and people were always trying to fatten me up so I didn’t blow away in the wind.
    I was terrified of being fat. That was just not acceptable in my family. Then I hit 30 – got a divorce, had a baby, had a tubal ligation, and started blending a family together all in one year. Stress levels went through the roof and just kind of stayed there for years and my weight well that just started going up and up and up. Much to my family’s horror.
    Finally I have made peace with my body. Yes I am still overweight. Yes I make good food choices. I know I need to exercise more but for now I am working on loving myself and who I am.
    We are all just works in progress, loving ourselves a little bit more every day. thanks for a great read. Here’s one of mine you might like http://cgrace4wellbeing.blogspot.co.nz/2013/11/things-i-love-about-my-body.html

  2. I stumbled across your site and couldn’t stop reading. All the things you talk about hit so close to home that I can almost picture myself in your shoes. All my life I have been a “big” girl and all my life have been self-conscious about it, through today. I have always been the one to hide myself behind larger clothes (claiming they are more comfortable, the larger the better). After I had my children I gained even more weight, convincing myself that it was because of the health problems and lack of mobility I deal with each day.

    Wanting so much to be thinner, not modelesque, but “healthy” I find myself making excuse after excuse that I cannot do the physical things it takes to get thinner because it causes too much pain (though this is a literal daily event for me), I think I almost have begun to use it as a crutch. I tell myself that I am not lazy, by far, just in pain.

    So now after reading your story, and vowing to follow along your journey, I hope to be able to transform my thinking to be as beautiful as yours. Thank you for the inspiration and hope that I may too feel as comfortable as you in my own skin.

    • Thank you for sharing, Sharon! I can relate to dealing with pain, as it has debilitated me at times in my life and at others it has really thrown me off my routine. I hope this question doesn’t oversimplify your problems, but I am curious if walking is something that you can tolerate with your pain? Movement is movement and it all counts. 🙂

      I am excited that you are feeling inspired! Hearing the stories of others and learning just how shared this experience is for so many people is a huge motivating factor for me to keep writing. I hope you will continue following. I have a Facebook page called Mandemonious as well, if you’d like to join the conversation that way. I wish you the best in loving yourself. I still have to work on it every day and some days are better than others. It’s a process, it isn’t always easy, but it is much more REAL in terms of lasting happiness than relying on a scale or a pants label. I look forward to hearing more from you!

  3. Thank you all for your kind and supportive words, and for sharing pieces of your own story. I think it is important that we all realize how much we share these experiences and that we have the power to end this. Judging my the online communities I have been traveling in, the time is ripe. Stand on the rooftops, ladies! Share your stories with each other, love yourselves and each other.

    Sharing this has already been immeasurably rewarding for me, and I look forward to continuing these conversations with you all.

  4. Mandy, welcome to the group of us who have stopped killing ourselves for an unrealistic societal view. I too spent much of my youth on diets, but it was due to my abusive mother. She was half German/half Italian, and wanted to be Twiggy more than anything in the world. When I came out with the body of my (square!) German grandmother, my mother started when I was about 9, putting me on every fad diet, starved me, forced me to take injections of speed at 12 years old. She would pat my cheek and say “You’re so pretty, too bad you are so fat.” Or her favorite when I got older, “I don’t know how you get such good looking boyfriends, you’re so fat!” I finally came to my senses and cut most ties with her, and it was one of the best things I ever did for myself.
    You are not alone, there are lots of us out here! 😀

  5. Thank you. I can relate to your story here in so many ways. This is something I really needed to read. I’m at that point in my life where I’m discovering a brand new world of wonderfully happy women who aren’t ashamed of their bodies. It’s such an inspiration. I can’t express the gratitude I have for being able to read something so deeply personal of yours and be able to turn it into more motivation for seeking it in my own life. As I told Jess on the Militant Baker’s fb page…keep on being the change you want to see in the world. You’re truly making a difference.

  6. I’m just a step or two behind you myself! I’m telling myself it’s time to stop dieting and just find balance, while still terrified I’ll gain a couple hundred more pounds if I really do stop dieting. I’m making plans to exercise more, but not fanatically count minutes or reps or pounds or carbs or calories or whatever. I’m having much-needed conversations with my husband so that we both understand what helps and what doesn’t. And I like my body as long as I don’t have to look at it too much! I’m getting there. And thankfully, your post sounds NORMAL, so I feel more like I’m on a path toward normal, too. Thank you. 🙂

  7. Mandy,
    I was directed to your blog by The Militant Baker and reading your words tonight helped me once again see that I need to love myself first, no matter what my weight is or if I’m missing those triangles, and everything else will fall into place. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and traveling a few steps with you on our journeys.

    • I can’t express the gratitude I feel for Jes/The Militant Baker for posting my blog and for doing what she does. I hope we can all work together in learning this whole self-love thing, ’cause it can be new and scary! 🙂

  8. Rock on Mandy. You are beautiful!

  9. This is beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to help women see things differently. At some point I would love to read more on setting boundaries with loved ones. Thanks again!

  10. Knowing that this is about you,and your re-wiring and healing I am loathe to add this next sentence-I feel so guilty to have been such a big part of your life-long struggle.Our mother wrestled her entire life,with first one,then another diet,which is probably why I cannot stay on one,and to our G-ma N.,fat=lazy,which broke my mothers heart,because,of course,pappy felt the same.I don’t,by any means,want to make this about ME,just showing other people how this dark, penetrating disease of the soul spans generations in many families,and needs to stop.I am terribly proud of you and your journey,and hope that your recollections help other women.And,I’m sorry.

    • XO, dear ma’am. There are no fingers pointing here. <3

      You bring out a good point, that this is a 'disease' that spans generations. We women inherit from our mothers, who inherited it from their mothers, and so on. Our job now, in this present age of information sharing is to make sure that another generation of women doesn't spend their lives aiming to disappear, but in being as visible as possible in their health and happiness.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.