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.
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.