“fat” and what we make it mean

As unfortunate as it might be, “I feel fat” is common language among women—of all sizes. And as much as I try to get down to what’s really bothering me without displacing it on my body instead, on occasion, this thought pops into my mind.

On days where I can’t get away from the body image, feeling too big blues, a good cry, a pep talk, and a good sweat usually help me feel better. But along the way, I’ve done some thinking about this whole issue. A few years ago, I remember hearing about an eating disorder therapist asking a friend of mine what would happen if she got fat, and I have thought about this along my journey because part of what accepting my body and trusting it during recovery involved was thinking about what would happen if I did gain weight or more weight than I might have been comfortable with.

I’d be lying if I said that I smile at the prospect of gaining weight. But getting upset over the idea of buying a bigger side of pants is an invitation to consider what we make “fat” mean. When it comes to getting bigger or considering myself fat, I’m entering pretty emotionally laden territory—an indication that there’s something going on besides the number on the scale. What is it about being bigger or heavier that is so scary to us? What is it about the word “fat” that makes it so darn scary or unattractive to us? Sam blogged about her own relationship with words like “fat” and “big” and was honest about her own experiences negotiating around these labels.

Whether we’re fat or not, the way we use the word and the way we think about it is important. Given the body conscious society we live in and the way that we can affect the ways people think about themselves, I think we all need to be conscious. I know I have seen it in little kids at camp this summer already – “That tree is fat!” as the most laughable thing in the world or “I’m going to get fat!” in regards to a 7 year old eating pizza indicate to me that “fat” signifies a lot more than the dictionary definition might suggest. Deborah Lupton’s book, Fat, is a good one if you want to get into this from a super nerd approach.

But on a personal level, it’s an interesting thing for me to think about. When I look at a BMI table, I fall in the “overweight” category. So then the kinesiology grad in me says that BMI can be inaccurate for athletes because that weight could be (health promoting) muscle. But then the critical thinker in me questions why being overweight is something that needs to be avoided in the first place. BMI gives us the objective lines instead of the subjective take on our own bodies and in my case, tells me I’m too much. I start to get real with myself and remember my experience in the bod pod and having my body fat tested: worse than overweight, I am “overfat” or have “excess fat” depending on the term of choice. Then I think about the way that I’ve bounced back from being far too lean for my body’s health and happiness and the way that it tampered with my hormones. But my thyroid’s functioning just fine now so the hormone excuse is no more.

So where does that leave me?

Thinking about birds.

Bird! (Not the one in my backyard, FYI)Image source

Huh?

I just moved in with my (super wonderful and amazing) boyfriend. We have a backyard and birdies that live in the big pine trees back there (bragging a little). My sister (a birder) would tell me that I am confusing robins and sparrows, but there’s a couple of robins. And one of those robins is bigger than the others. Maybe it’s a boy or maybe it’s just chubby. Either way, I figure, that bird doesn’t know that it’s bigger than the others. If it does, it doesn’t make it mean that it’s somehow less “ideal” of a bird. It doesn’t use it as confirmation that it’s not good enough, not worthy, or not beautiful. That bird goes on living its bird life, catching worms, building nests, soaring through the air in all its chubby glory.

I think we could learn from the birds.

Since so many of us seem to think we’re “fat” (listen around the water cooler or in the locker room of your gym for this kind of talk, especially on a Monday morning after a weekend when people like to “indulge”), I think we need to start to consider what that means to us. Are you really fat? What difference does it make if you are? If that bird can keep on keeping on, can you?

Most of what we think being bigger than we’d like to be holds us back from has nothing to do with our size—but everything to do with what we think about it. We want these ideal bodies because we think then we will be entirely different people with entirely different behaviours. But the cool thing about wanting to be a different kind of person with a different set of behaviours is that those things do not depend on the number on a scale or the tag of your jeans. If you think that being fat stops you from being in shape, I’d say exercise anyway and you’ll get fitter. If you think that you’d like to be some super healthy girl with a six pack, eat that super healthy diet already! We let our delusions about not having our dream bodies stop us from living our dream lives. That’s what’s sad—not weighing more than we “should” or than we think we should.

As always, the way we think about ourselves is what really matters. It might be easier/more comfortable to go on making our bodies wrong, but every little step towards appreciating mine—exactly the way it is, right now—reminds me to keep on keeping on. Happy and healthy is as happy and healthy does!

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I live #LikeAGirl: embrace it

You know those cheesy as can be, make you feel fuzzy and warm, watch over and over again…tampon commercials?

Me neither.

Except for the latest one, #LikeAGirl, from Always.

You probably wouldn’t know it’s a tampon commercial, but products aside, the ad is part of what the company’s calling an “epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond.” The woman who made the video had this to say:

“In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand…When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

The gist of the ad is this: somewhere along the way growing up we start to think of “like a girl” as an insult. Rather than letting it be so, we should take it as a compliment.

I can see why Always would want to put out a video like this. Of course they want to connect with the messages that make women feel warm and fuzzy–it’s women and women alone who are going to be deciding which box of tampons to pick up (though that didn’t stop men from tossing in their two cents in the comment section, though, if you’re bored and want some entertainment). And I think they have a pretty good position from which to promote a better way of thinking about being a girl given that we’ve all got an Aunt Flow to accommodate, ladies. Sure, they’ll make some money off of it, but a campaign to help girls with confidence? I’m good with that! From apologizing profusely to thinking we’re not good enough, I think there’s a bit of a confidence crisis going on with girls–and a similar situation with boys, I’d add–these days, and when we don’t have confidence and self esteem, we don’t live the best lives we can.

“Like a girl” only carries a negative connotation if we let it. In my experience, it’s people who are feeling threatened who might throw this kind of an “insult” out. The more that we see women and girls doing amazing things, the less association there will be between “like a girl” and anything bad. If our gut reaction when we think of doing things “like a girl” is to think of Chrissie Wellington racing Ironmans or Serena Williams playing tennis or Camille Leblanc-Bazinet doing CrossFit, the phrase will cease to be an insult.

GIRL!

Chrissie Wellington: GIRL!

Camille's a girl!

Camille’s also a girl!

I am sure that there are some that would argue that reclaiming “like a girl” might just reinforce that there are differences between boys and girls. But I personally do not mind that I am different than boys. There might be things that I don’t do as well as an average male–but there are things that I can do that boys cannot (i.e. carry and give birth to a child). Women are certainly held back if they think of themselves as the weaker sex and let it stop themselves from trying. Luckily, women don’t have people telling us that our uteruses are going to prolapse from any kind of strenuous exercise or that we need to conserve our vital energy for our more feminine pursuits these days. Without those kinds of messages, women push the envelope and achieve amazing physical feats. The goal shouldn’t be to be the same as a man, it should be to stop thinking about being a man as somehow better than being a woman. With that kind of thinking, it’s no wonder that people take “like a girl” as an insult. There’s a difference between reinforcing differences and embracing them. I know that accepting that there are things about being a girl–i.e. needing more fat in order to stay healthy, not having the same amount of muscle, etc.–frees me up to try my hardest at doing things well, giving me the freedom to live #LikeAGirl without feeling bad about it.

What do you think of the #LikeAGirl video/campaign?
Do you take it as an insult if someone tells you you ______ “like a girl”?

 

thinking about bodies, loving them, and where we’re investing our energy

My masters supervisor is one of the smartest people I have ever met. People describe him as a range of things from brilliant to exceedingly difficult to follow, mostly because he thinks on a very big and theoretical scale and sometimes leaves people in the dust when he goes on a thought journey. Once, I got a paper back with a comment about how my writing can sometimes be difficult to follow because I go off on tangents like my supervisor. I took this a supreme compliment, but this kind of thinking and thinking and then thinking some more can make for some late nights just stuck on some issues. And can make for some very confusing blog posts, which I fear is about to happen…

Today’s question of concern? Whether or not writing a blog about loving our bodies (as a woman) is helping or hurting the situation.

body lve

I’ve often wondered whether or not the time I’ve spent talking about this journey towards embracing my thighs and appreciating my body could have been spent going to medical school, reading the encyclopedia, or getting a PhD in astrophysics.

Today, I got thinking after I read a post on Tabata Times by a man who was talking about his body issues:

“I love spending time with my girls outside, but I don’t love the pool the way they do and it’s for one simple reason: I hate my body. Does that surprise you? That’s probably not what you are used to hearing from a man, but we have body issues too. The difference between men and women is that men don’t get whole articles written on it like women do.” 

The dialogue about embracing our bodies as women has, at least in my experience, gotten louder as of late. That being said, I am part of the blogosphere that talks about it, a voracious reader of books on the topic, and an advocate for all people—men and women alike—embracing their bodies. I’ve learned and continue to learn that the more I focus on what I can do, the more appreciation I have for my own body. That doesn’t mean that all of my body woes are gone. I might not have an eating disorder any more, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hear the “lose weight and be happy and have everything you have ever dreamed of and more” messages out there in the world. What I worry about is replacing that message with a “love your body and all your problems will melt away” one instead. If we’re on a body love journey, we need to remember that addressing the other aspects of our lives is still important. I think of all the genius females out there who might be using a lot of energy worrying about how they look—and I wonder what else could be happening if there wasn’t this need first to fix our bodies and now to fix the way we relate to them.

But then, how do we get away from this obsession with our bodies in one way or another? We have bodies. How they look is important, whether we want it to be or not. How we feel about them is also important, because it drives how we act—how we take care of ourselves and how we relate to others.

So on that question about whether or not it’s a misuse of my energy to talk about this, think about this, and work on this journey towards loving my body more and more and worrying less about how it looks, I am going to stop worrying about it so much—because that’s where I waste my energy. Maybe more women than men talk about this and maybe some people think that this is a way that women hold themselves back. But I don’t think that it changes the fact that loving our bodies and getting our relationship with ourselves sorted out is worth doing.

I’m going to have a body for the rest of my life. I don’t want to get to the end of it thinking that I should have appreciated it more, should have used it to explore and live more, should have loved it more. I don’t want to be constantly trying to change it, sending myself the message that I’m not “good enough.” I don’t want to take the easy road out and say that a little body discontent is “normal” and okay—because I don’t think it has to be. The more I love the body I have, the better care I take of it, and the better I feel about the whole situation. A combination of realizing and admitting that I care both about how I look and about how I feel about how I look—and then taking care of myself to make sure that those things are in place—rather than trying to be someone who’s “bigger than the issue” takes the pressure off.

ody love

I want a world where people don’t hate their bodies. Whether you’re a man or a woman and whether it’s okay to talk about it or not, I wish we didn’t need to. But, until we all get to a place where we appreciate our bodies more than we want to fix them, I think the dialogue about changing the way we talk about, relate to, and take care of our bodies is worth having.

hating it

What do you think about all the talk (especially among women) about embracing our bodies?
Are we moving in the right direction?