At this point, everyone is aware of the photoshopping that occurs with images in magazines and advertisements, engineering models into icons of perfect beauty. They aren’t even real, but it doesn’t matter. These pictures seem real and if you look this way, i.e. skinny and youthful, whoa, get ready because your life is on the verge of perfection. And oh, you will have so much happiness. You won’t even know what to do with yourself.
We are constantly told what attractive people should look like and there is little to no room for variation. Women are young and thin. Attractive men are portrayed as lean, mean, fighting machines and are allowed to be a little older and maintain their attractiveness…not so much with women. Yeah, we still like the women young. Oh, and yes, we like them skinny WITH big breasts (the two don’t typically go together, but whatever, we can get breast enhancements).
I am acutely aware of the impact of these pictures because when I was 13 years old, I had a pharmaceutical drug-induced eating disorder.
I had been a somewhat chubby kid with asthma and a host of environmental allergies. My parents decided to take me to a medical specialist who could test and treat my allergies. I ended up on a ton of medications: weekly allergy shots, antihistamines, bronchodilators, steroids, and then of course, when I got sick, antibiotics. I stopped eating. I passed out at school once because all I had eaten that day was a banana. I ended up losing 35 pounds in one month. I was ill. I had dark circles under my eyes. I cried all the time. Everyone was worried about me. The teachers were talking about holding me back a grade because I had missed so much school. My parents begged them not to. The whole scene was tragic for a young girl.
In the midst of it all, parents started calling my mom. They would say, “Wow! Your daughter looks fantastic! I want to put my kid on that diet. What did you guys do? She should go take some modeling classes.”
WHAT?! My health was rapidly declining and people wanted to know what I was doing to look so great?!
All of a sudden, boys started to pay attention to me. In a month’s time, I became very aware that my body mattered. Before this event, I didn’t give my body a second thought really. I was too busy enjoying myself. Now I was obsessed with staying this way.
And I thought to myself, “Wow. If I can just keep this up, I will have a flat stomach and then my life will be perfect.”
I was now a product of teen magazines and the television. If I just had the “perfect” body, then my life would be perfect.
I remember coming home one afternoon, and my parents wanted to talk with me. My dad had purchased a book about the side effects of medications. All the medications I was on had the same side effects in common: decreased appetite and anxiety. They said that they were really sorry for what I was going through. They understood that what was happening wasn’t my fault. They decided to take me back to my general practitioner and to stop seeing the allergist. Our GP said to stop taking all the meds and to see what would happen.
In a few days, I started to eat again. I returned to some previous version of myself, but not really because now I counted calories. I had to stay thin. People liked me this way. Counting calories wasn’t enough at a certain point, so I escalated to binge eating. I would eat a whole cake or pie or pint of ice cream and go exercise it off.
What a recipe for disaster, and yet, people thought I was healthy.
I am sharing my experience with you because maybe you need to hear this story or maybe you know someone who needs to hear this story. Please pass it on!
In the spirit of this conversation, I am going to ask you a bizarre question:
What if what you eat does NOT always affect the way you look?
We speak like there is a law at work in relationship to food and appearance; eat this food and this will happen. But there is no law. We are complex. I'm not saying if you eat a box of twinkies everyday that it won't change your appearance. However, there may be times when you feel like you are doing everything "right" or you take measures to change your body and nothing dramatic really happens.
I am having an interesting experience with my body as a breastfeeding mommy. My child is 3 years old now. My husband recently wanted to lose weight, so I joined him on nothing but vegetables, meats, and berries with limited nuts and seeds. He lost 16 pounds. I lost 2. My body didn’t want to change. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s sleep deprivation. Maybe it’s the stress of life. But maybe it’s healthy…maybe there is nothing wrong. Maybe my body is saying this: move into motherhood as a robust looking woman. When I look at my life, this is the healthiest and most vital that I have ever felt!
Is this correlation or causation? I was skinny and sick, now I am voluptuous and well.
Close your eyes, forget about how you look for a few minutes, and ask yourself how you FEEL!
I know a lot of people who eat and live a healthy lifestyle. They are walking their talk, AND they are round and they are strong. You won’t see these people on the billboards; yet, they are shining lights in the world.
Bottom line: I am tired of genetically gifted people who fit into the media’s version of beautiful who then use their beautiful bodies to sell their product. “Here, look at me, I am beautiful and you can be beautiful, too, if you follow my diet and do things my way.”
Don't assume that skinny equals healthy! Obviously, the problems that stem from obesity are many, but the key is to maintain a healthy weight for YOUR body - rather than deprive yourself of nutrients and minerals to fit into an approved stereotype of health and beauty. You are literally killing yourself to be skinny.
Some people are naturally thin.
Some people are naturally fit.
Some people are naturally round.
If you are naturally a larger person and try to make yourself thin, your vitality will suffer.
I am qualified to write about this because I have lived through having an eating disorder and I have witnessed the effects of being too thin in my clientele, particularly, but not limited to, menopausal women and athletes.
For healthy hormone production, women need body fat, both when they are young and older. One medical doctor I heard speak said that a woman should be two dress sizes larger in her menopausal years than she was in high school. This extra weight is also thought to be protective to our bones. Bones need weight-bearing exercise to stay strong and supple.
As far as female athletes go, it is common to see female athletes without a menstrual cycle and if they do have a menstrual cycle, it is highly likely that they will not be ovulating. I swam competitively in college. We trained 3-4 hours per day. I complained every day of how hungry I was. My swim coach pulled me aside one day and said, “Charlotte, you’re not eating enough. You need to be eating a box of cereal per day. You need to eat like you are a football player.” I was very thin and my coach would comment on how healthy I looked. I didn’t have my period for 3 years! I went to a gynecologist who said, “Oh, no big deal. You just need to be on the birth control pill. You will be fine.”
If only I knew then what I know now. I would have been eating steak smothered in butter instead of cereal, which we know leads to raised insulin levels that eventually crash causing a roller coaster of energy levels.
I do not foresee that the media is going to change any time soon, so you know what has to change…YOU! Well, you and your attitude towards yourself and your body. Here is my attempt to change this dynamic – both in myself and in the larger world. Below you will see a letter I wrote to a specific store. Out of respect for the fact that they did try to resolve the situation, I am going to keep the store anonymous. It doesn’t even matter anyway. It could have been anywhere:
Today was my first visit to a XXXXXX retail store. My mom had offered to buy me a new workout outfit and a good friend gave me a $25 gift certificate to spend. I had always heard such great things about your store both in terms of the quality of the clothing AND the company’s commitment to their employees’ personal growth.
All the clothing looked so nice and I loved the textures, colors and styles. Thing is, I got concerned when I was shopping because I saw that most items only went up to a size 10. What?! Really?! Haven't seen that before. Then, I noticed a small, handwritten sign hanging on the back of a table, in the back of the store that said something to the effect of: "Size 12's like to look cute, too." And I thought to myself sarcastically, "Haha...NO SHIT!" Now, I was really having my reservations about this store meeting my needs and expectations.
Nevertheless, I went into the dressing room with a number of items - mainly pants and various tops. Not a single thing fit. My breastfeeding tits are too big. My former competitive swimmer/triathlete shoulders are too broad. My new-mommy stomach is too round. And my God-given torso is too damn long. If the store had had more size 12s (gee, I wonder why they were sold out) or even larger sizes available, some things would have fit and I would've walked out with a new outfit and would've been a happy woman.
But alas...I am very disappointed. I don't obsess about what size clothes I'm wearing. I am a holistic health professional and have a good strong body that I am very proud of. And here's the deal: when I stop breastfeeding and if I drop the rest of my pregnancy weight and return to what is probably a size 10-12, I still don't know that your clothes will fit and I probably won't go back to your store anyway because that sign pissed me off: "Size 12's like to look cute, too." Damn straight...please call the manager of that store and have them take that stupid sign down before it offends someone else. And if that is an approved sign, then shame on you guys, not everybody who works out is a size 8 and there are lots of voluptuous women who want to look nice.
My contact information is below if this warrants more of a conversation.
You guys are missing a BIG segment of the population - pun intended.
Thanks for listening,
Mmmmm…that felt good.
I want to invite each person reading this into my world; a world in which you are not your body. You are a spiritual being walking around in human form. In this world, we take care of our bodies. We respect them. We feed them real food that exists in Nature. We exercise enough to move our breath and muscles but not to exhaustion. We sleep. We love ourselves and we love each other.
I’ve been overweight, and I’ve been underweight, and I know this for sure: wherever you go, there you are.
Even if you look in the mirror or get dressed and think, “Ugh. I look like shit.” It’s ok. Fake it til you make it - just gently pat whatever part of your body is offending you the most, and say, “I’m learning to love you.” One day, you will. I hope this story, more than ever, encourages you to Eat in Peace!