Update: This piece ran on The Peach on November 16, 2012. Check it out here!
If you, like me, are a woman, then you probably have body issues.
Maybe if you’re a man, too. I don’t know. Probably.
I can barely remember a time when I didn’t have some kind of issue with my body. At first it was my lack of a womanly figure. I was a late bloomer (in all kinds of ways–more on that in another post). At ages 10, 11, 12 my friends started to develop, and I was still Flaty McBoyfigure. It wasn’t the breasts or hips I envied—that’s a lie, I literally prayed to God for big boobs–but what I wanted more than anything was the beautiful “X” shape. The hourglass figure. I was straight up and down like an “H.” I used to stand in front of the mirror and bemoan my lack of curves. And my teeny boobs. And “teeny” is being generous.
Then, something magical happened. The Figure Fairy paid me a visit the night of my 14th birthday. I woke up with a perfect hourglass! And an “Ah-OOO-ga”-worthy rack! Also, my hair and skin were gorgeous. And I finally learned how to dress myself. And for that one, perfect year, I reveled in my body. I saw the attention it got me, and I’m not ashamed to say that I liked it and I played it up. That year I was happy, popular, and confident.
Needless to say, it didn’t last.
As my development continued, my weight gain did as well. And right around my 15th birthday, I made a realization. Oh my God, realized I, I’m fat.
I was not fat.
I was 5’4” and 120 some pounds. I was gorgeous. But it was too late. The fat cycle had begun. Goodbye, confidence. Goodbye, popularity. Hello emo self-hating poetry (actual quote: “the black is always there”) and baggy clothes.
It’s been 15 years. In those 15 years my weight has sunk as low as 118 (after a bout with a terrible illness left me unable to eat with hair falling out and no periods at 17) and spiked as high as 180 (another health scare and a bad reaction to some medication at 22). Most of the time I rest somewhere in the 150s. I am 5’6”.
My body-hatred is of the ordinary, garden variety. Although I have some unhealthy behaviors around food (as, I believe, most women in our culture do), I never teetered into eating-disorder category. I never binged, purged, starved, or ate my feelings. But I have never known a time in my adult life where I wasn’t dieting; or where my feelings of self worth weren’t directly correlated to what I had put in my mouth that day.
Cause here’s the thing. I’m done. No more dieting for me.
I’ve been hugely inspired by this new book I’m reading, When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies. It’s probably too early for me to start endorsing the damn thing (I haven’t even finished it yet) but I’m so on-board with the message I feel like I have to write about it right now. Some of the examples are a little self-help-cheesy for my taste, and some of it sounds a little like psychobabble to me, but there is a lot of truth in this book.
Here’s the deal. You do these exercises and work on your self-talk to feel better about how your body is today. This part is key. You must love your body the way it is now–not once you’ve lost 10 or 50 or 100 pounds. You must not talk down to it or be abusive. This involves lots of positive self-talk and affirmations and goddessy-stuff and looking at yourself naked. I admit I feel very silly doing these things.
But it’s working. I have weapons when I feel the bad body thoughts coming on. And that makes me feel…powerful.
The next tool they recommend in the book is demand feeding. It means you eat exactly what you want, as much as you want, when you want. Goodbye standard meal times! Goodbye “bad” foods! When you feel hungry, no matter the time, you ask yourself, “am I mouth hungry (wanting food for reasons other than to assuage hunger) or am I stomach hungry (wanting food to ease hunger)?” The idea is that if you allow yourself anything you want at any time, you’ll no longer need to binge. In fact, you’re supposed to surround yourself with “forbidden” foods—in order to make them no longer “forbidden” and therefore no longer binge-inducing. You eat what you want and stop when you’re full.
I was dubious. But I dutifully stacked up on Oreos and Nacho Cheese Doritos. And for the first few days I ate them with abandon. But after only two days of that…I didn’t need to anymore. Four Doritos was all I wanted. I couldn’t believe it.
Let me state for the record: THIS IS REALLY HARD (I’m using bold because I am very serious). I feel out of control. Like I’ll gain 200 pounds if I don’t shame myself away from “bad” foods. But I’m trying to remember a realization I had—in my dieting days, whether it was a “good” week or a “bad” week, it never seemed to make much difference. And all the weight I lost I would gain back quickly.
Diets don’t work. Start loving yourself NOW. As you are TODAY.
So. That’s where I stand. Trying to eat when I’m hungry without any judgment and trying to talk nice to myself. I don’t want another 15 years of bad body fever. I have way more important things to do and more important things to think about. I am also trying to be more mindful of my body than ever. I’m trying to eat more vegetables and drink more water and do more yoga because my body feels good when I do these things. I’m not perfect. I mess up all the time. I eat when I’m not really hungry sometimes. I’m mean to my body sometimes. I ate a cookie for breakfast this morning because it sounded good, and immediately started “bargaining” as to how I would make that up by eating zero carbs at lunch and dinner and drinking water and doing an extra bike ride….and then I stopped. I mean, so what? I ate a cookie and it was fucking delicious and I loved every bite. It’s ok. In a few hours, I’ll probably want some celery. It will be crisp and crunchy and awfully delicious, too. Everything’s ok.
But I still haven’t thrown out my scale or that dress that I’m THISCLOSE to fitting into. Like I said, a process.
So, gentle reader, I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the book. Life is too short and our bodies are too beautiful not to love them every minute. I may never have the “perfect” body. But I have the body that is perfect for me. I am 5’6”, 150-some pounds, with killer curves. Sometimes I get compared to Joan from Mad Men.
I got the “X” shape I prayed for when I was 11, and it’s time for me to appreciate it. Even if it’s a slightly larger “X” than I had in mind.
And you know what? I’ll take it. Because I’ve spent too much time thinking “I’m too fat” and not enough time thinking “I’m going to fucking change the world today.” That ends now.