Feature photo credit: GR Stocks via Unsplash
CW: Talk of weight gain, negative body image, and the potential for intentional weight loss
I’ve put on some additional body fat this year. I’m not totally ok with it. I mean, I’m OK in the sense that my world isn’t coming to an end, but I was more comfortable in my body when it was smaller. And the habits I had that kept me at that smaller size were absolutely healthy, sustainable habits for me. Until they weren’t for a while.
I’m going to say some things that I know aren’t in alignment with everyone in this community, starting with the fact that I’m ok if you have decided you’re more comfortable in a smaller body. I don’t think that feeling is always problematic. However, I do think we need to examine the reasons why we are more comfortable and make sure we’re being honest about what we have control over and that our reasons for wanting to be smaller that are based upon our own values, not someone else’s.
After all, what if you do some soul-searching and realize you have a belief that being a bigger size makes you less successful? What if you feel less attractive or less worthy in a bigger body? Most likely, these are not beliefs that stem from your own values but rather a reflection of internalized fat-phobia. So, when you notice this bias, approach it with curiosity, and then decide how you want to live your life and what kind of world you want to live in. If it’s important to you to address this internalized fat-phobia, then there are things you can do to counteract it. One of them isn’t being mean to yourself for realizing you have work to do. I think unlearning fat-phobia and misogyny are lifelong processes, just as unlearning and dismantling our complicity with White supremacy will require a lifetime of attention and learning. I’m ok with that. These are complicated challenges, and we are co-creating new societies and cultures. That work will take time, and it is appropriate that it does.
So, I’m not gonna get down on you, or myself, for noticing some shame about the changes in our bodies. I’m also not going to say that the only solution is learning to accept our bodies larger. We can choose that solution. It’s on the table to do absolutely nothing to intentionally change size and to instead focus on feelings. In fact, if you or I decide we aren’t ok with this larger size, we will still need to deal with these feelings in order to find a healthy, balanced approach to changing things. The lifestyle and habit changes that come from a place of shame or self-judgement are not going to be changes anyone would want to sustain. Who wants to live in perpetual self-punishment?
Doing the work of learning to accept ourselves without judgement, even when we’re currently uncomfortable in our bodies, will likely take some time and reeducation. We must notice our feelings. Question the beliefs that they stem from. Learn to reframe our thoughts. It will take time and patience for this process.
I am bigger that I was a year ago and for a long time, it was really uncomfortable for me–physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I found myself feeling like I’d failed, like I was less valid.
However, I’ve been working on building up my healthy habits again and finding new mindsets that help me see the work I’m doing, not just a measurement against some false finish line. One of the biggest lies of diet culture is that the only changes that matter are big changes and the only changes in our bodies that matter are dramatic transformations. I’ve been working on noticing my internalized fat-phobia–how often I’m so much harder on myself than I would be to anyone else, expecting myself to make big, dramatic changes, and I’m working on counteracting this narrative in my head. As a result, I’m feeling pretty good right now. I’m a tetch smaller than I was a few months ago, but that doesn’t compare to how it feels to being able to move again without pain in my joints. It doesn’t compare to how it feels to be eating in ways that gives me more consistent energy–not bouncing between loaded down and overfed, and hungry and undernourished. I’ve made this progress because I’ve given myself credit for the work along the way, even when it seemed small or “insignificant.”
For me, this work is about how I feel in my body every day and having the freedom to pursue the life that I want to live in this world. Feeling good IN my body is helping me feel better ABOUT my body. It’s helping me counteract my internalized fat-phobia, showing me the strengths of my body rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses.
It’s ok to notice that you’ve internalized fat-phobia. In fact, the only way we can address it is by acknowledging it. Shaming yourself, or someone else, for participating in the dominant culture isn’t going to lead to lasting, healthy solutions. Do the work to learn to accept yourself, your body, and your thinking as you are right now, as a work in progress, and then find solutions that work for you from that place of love.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found questioning her beliefs, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.