by Melissa Toler, Pharm.D.
After performing at this year’s Super Bowl half-time show, Lady Gaga’s stomach was at the center of some good old-fashioned body-shaming on social media. Super Bowl viewers took to Twitter and Facebook to express their disapproval of her belly fat and suggested that maybe she should have hit the gym a little harder before the big show. It caused enough of a ruckus that she responded on her Instagram account with a brief post to acknowledge that she is proud of her body… and we should be too.
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It’s only been two years since I started trying to break out of the whole mainstream fatphobic diet mentality thing, and I already have far, far more good days than bad. I learned to love my body and my self no matter what size or shape, I can recognise damaging talk when I hear it, I will never go on another diet as long as I live.
But earlier this week I made a mistake. I had a meeting after work, and traffic was bad so I only had a few minutes at home to change out of my work clothes. I threw on some jeans and a hoodie and ran out the door.
Fifteen minutes later, when I knew I would make the meeting on time and had calmed down enough to notice, I realised that my jeans didn’t fit. At all. What should have been boot cut was now super skinny, I couldn’t bend my knees fully, and even when I was standing the waistband dug into my stomach.
I was stuck in those jeans for 5 hours. Aside from the physical discomfort, I noticed some thoughts sneaking in as the night went on. Thoughts like
This is just because of the injury. Once I start exercising again I’ll get smaller.
If I use my kettlebells, that’ll have an effect faster.
These used to fit me, how did I let myself get so much bigger?
And hundreds of variations on that theme.
I had forgotten how ingrained fatphobia was. Here I was thinking I had beaten it, but less than an hour in some tight trousers was enough to push me a huge step backwards and get me planning and plotting to make myself smaller.
What’s even worse is that the effect didn’t go away when I took the jeans off. It’s days later now and I’ve got my first salsa class since before my injury; I know I’m bigger than last time most of the salsa scene saw me, and I’m afraid of what they will think of me. There’s a small part of me that is actually seriously considering not going.
All this because of ONE PAIR OF FREAKING JEANS!
Of course I’m going to salsa. That nasty voice in my head is still trying to stop me, but I’ve had two years practice at throwing my shoulders back, lifting my chin and doing it anyway. And then the second I have enough free time, I’m going through every item of clothing I own and getting rid of anything and everything that doesn’t fit me. If I then need to go and buy bigger clothes, so be it. Clothing sizes are just numbers and not one of them is better than another.
My body is perfectly fine exactly as it is. My body (and my mind) deserves clothes that fit well and that make me feel fabulous, not like a sausage about to burst its skin.
Or Why I Will Never Ever Be Part Of The Diet Industry Ever Again
One of my colleagues was ill over Christmas and new year, bad enough to have been hospitalised and still unable to return to work two weeks later. Which led to the following conversation.
Colleague 1: She can’t even eat; she’s lost about a stone
Colleague 2: Oh well that’s alright then!
Colleague 1: I know, she must be so happy
Colleague 3: Every cloud and all that
Colleague 4: I’m so jealous
Colleague 1: Aye, me too. I might go for a visit – see if I can catch something!
Me: *silently screaming into my hands*
I’ve heard of people with cancer who lost weight because they were unable to eat without throwing up or their gums were too sore for food, who were then told “cancer really suits you!”. But I didn’t really believe that could have happened, that people could be so phenomenally superficial. That anyone could ever say to another human being, “Yes, you might die, but at least you’ll go out skinny!”.
I believe it now.
This is what our beauty ideal and the diet industry have created. Thin is good, praiseworthy, to be envied, no matter how it’s achieved. Anything that makes us lose weight is automatically good, even if it will kill us.
How did we let this become a thing? How did we get to a point where people can have a conversation like that and not be utterly, utterly horrified? I know I am.
As a new year begins, so to begins a massive amount of diet and weight loss talk everywhere we turn. Whether it’s commercials for diets, gyms offering free body fat testing, employers starting weight loss competitions,(that are a seriously terrible idea), or friends posting all over social media. Here are some things that you can do to help get yourself through this:
Create a Mantra
I talk about this a lot, but I have found it to be invaluable. Create a mantra that you use whenever you see diet or weight loss junk. My personal mantra is “Hey, That’s Bullshit!” Other people have told me that they use phrases like “Nope, Nope, Nope” or “Hell to the no” You can use whatever works for you. The trick is to say it to yourself (or outloud, whatever works for you) every time you have to deal with weight loss/diet talk…
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I’ll be back next year with more posts. Until then I hope you’re all having a happy Christmas, and that the new year is better for everyone. Here’s to 2017!
At the beginning of September I sprained my knee (did you know knees could be sprained? I didn’t. It was very educational). The nurse told me it would take at least 6 weeks to heal, which turned out to be seriously optimistic; 12 weeks later and I’m now counting the days since it last hurt, although not quite daring to call it healed.
Because I’ve been out of action for 3 months, my fitness level has pretty much reset to zero. Absolute zero. I can’t describe the feeling of looking at all my running medals while I gasp for breath after climbing one flight of stairs, but trust me when I say it’s not a good one.
I suspect my knee is only better now because I was forced to rest completely last week by the worst case of tonsillitis I’ve ever had. Swallowing hurt so much I couldn’t even take water, and solid food was so out of the question I was actually glad my appetite had vanished. The antibiotics are finished, but my throat is still sore and my glands are still swollen.
Then I woke up at 3am on Monday with a cracking headache, and ran to the bathroom to be sick. I’ve caught a bug that’s making the rounds at work.
And of course my knackered kidneys meant I couldn’t take ibuprofen for my knee, had to lower the dose of antibiotics for my tonsils, and tried to get rid of my headache by drinking a lot of water and leaving the lights off when I was at home. Is it bad that I sometimes daydream of taking nurofen?
It can be difficult to love your body when it feels like it’s broken.
I confess over the last few months I’ve cursed my body several times, for taking so long, for letting me down, for turning against me. As though ‘me’ and ‘my body’ are separate entities that can be at war. As though either one would be anything without the other.
That’s how I’m working at still loving my body, even though I’m so, so tired of being ill. I remind myself that it’s as much a part of me as the voice that moans about it. That it isn’t some malevolent thing that wants to be ill; my tonsils didn’t get infected just to annoy me, my stomach didn’t decide to make me sick just to see how I would react, and I’m positive my kidneys would really rather be whole.
Rather than being against me, it is me. And one thing I’m getting better at is looking after myself. So I’m taking my sore throat to the doctor again, even though I don’t like going. I’m resisting the urge to jump back into running and salsa and ceroc and pole, even though my knee feels fine, because I know I need time to get well again. I’m even taking naps if I need them, much to the horror of my must-always-be-doing-something-useful brain.
Of course I’m more than just my body, but it is a part of me, and I’m working on giving it the love and care that every bit of me deserves.
I know the man responsible will probably never see this, but I need to write it out anyway for my own processing.
For context: A few weeks ago, someone I hadn’t spoken with for over a year got in touch, and we started chatting. The usual rubbish, how are you, how’s work, what have you been up to (how I detest small talk). Then, in response to him asking if I need to workout considering all the dancing I do, I said I probably don’t need to, but I love having muscles.
And then he sent this:
Translated for the sake of clarity, “not too big muscles, I hope; A pretty woman with a toned body is sexy. A pretty woman with big muscles is not.”
First and foremost, this is creepy. as. hell. He hopes. He hopes, about my body. He wants my body to remain sexy at all time for his benefit. Scuze me while I try to stop my skin crawling right off me.
But it’s also infuriating, I read it and I was instantly shaking with anger. The suggestion that only ‘pretty’ women can be sexy. Because of course there’s only one definition of pretty and/or sexy.
The suggestion that well-muscled women are not sexy in any way, to anyone.
But most of all, the assumption that any of that would be a motivating factor for me. As if I would immediately sell off all my kettlebells and weights because heaven forbid I not be considered sexy. As if the entire point and purpose of my life is to be attractive.
So I called him out. Something along the lines of “nuts to sexy. I love my big muscles and that’s the only opinion in the world that counts”. (Actual quote lost when I deleted everything, just barely resisting the urge to set the phone on fire.)
And he sent me this:
“I wasn’t talking about you, I like the way you look. I meant like this. This isn’t sexy ”
Face, meet palm.
Of course he wasn’t talking about me, what with me not being a woman and all.
Of course the fact he wasn’t talking about me makes it perfectly fine for him to say that this woman is womaning wrong because she doesn’t turn him on. Dear lord, I can’t believe I just had to type that sentence.
By that point I was rage-shaking so badly I could barely type, and dithering between trying to get him to understand and just blocking him. In my hopeless optimism I went with giving him a chance to stop digging, with roughly the following points:
- Comparing me to another woman is not a compliment. Ever.
- ‘You meet my definition of the correct way to be a woman’ is not a compliment, or an okay thing to say in general because…
- If there were a correct way for me to be a woman, it would be defined by me, always me, and only me. But…
- There is no ‘correct’, nor indeed ‘incorrect’, way to be a woman.
- I’m not here for your sex drive. Ew.
He said I was being over-sensitive.
Then I blocked him.
A few people have said he had a point – they don’t find super-muscly women attractive either. But that was not what he said.
“I don’t find muscly women attractive” is a point. One I really couldn’t care any less about when it comes to other people’s thoughts on my body, but a point nonetheless.
“Muscly women are not sexy” is not a point, it’s a sweeping generalisation that says his worldview is the only true worldview and there is no possible dimension in which anyone could find muscly women attractive.
And “you shouldn’t get too muscly because I don’t find that sexy” is so far from a valid point, that I can’t quite believe I had to type that sentence either.
I’m not angry that he doesn’t think muscles are sexy. Everyone has opinions and they’re entitled to them. I’m angry that he tried to impose his opinion on me and assumed I seriously care whether he finds me sexy, and then dismissed me as over-sensitive for being creeped out and offended by that assumption.
I wish I had blocked him sooner and saved myself the adrenaline stress.
A microscopic part of me is hoping he will have thought about my points and realised his mistake. But the realist in me knows fullwell he probably rolled his eyes, muttered something about my time of the month, and carried on his creepy way.
In case anyone is wondering, the right response sounds a bit like this:
“I’m sorry I offended you. Thank you for taking the time to point it out and explain it to me, which you are absolutely not required to do. I’m taking your points on board and I’ll try to do better next time.”
But to be honest just “I’m sorry” would have done, rather than doubling down and mansplaining his sexism to me.
“I said they should be clothes all women want to wear. I wouldn’t dream of letting any woman, whether she’s a size 6 or a 16, wear them.”
How fortunate that I don’t wear clothes because some random man ‘lets’ me.
So close, and yet so far…
Tim Gunn is “a design educator, author and Emmy-winning co-host of “Project Runway” according to the byline of a piece he wrote for the Washington Post. The piece is called “Designers refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace.” with the subtitle “Far more women in this country wear a size 16 than a size 6, but the industry seems not to have noticed.” I’m a fan of Tim Gunn on Project Runway and I had high hopes when I opened the article. And it started off strong:
I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million
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Wow. Just wow.
Sadly, I can imagine exactly how terrible and full of ridiculous scare-mongering this will be.
Yes, the BBC is airing the autopsy of a fat person. No, it’s not ok. I can see the meeting now, someone stands up and says “how can we create programming that plays on and sensationalizes the social stigma against fat people, makes no medical sense, helps no one, and does tremendous harm?” And thus “Obesity Autopsy” was born, eclipsing “Sharknado” as possible the most ridiculous idea to get produced and aired but, of course, far more harmful.
Let’s start with the basics. They have flown the body of a 238 pound woman, who died in her sixties of heart disease and donated her body to science, from California 5,000 miles to London so that Mike Osborn, a consultant for the Royal College of Pathologists, and Carla Valentine, an assistant pathology technician can perform an autopsy which will first be aired as part of a one hour program on BBC Three, an…
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