Image: retrostar via Dollar Photo Club
My one precious life used to be devoted to the pursuit of thinness. Much of my time was taken up with researching the next diet, detox or 'lifestyle change.' Conversations at dinner parties, cocktail parties, and birthday parties were all about the food and whichever diet we were on. Many times I'd take my own food or I'd offer to bring dishes 'I could eat.'
Conversations with friends and family were usually about what I was or wasn't eating; how this way of eating made so much sense; why this time, I wouldn't put it all back on again: how this time would be different, and what the faults were with the last eating regime.
Each time I would order different remedies, supplements and special ingredients: cranberry powder, various teas, herbal 'detoxes' etc. I stocked up on the latest superfoods. I had lymph drainage massage and colonic irrigation.
And that's just the food. Don't forget the gazillion exercise regimes.
Day after day.
Week after week.
Month after month.
Year after year.
Decade after decade.
Trying to be and stay thin was like a full-time job! It required so much effort, planning, knowledge and commitment.
It was the way I connected with people - actually, with other women. When we weren't talking about diets, we would be consoling each other about our out-of-control compulsive eating, and commiserating about the weight that was piling back on.
Then I'd pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again. With a new plan.
What utter misery!
Life-sapping, joy-depleting misery.
How I stopped yearning for thinness
I can't tell you a date, or a significant moment when I decided to stop trying to be thin. It evolved. It crept up on me. I started with wanting to stop obsessing with food. I wanted to stop binge eating and dieting. I wanted my daughters to not have a crazy person as their mother. I desperately wanted them not to be like me around food. I ached for them to be happy in and with their bodies, and not to look in the mirror imagining slices of themselves vanishing into thin air.
I wanted to feel at peace with eating, food, my body and myself. I wanted to stop fighting with myself.
Over time, I worked on and internalised these different ideas:
- I stopped dieting - because I learned that diets don't work. They don't help you get and stay thin. They do make you a crazy mother. I also learned that the pursuit was futile because only about 5% of the population naturally has the currently fashionable body type.
- I became a lot more conscious of my diet mentality and worked on cultivating a 'peaceful eating mentality' instead.
- I stopped weighing myself.
- I learned that I'd been duped for decades by the myth of thinness: it does not equal health.
- Being someone who greatly values equality and justice, learning how fat people are stigmatised, ridiculed and judged in the media, in the workplace, in the health and fitness arenas and even on the street by perfect strangers, has opened my eyes and my heart. I realised that trying to force my body into a shape was itself a rejection of body diversity; it was, in a sense, a slap in the face to fat people - a way of saying 'I will do anything I can to not be like you.' As if being fat is the worst thing a person can be. I was being a part of the problem while I was relentlessly pursuing thinness.
- I eventually got that my desirability was completely separate from my size.
- I eventually learned all the way through (not just in my head) that I am lovable and enough exactly as I am.
- Reading books like Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth also helped dis-spell my yearning for thinness. Engaging with ideas that are about something greater than me - about society, oppression, equality and gender enabled me to become a part of a movement that means something to me: it's a movement about women's freedom! The pursuit of thinness is exhausting and it erodes self-confidence - it leaves little mental or physical energy for women to create and contribute to the type of world they want to live in. I've lost the taste to be a part of that endeavour. I have something of value to offer the world. We all do. I don't want that time and energy to dissipate into how much I weigh.
Understanding what attaining and maintaining thinness meant to me
The yearning for thinness is really a yearning for something else. Here are some of the things I thought thinness would deliver:
- Social acceptability (avoidance of being judged as lazy, out of control, obviously having 'unresolved issues')
- Appearing to be 'sorted' - in the sense that I have everything handled: perfect life, perfect body etc.
- A sense of freedom (actually it was a trap that delivered anything but freedom). But my mind thought I'd have freedom from:
- Being judged. If I wasn't worried about being judged, I'd go to the beach and actually take my clothes off; I'd wear shorts or anything I wanted.
- Being held back from anything I wanted to do; somehow if I could get and stay thin, I could conquer anything I put my mind to.
- Worrying about my weight! Because once I 'got there' I could stay there (... ahem... not!).
- Other people's admiration and approval (How self-controlled she is! How disciplined! How good! How beautiful! Oooh-ahhhh!). Sadly, being aesthetically, physically 'beautiful' for a woman is still seen to be important - more important than being good at what you do, fighting for justice, or being kind and compassionate. For all the equality we have fought so hard to attain, we still live in a culture where 'beautiful' women (men too, but especially women) get paid more. Shocking, huh? I didn't want my weight to get in the way of my prospects. What I didn't know was that the pursuit of thinness would mop up all my energy and chip away at my self-esteem - which would then become barriers to my achievements. Damned if you do and damned if you don't!
- Happiness - forever! Thinness never made me happy. I know I've been happy and had lots of joy from a size 10 to a size 18! Happiness comes from letting go of my judgements, demands and expectations. It comes and goes like all feelings as I respond to what life gives me. And I can do that at any size.
Putting it all together
Now that I look back on the evolution of my relationship to the yearning for thinness, I notice 3 themes that I think are important to articulate - they may be helpful to anyone struggling to free themselves.
I started with myself: my desire to be sane around food, and to be at peace with my body.
I saw the impact that dieting and the yearning for thinness was having on other people. I saw the misery. I saw the waste of time and energy. I saw how my pursuit of thinness was a rejection of others. I absolutely did not want that, and I did not want to model that for my daughters. It matters deeply to me. Rejection is separation. Acceptance invites connection. That matters to me. Deeply.
The Bigger Picture
I recognised that I absolutely want to be (and indeed am!) a part of a movement towards empowerment and equality; that I want to see a world in which women and girls are not hindered by the pursuit of thinness in making their contribution; in being who they want to be; in creating what they want to create in their lives. I wholeheartedly object that most American girls fear becoming fat; many fear becoming fat more than they fear getting cancer or losing their parents! If I were to continue this fruitless pursuit, I would be contributing to the misery, insecurity and impotence of the younger generation.
Our world needs us. It needs us to be awake. It needs us to have our hearts and minds open to what is around us. Yearning for thinness keeps us locked in the Little Picture. And I refuse to be a part of that.
It all matters to me. Deeply.