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Posted on Jan 22, 2014 in Dear Diary | 17 comments

Body Love vs. The Desire to be Thin

Howdy, folks! Happy Wednesday! I don’t know about you folks located outside of the Eastern seaboard, but here in Northern VA we got hit with a ridonkulous amount of snow yesterday!

Everything you read on your friends’ Facebook feeds is true. My car is currently buried under half a foot of fluffy white stuff and it literally comes up to my dogs’ bellies when they go outside. It’s kinda nuts, especially when you consider it was almost 60 degrees on Monday!

But speaking of fluffy white things and my pups, yesterday was also Daxter’s birthday!

Can you believe he’s FOUR years old? *sniff* They grow up so fast! I still remember him when he was thiiiiiiiis big:

Anywho, now that we’ve gotten all that adorable feel goodery out of the way, I wanted to dive into something a little deeper. I’m not sure how I got to it, but I recently came across The Militant Baker‘s amazing blog and, specifically, her post about the Smash the Scale Revolution. And, as it will likely do for you, it got my brain cogs movin’. And since this blog is pretty much the place I go to air out all my weird thoughts on the rare occasions that I get them, well… here we are!

So, the Smash the Scale project is pretty much exactly the awesome thing you probably think it is: a movement to try and get women (and men!) to stop focusing on making their bodies culturally and societally appropriate. In The Militant Baker’s words: “It’s about making a conscious decision to detach your worth from that number on your scale. Smashing the Scale isn’t about being unhealthy. It’s about deciding what your definition of beauty is and knowing that it is enough.”

See, I can wax poetic for ages about how I want to get healthy and be strong and how I’m not at my best when I’m being lazy and unmotivated — and all of that is true. But what I don’t say very often, what I don’t even really admit to myself, is that underneath all of those good intentions and righteous reasons for doing, well, this, is still that pervasive, seemingly unavoidable desire to just be thin.

I’ve never been thin. Not really. I mean, I think maybe I was a lanky child between the ages of 5 and 7 1/2, but other than that, I’ve always — always — existed more as a Mindy Lahiri type:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I mean, all those times in high school when I thought I was fat? I would KILL to still think THAT’s me, fat. I mean, not really, obviously what I really wish is that I *didn’t* think that being 5’9″ and weighing 160 pounds is fat, but I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that I’ve never really known what it’s like to be THIN. Like, I dunno, wears clothing with an “S” on the label, able to pull off stomach-baring shirts thin. And logically, I think that I know that my body type is not and was never meant to be skinny in the conventional sense. I’m tall, I’ve got wide hips, big bones, big other things that start with “B”, yada yada. But “knowing” that and KNOWING that are two very different things, and the fact of the matter is that even now, even after all the growing I’ve done — or at least thought I’ve done — there is very little I wouldn’t do if it meant I’d magically wake up tomorrow as a size 4.

So, clearly, despite all my best intentions, I still very much buy into the societally-pressured, glossy magazine idea of conventional beauty. Which is why it’s so hard not to hate myself for re-gaining the weight that I worked so hard to lose, because somewhere inside, underneath, below, there’s a part of me that basically equates me being fat with me being ugly. Which is RIDICULOUS. And I know that it is. But, hey, given what the kind of messages blasted at us from every direction, can you really blame me?

I try to focus on the good, the parts of myself that I know that I love. And I try to gain objective perspective about the parts that, while I don’t necessarily consider beautiful, are not exactly grotesque either. But it’s hard to always focus on the positive, to always accept yourself the way that you are. Which is why I so commend things like the Body Love movement and the Smash the Scale Revolution. Because we really need all the support and inspiration we can get when it comes to this. And because it is never as simple as you think.

I really don’t believe in the pressures and demands that society and culture puts on women (and men!) to look a certain way in order to be considered beautiful. But I still succumb to them. I don’t believe that being thin automatically equals being beautiful, or vice versa, but I still want to be both. And as a weight loss blogger, as someone who is actively working to lose weight — yes, to be healthy and strong but also to, well, lose weight (duh!) — am I simply perpetuating the cycle? Broadcasting my specific attempts to lose weight, and thus to become at least slightly thinner, is not exactly me screaming to the world that I am part of the Body Love movement.

In a perfect world, I would be able to love my body as it is AND still be okay with changing myself. It wouldn’t be about rebelling against society and showing the world that Big is Beautiful, and it also wouldn’t be about trying to “fix” the way I look. It would be about being okay with whatever I WANT to do — whether I want to lose weight or I want to stay the way I am. And if I wanted to lose weight, it really would be because I wanted to be fit, not because I wanted to fit in. And if I wanted to stay the way I am, it would be because I really did think that I am beautiful as-is, no changes needed (and because, as we know, fat does not automatically mean unhealthy anyway!).

It’s awesome that there are so many body love/body acceptance/size acceptance movements happening, because obviously the current “ideal” absolutely needs to change. But pressure comes in a lot of different forms, and Hollywood isn’t the only one with opinions on how people should look or act or think. If I’m being honest, sometimes it feels like my only options as a large-and-in-charge lady are to either A) want to lose weight and hate my body or B) stay fat and love my body. Like, if I were a true proponent of body acceptance, I shouldn’t want to change. But I want to be able to both love my body as it is AND still want to change it. And I want it to be okay to want both things.

The fact is, some days, I do hate my body. I tear up thinking about the stretch marks that I will have forever. Some days, I hate the fact that I’m not naturally blonde and I hate that I have arm hair and I hate that the fingernail on my right middle finger is weirdly smaller than the one on my left. Maybe it’s because I caught a glimpse of my pooch in the mirror as I bent down to pick something up. Or maybe it’s because even though I’m a size XX at Old Navy, when I try on the same size at J.Crew, it doesn’t fit. Or maybe it’s just because it’s a Tuesday and that’s how I woke up feeling.

But some days, I love my body. And I don’t just mean when I’m focusing in on my eyes or the cupid’s bow dip of my upper lip or sticking my chin out so you can kind-of-sort-of see my collarbones. I mean sometimes I look at the rolls on my stomach or the fleshy part of my upper arm and I am really, honestly, truly, just like, “Huh. Cool.” It might not be as often as the days when the reason I love how I look is because of my eyes or my cupid’s bow, but it has indeed been known to happen.

There’s no rhyme or reason to how I’m going to feel about myself or my body at any given time, because I’m fickle and I’m emotional and I’m constantly changing and I’m HUMAN. But I would certainly like the scales to tip in favor of loving everything about myself — even if I still want to change some things.

While I won’t be literally smashing my scale any time soon (I still intend to weigh myself as a way to chart my progress, of course), I am really grateful to the Smash the Scale Revolution for opening my eyes and making me really think about my motivations for why I’m doing what I’m doing here. Because in the end, just wanting to be thin is clearly not enough of a reason to make weight loss stick. I’ve found that out the hard way! And maybe if I learn to really love myself at 233.2 pounds, then when I get to 220 pounds or 190 pounds or 160 pounds or wherever I end up, I won’t have to worry about anything other than just being me.

17 Comments

  1. Very cool post. And while I am down with the underlying concept I will still be weighing myself on a scale, because the fact remains that when I set a goal for myself I like to see progress. I also know myself and that even if I gave up my weigh ins I would find some other form of measurement to validate my success or failure. I have found changing my mind set is the only thing that works. My scale is a tool that can be inaccurate in showing my hard work and if I’m not seeing it there then I can see it in the mirror, or my clothes, or my workouts. Acceptance is important, no matter where you are in you journey to a healthy happy life. The scale helps me focus on how far I’ve come as opposed to how far I have yet to go. Good luck in your health journey and thanks for the thought provoking post.

    • I absolutely agree! I don’t intend to stop weighing myself as a means of charting my progress in this journey. Rather, I just want to be able to change my mindset and have it be appreciative of every step of the process — not just the end point.

  2. Great, thought-provoking post. How did you feel about your body on round 1 of this journey when you lost so much weight? If I remember correctly, you came across as super body-confident (with good reason!)…and your journey wasn’t even complete yet! I’m guessing (and I’m no expert on this; this is just my gut reaction) that part of the dissatisfaction you are feeling about your body right now is linked to wanting to be healthier. The two are so woven together in our brains at this point–we know that there are lots of health issues associated with being overweight, and that getting to a normal weight reduces those risks–that I think it’s nearly impossible to separate the desire to be thin from the desire to be healthy. Does that make sense? I’m not condoning society’s crazy standards by any means, but I think that in a few weeks, once you’ve been consistently back on track and you know you are doing good things for your body, you will feel a lot better ABOUT your body.

    Also, while there’s no need for anyone to beat themselves up about the way they look (you ARE beautiful as you are!!), if a little bit of vanity gives you the push you need to get healthier, maybe that’s okay?

    As always, thanks for being willing to share on here!!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Catherine. You’re right! Even at the mid-way point or the not-quite-to-the-end point or whatever, the amount of body confidence I felt SKYROCKETED pretty much the minute I crossed the 200 pounds threshold. Even though technically I was still overweight, I was really proud of how far I’d come and how good I felt. I mean, I did run a 200-mile relay race, even though it honestly feels like a distant dream right now.

      I think my sister would agree with you that the vanity aspect is a good motivator, and since lack of motivation is one of the things that assisted in my backslide back to my current weight, I guess I should take all I can get, eh? šŸ™‚

  3. I love this post because like you, I’ve struggled with body acceptance for a lONG time. I was always the biggest friend in my circle and even to this day, mentally I’m still that way. It’s taking a long time for my mind to catch up with my body.

    xoxo

    • Honestly, I think that whole self-perception thing is an entire other post (or five) in and of itself, because I know that is something I struggled with even after I lost the 60 pounds, and I’m sure it’s something I’d struggle with if I lost 100 pounds! It’s so easy to form your identity around being big in a world of people that are smaller than you, it’s really, really hard to break yourself out of that, I know.

  4. You know, I thought I wanted to be skinny. (And I’m not going to rehash my story here because you know it.) But, it turns out, I just want to feel physically the way I feel mentally – strong, prepared, competent, assured.

    And I felt that way 18 months ago. I was still smack-dab in the middle of the overweight BMI category. I was wearing a 10 with an occasional 8. I could run as long as I wanted. I could carry loads and loads of groceries upstairs without getting winded. I could shop in little boutique shops.

    And that is who I want to be again. Not a number, not a size. But the freedoms, security, and options that comes with it.

    And in the meantime? I got a sassy new haircut. I’m making an effort to add fun to my wardrobe. I’m having a ball in the kitchen.

    I don’t have to see this process as a struggle or a chore. I can see it as a gift to myself. Attention to myself. A loving act. Empowering choices, not restricting ones.

    I don’t think there has to be any conflict in the love for yourself and the desire to change. At all.

    • God, I love you. Your comment is amazing and insightful and says all of the things I wish I had come to conclude on my own. Seeing this journey as a gift to myself… what a novel idea. I am most definitely going to have to sit and think on that one, because it’s so true! Beyond the physical, beyond the vanity, I am trying to make strides in treating myself better.

      And I so fully agree with you on the idea that being healthy, being comfortable in your skin, being happy with your weight (even if it is technically still overweight according to BMI and crap like that) is SO freeing. It is a huge burden constantly worrying if something is going to fit when I’m out shopping, or being uncomfortable being asked to go do something physical with friends because you don’t want them to see you struggle to do something they find so easy (which is a huge reason why I never really liked running with other people).

      Amazing and insightful comment, K. I am really lucky to have you alongside me during this whole process. šŸ™‚

  5. a great post! sometimes it’s as though body love is slammed in your face also which is where i see your conflict. if you’re supposed to love your body always, why would you want to lose weight, etc…it’s definitely a tough road to navigate. you’re doing an excellent job, by the way. Xx.

  6. “If Iā€™m being honest, sometimes it feels like my only options as a large-and-in-charge lady are to either A) want to lose weight and hate my body or B) stay fat and love my body.”

    I think this is one my biggest struggles with some members (some!) of the FA movement and some members (some!) of the healthy living community. To the folks with the extreme philosophies on both sides, it’s just not possible to love and appreciate your body and still want to change it. But it is! I can look at my body with respect and admiration, but at the same time, I can take an educated look at my physical fitness and appearance and decide I want to improve (or, what I deem as an improvement for me and my body). The two feelings aren’t mutually exclusive (and often times, aren’t even necessarily related).

    Sure, I’ve had my moments where I wished I was shorter and tiny and generally petite (usually when I’m shopping for jeans at the mall, because apparently plus-size tall women don’t exist in the eyes of most retailers), but those times are no different from the petite lady wishing she had my long legs. We all struggle with the grass is greener thing. But that doesn’t mean I think my body type is gross or disgusting. Just like, sometimes I dream of moving to a little shack on the beach, but that doesn’t mean I think my house is bad or I really want to move from where I live. It’s just a different reality for a different person. And sometimes it’s fun to think about if that was your reality. I think it’s totally natural.

  7. I totally hear ya! I’ve been trying to lose weight for ages and/or come to love my body. It wasn’t until I started running (yet stayed about the same size) that I realized I could love what my body could do (as opposed to what it looked like). Focusing on those amazing things my fit and healthy body lets me do (even if it’s maybe not as small as I would like it to be) has let me love my body. And yet, I’d still love for the scale to reflect the hard work I do and for the mirror to show me some changes. Great post.

  8. I am so right here with you. I have never felt the needy to be supa skinny. however, I played around with the bmi calculator the other day and was not loving what it was telling me. There may be a blog post about it in my future. (for honesty’s sake I’m 5’3″ and currently 177.7, to be “healthy” according to mr. bmi, I need to be 141. Which I haven’t seen in many moons. (aka high school, probably sophomore year).

  9. This is a great post. I had a brainsplosion moment a couple weeks ago when I read a blog post by an ex-bodybuilder who explained that there is actually no benefit to 6-pack abs. You think that it might indicate good general health, or strong core muscles, or good posture… nope. 0/3.

    What it DOES indicate is an extremely low body fat percentage – so low that it can cause organ damage if you keep it up too hard and too long. For real! Societal pressures make us into collective morons that salivate over things that are not only useless, they are potentially really terrible for us.

    I think this ties in well to your previous post. In the same way that you’re always balancing your taste buds with your desire for health, you’re also always balancing your desire to change with your desire to accept yourself.

    In actual fact, motivational psychology research has been finding that you NEED both to succeed in your goals. If you have accepted yourself, it’s easier to aim for a healthier lifestyle because your motivations are more “intrinsic”. If you’re motivated be “extrinsic” factors – social pressure, family or friends, upcoming beach vacation – you’re actually much less likely to succeed. Food for thought.

  10. I could say that I only want to lose weight because it is good for my health. But, you know, that wouldn’t actually be true. It is the primary reason. But, liking how my body looks when it is thinner is part of it.

    I did actually lose down to pretty darn skinny once before. I was at 119 at 5’4″. My body wasn’t perfect. I still had too high a body fat percentage and my waist line wasn’t tiny. But, you know, it looked really good. And, in truth, I would prefer that body to the one that I have now. I think that I can love ME – the person that is me – without loving some aspects of my body.

  11. I love the idea of loving yourself AND wanting to change. I know there are have been some days were I just want to beat myself up for not having the “right” number on the scale. this has defiantly started me thinking of that darn scale in a new light. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Wow Gretchen – you really have a way with words.

    I feel like this could have been me writing. I have struggled every pound of the way to love my body as it is, and even now I find myself focusing on the negatives when it comes to my body. It’s so strange because I feel like I am SO good at focusing on the positives in other areas of my life, but again and again, body image and weight remain something I get hung up on. It’s always so interesting to get out of our own heads and focus on the whys of what we’re doing. Thanks for making me think! Xoxo

  13. I’d love to post something profound here, but I think AMEN sums up my thoughts on this post. šŸ˜‰

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