Posts Tagged 'fat'

Self-acceptance, even in a bathing suit

I spent the last of my Christmas money buying the book Health at Every Size (and also a Tai Chi dvd; more about that later). The book is by the ironically-named Linda Bacon, Ph.D., and she writes about the myths surrounding our culture’s obsession with dieting and weight loss and our equation of thinness with healthiness. I’ve only barely started the book — midterms are this week and reading for fun is out of the question — but this bit from the introduction especially resonated with me:

Food is simple now. I appreciate the sensuality and pleasure of eating. When I am full, I typically lose interest in food. After a few magical bites of chocolate, I am satisfied and the drive to eat dissipates. When I finish eating, I rarely think about food until I am hungry again. I don’t feel guilty afterward.

And I take pleasure in my body. I move because it feels good. I enjoy being touched. I dress in clothes that I like and don’t consider whether or not they hide my fat.

As wonderful as food is, it is only one of many pleasures in my life. I am no longer waiting to lose weight before I live my life fully. Having freed up all the energy and time that I spent on dieting or obsessing about my weight or food and having let go of my shame about these, I have greater depth and fulfillment in my life, including deeper intimacy with others.

These few paragraphs have become an ideal for me, the goal I’m longing for but almost afraid to hope for. Not obsess about food? Not feel guilt and stress and shame about eating? That’s so completely outside my experience of food as to be in another zip code – no, on another continent. I almost cannot even imagine ever feeling that way.

And yet. The more I tell myself I’m abandoning dieting and efforts at weight-control, the more I practice listening to my body to know when and what and how much to eat, the more I try to focus on my beauty and okay-ness, right-ness as a creation of a perfect God instead of my wrongness according to the narrow social ideals of beauty —  the less foreign it gets. The more I choose to love and nurture my body instead of abusing and depriving it, the more natural it feels. The more I practice believing that it is okay to wear clothes I love, to dress up in ’50s pearls and liquid eyeliner and Bettie Page bangs (self-cut at 2am, after drinking — perhaps not the wisest method for hairstyling but I do love the result) instead of doing my best to disappear in boring neutral clothes and makeup, the more I find myself being honestly, truly happy with the me in the mirror. Or is it the other way around?

Maybe so. I don’t think I’m over my obsession with food. But it’s shrinking. And as food lessens its grip on my emotions, as I discover more and more that my body manages my eating choices quite well when left to its own devices, I’m becoming happier with my body — the wonderful biology of it, and its appearance too. It’s easier to love the way my body looks when I can trust the way it works.

Which is why, when I was trying on bathing suits this week (my old suit is hideous and saggy and worn through, so I ordered several different styles and sizes to try on, hoping to find one that I could live with) I ended up having difficulty choosing between two bathing suits, one to keep and one to return, and being frustrated because I love them both — the cut, the fit, the way they enhance my curves; they way they make me look at my body and think sexy, not dumpy.

In fact, given how staggeringly awful it used to feel to put on a bathing suit, and given how fully, couch-jumpingly in love I am with how these two bathing suits make me look, I think it’s not the bathing suit at all that’s making me feel beautiful. So maybe I’m already closer to my faraway goal than I thought.

Awkwardly allegorical

Yesterday for dinner I made potato soup – partly because it was so very very cold outside, but mostly because I somehow ended up with two big bags of potatoes in my pantry that I didn’t want to waste. And potato soup is one of those rare meals that all five of us will eat.

So: potatoes.

Mmm, potatoes. So versatile. My favorite vegetable. (Are potatoes even, technically, a vegetable?) So I dumped the potatoes out onto the kitchen counter, a few at a time, and I scrubbed and peeled and chopped and dumped them into my big soup pot, when suddenly —

— out of the bag rolled a Very. Large. Potato.

A Super-Sized Spud. A Tumescent Tuber. A Russet of Unusual Size.

It was not a conventionally attractive potato. It was so much larger than the rest of the potatoes in the bag. And it was lumpy and bulgy in places where the other potatoes weren’t lumpy and bulgy. I wondered if maybe I’d gotten a defective bag of potatoes. Maybe I’d been gypped. Maybe I should write the grocery store an angry letter.

Maybe I was getting ahead of myself.

So I started to peel the giant potato, experimentally.

And in fact, the potato didn’t look any different on the inside than all the other potatoes.

Even in the bulgy parts.

And when I tried cutting it up,

it worked just like all the other, smaller, more conventionally attractive potatoes.

So I chopped it up

and put it in my soup.

And it was delicious.

Trailer-park temple

In my absence from this blog, I’ve been reading and thinking and learning. Were you aware of the Health at Every Size movement? That there’s a whole community of interneters working for fat acceptance? That there are people who are actually standing up and saying, Yes, I *am* overweight, and I am also healthy and I love my body, so what of it?

This boggles me. Blows my mind. It never even *occurred* to me that there would be fat people out there — people my own size — who are not ashamed to be who they are, who aren’t hiding their bodies under layers and layers of bulky clothes, who are not just accepting of their bodies but *proud* of them, who love themselves.

And slowly, I’m becoming one of those people, too.

I wear a size 24. I have dieted and dieted for months and years at a time, I have lost and gained, and inevitably, this is the size I keep coming back to. What’s that cliche about the definition of insanity? I’m beginning to make peace with the notion that I am never going to be physically perfect — not by some arbitrary, external definition, anyway — but I am going to stop making myself insane trying to measure up — or measure down — to someone else’s ideal me.

I’m going to love and nurture and celebrate my body, not abuse and deprive it. I would never withhold food or affection or sleep from one of my children — I give them healthy food, plenty of it, and treats every now and then in moderation. I give them plenty of opportunities for fun exercise. I make sure they get plenty of sleep. I defend them when other people say cruel things to them, and I do not allow them to say cruel things about others; I teach them to treat people with dignity. I love them and snuggle them and tell them how special and wonderful they are to me, how God made them to be perfectly them.

And I am going to love myself the same way. I am God’s child, and He expects me to treat my body with healthy love, not unhealthy abuse. So I’m going to love me, all of me.

***

Just because I can write all of this, of course, doesn’t mean I really believe it yet. But I’m getting there. I’m working on being more mindful of what I eat, of making sure I’m getting healthy fruits and vegetables and just the occasional bit of chocolate, of paying attention to how different foods make me feel. Not bingeing, and also not denying myself when I’m hungry and my body needs fuel. I’m exercising, going to the campus gym several times a week to walk the track and listen to my iPod. Once I overcame fear of being a fat old(er) woman in a university gym full of thin perky 18-year-olds (a serious exercise in systematic desensitization), I’ve actually been enjoying it. I feel better when I’ve exercised, stronger, more energetic. I sleep better. It’s a surprising feeling, this exercising-to-feel-better instead of exercising-to-get-thin.

So I’m getting there.

I’m working hard at remembering all of this, controlling what I’m putting in, seeking out writers who are uplifting and positive about body and size and self-esteem. There seems to be an absence of Christian voices on this topic, though; I’ve only found one so far, and what I’m missing is the company of other writers who are writing about body-love from a Christian perspective.

***

We’re not very good at love, we Christians. Most of the time, we’re better at judgment – towards others and towards ourselves. And when it comes to body image, we pretty much fall back on two verses: the bit about gluttony, and “Your body is a temple.” And we all know there are certain things that are off limits for our temples: drinking, smoking, premarital sex, and being fat.

I was hung up on the body-as-temple image for a while. If I’m remembering right from all my years of Bible classes and Sunday schools, Solomon built a pretty freaking amazing temple to honor God — all gold and jewels and fancy statues, opulent and expensive, a place worthy of communing with the Most High God. If that temple were a human body, it would be Angelina Jolie. Is that what God wants from me? Because I can never live up to that. My body-temple is more of a shack, with shag carpets and crummy wood paneling. My body-temple belongs in a trailer park, not a palace.

But then. It’s not saying I’m supposed to build this temple of my body — it’s already built. I had no control over the construction, the materials, the workmanship. I have to trust that God built this temple of mine exactly to the specifications He wanted, out of exactly the materials He wanted, fearfully and wonderfully. I’m not the architect here — it’s just my job to keep the carpets vacuumed and the furniture dusted, to light the incense and burn the candles, to make this temple welcoming and warm, a fitting place to honor God. To nurture and love and care for this temple, not take a sledgehammer to the walls and try to make it something else.

***

So that’s a very lengthy summary of what I’ve been thinking about lately. What about you?


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