This post is by K.
People, let’s be frank. We all have complicated relationships with our bodies. Oh, yeah, we do. This couldn’t be more true for W and me. We have both struggled with body image for…most of our lives. We are both fat people. We both have been fat for most of our lives, except for little periods of time when we dieted heavily or were really stressed out and unhealthy. I can only imagine I’ll have even more feelings about my body after pregnancy (assuming our plans go off as we hope).
(EDIT: I have personally gone back and forth between what is considered “average size” and plus size, but I have felt fat my whole life and I’ve been “overweight” compared to the little doctors’ charts my whole life. It is only recently that I’ve claimed fat as a positive and affirming identity, but I’ve benefited from average size privilege in the past, even if I had crappy self-esteem. There are people that have suffered much harsher and crueler fatphobia than me and I totally get that.)
As an adult, I have made it my goal to love my bod the way it is, to really love myself, not in spite of my size, but inclusive of my size. I have stopped saying things like, “Oh, I’m so fat,” or “Dude, I really need to lose 10 pounds,” to myself. I’ve stopped saying things like, “Wow, have you lost weight?” and “You’re so skinny!” to other people. I tell myself that I look fabulous. I look at my body with and without clothes on and think positive things about myself. I buy clothes that look and feel great. When something doesn’t fit my body, I blame the garment, not my body. I accept that my body is changing as I get older and I try to beat those negative messages out of my head when they pop up. They do pop up. Of course they do. I’ve spent a quarter of a century learning the negative messages, crying over bathing suit shopping, telling myself that I’d be more attractive/desirable/healthy if I was # pounds lighter. And I’ve just spent the past few years unlearning it all.
It’s not easy to embrace size acceptance, fat-positivity, body love, whatever you want to call it. We don’t see much body diversity in the media. We see a LOT of negative messages about our bodies all over the place. For those of us who identify as women and/or who were female assigned at birth, we know this experience well. We probably saw women in our life model this self-loathing behavior. For those who grew up as teen girls, we internalized this message hard. By the time we were hitting puberty, we knew to be ashamed of and angry at our bodies, to be jealous of stereotypically hot girls, to always be on a diet, to hate ourselves.
For those who who did not identify strongly as feminine or who were gender non-conforming or just didn’t feel comfortable for whatever reason, this body hate was likely even more intense and confusing. And the reaction may have been to hide under baggy clothes, to be jealous of other kids who were able to better fit into gender norms, to always be obsessing about covering up our bodies, to hate ourselves.
For those who identify as male and/or were male assigned at birth, you picked up on this vibe, too. For those who grew up as teen boys, you learned pretty quick what a “real man” looked like and acted like. Body image issues disproportionately affect young women, but they affect men, too. Especially queer, bi, or gay men. According to a 2007 International Journal of Eating Disorders study, more than 15% of gay and bi men at some time suffered anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder, or at least certain symptoms of those disorders, compared with less than 5% of heterosexual men.
So regardless of gender, many people can relate to this feeling of self-loathing, of actively hating your body.
Of course, now that we can look back on our youth with clearer vision, we realize that everyone hated themselves, including the stereotypical hot guys and girls, the popular ones. This stuff runs deep and it is toxic.
These are the reasons I never wanted to have a kid. I don’t want to expose a lovely innocent little kid to this world that is so full of negative messages and bad stuff. There’s so much bad stuff out there. I’d rather spend my time fighting it.
According to a 2011 national study, the median age of onset for eating disorder diagnoses is 12- to 13-years old. The majority of adolescents with eating disorders express significant impairment (inability to cope) and a higher risk of suicide. By age 6, girls start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls, ages 6-12, are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat.
Need more proof? Here’s some stats from the National Eating Disorders Association. Be aware that eating disorders have been on the rise every decade since the 1950’s, so some of these older statistics are possibly even higher today.
- 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (1991).
- In elementary school fewer than 25% of girls diet regularly. Yet those who do know what dieting involves and can talk about calorie restriction and food choices for weight loss fairly effectively (2011; 2009).
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (1991).
- 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets (1992).
- Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (2005).
What can parents and/or caregivers do to combat that?! To balance it out? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers! Part of the reason I never saw myself with kids is that I want a better world for a future kid. Even though I’ve decided to become a parent, I still feel deeply that we need to do better.
I will continue to fight for better and more diverse representation of bodies in the media, for better info about the link between weight and health (which is greatly exaggerated), and for more inclusivity everywhere. But it won’t be enough. There will still be magazines and t.v. and peers and THE REST OF THE WORLD to tell my future kid that they are not pretty enough or good enough.
I know one thing I can do. It is simple, but it’s kind of really really really hard, too. I do not want my future kid to hear negative messages about fat, size, bodies, in our house. I want to model positive attitudes towards bodies, especially as a fat person. Future kid will get plenty of negative messages from everywhere else in the world. I can’t do much, but I can give them another perspective, genuine positive reinforcement, and maybe a little emotional armor. So that means I won’t complain about my pant size or weight in front of my kid (or ever). I will compliment myself and my partner as much as I compliment my kid. I will wear things that make me feel great. I will speak positively about other people’s bodies and looks. I won’t comment on other people’s weight. I will encourage healthy habits, but I won’t focus on diet or weight. I won’t starve myself or deny myself dessert and I won’t talk about “good food” and “bad food.” I will probably mess this up sometimes. It’s easy to say now, but may be harder to do than I think with a real, live kid in front of me and a post-pregnancy body. But I’m really going to try. And I’m going to keep practicing being kind and loving to myself in the meantime.
I just don’t think you can tell a kid that they are beautiful just the way they are, then go on to say how much you hate your thighs and think that they aren’t going to pick up on it. I picked up on it as a kid. Future kid will, too. It’s not enough to say the rights things to our kid. We have to say the right things to ourselves, too, or this cycle of self-hate and body-shame will never change.
Love, love, love this. Loved it so much, I feel compelled to respond. Read at your own tolerance for rambling. 😉
I was very skinny most of my life (to the point where I was < 120 lbs at 5'9") for a time when I was very depressed, and have since steadily gained weight each year of my 20s. Actually, I've gained A LOT of weight in my 20s. I started gaining weight in my early 20s when it was actually healthy for me to do so (even though it was hard to accept), and I started eating regular meals and healthier foods. (Dating Denise made it easier – because we love eating together – MUWAH!) But then I continued gaining weight… for several reasons both within and beyond my control, and have become more self conscious and ashamed of myself – particularly when I see pictures of myself. Amazing how I can "feel fabulous" in something, then see a picture and cringe. I especially haven't been happy with replacing and trying to find clothes that fit well, switching stores and paying more.
I've been feeling pressured lately to "get skinny" or "get healthier" again with so many friends who have successfully lost tons of weight and started offering me advice, whether or not it's solicited. I was told to lose weight at the doctor's office, and felt ashamed to see I'd gained so much on the scale. I avoid scales for a reason – I don't want to obsess over numbers. While I am truly happy for my friends who have lost weight, and I want to be supportive and hear about their healthy choices, I try to not let it impact my own self image. I spent years trying to get comfortable in my own skin, with my own identity, and build my self esteem. I spent most of my childhood obsessing over my teeth. I'm sure the bullying for my "Bugs Bunny teeth" and "no boobs" to "huge boobs" to lack of style in my hand-me-downs in the wealthy suburb I was moved to, didn't help my quirky-geeky-afraid-of-the-ball-in-gym-class personality. Trying to deprogram two decades of msgs from society and mean kids is challenging. 😉 One of the (many) things that helped was giving up on the obsession with the numbers of "sizes" and just finding clothes that fit me well (even if I have to pretend the size "runs small" in that brand in the fitting room). It's so easy to tell other friends (who are also self conscious about weight) while clothes shopping to "ignore" the size tags and just find things that make them look and feel fabulous, while mentally not taking my own advice.
I am finally comfortable. Most of the time. But sometimes I still do feel a bit of "shame", but when I reflect on it, it's usually been triggered by expectations (real or perceived) from others. I think the fact that I WAS skinny for so many years, and that so many people in my life have noticed my weight change, has made it more of a challenge. I feel I'm accountable in a weird way. Sometimes I even get comments from people pointing out how much I've changed/grown/gained weight – that trigger my own self criticism. I do want to lose some weight for health reasons – and walking the line of how to do that without getting obsessive over how I look is a challenge. Ironically, a lot of people always pegged me as the "kid who didn't care what others thought". I refused to wear make-up or wear Abercrombie across my chest. I wore what my friends called my kindergarten-teacher outfits with pride. But, if I'm the kid who never cared what others thought, then I cringe to think about what the kids who cared a lot more than me must have gone through. Because I cared a lot. Getting braces remains on my someday-hopefully bucket list, as they have been my biggest wish since I was about 10.
It's definitely (even if ridiculous) a fear of mine that when I have kids, I will gain even more weight that will be impossible to lose. I don't think I'll care as much how I would look pregnant, as much as how much I would obsess about not being the same after. That's not enough on any planet to deter me from wanting to have kids. I've wanted kids more than anything.
Fortunately, my "judgy goggles" seem very much reserved for looking at myself rather than other people. I tend to think people look fabulous and awesome even when they complain to me they don't. I know I'll shower my kids when every drop of love in me- and will tell them they look beautiful and amazing because because ALL kids are beautiful and amazing – especially mine will be 'cause they'll be mine – duh. (I maintain I have the very cutest, smartest, amazing furkids in the whole wide world.) I only hope I'm well-prepared to model loving myself as much as I love others, so that my kids will have healthier self-images and more love for themselves than I did when I was a kid and teenager, and even more so than I do now as an adult. That kind of self-work is a huge priority for me in preparing for having kids, and has been a work-in-progress.
This is it, Courtney! You hit it on the head. And I totally relate.
When I saw I’ve always been fat, I mean I’ve always felt fat. I have been of average size for lengths of time in my life, too, and I continue to be fairly average size as a fat person. Meaning, I can shop in most clothes stories and find clothes in my size. I can fit in seats at the movies and on planes. There are people who have a much harder time being accepted in this world for their size. However, everyone I know has body image issues, regardless of weight. Every single person. Even those of my friends who are super fat-positive and full of body love have bad days when those self-hating thoughts creep back in. It is relearning how to think, which is just damn hard. And it is being easier on ourselves, which is even harder. Thanks for sharing your story and your feelings so honestly.
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