Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘weight loss’

How to get the perfect body

You can tell it’s the start of a new year when the supermarket shelves are groaning with books on how to lose weight, and every other television advert seems to be for yet another weight-loss company. Social media becomes overrun with people discussing how much they hate their bodies and their preferred methods for that miracle fix. Magazines, especially those aimed at women, feature photographs of celebrities who dare to be less than airbrushed perfection at all times (for a great article about this phenomenon have a look at this post by my fabulous friend Pols).

I’m not immune to all this hysteria – in fact, as an obese woman with an eating disorder I’m very sensitive to it. I too hate my body and wish that I could magically transform it into a shape that I, and society, deem to be acceptable. Over the years I’ve probably tried most of the well-known diets, and although my spinal problems limit the amount of exercise I’m capable of that doesn’t stop me poring over fitness magazines, desperate to find a way to change my appearance.

But do you know what? These companies who promote their diets and weight-loss plans make millions, if not billions of pounds in profit from people like me. Because inevitably dieters fail (there’s a great discussion of the reasons for this here). But our society is so obsessed with bodily perfection that even knowing this, many of us continue to try new diets. Because we know that if we just try that little bit harder, obsess a little bit more and deprive ourselves of an assortment of foods, we can get the perfect body that society requires us to have. And then we’ll be happy…

Absurd isn’t it? And this kind of attitude is considered normal! But over the years I’ve come to realise that although it may be normal it certainly isn’t healthy. I have children now and I’m very careful not to talk negatively about my body when they’re around. They don’t even know that I have a set of bathroom scales, let alone see me use them. We don’t talk about good foods and bad foods but about foods giving you energy; some give you energy that lasts a long time and some give you energy that your body uses up quickly. My children (currently aged 4 and 2) don’t care what their bodies look like, only that they work. Sometimes that involves running, sometimes jumping around, sometimes climbing and sometimes contorting themselves into positions rarely seen outside a circus!

It’s dawned on me of late, as I’ve become increasingly irritated and impatient with the avalanche of body-hatred on social media, that we should all try to be more like this. After all it’s not what your body looks like that’s really important but what it can do. And I’m not just talking about physical activities either but the things our bodies do that we take for granted. Our bodies breathe, they give us information about the world around us, they absorb nutrients from our food and expel toxins. The majority of us are fortunate enough to have bodies that are pretty functional, enabling us to walk and talk, to think and feel physical sensations.

So to hell with the obsession about physical appearance. Yes, we should all eat as well as we can and exercise as much as we’re capable of in order to keep fit, but the perfect body is the one that enables you to do as much as you want to. While the popular “real women have curves” trope helps women larger than the ideal to feel more positive about themselves, it does a disservice to the hordes of women who don’t have curves. They’re just as real and just as prone to hating their bodies as their larger sisters.

The perfect body can be fat or thin, tall or short, apple-shaped, pear-shaped, in fact pretty much any shape! What I (and you, if you’ve been nodding along in agreement) need to do is start to respect our bodies. Ok, so my body is flabby and wobbly and parts of it don’t work as they should but it’s the only body I’m ever going to have. It’s sustained me for almost 33 years and hopefully will continue to do so for many decades yet to come. I have no wish to lie on my deathbed, looking back on my life and desperately wishing that I’d spent less time hating my body and more time using it to enjoy myself.

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On being fat – a revelation

I first remember being unhappy with my body when I was about 7. I remember standing in the playground at school and cinching the belt on my dress as tight as it would go so that my stomach wouldn’t look so fat. I remember spending the rest of my school years miserable that my thighs were fatter, my bum was bigger and my stomach was more wobbly than most of the other girls. I remember being at university and feeling like a balloon next to my slender friends. But the stupid thing is that looking back, seeing photos – I was never fat. Not as a child, not as a teen, not as a student. I was built differently but I wasn’t fat.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have struggled with disordered eating and weight gain for many years. My most recent post was about how much I dislike myself. But some of the responses I had to that post really made me think. I had a lot of supportive comments from followers, Mumsnetters and Twitter friends; I was linked to a couple of amazing and inspirational blogposts about being fat and the fantasy of being thin. And as a result, over the last couple of days I have had a bit of a revelation.

Firstly, how I look isn’t the most important thing about me. It doesn’t even come second or third. It baffles me that I have let this define me for so long. As Georgina (the author of the “Being Fat” blogpost I linked to) says “I have fat on my body, but I am not fat – a mere lump of the stuff”. And she’s right. I have fat. I also have muscle, skin, nerves, bones – that just tells us that I have physical form. It says nothing about me, about who I am.

Secondly, my body is pretty amazing. In my younger days before the degenerative disc disorder really kicked in, this body was very flexible and I did a lot of dancing – mostly ballet, jazz and contemporary modern. This body has done bungee jumps, white water rafting, a skydive. It has carried and borne 2 babies. This body has been solely responsible for sustaining those infants until they were ready for solid food, and then continued to supply sustenance for as long as was needed. This body is awesome, despite its structural issues. 😉

The third part of my revelation was that while my body may be fat/big/obese/however you want to put it, it is merely incidental to who I am. I need to stop saying “I am fat” and start saying “I am me”. I am Sam. I am kind, friendly, intelligent and frankly a bit daft. I am a woman; a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister. I am a graduate, a stay-at-home-parent, a role model. I am so many different things that I can’t list them all – why then should I focus only on my physical appearance?

That appearance has to do with the fourth and final part of this revelation of mine. For the last 15 years I have been trying to lose weight. I have followed exercise plans and all kinds of diets. I have promised myself that I will be more confident when I am thinner, that I will be more outgoing and that I will be happy with how I look. I now realise that unless this weight loss comes with a free personality transplant these things are very unlikely to happen. I have wasted 15 years being miserable about my appearance. I don’t want to waste any more time; I don’t want to lie on my deathbed and look back on a lifetime’s misery about a few extra inches.

I need to stop wishing for a body that I am never going to have and learn to be comfortable in the body I have. I do need to eat more healthily and tackle my disordered eating, and hopefully that may have the side-effect of losing a little weight but you know what? If it doesn’t that’s ok.

I am what I am. And I am fabulous.

Why we should pity Samantha Brick, not revile her

Samantha Brick is a columnist for the British newspaper the Daily Mail. She’s known for writing aggressive and confrontational columns that provoke lots of outrage, and therefore lots of publicity both for her and the newspaper. There is some debate about whether her columns reflect her true personality and opinions or are merely provocative parodies intended to increase revenue for the Mail.

Today’s column (I’m loathe to give the Mail traffic but it’s reasonable to assume that you’ll want to read this for yourself) was about women and weight. Specifically how Ms Brick has been on a diet for most of her life and disapproves of any woman who doesn’t do the same. Some memorable quotes from the column in question include:

For three decades, self-denial has been my best friend. And one of my biggest incentives is that I know men prefer slim women. I have only ever dated men who kept a strict eye on my figure. My partners are not only boyfriends but weight-loss coaches. My first love continually reminded me that one can never be too rich or too thin, and my husband of five years frequently tells me that if I put on weight he will divorce me.

…in my mid-teens I decided to lose my puppy fat, transforming myself as I lived, for the best part of a year, on Marmite on toast (no butter).

At college I invented the Polo diet. Eating a pack of mints for breakfast and another for lunch, I could make each one last hours. I am 5ft 11in and slimmed down to a size 8.

As I see it, there is nothing in life that signifies failure better than fat.

Predictably there have been howls of outrage across the internet as both women and men react with outrage, anger, insults and mockery. But does Ms Brick really deserve the vitriol flung her way?

Read the quotes above again. Read (if you don’t mind giving the Mail yet more traffic) the column. According to her own writing Ms Brick seems to seek out controlling partners who reinforce her belief that her worth is measured by bathroom scales and tape measures. At the age of 14 she apparently ate only bread and Marmite for a year – and presumably nobody noticed. At university her disordered eating continued and today she equates fat with failure.

Like many Western women I have body-image and self-esteem problems. However I am fortunate and have no idea how it must feel to assess your value as a woman purely by whether you are able to wear a certain pair of trousers. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to know that if your body changes the person you love will walk out on you. That you are only worthy of their affection under certain conditions. That even if it’s not your fault, even if you develop health problems or need medication that causes you to gain weight, you’re on your own.

I had a friend once who was prone to attention-seeking behaviour and boasting about how beautiful and clever she was, how amazing her life was. Then one night she drunkenly confessed that she was utterly miserable, that she was deeply insecure and loathed herself. Ms Brick reminds me of her. Whether she is a caricature, a parody or genuine, she deserves our pity not our insults.

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