Photo credit: DualD FlipFLop, Flickr
A few days ago a kind reader contacted me about BIGGER THINGS, saying very complimentary things about it, including that it was “insightful” and made her think. She also asked, “Whatever compelled you to write about body image?”
I get asked that fairly frequently, and my short form answer is always something like, body issues and food issues are something I’ve dealt with in many incarnations, personally, and I still see, despite all our modern so-called enlightenment and equality, etc., a disgusting amount of value put on people’s bodies and looks (by individuals against themselves and others, but also within the workplace and society) over who they really are. And I still see a lot of us doing horrifying things to our physical and emotional heath—and to our children’s—in the name of “health” that’s really just fat-hating, something that I think has very little to do with a number on a scale, and way more do with . . . well, a lot of other things. I wrote BIGGER THINGS partly to exorcise my own ghosts, partly to explore what I think about things, and largely (pun intended, lol) because the main character Jen appeared in my head one day, yammering away.
Anyway, as I was thinking about my response to the reader, I remembered a column for the Terrace Standard that I wrote a few years before I started the novel’s first draft—and I’ve dug it out for your reading pleasure (or something that’s hopefully not displeasure, anyway ☺). It was published Wednesday, January 30, 2002—and I’m happily surprised, though a little weirded out, by how it’s still a good reflection on how I feel about a lot issues surrounding weight and weight loss, with the following few caveats:
My children are young adults now and while I hope I was the good role model I wanted to be, I’m sure there were (are!) failing moments. Also, I’d be lying if I said I followed my “never diet” again vow perfectly. I still get tempted. Having a bad day or week? My first thought is usually that I should definitely start a diet. I usually manage to resist. . . . And I’ve also noticed that the language surrounding extreme calorie cutting and purging has changed. Some people still use “diet,” but a lot of us have gotten sneakier. We don’t go on abusive, calorie restricted diets of cabbage soup. Don’t ridiculous. We go on raw food or broth only cleanses. ;) Don’t get me started! Grrrr! (By the way, I’m not saying you shouldn’t give your colon a break now and again—but we need to be honest with ourselves. Is it really about our health or are we weighing ourselves every day or so to make sure the cleanse is “working?”)
And a note about the statistics I refer to below: the numbers are outdated now, obviously, but if you do some research, you’ll be shocked by how little progress we’ve made in this area. . . .
Anyway, enjoy my thoughts. I’d love to hear your reflections on the weighty topic too, so if so moved, please reply.
And if you’re interested in reading BIGGER THINGS, I’d be honored. It’s available in eBook form, pretty much everywhere, in paperback at Misty River Books, online (Chapters, Barnes & Noble, Amazon) or for order in at your favorite bricks and mortar bookseller.
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Losing me and finding me
By Ev Bishop
How many people made some sort of resolution to lose weight this year? It seems to be the most popular New Year’s goal.
Magazine companies know it. Almost every issue has some skinny, manically cheerful model assuring us that we can get thin. Pseudo-scientific facts are printed about how some latest discovery will miraculously help shed all unwanted pounds, without any effort, in just ten days!
I’m furious with articles that equate losing weight with changing who you are. “New Year, New You.” They may as well just come out and say, “You’re just a body.” “Change your body, change who you are.” And we fall for it! We believe that somehow changing our body weight will change our lives and eliminate the stuff of life that hurts. We think that shedding pounds will help us shed the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, don’t feel comfortable with.
Consider these statistics from the National Eating Disorders Association: Almost half of American women are on a diet on any given day, as are 1 in 4 men. Half of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.
Are you thinking, so what?
Think about this then: 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and of those, 1 in 4 will progress to a partial or full syndrome eating disorder; the kind that, without intervention, can kill you.
In It’s Not About Food, Carol Emery Normandi and Laurelee Roark say that while the symptoms are different, the roots of all eating disorders are similar and that most of the mindset behind dieting has nothing to do with weight at all.
It’s something less tangible than actual weight that’s bothering the individual, usually a feeling that, as a being, they’re unacceptable or out of control.
At age eight, I had my first binge and vomit session.
The summer after grade seven, I lived on a box of chips and a two-lire of diet Coke a day. I lost forty pounds and started a decade-long war, the battle of losing me.
For eight years I abused myself, equating every problem in my life with the number on a scale and attributing every success to the same thing. Now I am fat. Don’t worry. I’m not putting myself down. I don’t see the word as an insult, more like a fact of life, like saying, “I have ‘brown eyes.”
Strangely, I’m more at peace with my body than I’ve ever been. I have been every weight, every size and I know that my life stays the same, my battles are the same and my pleasures are the same.
In some ways getting big saved me. It made me aware that the reflection in the mirror has no bearing at all on who I am as a person.
Despite the added weight, I’m probably healthier than when I was a teen. I can bump my knee without it turning purple and green all the way down my shin. I don’t get paralysing charley horses running the entire length of my leg, toe to thigh. I don’t wake up suddenly in the middle of the night in front of the fridge, scarfing down leftovers.
Still it would be healthy for me to lose some weight—yet I will never diet again. Ever. I have good reasons. I just don’t hate myself enough anymore to endure the agony of self-induced starvation.
I have two wonderful kids who need to know that their value has nothing to do with externals. Society won’t teach them that. It may give the idea lip service but everything else in the media will contradict it. They need a strong, healthy, kind-to-herself-at-any-weight role model, me.
So what can I do? I can start to listen to myself. I can quit stifling my emotions with food, thinking I have no right to them, and acknowledge when I’m pissed off, when I’m sad, when I’m afraid. I can move because it feels good to move, I can stop eating when I’m full because I know I will let myself eat again. Most of all, when the mirror says, “You’re worthless.” I can remember; the mirror lies.
Maybe by not waiting till I arrive at some magic weight to participate in life, by eating when I’m hungry, by refusing to buy into society’s beauty ideals, I will sometime arrive at what, a long time ago, was my body’s natural weight. But I might not. In either event, I am not my body.
If you are dieting, I hope you will remember that you are not a number on a scale. Your value is not in your waist size. Be kind to yourself and make sure that it’s weight that you’re trying to lose, not who you are.