Friday, October 21, 2011

A Word (Or Many) on Dieting and Self-Acceptance

Since I joined Twitter and Pinterest last week, I've been struck by two things: first, in Twitter, it's amazing how many people are peddling miracle weight-loss cures that will "shrink you to a size 2 in weeks" or take you "from fatass to badass" in a matter of days.  Secondly, in Pinterest, when I went to the Sports & Fitness section I realized that it's filled with pictures of perfectly sculpted, size-zero women next to phrases meant to motivate people to lose weight.  "You'll regret eating that cookie, but you won't regret running that last mile," said one.

Ok, y'all: this freaks me out.  No wonder so many of us spend so much time feeling shitty about ourselves.  If looking at pictures of women who don't have an ounce of fat on their bodies (save for their boobs, which are insufferably perky) is supposed to make me feel good about myself -- if it's supposed to motivate me to lose weight or eat less or work out more than I already do -- then it's not working.  In fact, I don't see how it can make anyone feel anything other than awful.

For context, I've always had a somewhat contentious relationship with my body.  From the time I was 12 and suddenly went from being tall and gangly to being, shall we say, curvy (seriously, that shit happened overnight), I've struggled to be okay with myself as I am.

You see, I come from a long line of very skinny women.  My Mom, who spent many years as a ballerina, is thin and graceful.  Her mom, my Gram, was tall, glamorous, and also quite thin.  On my Dad's side, the women are petite and svelte.  My dad's mother, my Nana, was a tiny woman (5' on a good day) with delicate features and a slight build.

Then there's me.

I'm reasonably tall -- 5'7", so I'm neither tall like my Gram nor petite like my Nana -- but I managed to be built like the lovechild of a linebacker and a barrel.  I have broad shoulders, soccer thighs, and hips that make me look like I was made to bear enough children to populate the Yukon Territory.  (Or so it feels when I look at myself in the mirror.)

With my mama - note how I'm, like, twice her size.
I exercise like a maniac, mainly because I've always been an athlete and life without sports would drive me insane.  I also eat well, and I've maintained the same weight and same clothing size since I was in high school.  However, until recently, I always wanted to be thinner than I am.  I'd look at myself and compare my body to almost everyone around me -- the sorority girls in college who wore size 2 jeans, the skinny girls on the Metro, all the women in my family tree who look nothing like me -- and I'd be filled with self-loathing.  I felt that I looked like a beached whale compared to them, and how could a beached whale be anything other than gross and disgusting?

Whenever I tried to diet, though, the scale wouldn't budge.  It held steady at 140 despite obsessive calorie counting, two-a-days at the gym, and desperate attempts to stave off hunger by drinking enough water to sink an aircraft carrier.  (Side note: it also really sucks to be stuck in meetings when you downed an entire Nalgene bottle of water with lunch and are in desperate need of a visit to the ladies room.)

Recently, though, I had a series of epiphanies.  The first was courtesy of my awesome husband: one day when I was having an "I'm not skinny enough" meltdown, he looked me in the eye and said "You look like what you are: an athlete.  You look strong and healthy.  I love the way you're built, because you have muscle.  You see your soccer thighs as a bad thing, but when I look at your legs I see strength and agility.  You.  Are.  Beautiful." And that's when I realized: I'm an athlete, not a skinny girl.  I'm built for sports, not modeling.  When I stopped framing my body image in terms of thinness and started thinking in terms of looking like what I am, everything changed.

Then I had a second epiphany: maybe the scale isn't budging because my weight is exactly where it's supposed to be.  Maybe this is my healthiest weight.  Maybe my body is actually happy as it is, even though I don't see it that way.  Maybe my mind and my body need to get on the same page.

That led to a third epiphany: I need to replace my "be as skinny as I can be" goal with a new one: be as strong, healthy, and happy as I can be.  I need to eat foods that make me feel good.  I need to do exercises that make me feel strong, agile, and generally badass.  I don't need to worry about becoming the skinny girl, because I'm not her.

To that end, I was thrilled when I found SELF magazine's Happy Weight Calculator.  It's a much, much more realistic take on what a person should weigh.  It takes into account the size of your frame (good for linebacker-barrel hypothetical progeny like myself), the amount of exercise you get, and your age -- all of which are critical factors in determining a person's happiest, healthiest weight.

I tried it out, and wouldn't you know it: my happy weight is 140.  Turns out my body has it right; for years I've been refusing to acknowledge my body's ability to be at its ideal weight, but now I'm listening.   I could go insane comparing myself to the super-skinny, perfectly sculpted women I see on TV, in magazines, and, apparently all over Pinterest, but it will bring me (and, until recently, has brought me) nothing but suffering and self-loathing.  Instead, I can choose to accept and love my body as it is -- soccer thighs and all -- and to pursue strength and health in place of the ability to double as an underwear model.

So, to those of you trying desperately to be the skinniest version of yourselves: pause for a second.  Stop comparing yourself to other people.  Breathe.  Try out the Happy Weight Calculator, and see what it comes up with.  But above all else, remember that regardless of whether or not you're trying to lose weight, you're awesome as you are.  If you're working hard to lose weight, let those goals come from a place of self-acceptance, not self-loathing.  Let go of the need to be the thinnest possible version of yourself.  Instead, focus on being the healthiest, strongest, and happiest you can be.


  1. It's an amazing feeling -- self-acceptance! For the record, I think you're a perfect weight; I can't imagine you would ever feel like a beached whale, but that's subjectivity for ya.

    That calculator though? No bueno for me. My happy weight is 45 pounds less than my current weight. Womp womp.

  2. Thanks, Amy! For the record, you look freaking fabulous just as you are. (Soooo, methinks that my sample size of one isn't an accurate statistical assessment of the calculator.)

  3. Love this post! You're totally smokin' hot, btw.
    I'm also not a huge fan of the calculator. It says I should be 30 lbs less than I am. This is where my body seems to like to be while I'm leading a pretty healthy lifestyle, so I'm happy with where I am.

  4. Awwww, thanks dude. This is why you're my bestie. :) You, too, look awesome exactly as you are - plus, you're one of the healthiest people I know, so if anybody is at a healthy weight, it's you. So yeah, the calculator thing isn't so great after all - crap!