Body respect

Black and white abstract painting. Photo by  India Parsons  on  Scopio

I was out this weekend in Arizona and downloaded the audiobook Body Respect by for the trip. I’ve been working with several clients who suffer from eating disorders and have also found that if I dig even a little that most of my others experience at least some dissatisfaction with how they look. Examining my views on this, I admit that I always accepted somewhat that part of being a woman is not loving and accepting our bodies, and blamed the male gaze and media for this. Like many things, doing therapy for others has made me realize how unhealthy my own thoughts are and led me to explore more in-depth how I can heal myself.

Body Respect is a book by Linda Bacon, PhD (bacon, lol) and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD, that revolutionizes the idea of dieting, based on the principle of intuitive eating. The idea is that our bodies have internal regulatory systems that will help us maintain a weight that is healthy for our own body’s needs and we need only to tune into our body’s signals to follow this regulatory system. Essentially, our society has become hyper-focused on dieting and forcing our bodies to be a certain size and shape and by ignoring our internal regulatory systems we are no longer used to listening to what our bodies need. We also do our bodies wrong by compulsive dieting because bodies naturally respond to losing weight by thinking that we are entering starvation and so the body retains fat for survival.

This all made me feel incredibly hopeless about my own desire to lose weight, like many women, because it made it sound like that was a completely impossible task. I had hoped this book would be liberating and cause me to stop wanting to try and lose weight, and it didn’t. I realize it’s totally naive to think that reading one book will change negative thinking patterns that have been set in stone over multiple years, but I was hoping. It does introduce idea that bodies are functional and do not have to look a certain way to be healthy. The book is informative for health professionals to remove their stereotypes about individuals with higher body weights to understand how stress, lifestyle, poverty, and dieting history may impact how someone’s weight fluctuates. It also has some great guidelines about how to listen to your body regarding what it wants and ways to talk to yourself more kindly about what you eat. It set the stage for me to reconsider my thinking but what actually was life-changing for me was a post on Instagram I saw days later.

I often can’t sleep the whole night through, which I believe makes me uniquely qualified. I also have noticed that negative feelings about my body tend to worsen when I’m on vacation or in a new setting. Not to mention, as I have written about before, as I’m getting married in a few months these thoughts have gone into overdrive. This being a weekend away I had been drinking and spending much more time than usual with concern about my looks. I woke up one night at 3 AM and (against what I know is good for sleeping!) started scrolling Instagram. I searched for “Body Respect” to see what would come up and help with the feelings I was having about my body as I was feeling overly concerned about eating too much (I was on vacation! but yes these thoughts do happen). I came across an account called bodyposipanda run by a woman I’d never heard of named Megan Jayne Crabbe who is an English author and performer, speaking about Body Positivity, feminism, self-acceptance, and in general affirming people about their bodies.

If you haven’t already, check out the account. If you are a person who does not struggle with body image, it may not mean much to you. But if you are a female-identified person, recovering from an eating disorder, or have any issues with your own mental health with regards to your appearance, I would highly recommend. I didn’t realize how sick and cruel my inner monologue was until I saw a post which read, “I know your brain may be telling you that you’re a failure bc of how much you ate yesterday & maybe the food guilt is overwhelming so I’m just here to say: You’re allowed to enjoy food. You are not a failure. You do not need to “make up for it.” You still need to eat tomorrow.”

That quote made me start to cry because I have literally never heard someone speak so honestly to the pain and guilt I’ve felt about my own body and being a larger size. I scrolled through the account and saw post after post of people of all sizes, genders, and abilities. I listened to interviews on youtube where Megan Jayne Crabbe explained how cosmetic and diet pill companies have purposefully created the idea of certain physical imperfections in order to sell more products to women, and when they realized they could profit the same from men that industry picked up too. In an interview here she talks about the “invention” of cellulite as a flaw. The concept that things like cellulite were not somehow inherently bad, but manipulated for us to think that way, was life-altering to me. If something is made up, then it’s made up! It doesn’t actually matter, and could just as easily be changed or thrown out.

Megan Jayne Crabbe is a survivor of severe eating disorder and she talks freely about this. There was even a post which so perfectly illustrates the point she makes repeatedly about media manipulating false images to create the need to buy products for weight loss – she’d posted a before-and-after of her during her disordered eating and her now, and it was REVERSED in a diet pill ad, showing her curvy, size-16 self as a before. “You are not a before” she writes. How many times have I seen pictures of myself, hating them, and thinking of them all as befores? Before what even? Didn’t life happen all the time that I was still fat? Didn’t I have fun times out with friends, get degrees, raises, start a business, find a person to love, while I was fat?

Now as a therapist I feel that every aspect of my life is under a microscope. I’ll admit that I have judged my own therapists based on some meaningless attributes, mostly because that was my own junk to sort through. I don’t share much about my own personal life but if clients ask me questions I will answer honestly. I specialize in working with anxiety and relationship violence and I don’t mind sharing (without much detail) that these are things I have personal experience with. For some reason I have felt reticent to say I know anything about disordered eating despite a lifetime of cycling through unhealthy diets and body hatred, because of the image I have of eating disorder therapists. Every single person I have ever talked to that is in recovery from an eating disorder is still incredibly thin. All the therapists I know who specialize in eating disorders are thin. I honestly always had an assumption that this was part of recovery. I have literally never thought about being a heavier weight as a healthier lifestyle until I stalked this account. Megan Jayne Crabbe said she felt like she “couldn’t even do recovery right” because she came through her recovery a size 16.

I’m now reading Megan Jayne Crabbe’s book, Body Positive Power, and every page feels like aloe on a burn I didn’t realize I had. Sometimes I show clients who have survived abuse diagrams about the cycle of abuse or the elements of power and control and I see in their faces the change – they realize that all the hell they went through was part of something else, something that wasn’t their fault and wasn’t intrinsically wrong with them. I feel like that reading this. Like millions of other people, I’ve been duped into thinking that all my success didn’t matter and that I wasn’t a whole, valuable person unless I could count calories and Orange Theory my way to an impossible shape – that happiness was awaiting me over a bridge paved with low-carb pasta, shapewear, cellulite cream, and a rainbow of herbal supplements not approved by the FDA. I’m starting to realize, there’s nothing there but more of the same. How can you find happiness through self-hate?

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