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Archive for the ‘appearance’ Category

Yesterday was the final day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. While I wasn’t able to squeeze in a post during that time, my blog reader was lit up with lots of different posts related to this topic. One post in particular, Don’t Tell Angelina Jolie to Eat a Burger, cuaght my attention because it speaks to one of my core beliefs: 

Body Image issues affect nearly all women in America, regardless of their size

Whether fat, average or thin, each day we are all repeatedly exposed to the societal message that there is a narrow standard of beauty that one must constantly strive for in order to be accepted. Many people aren’t even consciously aware of this message and how it affects them. And even those who make a conscious choice to reject that message still have to cope with hearing that message every day.

One of my major goals of this blog is to encourage conscious awareness of that message so that each individual can make a conscious choice for herself as to what they want to do with that message.

Food for thought: Do you think there is a double standard between how people on either end of the weight spectrum — those deemed “too thin” and “too fat” are treated?

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Polar Bear Club

Polar Bear Club 2012: dashing toward the Atlantic Ocean on New Years Day with some of my favoritie people.

2012 has been off to an amazing start! At 3pm on New Years Day I gathered along the beach with some of my favorite people. We stripped down to our bathing suits, lined up arm in arm, and on the count of “three,” took off running into the ocean to join the ranks of the 2012 Polar Bear Club.  The air temperature was a warm-for-new-years-day 52 degrees with a steady wind blowing, and the ocean water temp was 47 degrees.

I’ve wanted to do a New Years Day polar bear swim for at least the last 10 years. This year, with a little encouragement from my friends, I quit just talking about it and made that dream a reality.

Before joining Polar Bear Club 2012, it had been a very long time since I had set and then achieved an outrageous goal. I am pretty good at setting goals and seeing them through to their completion, but usually they are goals I feel pretty certain I can reach. This one felt like a stretch. I was pretty sure I could do it but there was always that niggling doubt at the back of my mind.

“Will I turn around and give up as soon as my toes touch the cold water?”

“Am I too out of shape to do this?’

“What if I get really sick afterwards?”

Which is why it felt so amazing afterward and realize I was stronger than I imagined I was capable of. When push came to shove the momentum and me “want to” were greater than my fear. Which opened up the thought in my mind.

“If I could do THAT, what else is possible for me?”

My Polar Bear Club adventure came with an unexpected bonus too. My mother-in-law came to watch our new years day swim and took video of us on my phone. In the past week I have watched that video a few dozen times and every time I do I smile. I have been much thinner in my life and cringed while looking at photos and videos of me. At those times all I could see were my “flaws;” I was unable to enjoy the moment in time being captured in the photo or video. This video is different. When I see it I smile at how strong and beautiful my body is for taking me on this awesome adventure. I see my body standing next to the bodies of my friends, and I see that my body is neither better no worse than theirs. Even though we all vary greatly in height, weight and body structure, we are all able to accomplish the same goal. My body, just as it is right now, is as good as anyone else’s.

I encourage everyone reading this to set at least one outrageous goal this new year. Pick something that stretches you just beyond what you think you are physically, mentally or emotionally capable of.  And then go about the business of making it a reality!

 

 

 

 

 

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Who we are should matter more than how we appear.

Do you agree or disagree? Why or Why not?

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The road to hell is paved with good intentions…

I signed off on my last post saying that I would be back in less than a week to participate in the Weight Stigma Awareness blogging carnival. That was at the end of September. It is now November 5th.

So what have I been up to while neglecting this body image blog?

Nothing all that exciting really. Just day to day life getting in the way. I logged in here the first weekend in October to post (albeit late) on the blogging carnvial topic. Wrote an entry that I really liked, that felt just right, only to have it swallowed up by the interwebs when I clicked on the “update” button. Since then I’ve let other demands on my time get in the way of my updating. Yet this blog has been there at the back of my mind, begging me not to forget it.

Then this week on my personal blog I started the November Journaling Month (nojomo) challenge. One entry, every day, for 30 days. I’ve done this every year since 2007, but wasn’t sure if I had it in me this year. I’m now one week in and feeling the creative juices flowing again; remembering why I love blogging and what motivated me to start this blog in the first place. It moved me to log back in here and recommit to sharing my thoughts, feelings and opinions about body image in America today on a regular basis. To work on building a community here at wordpress and creating a space for people to talk about these issues.

I leave you today with a post I wrote on my personal blog a little over a year ago as part of a letter writing prompt exercise. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

Letter 6   Monday, July 19, 2010

Write a Letter to a Stranger

Dear Stranger,

      What do I look like to you? It may seem like a strange question to ask. I see my own reflection in the mirror daily. But I ask with all honesty and sincerety, because it’s been years since I’ve been able to look at myself really and know for sure what I’m seeing. When I lost the weight I couldn’t really see it. Sure, my clothes were a smaller size, but I still felt big. I look at old pictures of myself and am stunned to find out thats how I really looked. Now I really AM big. But now when I look in the mirror I don’t always see it. At least not to the right degree. I’ll put on an outfit and feel lilthe and sexy and pretty…and then I’ll see pictures of myself and gasp in surprise “am I really that big???”

    So, I ask again, what do I look like to you? Do I look curvy, chubby, full-figured, heavy-set, husky, fat? Do I look morbidly obsese, as my BMI tells me I am? (Although I don’t feel that way). Would you guess by looking at me that I ran a 5k in April of this year? That I love to swim and bikeride? Do you think less of me because of my weight? Or Is it possible that in our diet-obsessed, ever expanding waist-line culture my current size has become average and I don’t even look overweight to you anymore, even though I’m bigger now than I’ve ever been? Or could it be that my weight means nothing to you? That all that talk about outward appearance is a bunch of hype and who I am on the inside is what the world really sees? I would love to see myself through your eyes just one time stranger. To see if my size matters to you as much as it’s mattered to me for so ridiculosly long. I have a feeling it doesn’t, but I’d like to know for sure.

Stephanie

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The majority of my experience with negative body-image, be it my own body-image challenges or talking to others who have problems with their body-image, relate to fear of being or becoming fat. While I understand that feelings about one’s weight/size is of course only one topic within the subject of body-image, it is a topic I am passionate about and plan to explore in more detail over the next few blog entries. (But please know that in the future I will also be exploring other body-image topics that are not related to feelings about weight or size).

One of the bloggers I follow here at wordpress, Raegen at danceswithfat, wrote an amazing post about how fat and the fear of it affect most people in our culture today regardless of whether they are actually fat.

A huge, grateful THANK YOU to Raegen for so clearly summing up the thoughts that have been swimming around in my head. At this moment in time I am fat, but weight/size/fear of fat isn’t an issue that only affects the body-images of fat women. My female friends are all a variety of different sizes, all thinner than me, and 95% of them either:  hate their bodies in some way, are trying to lose weight and/or are terrified of becoming fat. I’ve also been in a position of losing a signficant amount of weight, keeping it off for almost 5 years, all the while fearing regaining the weight and becoming fat again. I know me and my group of friends does not a sample size make, but I challenge you to look around your own circle of friends and see if you don’t  notice similarities yourself.

I will be back on Wednesday to talk more about weight stigma as part of the weight stigma blog carnival. I have lots more to say on this topic and look forward to engaging in honest discussion with others who also care about this issue.

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I applogize for my absence from this blog last week, and return now to the previous discussion about how media influences our feelings about body image.

               

Please say the following two phrases out loud:

1) “It looks ok”

2) “I look ok”

Notice the difference between these two phrases. Which one do you use when trying on clothes? My default answer for too long was “I look…” rather than “It looks…” Finding clothing that both fits comfortably and looks good on me has been something I’ve struggled with for many years. Often, my feelings of self-esteem have ebbed and flowed based on how I completed the sentence “I look…”

“I look good” meant smart, confident and happy.

“I look bad” meant stupid, fat, ugly.

Many people, regardless of their actual clothing size, have a similar realtionship between their clothes/appearance and their self-worth.

This topic is addressed in The Body Myth in the chapter on culture and body image:

“Less than a century ago, most women made their own clothes…The arrival of retail, mass-produced, ready to wear clothing in the 1920’s ushered in a new era of anxiety about the shape of our body dimensions…Alterations (if we can even get them at the store) cost extra for us; over in the men’s suit department, alterations are free. The unspoken assumption is that a woman’s body must change to fit into the garment, no matter how arbitrarily sized and styled, while the clothing itself is changed to fit whatever shape or waistline a man has.”

I was shocked when I read this! Of course I knew that alterations were available at the tailor only for women, but I honestly had no idea that alterations are commonly done in store for free for men. In short, the fashion industry conditons women to think “I look” rather than “It looks” when they try on clothing. 

Recently, I’ve been trying to consciously replace “I look” with “It looks” when I go shopping for clothes. If an outfit is not working for me, I no longer automatically assume that my body is the probem, or that how the outfit fits defines my worth. Instead, I move on until I can find something that looks better on my body at that given moment in time. It’s not a perfect process, but I have gradually come to feel better about how “I look” by realizing that it’s really about how “it looks” on me.

Food for thought: What other unspoken assumptions do you think the fashion industry makes about women’s bodies? Leave a comment below and let me know.

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A bit off topic from some of my other recent posts, but I felt this was something I had to talk about right now.

Last week a storm swept through the body image blog-o-sphere in response to Jessica Weiner’s essay in the September issue of Glamour magazine entitled “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me.”  While I agree with many of the concerns raised in the critiques (see below for a detailed and thoughtful critique)  http://healthateverysizeblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/the-haes-files-loving-your-body-wont-kill-you-but-being-targeted-for-a-curse-might/, there were also parts of the article I could definitely relate to.

I admit I am not unbiased when it comes to Jessica Weiner. I discovered her book Do I Look Fat in This? (which was recently republished under the title Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds From Now) at a critical point in my life. It was 2005, years before I had ever heard of the Health at Every Size movement. I was struggling through the challenges of my 20’s, and still deep in the process of hating myself because of how I looked, when I read in my daily paper that an author was giving a talk at the local bookstore that evening about her new book, which focused on improving body image, self-esteem and eliminating the “language of fat.” I was intrigued, and on a whim headed over to the book store to check it out. What I heard and saw amazed me.  Here was a woman who looked like me, and was undeniably witty, beautiful and comfortable in her own skin. She spoke about her book and about being at peace with her body with a confidence that cannot be faked (all while living and working in impossibly thin and beautiful Los Angeles, California!!!)  Even in my body hating days, I’d heard trite talk about “loving yourself, flaws and all.” Except the people pushing this message were always half my size and appeared (to me) flawless. Hello mixed messages. Attending Jessica Weiner’s talk that night was the first time I ever realized that you can be a larger woman and still be confident, beautiful, and at peace with how you look.

Fast forward to last week. In the Glamour article, Jessica describes how her journey to accept her body and stop focusing on her weight lead her to, for a time, ignore her health. After a jarring comment made by a stranger at one of her book signings, Jessica met with her doctor for the first time in several years. She discovered that her weight was higher than it had ever been and her health numbers were poorer than she wanted them to be. With her doctor’s guidance and support she has lost 25 pounds in the past 18 months, and her cholesterol and blood sugar numbers are in the appropriate ranges.  However, she still would prefer to lose another 25-30 pounds in order to stay out of the health danger zone.

Two main points of criticism have been Ms. Weiner’s focus on her weight rather than her blood work as an indicator of her health, and her claims that she was loving and accepting her body while at the same time ignoring its health prior to seeing her doctor.  I have mixed feelings about these critiques.

I acknowledge the wisdom of the Health at Every Size approach to health, which suggests that a person’s behaviors more than any specific weight direct how healthy or unhealthy a person is at any given point in time. However, I also believe Ms. Weiner was saying she felt that the weight she was at the time of her initial check-up was too much for her body to feel healthy. As her behaviors changed her weight and her health improved. It is possible for someone to make the same behavior changes, lose no weight, and still improve their health. The point is that each person’s body is different. I have recently lost a small amount of weight while adopting more healthy behaviors. While I agree that even if I’d lost no weight I could still have improved my health, the fact that I did lose what I did indicates to me that the extra weight I was carrying around was not healthy for me and my body  at this point in time.

As for loving one’s body without taking the time to care for it, I agree with this critique, although it’s something I still struggle with too. Restricting myself isn’t loving my body, but neither is gorging on processed foods. It can feel like a fine line at times, finding a way to take care of and love the body I have. I believe Ms. Weiner  recognized in the article that when she ignored her body’s health she wasn’t really loving her body.

I leave you with a few words from Jessica Weiner’s chapter on health in the book Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds from Now:  “Being healthy is about having a well-rounded life. Moving your body, eating balanced meals, and working on your emotional and spiritual health.” I believe, despite the controversy from her recent article, in that message and I’m pretty sure Ms. Weiner still does too.

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