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Archive for the ‘Books About Body Image’ Category

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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From time to time I will be reviewing/recomending books about body image that I have found helpful in the hope that others will too. Today’s recomedation is The Body Myth, by Dr. Margo Maine and Joe Kelly. Margo Maine is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Joe Kelly is the co-founder of Dads and Daughters (DADs), the first national advocay non-profit for fathers and daughters.

For those who prefer reading books in print rather than digital format, be advised that this book was published in 2005 and is difficult, if not impossible, to find on the bookstore shelf. However it is easy to order a paper copy from amazon.com, and the book is also available for download to a kindle or other digital reading device.  Either way it is well worth the read.

Maine and Kelly define the Body Myth as “the mistaken belief that life’s meaning, our self-worth, and our worth to others are (and ought to be) based on how our body looks, what we weigh, and what we eat.”  Throughout the book, Main and Kelly do an excellent job of examining the individual, familial and societal factors that have led to the Body Myth becoming so prevalent and almost unquestioningly accepted in our current culture. They also discuss practical action steps people can take to lessen the hold of the Body Myth in their own lives and in society as a whole.  It definitely made me think differently about my own feelings about my body.

One of the sections I was most drawn to was the chapter on how culture shapes us. Maine and Kelly suggest that in our increasingly isolated and on-the-go world, media and popular culture has come to serve the same function that our extended families once did.

“A hundred years ago, it was hard (although still possible) for a woman to escape her extended                                              family and its standards, even though she could never entirely escape its influence on her development. Today, most Western women cannot escape the influence of the media and its promotion of the Body Myth. Every day, this culture-as-extended-family tells us that the most important and valuable thing about a woman is her external, physical appearance. That’s a radically different message from the one our grandmothers got from their extended families.”

I’ve always been interested in the interaction between individuals and the culture they are a part of. Why do certain messages become dominant in a culture at a certain point in time? This idea of media and pop-culture as a replacement of our extended families was something I’d never considered before. It makes a lot of sense as to why cultural images of beauty have such a strong hold over us in society today. This is a topic I will be exploring in further detail over the next week.

Overall, The Body Myth is a compelling and thought-provoking read. I highly recommend it!

Food for thought: What books on body image would YOU recommend?

 

 

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