As all three devoted readers of this blog will know, this past year has been the "Year of Dani": a year of self-care, of becoming more comfortable in my own life and my own skin, and concentrating on what has meaning for me and makes me happy, healthy and whole. I'm still a work in progress, but I feel like I have made some important steps forward and made changes in my own thinking that made a real difference to my own sense of well being and self-worth.
No small part of this has been working on accepting myself for who I am, at the size I am. Weight has been an issue for me since I was a kid. I can't pinpoint when exactly I started to feel different and unworthy because of my weight - it goes that far back. I remember being called fat by kids in elementary school. I can remember my mom and I out walking when I was younger and some stranger yelling at us that we were two cows who SHOULD go out for a walk. I don't remember a time when I didn't know in the core of my being that fat was bad, that I was fat, and therefore I was bad. Naturally, I equated not-fatness with goodness. If only I could just be thin, life would go my way. I wouldn't feel different, or like an outsider. I first went on Weight Watchers when I was 13. I went back to WW a number of times, and have tried numerous other fad diets over the years, sometimes with tremendous success. Dr. Phil's crazy Texan diet + running 5K every single day for five months = 60 pounds gone. Dr. Bernstein + heartbreak + obsessive CrossFit = 90 pounds gone. Dr. Bernstein (again) + hot yoga 6 days a week = another 75 gone. I've lost my own body weight probably multiple times in my life, sometimes by very unhealthy means.
Part of this year's focus has been on living in the present. I quickly came to the realization that I couldn't genuinely live in the present without accepting myself for who I am in the present, all of me: the double chin, the chubby arms, the Size 16 clothing - every last large, chubby, round part of me. I didn't know where to begin that acceptance, I really didn't. I have been so conditioned to believe thin is good (for me - ironically I think most other people look good a little chubbier) that I had to start with a very narrow focus. I found I liked myself more and could look at myself proudly in the mirror when I had cooked myself a healthy meal that day. So that went into the rotation: healthy cooking. I also noticed that I felt better about myself when I exercised - I liked the way I looked in running clothes, and I liked how it felt to run. OK, so it was time to start running more regularly. I liked going to the pool - I bought the cutest vintage swim caps you have EVER seen and went and did Aqua-Fit with the old ladies at the Y. I liked lifting weights - time to join an exercise crew - my dear friend April had told me about her sister-in-law's bootcamp program for plus size women, Body Exchange , so I started doing that two to three times a week, in addition to my running - and you should see me swing a kettlebell now.
No small part of my growing acceptance and the beginning of falling in love with who I am, right now, came from the growing movement online that celebrates bodies of all sizes - including plus size bodies. Models were a big part of that - seeing someone like Tess Holliday get on the cover of People Magazine in May was a big thing - but it was Ericka Shenck on the cover of Women's Running in August that made me literally howl with joy. YES! I am a runner! She is a runner! We are runners! I cannot tell you how empowered that cover made me feel. All I can say is my running laps at bootcamp that week were extra-fast, and extra-proud.
I also discovered a whole world on Instagram of plus-size fashion beyond the two messy racks in the corner of H & M and the senior-citizens approved plus section of the Bay. There were young professional women like me posting OOTD on IG, rocking fierce clothes that I needed right. now. There were even people I knew setting an example, like local amazing supermodel Ruby Roxx, looking so damn heart stoppingly sexy that she puts Victoria's Secret to shame. Thanks to this social media takeover by beautiful, empowered, healthy, fashionable, smart, successful and LARGE women, plus size was becoming, for me, the new normal. Finally, at 35, I felt normal. I felt more deserving of being healthy, loved and beautiful - because here were these examples of women being these things, doing fabulous things, that I could look at everyday.
Cut to yesterday. I was inundated, on TV and radio, with news stories relating to this study co-authored by Brent McFerran, a professor of marketing at SFU, saying that acceptance of larger body types in media (such as the now-iconic Dove campaign) result in greater consumption of food and less motivation to exercise. In other words, showing people images of fat people made them fat. It made them lazy, and it made them eat more. They refer in their conclusions to "overly large" bodies as "unhealthy" but do not refer to overly thin bodies in the same way. They conclude that it would be "optimal" for people's well-being for marketers to use images of people of a "healthy weight and refrain entirely from drawing attention to the body size issue." They suggest we ignore the elephant in the room - even if that elephant is me. Or you. The authors of this study seem to be fretting that we can't "normalize" people who are overweight, even though it's well established that the average woman in North America is a Size 14, and also well established, in the work of experts like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, that dieting isn't working. People are not getting smaller. Bigger is the new normal. Instead of suggesting that the media show healthy bigger bodies - show people that they can love themselves and be good to themselves at any size, and show them how to be healthy at any size, the authors of this study suggest that we be erased from the picture.
To make matters worse, in giving publicity to this study, the media once again opened the floodgates for people to make judgments about others (as always, like they needed an invitation) based on size. On my way to bootcamp with my large lady-friends last night, I heard the following public comments on the CBC radio show On the Coast:
1) Obesity is an epidemic, it is unhealthy and costs the taxpayers money so let's not celebrate that.
2) I have fat friends and when I hang out with them I do eat more and I do make poor choices so I try to encourage us not to just go out to dinner when we socialize.
Imagine comment number 1 starting like so:
"Islam is an epidemic."
Or comment number 2:
"I have gay friends and when I hang out with them I do feel more homosexual."
You may think, "Oh hang on Dani, being fat isn't the same as being Muslim, or gay. People can't help being Muslim or gay." And I am telling you, based on personal experience and the experience of many others I know, that the psychology of weight and our relationships with food, not to mention genetics and hormones, make it as difficult for some people to change their body shape as it is difficult to change the colour of your skin. I have 35 years of obsessive exercise, diets, cycles of starvation, and more self-loathing than you can even imagine to prove it. The fact that the study didn't even start to address that complication shows just how flawed, and harmful, it is.
In making a huge, oversimplified news story out of a controversial study that does not even scratch the surface of the psychology of food, weight, body image and media influence,the media is once again giving voice and validation to judgement, bigotry and shaming as legitimate opinion.
And I won't stand for it.
Seeing myself reflected in the media over the past year has made me feel worthy: of love, of admiration, of health. OF HEALTH. Shaming me into trying to lose weight by only making clothes up to a certain size (I'm looking at you, Abercrombie & Fitch and Lululemon) didn't make me feel those things. Publishing glowing articles about Gwyneth Paltrow's latest cleanse didn't make me feel those things. Fat jokes on YouTube by dude comedians didn't make me feel those things. It was seeing myself, or someone who I could identify with, on a cover, in a story, in an Instagram post, that made me want to love myself. And doesn't everybody deserve that? Shouldn't our media reflect who we really are, whether that's thin, fat, tall, short, able-bodied, or
cis or transgendered? And every colour under the rainbow? And wearing a hijab, or a burqa, or a turban?
1. I am a hot, sexy, athletic, healthy, plus sized woman who can do more push-ups than you and has the most fierce style ever EVER.
2. Magazines, TV and marketing couldn't shame me into loving myself, the only way that happened was by seeing myself reflected in the media: by showing me that I existed, was worthy of depiction, and could be part of the story.
3. Size shaming appears to be one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice disguised as health concern-trolling, and it's not OK. Just as we won't let Donald Trump's hatred make a comeback, we won't let shaming of people for
aspect of their body go unaddressed.
4. Fat is not contagious. Nor is it monstrous, or deserving of being "othered."
5. Diversity is good.
6. Health is good, and we need to celebrate and applaud those actions we take for our health, which can come in many different packages.
7. Don't let stupid hateful people be on the radio. This includes Donald Trump. I'm tuning out the noise and focusing, in the immortal words of Crystal Waters, on
100% pure love