Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Stop putting life on hold"

I'm grappling with a certain degree of cognitive dissonance about what I'm doing here. I've been reading some stuff on the Fat Acceptance movement, mostly at Shapely Prose and various feminist sites. The idea that no-one should be judged or limited by society due to their physical characteristics has a very strong appeal, also the idea that you should learn to love yourself as you are. I'm more ambivalent about the idea that wanting to make changes to your physical form is by definition not legitimate. Apparently it's ok to want to be fitter and healthier and to experience weight loss as a surprising side effect of working towards those goals but the desire to lose weight as a primary aim is seen as foolish at best. I tend to think about what I'm doing more in terms of fitter and healthier but I'm very much using the numbers on the scale as a measure of how I'm progressing. Maybe I ought to focus more on what I can achieve in terms of fitness as a balance to that. But if I don't like the size I am for reasons that are more to do with what my body can or more importantly can't do than how I look and I make a decision to do something about that, is there really anything wrong with that?

I'm not about to throw in the towel and declare myself to be happy with the way I am primarily because there ARE things I want to do that I currently can't - swim 1km in 30 minutes as I could back in high school, ride a horse without worrying about doing an injury to the poor thing's back, go bushwalking and enjoy it, be comfortable in my mum's kayak and go river exploring with her, be able to at least consider adventure caving as a possible recreation (would I really want to do that? Not sure. But I'd like it to be an option), ice-skate without being crippled by the pressure on the bottoms of my feet, be able to contemplate climbing a mountain with something other than horror in my mind lol.

All these things are about what my body can do, not what it looks like. Do I like the way I look? Sometimes. I think I'm a reasonably attractive person, Adam seems to think so too ;-) The thing that bugs me most is probably my skin, I get break-outs much more often that I'd like. That seems to improve quite a bit when I'm eating healthy. My energy levels improve. My mood improves. I like the way I feel when I'm eating right and exercising. And it's nice to see my body changing shape too. How important to me is it to reach the magic number designated "at goal" by WW? I have no idea. Really. For all I know I might reach a point where I can do all the things I want to, where my blood pressure, cholesterol readings, blood sugar readings and what ever other numbers are relevant aside from my BMI are all within the healthy range and find I'm perfectly happy with that state of affairs. I guess we'll wait and see.

Meanwhile I try not to let how I look dictate what I do (my physical limitations are another matter, here I'm talking about me vs. the public gaze). I made a conscious decision years ago that my feelings of discomfort would not stop me from doing with my kids all the things we should be doing together as a family. So I decided I would go places with them, swim at public pools and at beaches, run around helping with soccer coaching (that one only lasted as long as David's interest in soccer). And then I started doing stuff for myself. I wear sleeveless tops so I can be out when it's hot without expiring. I bought clothes using the primary criteria of comfort rather than to hide my body. I went out on a limb and met people I knew from the net. I stood up in front of a theatre full of strangers and led a sing-a-long. I ended up on film doing the same (it's in the Sydney Q&A bonus feature on the Serenity DVD) and when I watch that I DON'T cringe, laugh at the geekiness yes but the physical me? that I'm ok with.

So this video posted on You Tube (A Fat Rant by Joy Nash) makes me cheer and makes me uncomfortable at the same time. Go watch it, she has some important things to say.

The statistics about dieting are not new to me. I've been aware of them for a long time and I wonder if I'm kidding myself that somehow I'm doing things differently this time so they don't apply. I say that I'm using WW as a tool to help me develop healthy eating and exercise habits as an end in themselves but I haven't yet discovered how I will feel should I find myself eating healthily and exercising well but no longer losing weight. I don't feel like I'm depriving myself of anything at the moment. I eat food I enjoy and plenty of it. My diet is balanced and I'm able to indulge in appropriate ways (ie NOT uncontrolled binge eating, which never feels good even in the short term and is therefore not something to bemoan the loss of). I know that obsessively counting points is not a practical way of dealing with food for the long term, I want to switch to the Core program at some point and learn to listen to the real needs of my body (intuitive eating I believe it's called). I'm not sure when I'll feel ready to try that again, it was not an entirely successful experiment the first time I gave it a go. Or maybe the points counting will become internalised so that I don't have to think about it.

I posted a bit of a rant myself recently on the Weight Watchers 30+ to lose message board, thought I'd re-post it here too. It was in response to parts of a discussion about embarrassing "fat" experiences. Here it is:

You know what? Those times when people say nasty things to us? They don't happen *because* we're fat, they happen *because* people are ill-mannered, insensitive, thoughtless jerks who should have been taught better. And when I say taught I mean not only by parents but also by society. It's not ok to demean any person because of their physical characteristics and being large should be no exception. The shame that society inflicts on us only makes it that much harder to deal with the challenges we face, it serves no useful purpose. We're quite capable of being unhappy about our size, about clothes that don't fit - or self-destruct (split trouser seams anyone?), about being unable to do certain things and so on with out anyone else's help.

There's not much you can do about the drive-by yelling, but I reckon if you encounter such rudeness in a one-on-one situation then you have every right and perhaps even an obligation (should you feel up to it) to point out the inappropriateness of the way you were spoken to.

If a sales assistant as a first approach takes it upon themselves to tell you they don't carry your size, call them on it, suggest it might be more helpful just to ask if they can help - for all they know you might be shopping for a gift for some-one else.

With young children I find it helps to be calm and matter of fact about yourself. When kindy kids in my kids' school make comments (and it usually is the little ones) I try to respond by saying "yes, I am big, it's because I didn't eat healthily or exercise enough but I'm trying to do both now and I'm getting smaller" ( I do confess to once snapping back with "congratulations, you have excellent powers of observation" but I plead extreme tiredness as an excuse). I think by responding as though it's not an insult but merely a statement of fact (which it often is if they're very young) tends to take the sting out of the exchange.

But most importantly, we have to accept ourselves as we are and be realistic about our physical limitations. It's not like we can hide our size from the world by avoiding acknowledging it ourselves. Isn't it better to smile at the air-line attendant as you board and say "I think I might need a seat belt extension" rather than struggle and have to give in to something you were trying to avoid? (I did this in January and was pleasantly surprised to find I didn't need one at all, but because I'd already mentioned it the attendant discretely came and checked how I was going without another word having to be said - still couldn't get the seat tray down though). Be open about the risk of not fitting into seats on amusement park rides, if you're feeling lucky smile and say, "I'll give it a go and if I don't fit then no harm done, next time I will". Go swimming and be proud that you're being active rather than embarrassed about your size - board shorts are the best thing ever ;-) We have just as much right as any other person to participate in life, we shouldn't let anything stop us from exercising that right!
I'm not sure if there's any coherent point in all that, make of it what you will.

6 comments:

Ariane said...

I've been watching the new series of How to Look Good Naked on Foxtel - it has a better format than the 1st series and (I think) most usefully has literally hundreds of mostly naked very normal women aged 20-80 just being. I think it should be compulsory viewing. We never see normal people.

What struck me most about what you wrote is how much I identify with what you wrote, and how much all the women on that show identify with it, and they are literally all sizes. Apparently you are right, there may be good reasons for your body to lose weight, but your body image really doesn't seem to have any correlation with those reasons. (I mean the generic "you" here)

My weight has been brought back from obese to within normal range (modulo babies) for nearly 10 years now, but I still think of myself as a fat person.

I believe if you keep looking you can find the lifestyle that works for you and you can change your category and keep it that way (within reason, I know there are exceptions). It's not simple, and no two people's answers are the same, nor do they seem to always stay the same over time. I believe you (personally) can and will do it.

I think you've done the more unlikely part, in accepting yourself. You are beautiful, but you are still a rare woman that can see it in yourself. I wish I could do so well in that department. And I hope even more that I can avoid passing on the insanity to the next generation.

Not terribly coherent, I think I know what I was trying to say, with any luck you might be able to decipher it too...

Ariane said...

Sheesh, shouldn't write when I am tired. Apologies to all and sundry if that sounded like a sanctimonious "everyone can lose weight if they just try hard enough" rant. It was not what I meant. I do think there *exists* a combination of diet, lifestyle and possibly medication for each person that will result in maintaining a healthy weight, whether it is plausible that any given person can find theirs is a very different question.

And having found the elusive combination or not, everyone is still beautiful and worthy of love, just like skinny people who eat badly and have high cholesterol.

Mim said...

I got what you were saying :)

Megan said...

Hey, I have thought about same issues. Having had to lose weight after both babies due to blood pressure issues, as well as lose weight before babies because of fertility issues - yes health is why I have done it, but then do I need to feel guilty about being motivated by looks as well? I have been annoyed by someone who was slimmer than me saying oh dont lose too much, just get into the healthy range, and I think hmmm so becuase you are already very slim thats whats ok for you, you get to enjoy that - but I don't? I reckon that within a broadly healthy range we should all be able to choose what we would like to weigh for whatever reasons and not have to explain ourselves to anyone. After all, almost everything in life has different motives behind it. On the other hand, having experienced in my adult life being anywhere from underweight to obese on those charts, even being very slim did not banish insecurity for me- though I do feel better in myself and more ok about how I look when slimmer.

Mel said...

Having only just found your blog (thanks for leaving me a comment!) I have to say I LOVE this post - bravo - a kindred soul!

Belinda said...

I love one of the last lines you wrote:

"We have just as much right as any other person to participate in life, we shouldn't let anything stop us from exercising that right!"

So true, we DO have just as much right! I have come up against some awful people who seem to think that we don't and they see overweight people as being a burden on society and our Medicare system. BAH to them!