Category Archives: Body image

What does fat mean to you?

I was asked this exact question in therapy once. The fear I had around “being fat” was consuming my thoughts and behaviors; I was doing everything I could think of to “not be fat.”

My therapist asked “What does fat mean to you?” The only answer I could come up with was “big.” I didn’t want to be big. Over the course of many weeks we unpacked my fear of fat, and in that process I discovered an uncomfortable truth:

I judged fat people.

Culture is good at communicating that a large body is a bad body. If you are fat then you are lazy, unhealthy, gross, unreliable, undesirable, not disciplined in your eating habits, shouldn’t wear certain clothing, and should change your lifestyle in order lose weight.

I didn’t want to be gross and undesirable; I didn’t want to be thought of lazy and undisciplined. This is what fat actually meant to me.

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Those who know me well wouldn’t describe me as a judgmental person, and I try hard not to be. Yet in this area I was judging harshly without even realizing I was doing it. I was judging strangers, friends, and family as unhealthy, unhappy, and undisciplined. It was a humbling and healing truth to learn about myself.  Now that I had this understanding, I could see a little deeper into my eating disorder and the anxiety around my food and clothing choices, my social interactions, and my strict exercise regimens. I was seeing myself and fearing myself as that which I was judging harshly about others, and I was starving myself to death to avoid being what I had so irrationally feared.

For example, I would have changed my mind about an outfit believing that I looked fat in it…maybe my arms looked big or my stomach didn’t look flat. I would change simply because I judged myself as looking terrible because I had seen someone else in an outfit where her arms looked big or her stomach swelled out, thus judging her as needing to change her outfit. Body checking others led me to body check myself.  All I was seeing was bodies and body parts rather than knowing the people who lived inside the body shapes.

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We do this kind of judging as a culture, don’t we? There’s an expectation that larger bodies shouldn’t be in bikinis because what? It’s gross? No one wants to see exposed fat? Several brands of jeans have pants that “slim you down” because what? It’s not okay to show off the shape of your booty and thighs? Folks who live in larger bodies shouldn’t be eating “that cheeseburger.” Why? Because those people are fat and cheeseburgers are fattening and they should be eating a salad instead? Larger bodied people should be on diets to slim down because why? They’d be so much healthier?  (Note: Many folks in larger bodies are healthier than many of us in smaller ones. Health isn’t determined body size!)

Over time we believe the judgements about “fat people” and the expectations of what their lifestyles should be; we begin to apply those judgements and expectations to ourselves.

  • Summer’s coming and my body is so gross right now. I need to lose weight so I can wear a swimsuit.
  • I was so bad today eating those fries. I should have had the salad. I need to lose like 10 pounds. I should do a boot camp.
  • Oh my gosh I can see my rolls in this shirt. Ugh. I can’t wear this.
  • I gained six pounds this month. I am SO addicted to sugar. I need to cleanse and drop some weight.

These feelings suck, but instead of processing why we feel bad, we just avoid the feelings by going on diets, changing our clothes, regimenting exercise. We agonize over menus, ignore hunger signals, dread shopping, and become hyper-aware and anxious about calories, fats, and sugar. The bad feelings don’t actually go away. Anxiety, guilt, and shame around our bodies are constant because the messaging about “fat bodies” is constant. Our sucky feelings just grow because it’s impossible to achieve cultural expectations, thus leaving us constantly unsatisfied with ourselves.

The first step toward body satisfaction is to deeply understand what fat means to you and to notice (honestly) how culture’s messaging about fat is affecting how you view others in larger bodies and thus judging yourself in your own body. This is not an easy, quick, or comfortable step because it requires deep inner work. Body satisfaction doesn’t come from diets; it comes from deep inner work.

So, what does fat mean to you?

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Like this article? Learn more from my free guide 4 Healthy Habits that are Hurting You

God doesn’t think you’re fat

God doesn’t think you’re fat.

You think you are.

The world may think you are–judge-y strangers, your doctor, your friends, your spouse, your kids. Whether they say it to your face or not, you can feel the judgement.

The shame, despair, and frustration sink deeply into you. These are sucky feelings; I had them too. I tried working them out for miles on a run or emptying my diet of calories hoping those feelings would empty out too. Maybe a detox would cleanse the heaviness on my body and my heart. If only I were lighter then I would be happier. Do you tell yourself that too?

We fret and feel bad because we live in a culture where we’re categorized as fat or skinny based on the size and shape of our bodies. Judgement of who or what we are is based off which category we’re in:

Fat= bad: unhealthy, not beautiful, lazy, not marketable, not profitable, not worth it.

Skinny= good: healthy, beautiful, motivated, marketable, profitable, worth it.

Our world is cruelly black and white when it comes to body judgement and, subsequently, personal judgement based on body-looks.

We’re left to live from the posture of– If I feel fat, then I must be fat and that’s bad. I need to… I should… Why can’t I just… I’m so bad… I got to be better…

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It’s easy to forget you don’t belong to the world;  you belong to God. 

God doesn’t think you’re fat.

He doesn’t think you’re fat because fat doesn’t exist to God. Skinny isn’t a thing; it’s unknown to God. Body size, shape, and image have no connection to beauty or personal value. None of these things are real.

But YOU are very real to God.

He cares only about one thing–your heart. Your heart is where your value lives. Right now, you’re hurting and frustrated and stressing out about food, how your clothes don’t fit, and why you can’t just stick to your diet. Your heart is flooded with feelings of shame, guilt, and sadness about your body; those feelings have washed away the truth about your value.

God isn’t asking you to lose weight. He’s not asking you to exercise more. Jesus isn’t telling you give up bread (or wine!) or detox from sugar. The Holy Spirit isn’t asking you to go on a diet or be more disciplined in your health regimen. The world is 100%, absolutely, most definitely telling you these things. But God is not.

All God wants is you as you are right now. There are no judgments, no categories, no expectations for you. God doesn’t think you’re fat, sweet friend.

Rest in this truth today.

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Did you find this post encouraging? I invite you to receive this guide I wrote for you called 4 Healthy Habits that are Hurting You. 

Resolution revolution

It’s time for a New Year’s resolution revolution when it comes to body image and fitness. I’m already seeing the propaganda pump for diet programs and gyms, which are all basically subliminal messages telling you that you’re fat, you eat like shit, and you’ll be more valuable if sculpt your unhealthy self into a shiny new healthier you.

I call bull.

I am all for a healthy self, but not the way our culture defines health. Culture defines healthy as having a skinny, rockin’ bod that lives on protein and leafy greens. I define health as being connected with my body right now, listening and responding to what it’s asking for. No judgement. No restriction. No shame.

Of course I didn’t (couldn’t) do this without some help, without some guidance from someone who’s learned how to be connected and continually practices staying so. But I’ll get back to this in a minute.

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Let this be the year that:

  • Instead of striving for the body you’ve always wanted, learn to love the body you live in today.
  • Instead of regimenting calories on diets and depriving yourself of food,  eat when you’re hungry; stop when you’re full. Eat the foods you like and try new foods; don’t eat foods you don’t enjoy.
  • Instead of focusing on losing weight, focus on reconnecting with your body.
  • Instead of jerking yourself around in the gym, be gentle with your body; show compassion to yourself by moving in a way that you enjoy.
  • Instead of scolding yourself into motivation with harsh and judgmental words, encourage yourself with kind words and positive perspectives.
  • Instead of listening to the noise of media, culture, and societal expectations, immerse yourself in quiet meditative practices.

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Unplugging from the negativity of self-judgment (grounded in the external world) and reconnecting with your body (grounded internally in self-love) takes practice. It isn’t intuitive. I’m speaking from experience, and I’ve spent all of 2016 practicing with the guidance of Yoga with Adriene. WAIT… don’t click away.

If “yoga” got you all deflated, please understand that Adriene isn’t the twist-yourself-into-a-pretzel kind of instructor. Her mantra is “find what feels good.” She constantly guides her viewers to forget what they think they know about yoga and encourages focus on sensation over shape.  But the best aspect about her teaching is it’s rooted in connection and self-love. She’s 100% counter-cultural and that’s what I love about her.

I don’t do yoga for the workout. I do yoga for connection, meditation, and practice of self-love. The yoga mat is where I’ve learned to connect with my body and God; to speak kindness to myself; to learn how to breathe; to slow down; to be thankful for my body; to notice what my body can do (as opposed to what it can’t or what I wish it would).

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This is the year for a resolution revolution. This is the year for reconnection. You choose how this looks for you, okay? Don’t listen to the media. Heck, don’t even listen to me. Reach inward and listen.

Peace and love for 2017, dear friends.

**If you’re interested in checking out Yoga with Adriene, I just signed up for her new Revolution series starting January 1. It’s free and all online, so you practice at your own pace, in your own space, and on your own schedule. It’s for all levels, all body types, all genders… so don’t be scared to try if you’ve never done it before.

 

 

You’re already in shape

You don’t need to “get into shape.”

You’re already in shape–your shape.

Forcing and fretting to fit into a different shape isn’t better because you change the original design. Nothing is better than the original you.

“But I’m all out of breath when I walk up the stairs or jog with my friend; I get so tired when I stand for too long. I need to be in better shape.”

My friend, you are experiencing what it feels like to be alive inside your own body. The breath you feel is your lungs working; the aches you feel are your muscles coming to life; the fatigue you feel is your body simply asking for rest. Nothing about being alive is bad or wrong.

There are no rules that say how far you have to go before you stop; there is no law that says you have to move in a particular way. Move in a way that feels good to you, that feels right for your body. Dance, stretch, run, walk, jump, roller skate; find movement in yoga, Tai Chi, Taekwondo, Karate; have fun with areobics, jazzercise, zumba; find challenge in climbing walls, mountains, and forest trails; find vibrancy in swimming, kayaking, canoeing, or water dancing. Each body likes and wants to move, but discover how you want to move for you.

Exercising compassion and love and grace for yourself  is far more effective in achieving the body love you want. When you love yourself, you realize your body shape is perfect; you’ve been in the right shape the whole time. You’ll move to connect with your body rather than exercise to force yourself into a different kind of body.

No need to “get into shape” because your original design is already present, you’ve simply lost sight of it. You’re already in a good and beautiful shape. Connect with yourself as you are right now; listen to what your body is telling you; move according to how your body wants to move. Watch how your original design– your heart, your body, your breath, your strength, your stamina–becomes powerful and present again.

 

When my daughter was called “fat”

The neighbor kiddo called my daughter fat. They are both only 8-years-old. As a recovering anorexia patient, of course I was triggered. Thankfully my healthy voice is dominant right now, and this is how the conversation with my daughter unfolded:

“Hmm. How did it make you feel when she said that?” I asked.

*shrugs shoulders* “I don’t know,” Daughter said sheepishly. “Is it true? I feel like maybe it’s true. I don’t understand because she said she didn’t know why she said it. She said she ‘just felt like saying it to me.'”

“That sounds confusing,” I said.

“Yeah.”

I explained, “Her comment doesn’t make sense for two reasons. One, you aren’t fat, so the comment is wrong. It isn’t true. Number two, and most importantly, even if you did live in a larger body, your size has no bearing on who you are. You would still be the same creative, compassionate, funny, gracious person you are in the size you live in now. While your body can be lots of different sizes, your heart stays the same. So her effort to try to make you feel bad doesn’t even make sense. It’s confusing.”

“Why did she say it? She said she didn’t know why and she just felt like it.”

“Sometimes when people get a bad or hard feeling in their hearts,  like sad, mad, jealous, disappointed, hurt, or scared, they want to get rid of that bad feeling so they can feel good. One way people do that is to make someone around them feel bad. It’s like taking off the bad feeling and putting it on someone else to feel. It makes them feel better to see someone else feeling sad or mad or hurt or whatever the feeling. A lot of times, unfortunately, people don’t even know they’re doing this.

Your friend, rather than telling you she had a bad feeling in her own heart, tried to make you feel bad instead by calling you fat. My guess is she didn’t even realize she had a yucky feeling inside and that’s why she didn’t understand why she said it.”

“I wasn’t going to tell you what happened. But it was growing and growing in my chest and I thought it was going to explode outside of me!”

“Yes! That is a great explanation of feelings, Baby Girl. When we don’t talk about our feelings, for you the feelings were confusion and maybe hurt, they sit inside our bodies and they grow and grow until they have to come out. Your friend’s feelings exploded on you in the form of a hurtful comment, that ultimately didn’t make sense. It’s always better to talk about how you’re feeling in the moment so they don’t explode later.

You did the absolute right thing in telling me. Do you feel better?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. If this happens again, then come tell me and I’ll help you. I’ll talk to your friend and her mom. It’s not okay that she was trying to hurt you.”

“She might hate me if you talk to her.”

“Well, if she hates you because of her own actions, then that’s on her and she isn’t a good friend in the first place. Would you rather me not talk to her?”

“I want you to. I need help.”

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My daughter came to me a few days later and said it happened again. This little girl called my daughter fat and tried to cover it with “I’m only kidding” when my daughter tried to stand up for herself. As promised, I pulled this young girl aside and gently explained that her comment isn’t true and that it isn’t okay joke around about people’s body size because it’s hurtful.  It isn’t funny.

I texted her mother and let her know of the situation and my words to her daughter. We had a positive face-to-face conversation about it later. She confessed her daughter keeps all feelings inside despite her attempts to draw her daughter out; often this little girl comes off as just plain mean. I offered my understanding and support, mom-to-mom, friend-to-friend; she gave me permission to talk to her daughter anytime a situation warrants adult intervention.

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Here’s what I want you to know dear reader. Everything I said to my 8-year-old applies to any age, and any gender for that matter. Feelings are human and not age dependent; personal character is human not body size dependent.  Joking or making comments about body size doesn’t make sense at any age for any gender. So if anyone has ever insulted you about your body size, large or small, try to remember there is/was something negative growing inside of them and it’s exploding on to you.

In the spirit of grace and love, and if the situation lends itself, let them know their comment doesn’t make sense. See if you can navigate the conversation deeper, beyond body size, and pin point what’s really going on for the person who is trying to hurt you.