If I Don’t Like Me, Can I Take Care of Me?
Originally posted October, 2009 when Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS first joined the WeAreTheRealDeal site. Marsha has taught hundreds of women how to live the HAES (Health At Any Size) lifestyle through her decades of work at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s retreat where she serves as owner and director. Read Marsha’s blog at A Weight Lifted.
I often ask women when we meet in nutrition counseling sessions to imagine that after successfully adopting a healthy lifestyle, they found their weight remained the same. How would they feel? Would they be okay with that, or would they be shattered?
Their responses are all over the map. One thread, however, appears to correlate with how long they have been struggling with weight. It seems to come down to how much their weight defines who they are, and those who have struggled the longest are the most defined by it.
Their stories have been heard repeatedly:
- The woman who was singled out as a child because she was larger than the other kids, often due to developmental weight gain (that which can precede growth spurts).
- The daughter of the weight-worried mother who didn’t want her child to “suffer the same problems” and subsequently faced a focus on size and restrictions in her eating.
- The woman who was and is larger than the societal ideal (distorted as it is) and has faced discrimination her whole life.
- And many more variations on the theme.
The journey to self-acceptance for those of us with these kinds of stories often revolves around the struggle to believe in ourselves, that we are okay as we are, that we don’t have to change our bodies to be valuable, to be loved. Our struggle to accept ourselves often hangs on our core belief that we aren’t acceptable because of our bodies, something that was ingrained in our psyche as children, and cemented there as we maneuvered through our fat-phobic society.
In contrast, we women who grew up without the unfair burden of size difference may not feel deep dismay about ourselves as worthy people when we gain weight. But we usually end up in the same place if we begin to struggle – not liking ourselves because of our weight, or because we can’t successfully achieve what is seldom a realistic goal. We start recording a tape of negative self-talk that, although maybe shorter in length than women who started theirs years before, delivers the same crushing blows each time it plays.
The way out for both groups is the same, too. Mimi Francis, our behavioral health therapist at Green Mountain, often asks,
“How well has not liking yourself worked so far?”
The truth is, it doesn’t work. When we define ourselves by our bodies, and we dislike those bodies, then it’s much easier to abuse ourselves.
The dream that weight loss solves all problems complicates it even further. Because thinness is pictured as inseparable from health, happiness and wealth, it’s difficult to realize that a smaller body size doesn’t automatically equate with success.
The fat acceptance movement, I believe, is a movement that can help us all move away from these misguided thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In my book, it’s not about a dichotomy between those who want to lose weight and those who don’t. It’s about helping us all understand that weight isn’t the real problem, if one exists at all when we let go of weight worries.
If we could all realize that, we’d be much better able to discover what the real problems are, and likely see our success rates at solving them skyrocket.
Does your body size affect your ability to believe in yourself?
photo courtesy of Stuart-Miless