First and foremost let me apologize for the lateness of this update; I’ve been increasing my involvement in therapy and working toward recovery from my own eating disorder, and I am still not sure if the simple act of writing about food and body image is a trigger for me. But we shall soldier on (and I will update 1x/week, by Thursday of that week, from now on).
We shall soldier on not least because our society remains incredibly delusional. We continue connecting health and thinness no matter how many studies, medical doctors and anecdotal stories are released decrying the link between body fat and health. Faithful readers of research (and more modestly, this blog) know how tenuous this connection is; one can more easily judge the health of a person by observing diet and exercise habits than by simple appearance.
Once again, I was in CVS and stumbled upon Health magazine. A name which I immediately connected with a desire for more varied workouts, as I am bored constantly and need to switch up routines. However, as I looked at the cover all I saw was Jessica Alba talking about staying slim. Articles about how I could be slim for life, the habits of thin people, how I could “torch fat” with CrossFit workouts and how I could work out like a supermodel (and, it is implied, eventually look like a supermodel) assaulted me. I felt almost to the point of tears – is it too much to ask to find a workout plan without the goal of losing fat? To be able to exercise without wanting to do so to be thinner?
It is this flawed connection that limits our ability to exercise for the joy of movement. It limits our ability to appreciate our bodies because they are strong or functional or capable or flexible. When our only concern is appearance, these things cease to be important. Because really, who cares if she’s strong when she’s so fat? The fat is all that can be seen.
The 2000 novel Jemima J by Jane Green has a great line in it that has been burned into my memory. It’s a story about an “obese” woman who loses over 100lbs and all of a sudden her life comes together (eventually her weight settles at 145 pounds when she is “completely happy with the way she looks”). I used to read this book every other week when I was in high school, and the message I got out of it was that my life would finally come together once I lost weight. She was “obsessed” with exercise but ended up getting exactly what she wanted (the love of a man, obviously) after months of drinking only water for breakfast, eating a plan salad for lunch, and plain chicken for dinner. This is what it takes to have a good life.
I remember being so ashamed that I couldn’t do what she did; oh, don’t get the wrong idea, I tried. Having hot water with lemon in the morning is unsatisfying but I figured I’d try it – it worked for her! I, after all, was only 40 pounds away from 145, where I could be completely happy with how I looked.
I was unhealthy. In many ways, I probably still am. But we as a society cannot release this shame and work toward health until we let go of the idea that being thin is all that counts.