Image from Dove.
Like an unfortunately large percentage of women in the U.S., I grew up criticizing my body and dieting regularly from a young age. I spent years of my life terrified I would never get “there,” the place where my weight and all perceived rewards of thinness would finally fall into place. Getting thin was the only answer I could think of to most of my problems, and conversely, “being fat” or gaining weight, meant “losing” — it meant never achieving, never being loved, never “having it all.”
I remember seeing body-positive campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty or Victoria Secret’s Love Your Body — campaigns that encourage women to “love the skin they’re in” — and thinking “that’s nice, but I still wish I was thinner.”
I would see images of “real women” and think to myself, I don’t want to be one. I wanted to get ahead, stand out, be special, and I didn’t see how accepting my body the way it was would get me “there” — the place where my life would begin. I believed my dreams were 20 lbs. away from me, and what seemed like a forced, new ideal of beauty on a billboard didn’t seem to change that.
I could have written that word. for. word.
The article goes on to say the strides in media are great for the younger generations but those who have already been programmed to hate their bodies need to “ ‘unlearn’ the rewards and punishments they experienced around weight as children…”
I’ve talked about how my dad planted the seeds of my body-image issues at a young age — click here to read an open letter I wrote to him in haste.
The unconscious lessons he taught me won’t be undone by seeing “real” woman in billboards or magazines, but I agree with the author, these campaigns are still important. We as a culture need to be exposed to a wide variety of body types and sizes in mainstream media.
My experience with my dad coupled with a constant stream of super skinny model images of the ’80s and ’90s, cemented my body image issues.
Isabel asks in the article: What are YOU making “fat” mean?
My answer is simple: Being fat meant I was unworthy and unattractive. It’s why I was forgettable, unpopular and shy. Fat allowed me to stay safe, hidden and unimportant.
For 8 years I’ve been working on all these feelings in parallel with actually losing the weight I gained in fear I was fat when I really wasn’t. (How many of you look back at photos from high school in disbelief of how skinny you were?) My biggest hurdle has always been self-worth and confidence. Being unlovable and unworthy were always my underlying fear despite being in a supportive relationship.
This is why I think having kids helped me gain the confidence to break the cycle I was in. Giving birth was a life-changing experience for me. I finally felt the unconditional love a child brings into your life. This love taught me to value myself and my body for what it was, giving me the confidence to break the dieting and negative self worth cycles I was in.
I didn’t realize how many feelings this article stirred up in me until I started writing. All I knew after reading it was I had to make this the question of the week:
What are YOU making “fat” mean?
Note: I explored these feelings before specifically in My Core Hurt Eating – A MUST Read for those that Overeat.