If You Must Think About Your Weight, Think These 10 Things

By Tracy Moore, originally posted at Jezebel.com

Another day, another opportunity to think about how much space you, as a woman, take up. That’s how it feels when you can’t throw a fat-burning supplement without hitting a visual about the losing of the weight or the gaining of the weight, and who gained what, how they look, how they lost it, and how you can, too. You can’t control these images, but you can control the narrative in your own head. And while we wish we could take credit for this crazy awesome post, our thanks go to Tracy Moore at Jezebel for letting us share her genius with you. Tracy is speaking our language here, and we are so glad awesome women the whole world over are fighting to take back beauty and health right alongside us. 

So the next time you get yet another message about weight that implies or outright demands that you consider your own, we’ve got 10 things for you to think instead:

This is some total baloney right here.

When it comes to media pushing perfect people, if you’re not skeptical, you’re doing it wrong. The only right way to do it is with deep, trigger-happy skepticism. It’s advertising — which means it’s supposed to make you want something. That alone makes it squirrelly. If you don’t train your brain to see that first and foremost, and to move cautiously forward if at all, then you may as well just hand over your wallet, dump it out, throw yourself onto the floor and ask someone to pelt you with rotten vegetables. So instead of feeling bad or even mesmerized by the flawless images, messages, and prescriptions for thinning yourself away, see it all as a super sad, cynical cash grab. Because that’s what it is.

Do men have to put up with this?

Lean on Caitlin Moran’s rule of thumb for whether something is worth getting all worked up about: Are the men worrying about this as well? When it comes to weight concerns, men are not advised to shrink themselves away. However, it’s worth noting what they are bombarded with: images of pumping up, boning up, manning up, dude-bro-ing it up. They inflate, we minimize. Viewed that way, it’s even more cartoonish, and everything is dumb, and it’s super dumb to do anything but laugh at it. Laugh at the little spectacle of capitalism trying to take your money.

Is this making me think about my weight or my health?

Simple question. Hard to put in practice. If, like anyone, you would like to be healthier (ACTUALLY healthy, as in stronger, fitter, better fed, able to do more physical things) and the message is helping you work toward that or inspiring you to that end with information or good facts, fine. Being healthy feels good. It makes you like your body! But that isn’t about a number. If you’re just wondering how much shrinkier you have to shrink to be considered more attractive based on the models you see doing Pilates on the beach, nope.

Why do I care?

Seriously, why DO you care? Are you paid to care? By that I mean, are you in a sexist, lookist industry where it behooves you to maintain a certain weight and so Allure can broadcast that you only weigh 115 pounds? If so, are you able to separate that from your own personal feelings of self-worth? Do you still feel like a worthwhile person when you are not a perfect size -.5 or whatever that is?

If you’re not in an industry where it is literally your job to maintain a weight, which is most of the rest of us, do you simply feel as a woman that your actual livelihood and well-being depends on weighing less than you do right now? Is that a valid conclusion you can put through the paces? Or does it fall apart with the slightest critical thinking? Because feeling good and liking yourself happens across all body types at all weight levels. Confidence and genuine appreciation of yourself is not a switch that flicks on at a certain number. It is not a “goal weight.” This is a dumb trap so many people fall into: I just feel better when I’m X number of pounds. That’s psychological. There’s probably a range of weight where you would feel the most fit, but you’re just assigning some arbitrary sounds-skinny number to that that has been culturally conditioned to feel OK about announcing out loud in earshot of other women.

What exactly is going to happen when I reach magical X pounds?

Ask yourself when you felt your best. Was it really when you weighed 135 pounds? Or was it when you were the most validated about your looks? Consider that your nostalgia for a past existence and the positive attention it brought you might have been more about the confidence you projected than a number. Force yourself to imagine the perfect life you think the perfect weight will bring you. What does it look like? You never argue with your husband? That guy you like at work will ask you out? The woman you’ve been in love with since college will suddenly want you? The beauty of working toward real confidence by actually liking yourself is that it doesn’t disappear the moment you gain weight, it is always there, and anyone worthwhile is drawn to you because of that aura, not the fact that you’re at some specific number.

Numbers are misleading.

It shouldn’t have to be said but apparently it has to be said a thousand times over: Weighing X weight doesn’t mean you’re healthy, or attractive, or “better.” Changing your relationship to food in a positive way — eating more of what’s good for you and less of what’s bad, may actually mean that you lose no weight at all. For some people, gaining weight could actually signal better health. There is no magic number for anyone, there is a range, and even within that range there are exceptions. Paying attention to some perfect goal weight, at which point you imagine yourself to no longer have problems or somehow transcend the issues you faced with 20 more pounds is a complete and utter illusion. And a waste of time. And probably really about something else.

What is this REALLY about?

It is almost always really about how you feel about yourself. The rest of it is about simply processing an endless onslaught of images and ads with tons of money and Machiavellian calculation behind them. I’m not saying those images are so easy to blot out, but, real self-worth can go a long way toward obliterating them. That comes from doing and being a good, accomplished person that you want to be, and be alone with. A person you like. A person who adds something to the world, does a thing that makes the world a nicer or better or more interesting place, is a good friend. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, and feel nice, and like your body. But if you can’t get out of the rabbit hole of thinking that is entirely wrapped up in your weight, you’re out of luck.

What am I wasting time NOT thinking about that’s more important?

We have to have idle, pointless or superficial thoughts — our brains cannot be deep and calculating every second. But it really does help to know when you’re having idle, pointless thoughts, and when they are doing you no favors. And it really helps to not confuse them with meaningful thoughts that enhance our lives. The sickening ability to take instant inventory of our bodies at a glance and superimpose some better, thinner self onto our bodies is a trap of idle thinking. It is the illusion of control. It is not reasonable. The idea that anyone who weighs less is happier is pure farce. You know it to be true; stop subscribing to this myth. And really, aren’t you bored with it? Aren’t you bored thinking about it? Isn’t it the most soul-deadening thing in the world to think about it?

I am not a pawn.

Get pissed. Get really good and pissed. Think about it: You’re a woman, a clearly more complex biological specimen who does miraculous and mind-boggling things with your body, whose systems and reproductive organs have been hotly debated and controlled since the dawn of time (and which are still only dimly understood at best), whose powers have historically been viewed as highly suspect if not outright demonic, whose energy and rhythmic connection to the universe is mystifying and awe-inspiring, and who is so often reduced in modern times to a fretting, insecure, body-shrinking worrywart convinced she should probably take up less space because she definitely isn’t hot enough. Do you really want to play into a set of steps already laid out for you? Do you really want to be a complete and utter product of a system designed to make you feel terrible directly for its own gain? Does’t that burn you to the core? It does me. No thanks!

Remind yourself of what real human beauty is again.

If all else fails, just get out of your head. Look around and ask yourself what moves you about the human form, historically, contemporarily, artistically. Remind yourself that bodies in all shapes and sizes of all ages are interesting, unique, strong, useful. That we are nothing if not utilitarian creatures. That our bodies are meant to do things and show it. Anyone who tries to make you feel that ALL you are is an object to be weighed, when in fact you are object, subject, protagonist, antagonist, villain, hero and especially the NARRATOR of this story you call your existence, is not on your side. Including when that person is you. Flip the script.

Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

Body Shame on You

Shame on you!”

Just the sound of that phrase feels awful, right? When someone says that phrase to you, it’s hard to ignore. But too many girls and women live in a constant state of shame that feels completely normal today — what scholars call “normative discontent.” Body shame and appearance anxiety are affecting us at epidemic rates. Shame, by definition, results in feelings of wanting to either hide or change the thing that doesn’t meet external or internal standards. For us, self-objectification takes place when we feel shame and hide ourselves or parts of ourselves from the world because we don’t meet the ideals we think we should, or we work to change the parts of us that just don’t cut it. These days, beginning with puberty, females are TWICE as likely to experience depression as males. This is directly associated with our objectifying culture, which leads us to evaluate and control our bodies in terms of our sexual desirability above all else.

Body shame, which manifests itself in the form of self-objectification, has been linked to disordered eating, unhealthy sexual practices (not saying “no” when you want to and not using condoms), plans for cosmetic surgery, diminished mental performance at school, diminished athletic performance, anxiety and depression, and sedentary lifestyles — and these impairments occur among all ethnicities and ages. Some of our favorite scholars, Fredrickson & Roberts (1997), state that “the habitual body monitoring encouraged by a sexually objectifying culture may reduce women’s quality of life.” We know this to be true.

At BR, we talk a lot about body shame – how prevalent it is today and how companies promote shame and anxiety in women as a marketing strategy. Shame is counterproductive to healthy choices. It is a debilitating and discouraging force that affects all of us negatively, especially in terms of body image. A 2010 National Physical Activity and Weight Loss Survey found that body size satisfaction had a significant effect on whether a person performed regular physical activity, regardless of the individual’s actual weight. So, those who were satisfied with the way their body looked – regardless of the ideals they did or did not meet – were more likely to engage in physical activity than those less satisfied. This is representative of a very real phenomenon among women who avoid physical activity because they feel “too fat to exercise” — THAT is shame in action, er, in inaction. In addition, too many women remain inactive because they believe they look too unattractive during/after workouts – too sweaty, too red, too jiggly, too frizzy of hair, too hard to get ready again after.

Women consistently describe their feelings of body shame in terms of not being attractive enough for their husbands or partners, or to even get the attention of a romantic interest. Entire industries perpetuate and capitalize on those anxieties by representing women in terms of their appearances only, developing and diagnosing flaws, and then selling billions of $$$ in products and services to “fix” those flaws and thus, make us attractive, happy and valued. What they don’t advertise is that those products and services to improve your appearance almost never minimize body anxiety — they often increase it. Have you ever known someone (or been someone) who decided to get a breast augmentation in order to make her feel better about herself, or to help her feel less self-conscious about her body? Did it work? Or was she still not quite satisfied with the size/shape/look of her breasts? Or did that woman then find a new “flaw” to fixate on and do whatever it took to fix it? Chances are, that’s exactly what happened. The cosmetic surgery industry reports that as many as two-thirds of patients are repeat customers. Cosmetic procedures are rarely a one-time fix because they don’t get to the heart of the problem that has everything to do with your feelings about your body and very little to do with your body.

What we want to focus on in this post is the importance of recognizing how shame manifests itself in your life with regard to your body image.

For some, it that little voice that says, “You suck. You already ruined your whole healthy eating plan for the day by eating that brownie. Now eat the whole pan.”

For some, it will be the multitude of excuses you have ready for anyone who invites you to a pool party, beach vacation or hot tub outing, all prompted by the fear of wearing a swimsuit, because people will surely be looking at your stomach or thighs and wondering how you dared show up looking that way.

For some, it is the choice to stay home with Netflix rather than be embarrassed about how sweaty, red-faced, jiggly, smelly or wet-haired you’ll be if you did that workout or played that sport with your friends.

For some, shame is what keeps you on the treadmill for 3 hours a day and restricting yourself to 1,000 calories/day in a desperate attempt to shed _ pounds or trim _ inches.

Shame is a cruel and powerful demotivator, especially with regard to health and happiness. It fuels overeating, poor nutrition choices, sedentary lifestyles, cosmetic surgery, isolation and pain. Shame is also a cruel and powerful motivator with regard to self-harm. It fuels disordered eating like bingeing, purging and starvation, as well as exercise bulimia, cutting, isolation and pain.

In Lexie’s dissertation study, 96 percent of her participants reported staying home from activities because they weren’t comfortable with the look of their bodies or faces. All but one reported they have refused to go swimming for fear of not meeting the standards of beauty they think they should in a swimsuit, even with (especially with) their loved ones. Many had plans for future cosmetic surgery. Do you see how hiding or changing parts of yourself might be your way of coping with shame for not meeting these unattainable ideals?

Once we identify and learn to recognize what shame looks like and sounds like in our own lives, we can work to reject its harmful motivating/demotivating influence. There’s no fighting back if we stay in this unquestioned, normalized state of body anxiety.

The making of bad health choices – or, alternatively, the avoiding of good choices — is very often motivated by shame. Whether it’s ditching out on fun, new, active experiences or engaging in unhealthy behaviors, we can’t let shame motivate us to self-harm or prevent us from living our lives – REALLY living our lives, not just living to be looked at. At the same time, we need to recognize that good choices can be triggered by feelings that might initially feel like guilt. Cognitive dissonance is different from shame. That uncomfortable feeling — such as a twinge of guilt — is your brain’s way of telling you that a new idea is conflicting with one of your pre-existing beliefs. If you recognize and respond to a feeling of cognitive dissonance, it might prompt you to make a healthier, more progressive change in your life. You might decide not to take non-FDA-approved diet pills you know are a bad idea — the ones that give you the jitters, dehydrate you and mess with your health. You might pick up a different magazine or take a show off your Hulu queue that promotes body anxiety and objectifies women.

You might believe that your reflection does not define your worth, but manipulative advertising and profit-driven media messages are engineered to convince you that idea is wrong — and instead convince you that improving your appearance is key to improving your desirability and happiness. We promote messages that stand in stark contrast to anything you will hear about women in any media outlet in order to create that cognitive dissonance that can remind women they are more than bodies to be looked at. It just so happens the truth is on our side, so it tends to resonate and stick with women who hear it. Believing that you are capable of much more than looking hot is a powerful foundation for us to build from — to make positive choices for our health, careers, relationships and every aspect of life.

Let’s stop letting body shame be a motivator for self-harm, a demotivator for self-improvement, or an unchallenged way of life. Let’s work to consciously recognize HOW shame manifests itself in our lives so we can reject the ways it negatively influences our choices. Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.

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