Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tackling Myths

Happy New Year, and Viva La Revolution!

As you may know, as part of my New Year's Revolution, I am posting daily about Health at Every Size (HAES) topics from Linda Bacon's fantastic book.  This morning I woke up to her newsletter, with a mention of my blog - can anyone say, "starstruck?" Well, at any rate, here I go with this revolutionary adventure!

Today I want to talk about myths - cultural myths, and my own personal myths about what it means to be fat.  Let me note here that before my HAES journey, I would never have used the word fat to describe myself.  I would have used round, or big, or chubby or some other euphemistic word.  Unless I was beating myself up - then I would lament about "feeling fat."  "FAT" was a  mean word, hurled at me by schoolyard bullies, and threatened at home at the dinner table.  One wouldn't want to be fat (*gasp!*) because to be fat is to be associated with all of the terrible myths about what being fat means.  "Fat," a supreme insult, really meant stupid, lazy, ugly, undesirable, unlovable, rebellious, indifferent, hedonistic, emotionally screwed up, unattractive, unhealthy, worthless, undignified, embarrassing, and otherwise useless.  Ouch, man!

I used to think that I must be doing something wrong - how can I possibly be normal or OK if I am still fat? I used to believe in the stupid/ugly/lazy myths, even though I couldn't figure out how to fix myself.  It sure didn't feel lazy to slave away at the gym in perpetual punishment.  It didn't feel stupid to pore through nutrition and weight loss books. I figured it was me. Obviously, I would be skinny if I was doing "it" right (whatever the elusive "it" was).  I think that could be why all the weight loss ads are so seductive!  We are fed the myth (perpetuated with great enthusiasm by the weight loss industry) that if you just find the right diet, or the right "lifestyle change," that you, too, could be on the track to OK-ness.  And lots of us buy it!  How ingenious of the diet industry - sell something that doesn't work 98% of the time, and then blame the consumer when it inevitably fails.  Wow, talk about a marketing plan!

Even as I discovered mindful eating, when I didn't lose weight as promised, I figured there must be something wrong with me.  Obviously, I wasn't mindful enough. Intuitive enough.  I couldn't actually listen to my body.  Other people, apparently, can listen to theirs, but when I listen to mine, it just stays the same. What a betrayal!  Stupid body! Stupid me!

The most tragic part of our cultural myths about fat are the human hurts.  I know what it feels like to internalize the crazy body hate messages - and I would be willing to be that you do, too!  I have yet to meet anyone who hasn't been affected.  Even thin people are impacted!  Fat is feared and reviled, and we live in a cultural terror about "getting fat."  This cultural anxiety shows up every time we talk negatively about our weight, fret about this diet, or that "approach," assume someone should or could lose weight, compliment someone because their butt looks a tiny bit smaller, or laugh at a fat joke.  These things hurt everybody.

Imagine what the world would be like if we could appreciate people for who they are, including (but not limited to) a diversity of body shapes and sizes.  I personally love getting compliments now and again - how about you?  What a relief it is to be able to accept them, now!  When someone says, "you look great!" I say, "thank you,"  instead of averting my eyes in disbelief and thinking to myself, "oh, no, you don't realize that I was .4 lbs heavier when I stepped on the scale today.  I'm terrible, fat, ugly, and bad."  What a relief not to have to live in a state of body hate anymore.  I feel like I escaped from a cultural prison, and I am determined not only never to go back, but to free some of my brothers and sisters from that same awful place.

When I was a teenager, I was riding my bike when some guy yelled, "Hey buffalo butt, I love you!" out of his car window as he sped by.  At the time I was mortified, and walked my bike home with my sweater wrapped around my butt so no one would notice my buffalo-sized derriere.  I cannot think of a more cruel or shaming thing to do to a teenaged girl, but that guy obviously wasn't thinking about what kind of damage his actions may have had on me.  When I think back on this, I wonder about alternative responses to hiding in agreement with his meanness.  What if I flipped him the bird? Of shouted, "I love you, too, asshole," or anything really that didn't involve allowing that dude to determine my level of self-esteem.  Which brings me to my next point about cultural myths:


Challenge people when they support or perpetuate cultural myths about body image or body fat! Stick up for your fat friends.  Don't take it lying down when someone says something critical to you about your weight, your food, your body, your looks, or any part of you!  Even (especially) if it's a loved one or family member.  You don't have to be nasty back (although I do secretly wish I had said something nasty to buffalo butt man - yes, I am still harboring some resentment).  Change starts with me.  It starts with you.  Come up with ways to protect yourself, and fight back.  For me, this boils down to every day mundane acts of self love, and maintaining confidence in myself.  I take back the word fat - it is a descriptor, like short, or tall, or blue-eyed. I refuse to take on the cultural myths and meanings around the word "fat" anymore.  I believe in my right to live in the world, and in my body, with comfort, affection, and love.  I try to live as if it is unthinkable that someone would criticize me for my body - which it actually is! - and respond from my own power around those who do criticize. 

I would love to hear what you do to speak up against cultural myths about fatness - Have you come up with ways to fight the diet police in your head?   Have you set aside time for self-care?  Have you invented come backs to "concerned" relatives?  Have you encountered your own buffalo butt man?  What did you do?  Let's share the wisdom, and fight these cultural myths together.

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