Thursday, October 18, 2012

Weighty Matters

I've written another post on Babble about my post adoption weight gain, this time about how it's not going anywhere, and I'm confused. But it turns out that the issue might be the way our bodies react to getting too little sleep, and I'm definitely getting too little sleep, so that's good news...I guess.

elvie in the morning
This sweet thing is half the reason I'm not getting enough sleep. The other half of the reason is a night owl that stares back at me from the mirror.

I've been wrestling lately with how to impart a positive body image to my daughters, and the more I read, the more I'm convinced that we've got everything backwards in our culture. We are so steeped in talk of weight that we cannot understand the difference between weight and health. We assume that healthy weight is the key to good health, but that's simply not true. There really is no such thing as healthy weight the way we talk about it. A certain weight should not be the desired end result of healthy habits. HEALTH should be. If we are living in a way that is healthy, then weight needs never be discussed, except in cases where there is dramatic gain or loss with no explanation, in which case there is likely something medically wrong. But to approach weight as a thing in and of itself that indicates health is just faulty logic. It should not go, "If I get to a certain weight, I will be healthy." It goes, "If I engage in healthy habits, I will be healthy, and my body will reach the weight that is healthy for me."

I've been really discouraged lately to read that yet another woman who is a feminist in every other way is dieting in order to be a certain size. The desire to be a certain size and to weigh less is equated with normal womanhood, and frankly, I'm sick of it. I look at photos of myself over the years, when my body was just fine, just as it was, and I remember feeling like I needed to work out more, to do more to lose, to work just a bit harder to be just a bit thinner. This line of thinking took up a great deal of brain space. It took having daughters to realize how messed up that was. It was never about health; it was always about vanity, about living up to an ideal that doesn't really make sense. I knew it didn't make sense, but I didn't know how to make myself believe that. But I figured that if I took away the voices that were telling me that I wasn't good enough, that I should use this trick or that one to be thinner, and therefore better, then things might improve.

So I stopped reading glossy magazines, and I stopped watching television shows about weight loss, and something amazing happened. I started liking my body. I started thinking it looked just fine. And even now, with extra pounds on my frame, I look in the mirror most days and feel like I look good. Yes, it is frustrating that my clothes don't fit. I like those clothes, and I want to be able to wear them. But my weight in and of itself is not a problem, and I know that. I still have to fight the inner voice that tells me that a bit thinner would be a bit better, but I know it's not true, and I have fought hard to believe in that.

When we judge our bodies, our children see that, and they begin to emulate us. They judge their bodies, and like we do, they judge the bodies of others. Yet another thing becomes a competition, a reason for comparison, and like women before them, my daughters could end up spending far too much time comparing themselves to others, judging themselves as better than or worse than depending on jeans size and amount of cellulite. I don't want that kind of life for them. I want them to feel confident in their bodies and to recognize the beauty in others as well. I want them to approach health as health, and not as tied to weight.

There's a movie that I love to watch when I've had a bit too much media and am down on myself, and it is called America the Beautiful. One of my favorite moments is when Eve Ensler is talking about asking women in Africa if they like their bodies, and they act as if it's the most ridiculous question they've ever heard. I want it to be the most ridiculous question my daughters have ever heard, too, and I will fight for that. I will fight against culture, and I will fight against others who want to talk negatively about weight in front of them, and mostly I will fight the girl in the mirror, who is their mother. I will fight her hardest of all.

9 comments:

  1. Amen to all this. I've never heard of that movie, but it sounds like something I should watch. I've made a conscious effort to stop myself from saying things out loud about my weight, but that inner voice has been impossible to quell.

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  2. We are struggling with this at our house. My eldest has always been an overeater. Is it because she was hungry before she came to live with me? Is she just wired that way? Is the way she carries her weight genetic? I don't know...
    As her mother, I feel an obligation to get her to her teen/early adulthood in a healthy, happy, well adjusted form. At 9, she is quite overweight at this point. I don't want her to hate her body, and yet if she continues down the path she's on we could have a real problem. I feel like I am walking a fine line in terms of educating her about making better choices, and not ending up with a child who has an eating disorder.

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  3. Great thought here. Weight occupies a crazy amount of my brainspace and always has. I have sons, but I am also very careful about talking about diets or weight loss. i am trying to lose weight for health reasons and when my oldest asks why I eat differently, I always tell him mommy is trying to get healthier. So far, so good. I do not envy mothers of daughters on this issue!

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  4. Preach it. But be easy on yourself. Like your daughters, you're learning a new skill - to love your body. And you wouldn't fight them, so don't fight yourself.

    My girls love my jiggling tummy and thighs - when I dance and make my flab shake, they love and it and think it's hilarious. I laugh right along with them. I let them touch my body all over (minus the anal region 'cause there are serious germs there). We call body parts by their names - vulvas and penises, arms and legs - because all parts are great.

    Food is another issue - we're trying not to use certain foods as rewards or special but at the same time teach balanced nutrition. For example, my three year old had four carrots and two bites of veggie soup last night then got to eat a cupcake (which she had wanted for her dinner). If she asks for a piece of candy, she gets one a day, but we never use it as a reward for doing something.

    I think no matter how we prepare them, it will be an issue for them, but at least we are giving them a solid, positive foundation to stand on.

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  5. I just wanted to chime in here and say that it's been something that I've been thinking a lot about in the last couple of years, and that even without the constant barrage of television and glossy magazines it is still so hard to not judge myself on my size. I'm getting better, and I credit yoga for a lot of that, since for me a big part of yoga is accepting and loving exactly where we are on the mat, and that translates to off the mat too. Good luck with your steps towards a healthier (and more rested) you.

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  6. There is a whole industry dependent on women being obsessed with weight. People make a fair bit of money from our insecurity.

    Even without a daughter, I watch my words. I talk about food that helps us be healthy and food that just tastes good and explain we have to eat enough healthy food before we can eat treats because otherwise we won't have room in our bellies for the food we need. I try to get him to walk and exercise with me, or at least see that I do, and point out this is how I stay healthy and make my muscles strong.

    I don't want my son to join the growing ranks of males with body image problems, and I don't want him to have obnoxious attitudes about other people's bodies either. But it is insane. I've seen cartoons, modern ones, poke fun at weight and games ugh, there is this horrible game advertised here where players stuff a plastic pig with food until it's belt pops. I couldn't believe it as I ran for the remote to turn it off!

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  7. I really like this post. I feel like this is a perspective I hardly ever hear. I get frustrated by knowing I'm healthy and making good choices, and yet for some reason sometimes needing to buy a bigger pair of pants. When I talk about my worries about my weight with friends, I am usually trying to express my struggle with getting *over* my worries about weight and just loving myself as I am, as long as I'm healthy and treating myself well. But friends usually misread me as wanting to lose weight. Women talk amongst ourselves about perfecting our bodies so often that we can't recognize the work of trying to rise above it--and it is real emotional work of loving ourselves and our bodies.

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  8. I don't want to nag you to write a book, but ... holy smartness!

    When I talk with little girls about bodies and food I talk about "can your body do everything you want it to do?" and "are you being kind to your body?" When told they are hungry I will ask "is your belly hungry or is your mind hungry?" because if it's their mind, then they're bored (or anxious about the next meal) and I distract (or talk about when the next meal is). If their belly is hungry then it's time to eat. A friend's daughter here in SF is food-insecure and we have had some interesting talks because of it.

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  9. I've never posted a comment on one of your blog entries before but I wanted to tell you (in case you haven't seen it) that the entire talk by Eve Ensler can be seen on the TED talks website. It's one of my favorites, and it reminds me how important it is to love myself exactly as I am. I love the idea that trees don't look at other trees and wish they looked like them. Why should we be any different? I'm loving your blog and your sweet girls are wonderful. Thanks for being willing to share, you've really touched my life.

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