October 19 was the NOW Foundation’s 14th annual Love Your Body Day, and I spent the day counting calories. And no, I don’t feel like I’ve let down the sisterhood.
I’ve struggled with body acceptance since I was nine years old. That was when I first looked around and wished I had tiny thighs like the other girls in my class. My mother had a hard time finding clothes for girls my age that fit.
You don’t need to have been diagnosed with “pediatric huskiness” to guess what happened next. The kids at school called me fat, I started to hate the way I looked and I grew an aversion to wearing a bathing suit in public.
My weight has fluctuated as an adult across a nearly 60-pound range. There’s nothing remarkable about my overeating. I’ve used food as a reward and a painkiller. I’ve used it as a sedative to numb out when I was stressed or to console myself when I was disappointed. But mostly I ate because I was depressed about my body, which makes about as much sense as robbing a bank because you’re too broke to pay your defense lawyer.
Taking the first step: Accountability
This summer, I changed the way I was eating for one simple reason: I started to feel uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable about the way others perceive my body, but moving through this world literally became uncomfortable. My clothes didn’t fit, my belly felt bloated, the seats at the movies were too small and it was increasingly difficult to exert myself. So I established a daily calorie goal, I kept track of what I ate and I tried to exercise a few times a week.
I found a great deal of freedom in accountability — not to anyone else, but to myself. I now measure my food — or at least make a reasonable estimate of portions — and I use a iPhone app to keep track of how many calories I’ve eaten. I eat when I’m hungry. I eat enough to fuel to nourish my body. I don’t weigh myself daily. I try not to think about it too much.
Feminists can diet, too
My system isn’t rigid or terribly scientific. But it’s simple, which is why it’s working. And the fact that it’s working — and, more importantly, that I have so much mental room freed up for more important topics — is why I refuse to turn in my feminist membership card because I dieted through Love Your Body Day.
For anyone angry with me for making that choice, let me clarify: I agree wholeheartedly with NOW’s message. There’s not much I can add to the eloquent and passionate editorials and blog posts about media messages that are harmful for little girls: the airbrushed actresses; the sexualization of women’s bodies to advertise products. It’s fantastic that NOW has been sponsoring Love Your Body Day for 14 years. I was moved by all the women who blogged about body acceptance last week, reminding us (wisely) to celebrate our beauty and be grateful for the miraculous ways our bodies serve us.
I’m infuriated that men are held to a different standard of beauty. I’m horrified by the skyrocketing number of women undergoing plastic surgery each year. I’m incensed when plus-sized clothing retailers use “normal”-sized models in their catalogs. And I seethe whenever I enter a boutique that only carries clothing up to size eight. I’ve earned my seat at the table for this discussion.
Self-loathing is fattening
It was self-loathing that was causing me to reach for extra food, but in many ways the real culprit wasn’t self-loathing, but self-obsession. Thinking about my body, my weight, how my body looks to me, how it looks to others. Thinking about what I’d eaten so far, how frequently I’d exercised, what I was going to eat later. Left to my own devices, these relatively unimportant facts would take up a lot of mental real estate. For me, freedom is having a plan that’s simple, so I focus on more important things. Perhaps someone else has a plan that works better for them, or no plan at all. I respect other people’s choices about what and how they eat; I don’t engage in food or body policing, judging, or shaming.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to terms with my genetics, my frame and my lifestyle. I will never be a waif. Whether I’m on the high end or the low end of my weight range, I’ll always have round hips, a wide butt and fleshy knees. These are but some of the many reasons I’ll never have a career as a swimsuit model, and I’m extremely okay with that. I do believe I’m far more than the sum of my body parts, and that I have much more important qualities to offer the world than sexiness or physical fitness.
I love my body for reasons too numerous and personal to detail here. But part of loving something means taking good care of it and treating it with respect. And dieting my way through the 14th Annual Love Your Body Day and respecting my body aren’t mutually exclusive.