As the anti-diet and radical self love movements get bigger, there’s a lot of people trying create strict lines in the sand marking what you CAN do and say and what you CAN NOT do and say in terms of health and fitness and *ahem* weight loss.
I’m seeing it happen from many people in many areas of this movement. I’m seeing it from people who are actively trying to lose weight but want to challenge themselves on how they look at it and how they talk about it to make sure they’re not promoting diet culture or toxic beauty/health standards established by industries that profit of our self-hatred. I’m seeing it from fitness industry people who are checking everything they do and say to make sure their messages are rooted in radical self love. And then there are people on who say you 100% can’t try to lose weight or promote health/fitness without supporting some part of these toxic industries.
It’s tough for those of us who are working on a lifetime of brainwashing. We really want to know for a fact that we are promoting radical self-love and not using messaging supporting or falling victim to what Sonya Renee Taylor calls the “Body-Shame Profit Complex” (BSPC). Especially if we are working on healing ourselves and raising children not to be brainwashed at the exact same time. I want to make sure I dig into any sort of messaging around health and fitness and beauty really see: WHO TAUGHT ME THIS? What is it rooted in?
I thought I would share some of the deep dives I do in certain situations that help me orient myself towards radical self love and away from the BSPC. Now, everyone comes at these challenges with their own personal history. Remember mine: Binge Eating Disorder, Body Dysmorphia, Compulsive Behaviors around Running, etc. So when I’m digging in, I’m looking for seeds of all of those things. You may need to look for something else.
- ON SETTING ATHLETIC GOALS: I ask myself, “Why are you doing this?” Am I certain there’s no part of my brain that’s hoping for a narrative of: LOOK HOW MY BODY CHANGED WHEN I TRAINED FOR THIS RACE? I fooled myself for years thinking I was anti-diet because I was just training for races, not dieting. But when I really started digging in I realized what I wanted was a finish-line photo to post where people would think, Damn…Kim got fit/skinny/tone training for that race!
I have signed up for a trail race in October that I want to do because I’ll get a cool hoodie, and because it forces me to get back out hiking when the poison ivy dies back. I love hiking but I always forget I love it during the summer and sometimes I need a reminder. I also miss the social part of races. I miss talking to people at start-lines. I miss cheering at finish lines. I no longer give two flying shits about that finish line photo, as long as I’m crossing it.
- ON CHANGING OUR APPEARANCE (clothing, makeup, skincare, hair cuts, muscle tone etc): I ask myself,”Why do I want to change my appearance?” For example, if I’m wanting to buy a new dress because it makes me look smaller, then I probably should step away. Because of my history with body dysmorphia I’m trying to focus more on vibes of clothing, if that makes sense. Does this outfit help me meet my goal of being perceived as a hippie artist/librarian? THEN BUY THE OUTFIT. Do I love the pattern of the dress? Will it allow me to be comfortable AND feel fabulous? BUY IT. Does it have pockets? BUY IT.
This also works for skincare because I’m often tempted to buy the $100 skin creams to treat my wrinkles but then I have to dig deep: The BSPC definitely wants me to hate my aging face, so to thwart it I need to normalize aging and wrinkles. Also? If everyone who could afford it erased aging, only poor people would show aging and what kind of fucked up dystopian Scott Westerfield world does that build?
It gets a little trickier when you’re talking things like hair color and makeup. I think a lot of what we present to the world is self-expression and I think there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Some of it is even artistic expression and again – nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think it takes some hard work to make sure your narrative is, “I feel like having purple hair shows the world more of what’s on my inside.” and not, “I feel like I need to have purple hair because I don’t like myself as much with boring brown hair.” Sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking what we’re doing is part of self-expression but when we dig deep, really deep, we see otherwise. For me the trick is looking at myself without the change and really making sure I love the person I see. If I do love her, if I’m not thinking, “UGGGG…THAT HAIR COLOR IS SO TERRIBLE…” then I’m safe.
I think there’s one more angle we have to dig into when wanting to change our appearance. And this works for things like, “I want to tone up my arms,” or “I want to rock that bikini this summer,” or “I want to fit into my wedding dress.” I think those things can be self expression in some ways, but my litmus test is always: What would I say to my daughter or my best friend if they said the same thing? If someone I loved wanted to get breast implants because nursing three kids destroyed her boobs (this was something I wanted for awhile), what would I say to her? I would say, “Your body is beautiful. You are normalizing what bodies look like sometimes after doing amazing things. You should be proud of that body. There is no need to spend the money and the pain on changing something beautiful because unrealistic beauty standards set in Hollywood have convinced us all that sagging boobs are bad.”
And as always it comes back to: If you are making a change because you don’t like your current self, then you are not practicing radical self love. And this is SOOOOO HARD, but for me? It’s important.
- ON SETTING HEALTH GOALS: For me, the most important part is to make sure your healthcare team is not anti-fat. Do they challenge you about your weight every time you come in? Even if it’s not weight related? Then they are anti-fat. Do they look at something like your blood pressure and recommend losing weight instead of looking at nutrition and movement and mental health? Then they are anti-fat. The medical research has shifted in the last few years and if studies are not framed with anti-fat bias, then we find that weight is not a consistent metric in health. Sometimes high blood pressure is more related to stress so finding a good hobby that relaxes you does more to lower blood pressure than losing weight. If you have a Health At Every Size medical team then they’ll know that.
Now, there are times where actual weight on joints can cause problems, and that is something that weight loss can help, obviously. But a Health At Every Size medical professional will also point out that strengthening muscles helps too. Especially for someone like me with a history of disordered eating, weight loss should never be recommended as a stand-alone goal. We would start with strength building and nutrition because someone like me would acquire more health problems if my disordered eating returned.
It’s so hard because our medical system has been brainwashed like all of us have, and so while we are conditioned to trust our doctors, we really have to dig in to their motivations and their beliefs and that can be exhausting. Also? So many people see our pushback as just Fat People Looking For Permission To Stay Fat and ignore all of our challenges. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Be strong. Fight for the treatment you deserve.
I’ll be honest. All of this is really hard. I tend to end up places I don’t love. Facing all of the ways I’ve hated myself over the years because these industries want me to spend my money on their products…it’s enraging and depressing all at the same time. The hardest thing is how many times on the surface I thought I was being anti-diet and pro-radical self love, but once I dug deeper I saw all of the bullshit behind my words.
I think some of the hardest introspection was looking into any time I wanted to change something about myself: My flabby stomach, my crows feet, my hair color, my flat ass…I would ask myself what I think when I see those traits on other people?
Some people think everyone with drab hair color needs highlights, and then you’re definitely feeding into the BSPC. But often times we don’t look at the trait on other people as needing changing. IT IS ONLY ON OURSELVES and that’s the hardest realization…to see we treat other people with more love and kindness than we do ourselves. The person you love and accept the most in your life SHOULD ALWAYS BE YOU. If you see yourself giving better advise to your daughter about how she views herself and her beauty, then you are doing it wrong.
This has been the biggest source of change for me: WHAT WOULD I SAY TO MY KIDS? I don’t want them trapped by the same toxic programming that I was. I want them to love everything they see about themselves. Why wouldn’t I want the same for me?
Dig deep. Sit in the discomfort. If you are uncomfortable, then you are doing it right.