At the risk of revealing my own stupidity, in the next six blog posts I’m going to write about subjects that up until recently were TOTALLY foreign to me:
- The Thin Ideal
- Health at Every Size
- Last Supper Eating and how my “food obsession,” “food addiction” and “binge eating disorder” magically disappeared once I stopped dieting
- How diets (aka caloric restriction) are most likely a major component of the obesity epidemic
- Body Positivity, Body Respect, Body Love AND how to get yourself some-a-dat
- Outstanding resources that explain all of this in greater detail
You may already be very aware of one or all of these concepts, but sadly, I was not!
I like to use the analogy of the movie The Matrix to describe how I feel about these things. I was asleep. I’m now awake. And once I saw, I found it impossible to unsee or to go back to sleep.
The slang term “woke” comes to mind, so I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, and look what I found as definition number three:
“Getting woke is like being in the Matrix and taking the red pill. You get a sudden understanding of what’s really going on and find out you were wrong about much of what you understood to be truth.”
Well, there it is.
Is that even how you say it?
Perhaps I’m too old to use the term correctly, but that’s how I feel about The Thin Ideal.
Let me go back in time a little to when I first got the idea that I was too big and that there was something wrong with me. It came from my parents and grandaparents, for sure. But why did they think that?
And why, even if I was too big in their eyes, did I ever get the idea that I needed to shrink myself?
I wanted to be loved.
That’s a normal human experience. You see, we human babies need our caregivers to ensure our very survival, so it has been programmed (ie evolution) into us for a million years that we had better get these adult humans around us to love us, otherwise they’re gonna leave us on the side of the road for dead when the going getstough (famines, wars, the pain-in-the-ass teenage years). I think that’s why babies are so cute.
So when my parents began expressing their displeasure about the fat on my body, I automatically and very subconsciously assumed that I needed to get rid of it or my parents wouldn’t love and accept me and bad things would happen (I would surely die).
Now, were my parents and grandparents some kind of monsters?
Hardly! They were wonderful, hardworking, law-abiding citizens.
But they were living in the matrix of The Thin Ideal too, and they didn’t know anything else.
Please understand, all of this is going on at a very subconscious level and you are probably totally unaware of it all.
So what is The Thin Ideal?
Here’s how Wikipedia explains it:
The Thin Ideal is the concept of the ideally slim female body. The common perception of this ideal is that of a slender, feminine physique with a small waist and little body fat.The size of the thin ideal is decreasing while the rate of female obesity is simultaneously increasing, making this iconic body difficult for women to maintain. This creates a gap between the actual appearance of an average woman’s body and its expected appearance which, depending on the extent to which the ideal is internalized, may have serious psychological effects.
The degree to which women are psychologically affected by the thin ideal depends to what extent the ideal is internalized. An article from a journal written by Ahern, et al. highlights these ideals. Women generally relate the ideally thin body to positive life outcomes such as happiness, confidence, and romantic success, and consequently a majority of women value the thin ideal to some extent.
However, it is important to recognize the distinction between women who are aware of the advantage of thinness versus those who internalize the ideal and make it a personal belief system. Although the idea of the thin ideal seems omnipresent, not all women identify with the ideal in the same manner and not all are affected by it negatively. For example, after seeing an image of a thin woman in the media, some women may fantasize themselves as thinner and more attractive. To some, this exposure to the thin ideal may make thinness seem more attainable and act as [a] motivational factor in self-improvement.
I’m not the world’s leading expert on this subject, barely having discovered it myself, but here’s how I understand how The Thin Ideal operates in my own life:
The vast majority of images that I see in magazines, in movies and on television are of extremely thin women. Most if not all of those images have been photoshopped so even they are not real. I rarely see images of “real” women. And the thin body type that is promoted is very rare. For arguments sake, let’s just say that only one percent of women can achieve that very thin body type (in reality I think it’s less than 1% of women are this way naturally).
Here’s the problem. We think that we are supposed to have that body type because that’s all we see. We don’t know that it’s a rare body type, a unicorn. We think there is something very wrong with us if we don’t have that thin body. That it says something about our worth in the world. And even worse, if we don’t have that body type, it says that we are unlovable, undesirable, ugly, gluttonous, lazy and other terrible things.
What we also don’t see is that behind the rare birds, the very thin women that we know and see, is a whole host of eating disordered behavior in order to maintain that body type. I know many people first hand that go to very extreme lengths of starvation and over-exercise in order to maintain a thin body. It’s pretty all-consuming.
And it’s not just adults that are consuming this unhealthy image of women. Teenage girls grow up seeing these images and think that they HAVE to look like that to be desirable. This can often lead to eating disorders and depression when they can’t reach this impossible goal. Thankfully, there are clinics like Honey Lake who are able to help improve their mental health and realize that life is more than just what you see in the magazines.
It’s so draining. Even maintaining a “thinner “version of my own “larger” body became a full-time job. I was almost always trying to deal with hunger, figuring out how I was going to get “my food” and eat only and exactly that, listening to people talk about how they were going to do the same, engaging in online discussions about how to live like this, yadda, yadda, yadda. It became my life, my identity. And the stress involved in all of this? It was pretty pervasive.
I spent a great deal of mental energy beating myself up for not doing “it” perfectly.
I thought I was doing the right thing.
I thought getting and staying thin is what I’m supposed to do or I’m doing life wrong.
If I’m not thin, isn’t there something horribly, terribly, disturbingly wrong with me?
Now I know what you might say.
You might say that you don’t care what your parents or society thinks about your body, that you are too smart for that nonsense. That you’ve been reading Healthy Girl’s Kitchen all along because you’ve got a health concern that you are dealing with or you want to avoid disease in the future.
Well, I’m here to tell you that maybe, just maybe, that’s all b.s. too. We’ll talk about Health at Every Size in the next blog post.
Personally, I was interested in dieting for cosmetic reasons only. I was lucky and young and I had never had a serious health issue before going on a diet. Sure, I thought if I could avoid having health issues in the future, that would be AMAZING! But come on, I don’t control the future. I might not even be alive tomorrow. I want to be thin now! Let me find someone, someway, some plan, some person who can just teach me how to stay thin! And if it can align with my propensity for being an environmentalist and an animal welfare sympathizer, well then, watch out, I’ll preach it to the world!
Did you know that if we lived in the year 1900 we would think that thin was unhealthy and unattractive? That we would be reading magazine articles and advertisements about how to change a thin body into a thicker one so that we could be more loved and accepted?
Regardless, it’s all ridiculous.
What’s so crazy to me now is that I’ve spent the greater part of the last decade of my life chasing something that wasn’t even maintainable for me.
That’s why I know that for me, dieting was The Life Thief.
But stopping my attempt at shape shifting is the single scariest thing that I have EVER done.
And every single day I doubt my decision.
But then I remember The Thin Ideal, and once seen, I personally cannot unsee.
Or fall back asleep.