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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

On January and Weight Loss

Putting it out there because I want to practice what I preach.
My take on the awesome #EveryWomanIsAnAngel hashtag with Knixwear

The first time I was praised for losing weight I was eight years old. I shed some pounds the summer before grade 3 because of a heartfelt obsession with skipping rope and wearing my Skip-Its (remember those?) ragged. I was not skipping to lose weight- it was just fun and it brought me joy. But as a chubby kid, people noticed. "Wow, you've slimmed down!", they said, and, as a child, I just had to smile and nod and assume that was a good thing. Perhaps it was in those moments that exercise lost its joy for me; instead, it was a means to get smaller and, consequently, receive more praise.

Can you tell it was the early '90s!?
Tanned and happy after a summer of breaking three Skip-Its due to over-use.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time that I was made aware of my weight, and of being different because of it. I always wanted to join a dance class, but felt that I was too chubby to do ballet. I would eagerly do Jane Fonda workouts with my mom (so delightfully 80s) and long to look like the tall, lean, spandex-clad women on the screen. I was probably five years old the first time I had the awareness that I was a chubby kid and that this wasn't the best thing to be.

I won't write a long melodrama about how my weight and body image continued to affect me growing up, but I'll say in brief that, despite having some pretty awesome qualities as a child, adolescent, and young adult (I was smart and kind, had a sense of humor, had some incredible, supportive friends), my weight it what shaped my identity most profoundly. I always thought I was the fattest girl in the room, I thought I was too heavy to wear what I wanted, I truly believed that I would be properly humiliated if I ever asked a boy out. I did not start dating until my mid-20s because it took me that much life experience to muster the courage.

Fast-forward and I have truly come so, so far in the realm of self-love and body acceptance. I know from many angles (as a therapist and a recipient of therapy) that facing your fears is the best way to conquer them and build confidence. Delving into dating and realizing that I could be liked and loved as I was was simply huge for me. But also, luckily, I was able to build love for myself from within also, not only from the validation and acceptance from others. There was no major turning point, but I think my yoga practice turned on a switch in me- oh, it's about loving and nurturing your body, being in the moment, feeling it all- and if you lose weight, that's just a side-effect of the practice. The discovery of larger-bodied yoga teachers was also monumental. Someone who looks like me can do a headstand? They can be accomplished enough to teach? They don't have to get skinny first? Sounds pretty basic, but taking this all in was really a game-changer for me.

I was prompted to start furiously writing this essay because of the time of year- January, New Year's resolutions, and the media's inevitable obsession with and fixation on weight loss. This year, more than ever before, all of this is getting on my last nerve. There seems to be this ubiquitous obsession with losing weight, number of pounds lost, with the promotion of actual health like some faded issue in the background. But seriously, it has been ingrained in most of us: that losing weight is inherently healthy, right? That I can assume someone is definitely healthier after losing weight and that they are clearly unhealthy if overweight. Right? It has really taken years of deprogramming for me to step aside from this mindset.

I have come to understand that you cannot assume a person's health based on the size of their body. Many fat people are actually quite healthy. Many thin people are unhealthy. I do not want to present myself as some pinnacle example, but, even at my most fit (I'd say when I got pregnant, the Summer of 2017, after I'd been practicing yoga 5-6 days per week), my weight still rendered me clinically obese. My blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol levels were all perfect (as they had always been), I was perfectly mobile and could keep up in any typical yoga class. I had no chronic or acute medical problems. And yet my body size and BMI would undoubtedly render me unhealthy in the opinions of many doctors and armchair health gurus on Instagram. Yes, you can be fat and fit. "Obese" and healthy. That may still sound wrong to many of you, but we've all been so primed to believe otherwise.

With this mentality at the forefront, I've been especially bothered this year by all of the talk shows pontificating about weight loss this time of year. They parade larger-bodied women and men around like problems that need to be fixed. Lean women and muscle-bound men play the common role as superiors and and the larger-bodied "contestants" drink it all in and try to learn how to be a better person by becoming smaller. I know I'm painting the scene with a broad brush (I don't want to assert that all larger-bodied people are victims,without agency), but this is a scene I've witnessed over and over and I'm ready to change the channel.

Let me just say, there is nothing wrong with being a thin or lean woman. Or with exercising regularly or having big muscles, or with being a personal trainer or a healthy-eating chef. All bodies are good bodies and being strong is awesome! So is eating well. My beef, so to speak, is with the unwavering, conditioned belief that smaller equals better and that we are shameful, bad people if we don't fit the mold or have the occasional slice of pizza. It's with the unquestioned assumption that "yes, this woman has some fat on her body. She must be fixed and must really want to be fixed. She'll be a better person if she gets smaller and we must all applaud her shrinking".

This post isn't going to culminate in some sweeping thesis or conclusion, but I'm pretty sure my main message is an urge to focus on actual health, rather than weight loss. These are not the same things. When we praise someone on weight loss alone, we don't know if we're reinforcing some sort of illness or disordered eating or exercise in the process. We can aim to focus on health without assuming the health of someone based on their size and without assuming that someone with a certain (often larger) body type must need or want to "get healthy".

So yes, I do have goals this January, but I am choosing to remove the scale from the equation. My lack of yoga practice since I got pregnant has been disappointing to me; not because my body has become softer and a bit weaker, but because my regular practice was so vital to my mental health and overall well-being. I have started Yoga with Adriene's 30 Days of Yoga Dedicate program and feel truly proud to have completed seven yoga practices in the past seven days. I'm thrilled to be finding the time for myself with a baby at home. To reconnect with an activity that fuels me so well, mind and body.

I'm excited to feel stronger and more flexible and even for egotistical pursuits like looking better in certain yoga poses for those Instagram selfies (keeping it totally real). If I shed some weight in the process, ok. But you will not hear me telling you what the scale says, because I won't be looking. I'll be feeling out for length and strength, deeper breaths, satisfying perspiration, and moments of peace. I'll be moving and engaging and feeding my body well because I love it, not hate it. Especially now with a daughter, it is my utmost goal to make this the mantra of our home. She can run, play, dance, and move her body in any way that will bring her joy, but the size, expansion, or contraction of her body will not be a subject of my commentary. I cannot fully protect her from the pressures of the world, but if my change of attitude aids her in her own self-love, even in a small way, then my own process of self-love has truly reached its pinnacle.

I know this is not the most coherent, thorough, or groundbreaking discussion of self-love and weight loss out there, but I'm hoping it maybe resonates in some ways or starts a conversation. Would love to hear from you!