How to Love Yourself: Twiggy, Nasty Women, and the F Word

I feel like I need to pre-empt this discussion with the following: 1) I’m of thin privilege 2) body image issues are not size-specific. Now let’s party.

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Many individuals (okay, mostly women) come to me interested to know what they ought to eat, how much the ought to eat, and which food choices I’d deem “healthy.” I find part of this admirable. But I also can’t help but wonder: where is this coming from? Why do women seem more concerned than men? What’s driving our need to eat well? Is it low energy? Poor digestion? And often it’s a discomfort within our own bodies. We’ve gained a few pounds and no longer feel like ourselves. We weigh more than our friends. We don’t feel as though we have any control over our bodies. 

Part of this, I'll admit is just practical. Buying a new wardrobe is flat-out expensive. And yes, we gain weight for all kinds of reasons, and wanting to lose it is sometimes less about wanting to be a certain size and more about balancing the bodily systems in the name of health (ie. autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances.) So yes, it is possible to love yourself and to want to lose weight, for reasons unrelated to self-image. 

OWNING WORTH AND VALUE

But a big part of wanting to lose weight, for many of us, is more about issues around worth and value than health. Learning how to stand in our own, reluctant power. 

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf observes, “a cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession with beauty but an obsession with female obedience.” The rise of dieting and thinness arrived on the scene with women’s right to vote, only to wane during the “regressive 1950s” as women became once again preoccupied with domestic responsibilities. But as the 60s and 70s unfolded, “that pleasure had to be overridden by an urgent social expedient that would make women’s bodies into the prisons that their homes no longer were.” 

I’m not saying self-love is easy. It’s tough af. It’s tough especially when Western culture largely idealizes one body type -- the thin and tall type -- over all others. When we feel judged as soon as leave the house. When we are judged as soon as we leave the house.  When we're made to feel ashamed by our bodies. When we're told we look great after losing some weight, and wonder if we looked so bad before.

When we gain weight and are informed we're beautiful, but would be even prettier if we lost fifteen, twenty tops. When someone talks about their own diet and insists if you went on it, you would probably lose seven pounds, even though you expressed no interest in partaking. When we’re told what we look like matters more than what we think, either directly or indirectly. When our biological functions are somehow prized above our ambitions. When we're advised to get Botox for our crow's feet, or when someone tells you that you look like a child instead of the thirty-something grown woman you've fought to become, even though you didn't ask.

How rude, you think, but it gives you a complex anyway, one you spend a few months talking yourself out of, knowing in ten years you won't give a damn. 

But I believe it’s possible. Like many women — almost all women — I’ve battled with disordered eating habits. I’ve skipped breakfast, panicked over fat grams, and counted calories. I’ve shrunk my body with diets and fitness apps and worked out multiple hours a week so I, too, could achieve that mythical ripped physique. I know what it feels like to binge after long periods of restriction and deprivation. I’ve hoped my hips narrower, wished my thighs thinner, and smiled at every well-intentioned person who has ever suggested I may get my growth spurt yet

And even though I still have shitty moments, there’s a few tools I’ve used to help me to see beyond the teeny tiny and limited expectations the outside world has seemingly set for me, and to embrace the greater arena of goals, intentions, intellect, and empires. #Riotsnotdiets, am I right?

HOW TO START LOVING YOURSELF NOW 

1. Call it for what it really is.

The first step to loving yourself, if you ask me, is acknowledging both the healthy weight obsession and and female ideal are rooted in censorship and oppression -- not health. Weight and health, as we’ve discussed, have little to do with one another. The more power we gain, the smaller our ideals become. Before you decide you need to lose weight or take up a new diet, please ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How would you characterize your relationship with food?
  2. How do you feel about female power?
  3. How do you feel about being powerful?
  4. If you were after power, validation, recognition, and achievement, what do you think you would first need to have or own?
  5. Where do your beliefs about the last question originate? What has informed or shaped them? 
A sexually unchaste girl was ‘fallen’; women ‘fall off’ their regimes. Women ‘cheated’ on their husbands; now they ‘cheat’ on their diets. A woman who eats something ‘forbidden’ is ‘naughty’: ‘It’s just for tonight,’ she’ll say. ‘I have lusted in my heart’ becomes ‘All I have to do is look at one.’ ‘I’m a girl who just can’t say no,’ announces the model promising Jello-O gelatin, which ‘kind of makes you feel good about saying yes.’ With Wheat Thin crackers, ‘You don’t have to hate yourself in the morning.’ The rosary has become a calorie counter; women say, ‘I have the stretch marks to show for my sins.’ Where once she was allowed to take communion if she made a full and sincere penance, now a woman is granted a given procedure ‘if she has sincerely tried diet and exercise.’ The state of her fat, like the state of her hymen in the past, is a community concern: ‘Let us pray for our sister’ has become ‘We’ll all encourage you to lose it.’
— Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

2. Recognize and list the negative ways poor body image impacts you and your life. 

Do you believe you will love yourself if you loathe yourself enough? Do you believe you will get the body you want by punishing it through intense workouts and restrictive dieting, the kind that makes you want to eat everything in sight? The kind that leaves you eating #allthecookies if you dare bring them into the house? hat's wrong with the way your body looks right now? Who says? 

I experienced a massive change in perspective when I started paying attention to the things I loved about my body. For example, those hips I wanted to shrink? I love them. They look great in a pair of high-rise, snug-fitting jeans. My legs are strong, which makes uphill climbs a breeze. I can do 25 push-ups more than I could when I too busy starving myself to give a shit.

I don't tell myself this stuff as some sort of consolation prize.

I tell myself this stuff because it’s a fact. It's real and honest and I mean it. Because I wouldn’t trade it. As someone of thin privilege, I understand my experience might differ from yours. Your experience might be easier, or it might be more challenging. You might be judged more or less than me. You might feel judged more or less than me. But like you, I feel the pressure. Like you, I sometimes also feel it’s difficult to say, “I love myself,” as though I’m not permitted. As though I need external permission, a rebel teenager on the loose. 

But I’m also going to tell you you’ll never love yourself unless you choose it, breathe it, live into it — unconditionally. 

3. Read all the feminist lit you can get your hands on. 

Thin images surround us. We’re immersed in them.

Steps I would recommend:

a) Take a media detox.

b) Look at alternative publications. Search #bodypositivity and #haes on Instagram and see what turns up. Read quotes by Ashley Graham.

c) Read The Beauty Myth. Read Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. Ditch the diet books. Ditch the non-diet diet books. 

d) Meditate. Even if you only have a few minutes. 

e) Look at the evolution of "attractive."

 f) Look to the way other cultures treat and view women.

g) Get angry. Get upset. Get fired up. Let it fuel you. 

h) If you can't do it for yourself, do it for all of the girls in grade school and high school who, too, are taught from birth, that they must be teeny tiny to mean anything in this life. 

i) Nasty woman. That's all. 

Whenever I’m stuck in my own head, I find the best way to get out of it is to read thought-provoking literature. Insight.

4. Work to make peace with food.

We focus much of our attention on what we’re eating, but little on how we’re eating it. What’s driving your food choices? What’s driving your hunger? Do you eat salads because you love them, or because you feel pressure to do so? Do you feel guilty after eating a “forbidden” food, such as a donut or bag of potato chips? If you do, why?

I want you to consider the following:

a) Do you have “yes” and “no” foods?

b) Do restrict and deprive yourself of foods you enjoy for goals unrelated to your profession?

c) Do you avoid social outings for fear of overeating or eating foods on your forbidden foods list?

d) Do you feel anxious or a little cray around food?

e) Do you take your time to chew your food?

f) Do you feel as though you're allowed to fully and completely savour your meals?

I've found that when we begin to cultivate a great relationship with food, some of the other stuff begins to fall into place. 

Is it possible then that we today worry about eating and weight the way our foremothers and their doctors worried about women’s sexuality?
— Kim Chernin, The Obsession

5. Tell your story. Use your voice.

Many people know intuitive eating and disordered eating are special to me, and in the last several months several individuals have forward to tell their stories. Sometimes we're hesitant to put a label on our experiences, because labels feel severe. They feel intense. Dramatic. Sometimes we're unsure of what to call our experiences. Often, we've been made to feel ashamed. But I also think it's important we share our stories and use our voices for the collective good. We need to call bullshit on the healthy weight obsession. We need to call bullshit on never-ending weight loss projects. 

We also need to bring awareness around eating disorders. To tell the world there is no "eating disorder body type." That you don't have to be underweight to suffer and struggle. Everyone deserves and needs to eat. 

6. Eat foods that make you feel good.

Not just because they’re low calorie or increase metabolic rate or any other weight loss bonus. Ones you love, which give you energy and fuel your focus and concentration. I do eat large quantities of vegetables, but mostly because I love them and they help me to do what I need to do in this world. They're delicious roasted, dunked into spicy hummus, and tossed in a bright salad. But red wine and ice cream also make me feel good. They add to the overall life experience.   Mind, body, spirit. 

7. Craft and commit to solid goals. 

When I don't have a list of things I'm working toward (this rarely happens, though!), it feels easy to default to weight and body-loathing. The more I focus on ways I can help the world -- through protests and marches, writing, learning, consulting, creating -- the better I feel about myself and my place in the universe. It stops being about myself and my own ego, and instead about more important issues. List 3 goals you'd like to achieve in the near future -- ones unrelated to body weight. How can you work towards them? How can you manifest them between now and the end of 2017? Who can keep you accountable? Can you join a Mastermind group? 

This year I was fortunate to work with a number of businesses. I ran 50+ workshops and 4 programs, each of which I developed from scratch. I got to see Western Canada for the first time. I'm proud of these accomplishments, objectives I'd never have achieved had I dwelled on my appearance or my insecurities. Sometimes you just have to go out on the limb, say fuck it, and try for the fruit. 

Twiggy appeared in the pages of Vogue in 1965, simultaneous with the advent of the Pill, to cancel out its most radical implications. Like many beauty-myth symbols, she was double-edged, suggesting to women the freedom from constraint of reproduction of earlier generations (since female fat is categorically understood by the subconscious as fertile sexuality), while reassuring men with her suggestion of female weakness, asexuality, and hunger.
— Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

8. Your body is the product of thousands of years of evolution. 

And it is not a mistake. 

 

What helps you to fight the urge to self-hate? What tips can you share with others? 

 

 

 

Sarah Berneche

Sarah Berneche, 14 Denison Square, Toronto, ON, M5T 1K8