Body image and self acceptance – at any size

Friday, August 16, 2013 Permalink

I try not to buy into too much controversy in this blog. In general I’m all for personal opinion and know that others won’t agree with my own values and choices and so forth. Similarly I might decide that others are wrong, but try to avoid the occasional desire to point that out ;-).

However, I observed a few discussions on social media a couple of weeks ago about the body image / self acceptance / self-love movement which has had me thinking.

I suspect it’s always been around – the notion of loving and accepting who you are (although also realising that there may be some room for improvement or change) but it’s kinda trendy at the moment and the flavour of the day. Aussie mum Taryn Brumfitt has been leading the most recent charge here in Oz and I (particularly) love that she and her friends are now looking at the issue of body image and young girls.

However… the Twitter and Facebook conversations went something like this:

It’s easy to talk about self-love and having a positive body image when you’re not very overweight.

The flavour of the conversations (though more about the US industry) seemed to be that the faces of some campaigns are ‘minimally’ overweight and only seen by the most hardened (dare I say, f*cked up) minds as unpalatable.

Indeed, I don’t think Taryn is/was overweight in the pictures (which went viral). Her pose in some of the pics was not flattering and she obviously has a bit of loose weight around her tummy (post-baby). Which is why I was agog to see some horrible comments in response to those pics, basically questioning how she dare leave the house given her current state.

What the?!

People like Taryn can’t win, cos the threads I followed seemed to applaud her (and others who talk about self-acceptance) for speaking out, but also implied that – most of them don’t represent the truly overweight amongst us.

Like I said, I didn’t think Taryn was overweight (indeed I coveted her post-baby body!) but for me the issue was broader.

And I hated to admit it but I realise I kinda agreed. (Not with the need to criticise anyone in particular, but with the sizest mentality.)

Self acceptance and maintaining a positive body image is harder when you are significantly overweight. I know the HAES movement is about being healthy no matter what your weight or size: underweight, of normal/ideal weight, a bit overweight or obese. However, it’s not always portrayed in that way.

girls

It’s hard enough trying to avoid feelings of self-loathing when you run out of sizes in the plus size stores or (as in my case) feel pressure on your ankles/shins during exercise. But, in addition, while society seems okay with those who carry a bit of extra weight, it rarely condones those who carry an excess.  Carrying an additional 30kg, 40kg or more makes it harder to ‘fit in’.

So how can those of us who are – god forbid! – obese, practise self acceptance or self-love if the world cannot accept or love us.

Am I making any sense?
Do you agree that self-acceptance or maintaining a positive body image is harder the more you move away from that which is generally accepted as ‘normal’?
(And yes, I know… I need to stop using words like ‘normal’!) *Sigh*
PS. I’m also not saying that it’s ‘healthy’ to be overweight or obese (just as it’s not healthy to be too underweight, or smoke etc).

16 Comments
  • Char
    August 16, 2013

    I’m going to be a little perverse here and say that just because you’re a normal body weight doesn’t mean that you’ll have a good self-esteem and no body issues. I can look in the mirror and be full of self-loathing at my perceived flaws. I despise the roll of fat on my belly and see it as enormous and hideous. I have a lot of issues going back to my teenage years and despite shedding pounds I haven’t let go of those negative feelings about myself. Self-esteem issues aren’t just limited to the overweight.

    • Debbish
      August 16, 2013

      True Char. And I guess there are some very big people who don’t seem to suffer body image issues as well.

  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    August 16, 2013

    It’s a complicated, multi-layer issue…actually, it’s a combination of several issues! There’s health, societal standards (which have changed over the many years…overweight used to be a sign of wealth and prestige), cultural standards (there are places in the world where obese women are revered), Big Media, Big Food, Big Diets (and when you look at the some of the conglomerates…they own it all!)…and underneath it all is the desire to control and manipulate, by creating and then preying on our insecurities.

    “So how can those of us who are – god forbid! – obese, practise self acceptance or self-love if the world cannot accept or love us.”

    For me the answer lies within. How can the world accept me if I can’t accept myself?

    “Do you agree that self-acceptance or maintaining a positive body image is harder the more you move away from that which is generally accepted as ‘normal’?”

    These days, yes, it would seem harder, given all I said above. This is one reason why I am very careful about what I consume (not just food-wise hahahaha) but media-wise (both traditional and new/alternative/social). I check in with how I feel, based on what I am thinking when I see certain things. It’s all about cultivating self-trust/intuition.

    • Debbish
      August 16, 2013

      I like your point about being careful about what we consume in terms of media etc.

  • Thehungryma
    August 16, 2013

    The day I accpted the way I looked without freaking out about it was the day I knew it was about to change. Years ago, I had this awful habit of stopping at the mirror before leaving the house to have one more look at me in all my glory. It had become customary for me to say to myself – wow! You look awful! – the day I stopped doing that was the day I knew I was going to change. When I was younger though society played a huge role in how i viewed my worth in the world. After i lost 60 pounds on a diet all i had come to learn that heavy people are treated differently than thin people. and it broke my heart over and over again and sent me into a depression that lasted for a couple of years. That was a very long time ago but I don’t think the human condition has changed much.

    • Debbish
      August 17, 2013

      I def agree that heavier people are treated differently. I expect overly-thin people are perceived differently as well. (I was certainly treated with kid-gloves by others when anorexic, as if fragile and breakable. But I felt pitied and worried about rather than looked-down on!)

      It’s interesting for me – the impact and interaction of/between our perception of ourselves (self-image) and how we believe we are perceived by others!

      • Thehungryma
        August 17, 2013

        Deb– I love talking to you. Your posts stretch my brain, and make me remember who I am and where I’ve been!! Thank you.

        • Debbish
          August 18, 2013

          Oh, thank you. Your comment means so much to me. xx

  • Melissa {Suger}
    August 16, 2013

    The shortest if short versions is you just do. You take care, you express love and you do things that are good for you. Because you’re worth it. You are not the sum total of your parts you are all the awesome in, around and on top of it. Self acceptance goes so much further than that boring old skin we are all in.

    Or that’s what I think anyway.

    • Debbish
      August 17, 2013

      I agree Melissa, in fact in yoga yesterday we did a guided meditation thingy and the first question asked if we ‘are’ our bodies. My reaction was ‘Hell no, I’m way more than my body!’ However, I expect I am more influenced (than I’d like) by others’ perceptions of me (or how I perceive they perceive me). If that makes sense!!! 😉

  • Jess
    August 16, 2013

    This is an interesting topic. I agree with Char that being at a normal body weight doesn’t necessarily equate to a positive body image.

    I always felt like ‘plus’ sized models and images of ‘large’ were a bit of a token / inadequate gesture to acceptance of different shapes as the average Aussie woman is a 14 and many of the women portrayed as larger are really just average if not below.

    I think part of the problem is the obsession with the superficial and unrealistic in the media etc. If real women were presented in all shapes and sizes their shapes and sizes would not be such an issue. When I’m not focused on my looks or weight I generally feel better about it.

    • Debbish
      August 17, 2013

      Jess, I realise in retrospect my rant was mostly about the fact that – ‘bigger’ people as portrayed in the media / as models etc are those who are definitely more palatable. You rarely see the bigger plus-size companies using quite large models and I guess… to those much bigger, the size 14-16 ‘plus size’ model is as un-relatable as the size 6-8 (US size 0) to those of average size!

  • Satu
    August 17, 2013

    I pretty much agree with Char – I don’t really know about easier. Many slightly overweight people are terribly unhappy with their figures. And I know obese people who are happy.

    But the thing I’d like to point out is that even thin people have trouble accepting their bodies. My older sister is size 2 and even somewhat muscular. Is she happy with the way she looks? No. I haven’t asked her why, but I think that if someone who would be considered fashionably slim (with Hollywood standards) isn’t happy with the way she looks, then when are you going to be happy then?

    • Debbish
      August 17, 2013

      I know that when I weighed less than 50kg I thought my thighs and knees were fat and I had a dimple of cellulite on one of my thighs… So definitely understand that our own perceptions are often distorted (I worry now that I DON’T realise how big I am sometimes!!!).

      As I think I said to Suger or Jess, the self-image vs public perception thing interests me. I know I’m too influenced by external factors and what I think others are thinking. (And yet I know my perception of their thoughts is tainted by my own values and beliefs etc).

      Very complicated issue.

  • Jamie English, LCSW
    August 30, 2013

    It’s an ongoing battle in our psyches, I think…..I feel society brainwashes us. I lead a group for positive body image support, as we try to navigate the world with our new paradigm shift (for those of us experiencing such a shift). I love how you are questioning things and “struggling” openly. Whatever this movement is called….Body Image/Acceptance/Self-Love….it is a MUCH NEEDED movement. I feel like I can find folks online sorting through these things….but only a few select folks in real life. And I have quite a ways to go in my journey…can feel lonely at times. Thanks for this post. I am just rambling my response….so if I don’t make sense….go back and read Karen’s =0)

    • Debbish
      August 30, 2013

      Hi Jamie and thanks for your comment (and for the wonderful work you are doing!!!). I think I’m getting better on the self-acceptance front, but I still have a long way to go… xx

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