I live in a kind of cognitive dissonance when it comes to my body. The feminist in me truly believes that I have an undeniable right to love my body whatever its shape or size. The feminist in me truly believes that I have worth and value regardless of my body. The feminist in me believes that I am truly beautiful no matter what my body looks like. The rest of me wants very badly to believe these things, but to be completely honest, I don’t. This a confusing state of being and it makes me feel like a bad feminist.
So, I’m attempting to unpack why I don’t believe these things for myself and one of the things I uncovered is that I may need to try a different approach to body acceptance. My approach thus far has been to let go of the “thin ideal”. I believed that if I could just let go of that ideal size I would be able to accept my body, whatever size. I realized recently that focusing just on letting go of my ideal size leaves out a big piece of the picture: what I believed that ideal size did for me. I realized that more than the “thin ideal”, I need to let go of my ideas of thin body privilege.
The idea of body privilege is relatively new to me. Essentially, body privilege is the idea that bodies of a certain size that look a certain way move through society more easily than “non-normative” bodies. I talked about this in my recent post about being a “mean girl”. When I lost a drastic amount of weight and moved through the world as a thin person for the first time, I had access to different experiences than when I was larger. People were nicer to me. Other girls or women admired me. People complimented my strength and determination. When I got older guys bought me drinks in bars. I got invited out to more after hours functions with coworkers. People paid more attention to me in general. These experiences are examples of thin body privilege.
I also have the experience of losing thin body privilege. My weight yo-yo’d severely every few years. I would fall deeply in to restrictive eating and compulsive exercise for a while and become thin, and then would “fall of the diet wagon” and gain 30-40 pounds. I know now that when I gained the weight back it was my body trying desperately to reach its intended size or set point. Every time I fell back in to the restrictive side of my eating disorder I was torturing my body to a smaller size while it was begging me to stay at my set point. Each time I would gain the weight back and return to my healthy size, I would be treated differently than when I was thin. Usually people weren’t mean enough to outright comment on my weight gain (though some did), but I was subtly treated differently each time I inhabited a non-normative body. People complimented me less. I was invited out less. Guys didn’t buy me drinks anymore. Women didn’t ask me about my diet or exercise regimen. People suggested that when I “got back in to my routine” I would lose the weight again. The differences in treatment weren’t drastic, but there was a distinct difference.
The loss of thin body privilege sent the clear message that I only deserved certain things if I was thin. My brain took this further and sent me the message that I only deserved certain character traits if I was thin. For example, I could only be strong, determined, admirable, and worthy if I was thin. If I was larger I was weak, lazy, and unworthy. It never occurred to me that I could still be strong, determined, admirable, and worthy in a larger body.
I think therein lies the key to body acceptance for me. I have to internalize the fact that I am all the same things I was when I was thin, just in a larger body. My body size does not change my character. This body is much stronger than the body I was starving. My courage and bravery in the face of my struggles also makes me strong, which has nothing to do with my body. I am determined simply for waking up and facing each day. I am determined to succeed rather than let my circumstances win. I am admirable for so much more than my body. People can admire my kindness, my writing, my wit, my humor, or my love. And I’m sure there are still people out there who admire my body, no matter what it’s size, but I want that to matter less and less. Most importantly, I am worthy today. I have worked hard to get everything and everywhere I have in life. I have been blessed with immeasurable amounts of grace. That needs to be enough.
For me the journey going forward will be to truly internalize that my thin body didn’t have any special traits that my current body doesn’t have. I am the same amazing woman.