The September issue of Glamour magazine has a story about Jess Weiner, prominent body acceptance proponent and author of Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds From Now, and her realization that her weight was negatively impacting her health.
I gave a speech I’d given before, telling the audience that it was important for every woman of every size to love her body, no matter what. And that’s when a woman in the front row raised her hand and changed my life forever.
“How can you honestly tell us that you love your body?” she asked. “You are obese.”
My face flushed at her rudeness. I was shocked and embarrassed, but responded firmly: “My body is none of your business.” The audience erupted into cheers.
But the woman continued. “What about health?” she asked me. “How can you be healthy looking like that?”
Again I had an answer ready. “You can’t tell someone’s health just by looking at them,” I told her. “So don’t assume that just because someone is overweight that he or she is unhealthy.” And again the crowd cheered, and that was that. Friends asked the woman to leave, and I finished up my talk, forcing a phony smile.
This incident causes her to second guess herself. She goes on to explain that she has had a change of heart about accepting herself as is after visiting a doctor and finding out that she had several negative health symptoms related to her weight. Then she goes on to explain herself and apologize to her readers for her change of heart.
Obesity does cause many health problems, like it or not. In this fascinating post on Diary of a Mad Fat Woman, we learn about the issues that can be seen in this MRI comparison that’s been floating around the internet for some time. The conclusion? The human body is simply not meant to carry so much extra weight.
But does that mean we should hate ourselves if we are overweight? Does body acceptance, saying “I love myself the way I am,” mean we accept obesity? In order to be healthy, do we have to be un-accepting and feel negatively about our bodies?
Of course not! When you love something, you take care of it. When you hate something you punish it. Feeling bad about our weight, feeling like our weight defines us and makes us failures or not good enough or just plain bad people- those feelings lead to obesity, not away. That’s what kind of baffled me about Jess Weiner’s story. Body acceptance and weight loss are not mutually exclusive.
It was only when I started to feel like I was okay the way I was that I was able to decide to change it. To me, self acceptance doesn’t mean you stop growing, changing, and evolving into the best you you can be. It just means you forgive yourself your short-comings, you relinquish guilt and blame. You accept that you are human and humans make mistakes. You accept imperfection.
And when you let go of all the negativity, you take responsibility for your own self care. Part of that is change. Accepting yourself and loving yourself means making better choices and reversing mistakes. But accepting yourself doesn’t mean you stop improving your life- quite the contrary. When you care about yourself, you have to realize that overeating and being sedentary are not nice things to do to your body. When you really care about yourself, you want to change. This isn’t about looks or living up to impossible social ideals.
Having been obese, that will always be a part of who I am. I know people who lose weight and then make every effort to forget they were ever bigger. They delete old photos from Facebook. When they do see a photo of their past self or think about how they used to be, their reaction is disgust and revulsion. To me this signals that they have not accepted themselves. That heavy me, the one in the picture, that’s still me. And I have to love her too because she’s the one who put her foot on the path to making these wonderful changes. When I look at a picture of fat me, I am proud of her more than anything else. She did the hardest part, she got started.
She wasn’t a bad person or unworthy of love. We all deserve love. Size is irrelevant in that department. She just made some mistakes along the way. She dealt with some problems the only way she knew how and it led to obesity. That doesn’t make her disgusting to me. It makes her beautiful, just as I am now.
I don’t want to forget her. I need to always remember what it feels like when you don’t take care of yourself. It helps me feel grateful every single day for my current body, still flawed, still imperfect, and still worthy and wonderful.
I don’t think body acceptance leads to obesity. There are so many mistakes we make over the course of life. Weight does not define a person’s worth or make her less than anyone else. Society might try to tell us that, but I’m sure we all have someone in our life who we care about deeply who is overweight or obese. Maybe it’s our best friend, our mother, our uncle, or our child. Does your best friend deserve less love because she is overweight? Then you don’t either. But that doesn’t mean giving up on ourselves.
It’s only when we love ourselves that we can truly change.