The importance of normalising larger bodies. And why Naomi told her Mum to “mind your own plate”.
BODY POSITIVITY IS NOT A WAITING ROOM THAT’LL KEEP YOU COMFORTABLE UNTIL YOU GET THIN.
CW: An important conversation about unintentional fatphobia and body shaming.
I have curated my newsfeed to be full of awesome, positive content – easily done once you start clearing out the trash. Which is why it is pissing me off to see my beautiful body positive posts slowly but perceptibly replaced by body shamers… But the worst thing is that they don’t even know they’re doing it.
Do you? I dare you to read on and find out…
YOU ARE BODY SHAMING WHEN YOU:
- Criticise your body when comparing it to another, or when you wish for someone else’s body. Remember, your body is perfect.
- Comment (positively or negatively) on someone’s weight loss or weight gain. Their body is none of your business.
- Think someone’s body shape reflects anything other than a beautiful demonstration of the diversity of humans. If you don’t understand this, please read “The Body is Not an Apology” immediately.
- Assume someone’s body tells you about its owner’s health, even if it’s your body. It doesn’t. If this is unclear read “Health at Every Size” right now. I meant it… I can wait.
- Focus on appearance whilst ignoring abilities. Instead, try paying attention to what your body does for you.
- Assume that your life will become better once you change your body size. It won’t. You’ll have the same problems. Are you guilty of putting off living “until you lose the weight”?
- View thinness as an indicator of success, happiness or self-restraint.
- Make assumptions about another’s character, morality, or lifestyle because of their weight.
EVERYTHING SOCIETY HAS TAUGHT YOU ABOUT BODY FAT HAS BEEN A LIE. If you could understand that being smaller DOES NOT make you healthier, DOES NOT make you hotter, and DOES NOT make you more worthy, then would you change the way you talk about your own body?
Body positivity is not a waiting room to keep you comfortable ‘until you get thin’. Body positivity is not to keep you feeling safe, it’s to challenge you to take the steps to improve your life, and it’s not for everyone. This shit is hard. But so is staying on the perpetual weight loss cycle.
But you have a choice… You can absolutely wait until the receptionist calls you out of the waiting room for your next appointment with the weight loss industry – but we know how that ends. Or you can say “screw that” and leave the room altogether and join us in our body positive one (we even recommend graffitiing or burning the health and beauty mags on your way out!)
I get this won’t happen overnight. You may still have a toe in that waiting room for years. It’s a process. What I do ask, though, is that during that process you try not to use any of the inadvertent body shaming behaviours I highlighted above. When you do so you are not only saying I HATE MYSELF, but you are also saying AND THIS MEANS I HATE ANYONE WHO LOOKS LIKE ME. You may mess up every now and again but be willing to learn and move forward.
And I don’t mean grit your teeth through a fake smile… life isn’t always puppies and flowers. Just be aware of others when you talk. If you need to bring some negative feelings to the table, I’m here for that, just as long as it’s done reflectively and with a genuine desire to change… “I hate myself” or “it’ll be OK when I…” is not helpful to anyone, least of all yourself.
I love food. Like, I REALLY love it. I love the experience of eating all kinds of foods – the smells and aromas, the different tastes of the sweet, salty, and spicy, and the amazing textures – from smooth and silky to foods so incredibly crunchy that you worry about your teeth shattering. I could probably count on one hand the few foods I dislike. I mean, I even enjoy aeroplane and hospital food, for fuck’s sake.
If I think about it, I lovingly put it down to my parents (Aussie Mum and Lebanese Dad, for those playing at home). As a kid, when presented with a plate of unfamiliar food, my mum always said “if you don’t like it, you can spit it out – but just try it”. I’m ever-grateful for her being so awesome, for this approach to food has led me to some amazing culinary discoveries during my life – from things like sushi (including raw chicken sashimi in Japan) to a Lebanese dish called Kibbeh Nayyeh (which is basically raw lamb mince, served with olive oil, mint and raw onions). And if the opportunity comes to try frog’s legs, I’ll probably give them a go, too (clearly not a vegetarian over here, but this girl also loves her some tofu and vegan food too!)
As lovely as it is, this beautiful approach to fearlessly trying new foods doesn’t mean I don’t have issues with food, or the body that consumes it. Far fucking from it, actually. I’ve struggled with it pretty much all my life.
I was a fat kid. I think I was maybe the second fattest kid in my year at primary school. But I was still popular and in the ‘cool group’, and while I don’t really remember any bullying about my weight from my school friends (or maybe I have just forgotten and let it go), I was bullied by my brother. I suppose he was just doing what brothers do (being a dick), but it fucked with me – a lot. There were other elements of my childhood that caused some trauma as well, and I think I ate my feelings a lot. Which possibly contributed to being the second fattest kid in school and more merciless taunting from my brother.
I’ve always had a good appetite, and the innate ability to eat a lot, and at any time. For some of us, having a great appetite and loving all the foods might mean that our bodies are bigger than the societal idea of perfection. And I used to really hate that. It wasn’t fair. I hated that my hip bones didn’t stick out (although I got to a point briefly in my mid-20s where if I was laying down, they did), and my thighs were perpetually rubbing together and wearing out my jeans.
In my early to mid-twenties, when I was in the public eye, I felt like I had to starve myself and count every single calorie that went into my mouth. But I loved food. So bulimia and binge eating, and taking laxatives was more my style. I was secretly so envious of those girls that could just not eat, and I berated myself through flowing tears too often that I didn’t have the willpower to not eat anything, for even just one day. I couldn’t even do 24 hours without food. I was such a failure. So I ate to commiserate, and make myself feel simultaneously better and worse about it all…. All because as a female musician, my appearance and weight were of more value and importance than my musical talent (but that’s fodder for a whole other blog).
I got divorced a couple of years ago, and for a couple of years around that time, I really leant into food, for the comfort and distraction it brought me. I ate a lot of Cheese ‘n’ Bacon Balls and frozen dinners – for around 18 months straight. But fear not, dear reader – that was still not enough to make me never want to eat them again. Don’t be silly – I love food, remember? Needless to say, my size grew. I hated it, but I was really sad about the end of my marriage, so I couldn’t really stop myself, nor did I want to.
For the next year or so I lived on my own, and had a really weird love/hate relationship with food. I still loved food, and when I would go out with friends, I loved eating all the magnificent and delicious meals. But at home, my fridge and pantry was often very bare. Like, bachelor-in-his-early-twenties bare. Mustard-and-a-moldy-block-of-cheese-bare. I often forgot to eat, or ignored my hunger. I wasn’t trying to lose weight or anything, I just wasn’t interested in food in the same way while I was at home. I’m still trying to figure out if I’m just lazy and/or if I just don’t like cooking. Also, cooking a delicious and fancy meal for one person still seems like far too much effort. I’m trying really hard to change this mentality. As my amazing partner has pointed out a couple of times to me – “You deserve the delicious foods all the time!”
So here’s the nice little segue into how I’m going on a little (MASSIVE) journey of discovery about my relationship with food, and my relationship with my body…. Thanks to said amazing partner, I’m learning that there’s an entirely different way of looking at things when it comes to food, eating, and my body. *Does a double-take, mouth gaping, like I’ve just seen a magic trick*
I’m learning about intuitive eating and body positivity. It’s terrifying, electrifying, liberating and mind blowing. And boy, I’m learning a lot.
I’m learning that if I’m hungry I can eat, and stop eating if I’m full. CRAZY, RIGHT??? I don’t have to wait till the big hand hits a particular number on the clock till I’m ‘allowed’ to eat, and I don’t have to eat ‘breakfast food’ only in the morning. WHO FUCKING KNEW?! I don’t think my parents ever had to utter ‘You can’t leave the table till you’ve finished what’s on your plate’, but now I understand that dinner is finished when I say it is. Which means I’m becoming more aware of how my body is feeling in terms of hunger and fullness. I’m learning to be aware of it, and listen to it – and not ignore it and silence it, like I’ve always done.
I’m learning a lot. I have a lot more to learn. I know that a part of it also has nothing to do with food. It’s about my mind and my soul, not my soft belly or wobbly arms, or thighs that are the perfect width for holding a big, purring cat.
I want to share my journey with you, as I’m pretty sure as a woman, there’s one or two things you can relate to about how I feel, or have felt, around food and living in a body that feels like it will never be good enough. Whether it be the idea that because you’re not a size ‘skinny’ you aren’t good enough, beautiful enough, or worthy enough. Or you feel you can’t eat the delicious food because you shop in the plus size department. Or you feel that if you didn’t do two hours in the gym you don’t deserve the cheesecake. Or you’ve never done the gym because you don’t want to be the wobbliest one in there. Or you’ll never find true love because fat girls aren’t lovable. Or any of the ridiculously overbearing voices in our heads telling us we’re not worthy. Because trust me, my love, we are. We are so fucking worthy. And I want to remind you of that. I want to remind you till we all know it as truth.
I’m ready for this. But I’m also pretty terrified. It’s a bit daunting to unlearn everything you thought was truth. But I do know that it will be worth it. Over the last 3 years I’ve done a lot of personal development work around self-worth, and I’m at the point where I see so many beautiful, amazing women who are hurting and sad, and I want them to feel as good as I do. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I’m completely unaffected from the decades of societal brainwashing, or impervious to feeling a bit bummed if my jeans feel tighter (that is no doubt due in part to our current #isolife situation happening), but I’ve learned enough to be able to navigate around being a woman with a whole lot more ease that I ever have in my 41 years. And a lot of that meant unlearning a lot of shit I thought was truth.
So as I continue to unlearn, I’m going to share with you. In the hopes that some bits and pieces (if not all of them) will help in some way too, until you wake up one morning and smile, knowing you’re fucking perfect, just as you are.
When I go to a restaurant, it’s usually because; a) I can’t be arsed to cook, b) my partner can’t be arsed to cook and is offering to pay, or c) I want to eat a fuck tonne of lush food. I don’t normally expect French Fred, the maître D from “First Dates”, to tell me that I need to jog for 45mins because I ate a cheeseburger. But I just watched a TV show where this exact thing happened.
Today I watched the BBC 2 Horizon documentary “The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories” – and man, do I have some views to share with you!
The premise of the show is that folks eat at a restaurant under the guise of being filmed for a show about secret calories in food. Unbeknownst to them, 30 or so gym-goers are in a back room ‘exercising off’ the exact number of calories that diners were consuming.
The idea came from a recent study which suggests that if a menu showed how many minutes of exercise it would take to burn the calories contained in the food served, then customers would make lower calorie choices about what to eat. 19% fewer calories to be exact.
There are three main problems I have with this concept…
1. Obesity-associated diseases may be caused by many things including stress, lack of sleep, your economic status, discrimination, diet, and more. There are links with increased body fat, but it is not as clear cut as ‘being fat causes illness’. It doesn’t always. And why so much importance is placed on what you look like naked is completely beyond me.
2. This approach to ‘fixing’ obesity is likely to worsen or even cause eating disorders, including orthorexia – an eating disorder characterised by an obsessive fixation on ‘healthy’ eating.
3. They are using science that cannot be translated into the real world.
‘Calories in, calories out’, as a theory in a science lab absol-fucking-lutely works. We technically should be able to count calories, track the number we expend, and adjust each accordingly to change our body shape.
But there are two very big ‘buts’ in that science.
1) We should be able to track how many calories go into us… BUT we are rubbish at counting. We do not weigh properly, or we forget to log things, and food labels can be legally inaccurate by up to 20%. Restaurants are notoriously incorrect when it comes to calories, mostly because it’s a human chef cooking. Sometimes they are going to include five more chips, or a slightly bigger cut of steak, or a tiny bit more sauce, or a gram more olive oil or butter.
Our bodies do not help with the tracking either. We each use the energy in food differently, depending on a huge number of factors… this documentary even admits that by showing identical twins (so the exact same DNA) taking different numbers of usable calories from food, whereas the science of energy says it should be exactly the same.
2) We should be able to track how many calories we expend… BUT we are rubbish at tracking. In this TV show, the exercisers used gym cardio machines. Even if you change the machine settings to your personal height and weight, the number of calories it shows you expending can be far from the actual number you use. Wearable trackers – like your FitBit – are the same. Calorie expenditure depends on height, weight, gender, how much effort you are putting in, body composition, genetics, and more. It’s never going to be accurate enough to make calorie counting a fool-proof method of losing body fat.
The only thing we can be 100% confident about is that when “The Restaurant That Burns Calories” says that it’ll take ‘X’ number of minutes on a treadmill to burn off your delicious cheesecake, they are making a guess based on lab science which would work on a robot, but NOT on a human person. They are using mathematic equations but forgetting about the variables.
What the programme did was imply that we should be using all of our food calories by exercising. It vaguely suggested that our bodies use calories for other things, but it placed all its emphasis on exercise being the primary way we burn energy. This is just not true. Many people use around 1500 calories per day, even if they spend all day in bed NOT exercising. Exercise only accounts for around 5-10% of daily calorie usage in the average gym-goer – around a Mars Bar’s worth of calories if we are following the vibe of the show!
For improved physical health, absolutely exercise. For fat loss, if you medically need it, maybe just don’t eat the Mars Bar.
Helen Fielding nailed it when she said “I realised that I have spent so many years being on a diet that the idea that you might actually need calories to survive has been completely wiped out of my consciousness.” So let’s stop demonising calories, shall we? And remember that they are useful, important, good, and bloody tasty!
Apparently, the supposed health issues caused by body fat are more important than protecting the public’s mental health. It appears that the producers don’t seem to give two fucks about the eating disorders they are going to fuel or create, or the self-esteems they are going to crush. Because every time you imply that people can be overweight or underweight, you are telling them they are not good enough. Implying that the ‘crime’ of eating comes with the ‘penance’ of exercising is fucking up people’s relationship with food, and movement even moreso, and instead it may lead to extreme efforts to achieve this elusive ‘perfect’ body we are all supposed to have.
But even if you are convinced that we all need to get slimmer for our health, then remember that THIS SHIT IS NOT HELPING. Governments (I hate to say it) are bullying people into action because their body size hasn’t achieved the intended goal so far. Why not teach them to respect themselves enough to want to eat an amazing array of beautiful foods, and naturally counteract their energy intake with a healthy method of expending energy?
This entire programme was, in my opinion, a dollop of fatphobic rhetoric, a pinch of discriminatory language, a dash of bullying, and a large sprinkling of thin-person superiority. All in all, a huge helping of ‘stop-skewing-science-to-fit-your-narrative’ bollocks. The BBC has done the country a huge disservice by telling many of its viewers that they are not good enough as they are, and that their entire worth can be reduced down to their BMI.
Don’t believe me? Then why did the lean gym-goers get a round of applause from the average to large sized diners to ‘thank’ them for burning over all their gluttonous calories, if it wasn’t to suggest that they are the better people. And why did the folks eating have to agree that the exercisers had “done them proud”, as if they had done something wrong by choosing to eat a burger and a chocolate brownie during a nice trip to a restaurant.
Fuck you, BBC. Do your research and start making people feel good about themselves, not ashamed. There is a difference between education and freedom of speech with false reporting, misuse of science, and the continuation of our fatphobic culture. Sort your shit out.