Thursday, March 10, 2011
Does Size Matter?
It seems that my post about hCG struck a nerve with some people and I'm glad to see it generating some discussion. One bottom line issue that it presents is: how important is it to be thin? Can a person be overweight and healthy? Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size (HAES) movement argues that an overwhelming body of research is now pointing to the fact that while increased weight is correlated with health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, it may not necessarily cause it. What may be causing more problems are the stress-inducing measures people go to in order to lose weight. The yo-yo dieting, overexercising, disordered eating that can lead to self-hatred, depression and a sense of failure, may be more detrimental in the long run. HAES is fighting a long uphill battle to promote body acceptance and healthy living, independent of size. For many of us, this can be difficult to chew on.
A few weeks ago I attended a discussion of HAES with dietitians who use it in practice. They described the potential for helping patients completely change their sense of self and their relationships to their bodies. But how do you equip them against the barrage of media and images that counter this notion that you can achieve not only health and (I feel compelled to add) beauty at every size? They looked at me and each said: "It's very hard." How hard? After watching "America the Beautiful," a documentary about Americans' obsession with beauty I realized it was much hard than I'd even believed. One shocking statistic: Within three minutes of looking at fashion magazines, 70% of women report feeling guilty, ashamed and depressed. Click here for more shocking stats.
The connection between size and beauty cannot be overstated. While Dove worked hard to create a "real women" campaign, it still focused on physical beauty and size. They may admit to doctoring images in magazines, but they are still presenting images of ideals that do not conform to reality. In my relationship with my own body I noticed a few significant turning points. One was when I canceled my cable service and stopped watching television regularly and the other was when I worked at a community center teaching swimming lessons. Every day in the locker room and swimming pool I saw that bodies come in all ages, shapes, sizes and colors. You learn that strength and endurance in the water are not necessarily correlated with how good a person may look in their bathing suit. The magic of the water is its forgiveness. It is one place where fat enables you to float, to relax, let go and just be.
As the winter draws to a close (at least on the calendar, if not in temperature), I notice my own body a bit softer and curvier than six months ago. My pants are more snug after a winter filled with school work, less time to be active and more warming comfort foods. And it's tempting to hate myself and my body, to hide at the gym until I look the way I want to and feel as strong as I like to. But I recognize my own pattern, my annual response to seasonal change, the constantly shifting priorities and demands on my time, and I'm working hard to quell the critical voice in my head. And I try to go swimming when I can. I find the water refreshing and therapeutic because forgives and that's a lesson I could use for myself. At the end of the day, be it size, health or beauty, we can all learn to go a bit easier on ourselves. Holding ourselves up to impossible standards will only decrease our happiness and increase stress, depression and anxiety. Research shows that is the best way to improve our quality of life is to learn self-compassion.
So in the end, does size matter? Only if you let it.