CALL OR TEXT 510.516.4662
Feminist Psychotherapy with
Jeanne Courtney, MFT
Love Your Body at Any Size
Is it possible, as women, to love our bodies at any size? Many women have gained self-esteem and serenity by letting go of the rigid standards our society has about body size and looks. Letting go is a lot like grieving.
The stages of the process often look like this:
- DENIAL. We pretend we barely notice our bodies, but we casually degrade ourselves and other women for not looking perfect.
- ANGER. We abuse our bodies with too much or too little food, or deprive ourselves of sexuality, physical sport, or career choices because we think our “failure” to get thin means we’re undeserving.
- BARGAINING. We look for that one ultimate diet, “lifestyle change,” medical procedure, or even spiritual practice, that will finally make sustained weight loss possible. Or, we tell ourselves we have health reasons for dieting (more about that later) when, really, the popular obsession with looking thin still has a grip on us.
- DEPRESSION. We feel hopeless about changing our bodies, and even more hopeless about getting respect from a society that keeps telling us we should be able to change them.
- ACCEPTANCE. We come to understand that we don’t have complete control over our bodies, and we stop believing the hateful stereotypes and misconceptions we hear about size and weight.
A lot of those misconceptions come from the weight loss industry, which stands to lose a great deal if people stop listening to the “obesity epidemic” hype and look at the evidence supporting a Health at Every Size (R)* approach:
- Diets don't work and in the long run can even cause weight gain.
- Obesity related illness is an idea that comes entirely from research that is correlational, misquoted, or unfounded.
- The real culprit in those illnesses may be weight loss dieting.
- Sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition do cause health problems, but they aren’t necessarily more common in people who weigh more.
So size acceptance sounds like a good choice, for physical as well as mental health. But how do we get there? As a therapist helping women of all sizes along this journey, I can suggest some ways to move forward:
- Don’t put your life on hold. Do something NOW that you've been telling yourself you’ll do after you lose weight. It might be trying a sport, buying a new outfit, applying for a high-profile job, or asking somebody on a date.
- Swear off dieting. “Food addiction,” or compulsive overeating, is often a reaction to dieting, which can be an addiction in itself. Many people find that when they stop restricting food, they also stop abusing it.
- Be a subject, not an object. Women’s bodies have been evaluated, scrutinized, and literally bought and sold for so long that it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s like to live inside them. What does it feel like when you experience your body from the inside out?
- Explore your sexuality. Let sexual partner(s) know if you need assurance that you’re attractive to them. Check out dating venues where people go to meet big women. Notice your own attractions and desires.
- Ask for support. Ask health care providers to take weight loss out of your treatment plan, and tell you the advice they’d give a thin patient in your situation. Ask friends to avoid diet talk or deprecating remarks about your body or theirs, even if mutual commiseration about struggling with weight has been a bonding experience in the past.
- Get educated. Learn about size acceptance resources, support groups, activities for large people, and health practices that aren’t about weight loss. An excellent place to start is www.naafa.org, the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance.
- Move your body. Women who exercise are happier with their bodies, regardless of whether they lose weight. If exercise is a dreaded chore that promises (and rarely delivers) the reward of temporary weight loss, it may be hard to get motivated to do it strictly for your physical and mental health. Doing it for fun can seem like a very strange idea, indeed. Find the kinds of movement that you genuinely enjoy, and remember that doing a little is better than doing none.
- Nourish yourself. People who are constantly starting, finishing, or breaking diets can forget what it’s like to listen to their bodies and give themselves the food they need. Harmful binging is often the result of seeing foods as “good” or “bad,” or thinking it’s never okay to eat for fun or emotional comfort. Observing how your mind and body feel while you eat, without judging those feelings, can restore your confidence in your natural, intuitive knowledge about what your body needs.
- Be gentle with yourself. Maybe you’ve lived in a big body that attracts unwanted, negative attention. Maybe you’ve struggled to keep your body small but lived in fear of that negativity. Or maybe you’ve spent years on a weight loss roller coaster. After all that hurt, humiliation, and rejection, your body needs kindness. By changing your thinking, trying out new actions and experiences in your body, and getting support, you can learn to love your body exactly as it is and give it the nurturing, dignity, and delight it deserves.
* Health At Every Size and HAES are registered trademarks of the Association for Size Diversity and Health and are used with permission.