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Freedom from weight obsession

Updated: Apr 5

There is no age limit on weight obsession.

“I weighed myself this morning,” she said, “Big mistake. I’m up seven pounds.”


It was a warm winter morning, the ground soft and mushy, the sun trying to show up. Her hair was silvery white, her body strong, muscles moving with practiced ease for the task at hand.


Her words felt like an injury.


It could have been any woman who said this. It could have been me. Up until recently, I’ve spent most days preoccupied with my body size, weight and shape.


I didn’t know how to reply. My daughter was with me, hearing this conversational body shaming as if it were ordinary, relatable. Which, of course, in this culture it is. This is what we have normalized for women and girls.


I was consumed with a sad weariness. So it doesn’t get better? You don’t finally turn an age where this nonsense leaves you? I’m not going to outgrow this?


Her body was petite and strong. Objectively speaking, the picture of a beautiful, healthy aging.


a 60ish age woman smiling with her arms to the sky

I was suddenly angry at the woman. But really, I was angry at myself. How much of my life have I played this same game? How much of my passion, creativity and agency have I wasted in a shame loop designed to keep me small?


And then I was furious with the culture that taught us this.


I’ve known ten-year-olds and eighty-year-olds on diets, women who disliked their legs and sweltered in long, dark pants on scorching summer days. I’ve listened to young girls berate their bodies and grown women talk about slicing off entire hunks off their physique. I’ve overheard women in Starbucks spend an hour commiserating in their shared body disgust. I’ve spent countless hours eating with women who have ruined gourmet meals shaming themselves for what they were eating, for having poor self-control or for ruining their diet.


And for years and years, I was the loudest one in the room. Even if only inside my head.

Weight obsession: when how much we weigh or the size/shape of our bodies determines our sense of worth, value and power.


The girls of the world are listening. All women are listening. Our bodies are listening.


Our brilliant, wild souls are listening. And they are running far, far away; weight obsession is incompatible with our true selves.



Why the obsession with thinness?


As a child I believed everything that was wrong with me was because of my body. And that everything right with me was because of some improvement or control over my body.


This is what we do to girls. Girls who grow into women who grow into older women. Women who pass this on to the younger generation. We are trained cogs in the machine of body shame.

Until we decide not to be.

At some point, we are faced with a choice: abandon ourselves or abandon the system that has implanted this toxic over-importance on our bodies.


It’s unfair to suggest we simply decide to choose better for ourselves. It’s not so easy. I am amazed time and again how as a dedicated feminist, I've been so entrenched in this body/weight paradigm.


We are conditioned by a society that both overvalues and undervalues women’s bodies. Our bodies are sexualized, objectified and commodified. We have opportunities extended and withheld based on our bodies. We are shamed or embraced based on our bodies. We have received wanted and unwanted attention because of our bodies.


Our dazzling complexities have been reduced to the size of our jeans or the cups of our bras.

bras hanging on a laundry line


Somehow, our bodies - these highly visible, deeply personal aspects of ourselves - are everyone’s fucking business.


We’ve been surrounded by this messaging our whole lives.


Smile for the camera and suck in your stomach!

You’ve lost weight. You look so good.

She’s really let herself go.

I need to get control of myself.

I feel so fat.

I wish I had your body.

I’m disgusted with myself.

As hard to shake as that last ten pounds.


We don’t think these things because we want to. We don’t fib about our weight on our driver’s licenses because we’re liars. We don’t insult our reflections because we’re mean people. We don’t diet because we love it.


This is simply what we’ve been taught.

Women are forced to walk an impossible tightrope: always look good but don't be too self-obsessed.


Body image is the way we see and feel about our body. I often hear: “I need to improve my body image.” As if the issue is one of personal failure. As if our body image hasn’t been 90% formed by a dysfunctional culture. As if women are responsible for making their minds sick.


We aren’t crazy or to blame. Our bodies are judged before we speak, before any other part of us is seen. The size of our body has had, and continues to have, enormous importance in this culture. The stakes are very high.


And it’s all a distraction, a diversion of women’s energy, preventing us from being our dynamic, talented, wondrous selves. (God, they must really scared of our power to work this hard to keep it down.)


Because we are beautiful, amazing and unique just as we are. At any size. At any age. With or without make-up.


Freedom from weight shame:

I’m not saying women shouldn’t choose how to be in their own bodies. Or that the desire to shed weight is always a bad thing.  


We should be allowed to have whatever experience we want in our bodies. That is our ultimate right. That's true freedom.


Ideally, we notice when our bodies don’t feel as good, as balanced or are asking for something. We notice what foods and ways of eating feel good to us and which feel less good. This is body attunement.


To do that we have to live in our bodies. We have to drop below the mind construct of our bodies and into our actual physicality, this place many of us have spent a lifetime fleeing, fighting or rejecting. Our bodies are equipped with an incredible communication system of signals and feedback, all here for our benefit and to help us optimize and thrive.

But shame jams the signal. And forcing our bodies into socially idealized forms overrides our natural balance.

When we honor and regard our bodies, we pay loving attention to them. Then we can choose to implement changes that suit us, rather than making them out of shame, pressure or judgement.


Maybe then, it would be like, “Oh, my weight has swung up a bit. I wonder what my body is trying to tell me.” There would be no judgement, no shame, no tanking of your mental outlook and self-esteem.

Or perhaps what we discover is that absolutely nothing about our bodies need changing. It's only our thoughts that are out of balance.

a backside view of 4 women of different shapes and skin tones


What does a true desire in our bodies - one born from love and regard for ourselves, one that is free of conditioning - feel like?


I picture it something like this*:


-       We honor internal signals about what to eat and how much.

-       No emotional overlay – our choices don’t impact our worth or self-esteem.

-       Less emotional eating.

-       Preoccupation with weight is replaced by prioritizing feeling good inside our bodies.

-       Freedom from anger or disgust with our bodies.

-       Relief from food obsession and the good/bad food judgment.

-       No longer waiting to do things until our body shape/weight changes.

-       Self-talk becomes loving, compassionate and supportive.

-       Our weight does not determine our worth.

-       Full acceptance of our bodies exactly as they are (because: no shame)

-       A feeling of interest and excitement about doing things that help us feel more like ourselves.


(*Many of these ideas are inspired by the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Related post coming soon.)  


It wasn’t our choice to form ourselves around toxic body shame. But liberation is a choice now. It’s a brave, hard, day-by-day choice, a slow unpacking. A deliberate choosing of how we want to live in and own our bodies.


We deserve to do it for ourselves. But if we can’t yet, let’s do it for the girls coming up behind us. Let’s leave them a reverent, empowered, self-loving body legacy worthy.

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