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The Weight of the World


by Maddie Eisenhart, Digital Director & Style Editor

Body image posts are hard. They’re hard for people to read and hard for people to discuss, even on APW. This makes me sad. It makes me sad because I feel like Western Women have been fed a poison pill about our bodies, and instead of valuing them for what amazing tools they are, we spend our lives beating our bodies up, and then trying to come to some sort of reluctant truce with them. This leaves us unable to converse with other women in supportive ways, because different perspectives might harm our tentative peace we’ve struck with ourselves. But. What APW Editor Maddie had to say about putting on fifty pounds after getting married, grappling with that emotionally, and still loving the shit out of herself, was so important that we had to publish it. So please don’t read Maddie’s experience as filling in for your own. Instead, let it stand as one super smart woman’s experience, and let it guide a conversation about your own thoughts. (Fingers crossed!)
The Weight of the World | A Practical WeddingA few weeks ago, a tweet came through my Twitter feed that went something like this:

I’ve gained ten pounds since my wedding. I feel like such a failure.

No stranger to the post-wedding weight gain myself, it was the last part that stopped me cold. Failure. At first I was so angry I couldn’t see straight. FAILURE?! Really?! How are we allowing a society to exist in which a ten-pound weight gain amounts to failure? I wanted to reach through the computer and shake the person on the other end and say, “You aren’t failing! The world is failing you!”

But then I was mostly sad. Because I remember that feeling. It happened to me when I looked in the mirror, not more than two years after my own wedding; I noticed the stretch marks that had settled on my body after a particularly grueling start to married life left me with fifty pounds of excess body mass and a chubbiness that had begun to show in my face.

For me, the change wasn’t gradual. I instantly gained back the twenty pounds I’d lost before the wedding when I decided to throw away our pots and pans mid-move in anticipation of getting a new set as a registry gift. Well, the wedding came and went. And the move came and went. And we didn’t get our pots and pans. So after we got married, we ate frozen pizza for three months until we could afford a new set and in the meantime basked in the glow of being newlyweds in a shiny new apartment with a newfound freedom and DVR’d episodes of Glee to catch up on.

Then we got our dog. Saddled with sleepless nights and too much overtime, our routine—which was once made up of bonding over home-cooked dinners—quickly turned to running down the street for—ready for it—fresh pizza and scarfing it down before one of us passed out on the couch from sheer exhaustion. My Christmas present that year was our one-year-later honeymoon to Mexico and an extra thirty pounds of midsection. Gee, thanks, you shouldn’t have.

But it doesn’t matter how I gained the weight or even how much I gained. What matters is how I felt afterwards. I’d lost and gained weight before, mostly the same twenty pounds in college, usually because I couldn’t keep my hands away from the cafeteria cookies and because I didn’t understand that one cookie is a serving, not seven (which is bullshit, if you ask me). But this time it was different.

Before getting married, weight gain was always just sort of an annoying challenge I had to deal with on my own, much like a bad grade on a midterm I’d then have to make up with extra credit. But this time it felt—I’m not sure—heavier? Something about weight gain after marriage made it feel almost like I’d committed a sin, like I’d done a bad thing by carrying out a self-fulfilling prophecy about letting myself go and now the whole world was disappointed in me because I’d become just another once-pretty girl who got married too young and then let herself get (what did they say about Betty on Mad Men? Too comfortable?) too comfortable.

I started feeling bad about myself. Which was weird because I didn’t necessarily dislike the way I looked. Apparently I have freakishly positive body image, even when I’m fifty pounds heavier (the weight gain did make my boobs bigger). But still, I felt like I’d failed in my responsibility to be a hot wife (I know, I know, I’m rolling my eyes too). I grew up in Suburbia, I’d watched the sitcoms, I knew what people expect of women after they get married (hint: it involves Christmas sweaters, Crocs, and elastic waistbands). So in some twisted cavern of my brain, I felt like it was my job to rebel against this expectation and reclaim the definition of wife… with my body.

And I’d failed.

The scary thing is, this mode of thinking isn’t actually that crazy. (OK yes, it’s crazy. But it’s not that surprising.) It’s being pummeled into our brains day in and day out with US Weekly covers showcasing photos of elastic moms who are down to their pre-pregnancy weight before the baby even crowns; with the celebration of pre-breakdown Demi Moore, who has a daughter my age and yet looks younger than I do; with the very existence of the word MILF, for shit’s sake. It’s everywhere, this cultural expectation that wives and mothers need to be not only nurturing and caring, but that we also need to be universally f*ckable. Not just to our partners. But to the whole goddamn world. (Mind you this responsibility was never reinforced by Michael, who only ever asks that I be confident, because he hates how mopey self-conscious Maddie can get.)

So I understand how easy it is to feel like a failure when our bodies do what bodies do and, you know, age and stuff. Especially living in a society where it’s not enough to be smart, kind, or funny (you also have to be arm candy too!), it’s so easy for our whole sense of self-worth as wives to get wrapped up in something as meaningless as our dress size.

But the thing that kills me, what really breaks my heart, is what all of these cultural contradictions are doing to smart women. As smart women, we are that much more prone to feel like failures when our bodies change because we have been trained to know better than to care. I mean, that’s the great double standard, isn’t it? On the one hand, we are aware of the cultural importance of physical beauty in our society. And on the other, we’ve been educated time and again that our worth is greater than the sum of our parts. So when our bodies change in ways that we haven’t signed off on, our guilt is two-fold. There is the visceral reaction to what’s happening to my body (I’m uncomfortable with my appearance). And then there is the logical reaction to the visceral response (I am ashamed of the discomfort I feel about my appearance, because it is frivolous and makes me seem like less like of a confident, intelligent woman). Great, now I’m not only disappointed in how I look, but I’m also disappointed with how I feel. AWESOME.

So I think we owe it to ourselves to stop it. To stop tearing ourselves to shreds over the natural changes our bodies experience when put under stress, or through the aging process, or because we like ice cream better than frozen yogurt.

Listen, the first two years of my marriage were horrible. They were more difficult than the year my sister passed away and more complicated than when my parents divorced. I didn’t sleep, I was stressed out all the time, I was fighting with my husband—those two years could have easily broken me. I may have gained fifty pounds, but that’s because my body, this incredible piece of machinery, it weathered the storm on my behalf, freeing up my brain and my soul to do the hard work of putting the pieces of my life back together. Is it easy having gained the weight? Nope. Do I still sometimes wish I hadn’t? Sure. Am I beating myself up over it? No way. Because those stretch marks? I consider them my battle scars. So who gives a shit if they’ll never look good in a bikini? You don’t need a bikini when you’ve got armor. Will I feel like a sell-out if I decide eventually that I’d like to lose that weight? Nope, because I’m done having a guilty conscience about the way I feel about my body, regardless of which direction I’m leaning.

I know I’m probably reducing a very complicated issue and making it seem impossibly simplistic. I know body image and self-confidence probably can’t be reconciled by simply staring at yourself in the mirror every day and telling yourself that you accept what you see. (Although, maybe it is that simple? I’m not saying you have to like it. You just have to acknowledge that it’s yours and it’s better to accept that than to fight it.) Yes, it can be scary and off-putting when our bodies change seemingly without our permission. And yes, it is perfectly normal to be upset when your body doesn’t necessarily feel like your own anymore. But being married can be tough, and the economy sucks, so sometimes all you can do to not quit your job and murder your spouse is to throw your hands in the air and eat pizza every night until things are right again.

In the meantime, we’re not doing ourselves any favors by letting our changing bodies dictate how we view our success or failure in this world. I just can’t imagine anyone lying on their deathbed at 80 years old saying, “Man, I only wish I’d lost that last five pounds.” What I want is for us to let ourselves off the hook for a minute and take pride in what we look like right now. Not what we looked like in high school. Or on our wedding day. Not what we’d look like if we just went to the gym each night instead of watching The Bachelor. Right. Now. Because this moment is yours. And your body is working. You heart is beating and you are breathing and that makes you a winner.

Editor’s Note: I wrote this post against Meg’s better judgment (not that she didn’t want me to write it, but that she is gun shy about how posts about body image are discussed, even here). Weight and body image are hard topics to broach, even in a smart community like this one. Which is why this post isn’t really about weight at all. It’s about the way we treat our bodies when they begin to change, either through weight gain, the aging process, or other means of transformation. So I wrote a post that speaks to my specific experience, but I know that I can’t speak to everyone else’s specific experiences with their own bodies. What I hope is that we can have a conversation in these comments that allows us to lift each other up and that it takes a little power away from a mainstream narrative that tries to tear us down using our own insecurities. I ask that we all be respectful of each other’s personal experiences, and please remember that no two bodies are ever the same, so we’re all coming from a different place here.

Instagram photo of me “modeling” by Jonas Seaman (APW sponsor)

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is the Managing Editor of A Practical Wedding. She’s been writing stories about boys and crushes since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) in the art of talking from NYU in 2008. In her spare time, she takes pictures of people in love. Maddie lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband Michael, her Mastiff named Juno, and her roommate named Joe.

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  • http://www.alittlebiteofeverything.com Ainhoa @ALittleBite

    As I try to decide whether I want to lose the 10ish pounds I’ve gained since moving in with my bf for our wedding day… I loved this post.
    And this “I just can’t imagine anyone lying on their deathbed at 80 years old saying, ‘Man, I only wish I’d lost that last five pounds.’ ” Made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

    • Carbon Girl

      That is one of the best lines ever about body image. I cannot exactly that enough.

      • http://www.ruthmadison.com Carolyn

        So true. It reminds me of how dissatisfied and unhappy my grandmother seemed in the years before she died. She was thin but she never felt thin enough. I don’t want to be her age and still consumed by those same fears. She wasn’t able to see how pretty she was, even at 88, and how wonderful and perfect her family was. She was just miserable and worried about gaining weight all the time.

    • Allie

      I actually consciously decided to not lose weight/slim down pre-wedding… I was feeling like I wanted to tone up a bit (for me, not for the wedding) but I didn’t want to be seen as getting fitter just for the wedding, as it’s something that has always really pissed me off (people/friends becoming unnaturally thin, not looking like themselves, stressing about dieting and exercising enough to get down to the ‘perfect’ size, and all for just one day – then gaining it all right back afterwards).

      I remember having a conversation with my other half about it.

      It sounds completely ridiculous, because, in truth, it IS. But the whole issue of body image and how it’s tied into societal expectations is so complicated and ridiculous, and this was my way to rebel against it…

      • Joanna

        I also consciously decided not to lose weight for the wedding. I’m a healthy size 6 or 8, and there are people who still try to pressure me into losing weight for the wedding, or even just assume that I simply MUST be trying to lose weight for the wedding.

        To me, the most important piece of weight loss or gain is my health. If my body is in the best working order possible, then that’s a good sign.

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    Yes. Thanks for writing this. One of the most natural things our body does is change with age. The water – fat – muscle proportions get redistributed, metabolism changes, and like you said, life happens.
    These discussions are so needed because the World would be a much better place if we were taught to accept that change is a process, a constant evolution instead of beating ourselves up, pretending, constantly wanting to look like we did when we were 19…

    • meg

      I know this isn’t the cultural narrative, but I can almost guarantee that all of us are way better looking than we were at 19. Seriously. Go take a gander at people’s Facebook photos. Not as young, but wiser and prettier (and better dressed ;) now.

      • http://amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com Lisa

        You know my point of view on this. And I’m 55 and still look better now than I did at 19.

        • meg

          That is a FACT. I’ve seen pictures and I’ve seen you now. A life well lived normally shows in how we age.

      • Maddie

        19-year-old Maddie had a terrible hair cut. And me now is better dressed for sure. :)

      • http://www.wrightremedy.blogspot.com Addie

        No joke, I carry around a picture of me and my best friend from over ten years ago along with a pic of us from last year. Hands down I am way hotter now than then. Me now has a smile of real happiness and that’s better than a wrinkle free forehead any day. Sometimes I pull the pictures out just to remind myself that the me now is always my best me.

      • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com/ lady brett

        i agree with the sentiment, but i don’t think i agree with exactly what you’re saying. in that 19-year-olds are beautiful in a 19-year-old kind of way. and 30-year-olds are beautiful in a 30-year-old kind of way. and at the moment, i find the 30-year-old kind of beauty more attractive…but i also hope that when me and my wife are 60 i’ll find her 60-year-old beauty more attractive than her 30-year-old beauty. not because it’s better, but because it’s *right* for where we’re at.

        • meg

          Yeah, I actually disagree. I think people actually get hotter as they get older. Why? Confidence.

          • http://ladybrettashley.wordpress.com/ lady brett

            i can dig that completely. but hot and beautiful are entirely different beasts to me, so perhaps i spoke a bit off-subject above (i stand by it’s truth regarding beauty =).

        • Jess

          Oh exactly! We’re not comparable at our different ages, unless you’re using a society-defined standard of hotness or notness. I just found a photo of 20 year old me and I think I looked really cute then, BUT: (1) I thought I looked terrible then so my self esteem didn’t get to benefit from my awesomeness and (2) life hadn’t dealt me 8 years of sucker-punches to show up in my face and body. So I looked way ‘hotter’ then, but that was then, and this is now, and now is always more powerful than then.

          • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

            Thanks for giving me something to ponder today:
            “…now is always more powerful than then.”

      • Nikki

        When I was 19 I was struggling hard with an eating disorder. When I look at pictures of myself from that time I was so much skinnier (obviously) and so much sadder (probably even more obvious). I so appreciate this post, because even as a much healthier adult, I still struggle each time I have to re-address my body and my body image, and my wedding and upcoming marriage is no exception.

      • Jane

        On a superficial (ish) note, now that I’m older I’ve also actually learned HOW to work my body to make it stronger/healthier, etc. I’m pretty sure my butt’s only getting better with age. At 19 I may have been skinnier but I did NOT know how to do a good squat! :)

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        I was just talking about this the other day. A couple of years ago I finally (FINALLY) figured out how to dress in a way that reflected my identity and aesthetics. I got dressed the other day and said, out loud, “this is what I was trying for in high school and could NEVER GET.” I wouldn’t trade looks with my 19-year-old self.

    • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

      I remember having this realization on our honeymoon in Hawaii, sitting by a pool one day and looking wistfully at all the skinny, long-limbed fifteen year olds around us with nary a hint of cellulite or stretch marks. And then I caught myself. Because I had that body at fifteen (well, minus the long-limbedness :)) and I sure as hell hadn’t appreciated it then. And if I didn’t want to wake up in another ten years and go, “Oh man, should’ve appreciated my twenty-five year old body when I had it,” then I needed to make the conscious effort, starting today, to appreciate it now. It’s not always easy, but thinking about aging in terms of growth and wisdom and grace make the accompanying physical changes easier to accept and even celebrate.

      • http://stellacooks.com Stella

        I had this very same epiphany at about age 28.

      • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Amanda

        Yes , that’s exactly what I meant, that there is beauty in the evolution, in accepting how we are, and that we’ll change even if I’m rounder at the hips and you see it in my face as well.
        Also , I totally agree with Meg on the confidence that comes with age, making us prettier in a different way.

  • http://smittenimmigrant.wordpress.com Pluis

    Yup, you hit the nail on the head completely with:
    “There is the visceral reaction to what’s happening to my body (I’m uncomfortable with my appearance). And then there is the logical reaction to the visceral response (I am ashamed of the discomfort I feel about my appearance, because it is frivolous and makes me seem like less like of a confident, intelligent woman). Great, now I’m not only disappointed in how I look, but I’m also disappointed with how I feel”.

    That’s where my big spiral into body induced misery starts too. These days it ends with me exercizing-while-crying-and-swearing, but it used to end with me eating-cookies-and-telling-myself-I-better-give-up-on-being-remotely-good-looking-now-and-forever-and-ever-and-ever. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t make a difference weight-wise, as far as I can observe, but it makes a difference in how I feel afterwards (because any rotten feeling is made twice as bad when it gets hit with a sugar crash, but it gets a little bit better when you get to take a post-sweat-shower).

    I also totally agree with your priorities regarding the quitting of the job, the murdering of the spouse and the eating of the pizza. At least take-out taco’s do not leave you broke and/ or in jail.

    Thanks for the post, Maddie!

  • One More Sara

    In my experience, if you can stop after just one cookie, then the cookies probably aren’t that good to begin with. But in all seriousness, I’m really looking forward to this discussion.

    Being a young mom, I felt tons of pressure (mostly from myself) to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. This also happens to mean my imaginary benchmark is from when I was 20 yrs old, which was also not the healthiest time in my life. Thanks Maddie, for reminding me to just be happy in the body I have *now.* If it makes me happy to work out, then I should do it. If it makes me happy to eat cookies, there isn’t any law against that either.

    • http://ahobbitatheart.blogspot.com/ rachel

      Totally understand as another young mom here. I’ve struggled with my weight and self-image my entire life. I gained 65+ pounds while I was pregnant, despite exercising and eating well the whole time (at least up until that last miserable month). I still have another twenty-ish pounds to lose before I’m back to pre-pregnancy weight, but despite all that, I’ve never felt healthier or had a better self-image than I do now. This body brought another friggin’ human being into this world and I am damn proud of it.

      • One More Sara

        Yes! Of course my hips are bigger now… a person went through there!!

  • Brefiks

    Maddie, thank you for being brave enough to take this on. I wish we talked about this more, even though I know how hard it is.
    I, too, am just coming off a couple years when everything (travelling, finding work, moving, starting a grad program) was higher priority than maintaining a certain weight. As a result, I’m getting married at a weight that’s pretty high for me. Reminding myself of everything my body helped me enjoy and endure over the past few years is helpful.

    And don’t you hate that thing where you beat yourself up for feeling bad about your body, because that makes you a bad feminist? My God!

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      I got married basically at the top of my weight range (dying father, move, work stress) and I still think I looked absolutely fantastic on my wedding day. I’m sure you’ll look amazing at any weight – I mean,it’s your wedding day! Happiness makes everyone look spectacular.

    • RachelC

      “Reminding myself of everything my body helped me enjoy and endure over the past few years is helpful.” …………um, yes. Thank you.

  • RN

    lovely post. but you know what breaks my heart the most? you say: “I just can’t imagine anyone lying on their deathbed at 80 years old saying, “Man, I only wish I’d lost that last five pounds.” the thing is that i work in a hospital and the number of elderly ladies with their beautiful wrinkles and wild gray hair who have told me “oh, i’m so fat” or “oh i wish i could lose this weight” makes me so sad. these women who have been through so much and should be proud of their bodies for staying strong these many years, still have body-image issues. now, i’m not saying that these women are actually saying this on their deathbeds, but my point is that everyone, from toddlers, to women in their 90’s are affected by this body self-consciousness. in my job, i not only have to provide these women with encouragement for tolerating their first meal in days or from getting out of bed to the chair with a few shuffling steps, but also have to quell their body image issues. and i just want to borrow your last words and say, your heart is beating and you are breathing, and yes! you are a winner!

    • Kara

      Not the state of the body, it’s the state of mind?

    • meg

      This breaks my heart…

      I do want to chime in and say not *everyone* has body image issues, just to give us all hope that we can (at the very least) raise or auntie a future generation of girls that don’t. I grew up without a TV, among other things, and I’ve been big and TOO small and super sick, and through it all loved my body. Here. In modern America. Which means we can totally raise little girls that do to.

      • RN

        True. I should have said, everyone *could* be affected by body self-consciousness. You are correct. :)

    • http://www.craigathenawedding.blogspot.com athena

      RN, those ladies are so very lucky to have you as their nurse…

      As a side note, I’ve just started watching Mad Men, and the emphasis on appearance back then (especially in how it was policed by other women as well as men) really highlights what both of my grandmothers (84 and 87, respectively) went through at my age in the 60s. Yeesh… it’s clearly been a struggle for many women through generations… and I find the “expectation” that women not “let themselves go” is not only a representation of our commodity culture, but of gender inequality as well…(MAJOR DIGRESSION- sorry!)

  • Peabody_Bites

    Your point about the duality of the way in which we beat ourselves up for (i) not feeling comfortable with the way that we look in the first place; and (ii) caring enough about how we look to beat ourselves up for not feeling comfortable with our appearance is so absolutely right. It creates such a vicious circle that its almost impossible to remember to focus on all the things that our bodies can DO, even if we don’t necesssarily at that moment like the way that they LOOK.

    One thing that resonates with me and that I thought I might share is the relationship for me between weight and safety/security, both physical and emotional. When life or the people I am dealing with become challenging/aggressive, or when I am spending a great deal of time on my own travelling for work, I always put on weight. I once read something about how some women who hold families or lives together at times of great stress do put on weight, subconsciously intending to make themselves seem bigger and more threatening, so that they can better fulfill the role of protector. This may not resonate with others, but it makes sense to me – once I got married and felt more secure, it was easier to lose weight because I felt safe enough to look attractive.

    Great brave sensible wise post.

    • http://www.ktmade.com katie

      Really great point.

      I put on a lot of weight in my first marriage, which was a very unsafe one for me – definitely emotionally and, in some ways, physically. When we split up, I dropped the weight like nothing – and it wasn’t out of sadness. I was worried at first, but my therapist and I agreed that it was more that I didn’t need it as protection anymore.

  • http://petitechablis.wordpress.com Petite Chablis

    “As smart women, we are that much more prone to feel like failures when our bodies change because we have been trained to know better than to care. … So when our bodies change in ways that we haven’t signed off on, our guilt is two-fold. There is the visceral reaction to what’s happening to my body (I’m uncomfortable with my appearance). And then there is the logical reaction to the visceral response (I am ashamed of the discomfort I feel about my appearance, because it is frivolous and makes me seem like less like of a confident, intelligent woman). Great, now I’m not only disappointed in how I look, but I’m also disappointed with how I feel. AWESOME.”

    I want to hug you for writing that. That is exactly what goes through my head every time I feel insecure about the way I look. First, the unhappiness about my appearance itself, then the guilt that I don’t love my body the way I “know” I’m supposed to. I know I’m supposed to accept the way I look, and be grateful that my body is healthy and strong (and I am!), but I still look in the mirror and wish I were less pear-shaped or whatever. And then the “I can’t believe I care what kind of shallow, weak person am I?!” shame spiral. Fun times! Wheee!!

    (Edited to add: I see I’m not the only one who loved that passage! It is SUCH A RELIEF to know I’m not the only one who experiences that particular annoying spiral.)

    • SusieQ

      I just wanted to mention that I thought I invented the phrase “shame spiral”, but I see you use it too. It really nails the feeling, doesn’t it?

    • jen

      Oh, me too! after reading that passage and all the others comments and “exactly!’s” i can’t believe i’ve actually thought for pretty much my whole life that i was the only one who was equally unhappy with my body’s “flaws” and my seeming inability to get over them & just accept my body… whew!

      so, thank you SO much for this post. it is so refreshing to hear someone speak honestly and openly about her body and feelings about her appearance in ways i can relate to. ….and: it is equally refreshing and just so damn lovely to read comment after comment that is by turns insightful, accepting, funny, and encouraging, with nary a word of judgement or snark. thanks for starting this conversation and to everyone for participating in it.

  • rys

    It took me about 31 years, but in the past year I finally figured out what styles of clothing make me look good, and this, more than my weight — which oscillated a bit over the same period — really made a difference for me and my self-confidence about my body. I won’t deny that part of this absolutely stemmed from (positive) comments made by others, but I realized that the comments tracked to the clothes (both cut and color), not my weight, which was quite a revelation. Trying on a dress and having several other customers in the fitting room tell me, unprovoked, “you must buy that, you look fabulous” did so much more for me than the numbers on a scale. As much as my experience still tracks to the influence of others, it bespeaks the possibility of empowerment rather than disillusionment. So, you know, tell people when they look great even — or rather, especially — when you don’t know them!

    • meg

      YES THIS! I wonder what would happen if we all vowed to go around giving other ladies high fives about how great they looked….

      • Leanne

        I think positive feedback is an important part of this. BUT – it still places a positive value on looking good, rather than feeling/doing/being good (even though these are very closely tied for so many of us). For some, even positive appearance-based comments can set into action a fear of evaluation, a sense that they might not have looked good the other days when they weren’t so dolled up, etc. And for an entirely different set of people, those with objective appearance differences and disfigurements, it’s an entirely different battle. I say we focus our high-fives on skills, talents, abilities, efforts, and all those other things that we carry with us no matter what we look like or what we’re wearing!

        • meg

          Well, that might work for you (and if so, please do it!). But my life is totally better by people high fiving me over looking good, and vice versa. And looking good is CERTAINLY not limited to people without appearance differences or disfigurements. But I’m a visual person, and I notice beauty, and I VALUE it (and I mean that in a broad, not a culturally limited sense). If we decide that valuing beauty isn’t something we’re comfortable with, and we’re only going to value talents, abilities, and efforts, I think that for many of us, the world would be a poorer place.

          • blissing

            I think it can help to use Suz’s approach below. I will say someone looks radiant or happy, or comment on a specific piece of adornment, but try to avoid commenting on their bodies because it can be triggering. Sad that it is true, eh?

      • suz

        I actually did this as a New Year’s Resolution a couple years ago. It made my year so great! You wouldn’t believe how happy it makes a stranger on the corner feel (I assume by the look on their face) when you tell them their scarf is cute or their shoes or their hair. It was really a revelation for me and I’ve continued it as the years go by.

        • Tre

          I’ve also tried to include this practice in my daily life. I try to notice strangers for the way they look, because it’s harder to know by the way someone is walking through a parking lot or putting groceries in their car what amazing personal qualities they have. However, I’ve realized over the past year that I barely ever even notice what people wear when I know them well, so I shower them with bangin’ personal complements. I think it’s great to include both, as long as you’re making sure you’re not just complementing models who walk by.

    • Maddie

      I actually almost wrote about this in my post. I think there is such power in telling other people that they look amazing. It doesn’t just make you feel good to hear it, it makes you feel good to say it too! When I photograph women whose body type mirrors mine, and I run around them going “You look amazing! OMG you’re so pretty! I can’t believe how gorgeous you look right now,” guess who starts to believe what I’m saying as much as they do? ME.

      It’s amazing how positive reinforcement can make everyone involved feel awesome. I seriously think that if you want to improve your body image, one of the best ways to start is to begin complimenting people whose body looks like yours (or doesn’t! It doesn’t even matter) and who are doing things with it that you admire.

      • carrie

        Yes! Sometimes I worry when I tell another woman, “great skirt” or similar b/c they’ll think it’s creepy, but if someone said that to me, I’d be thrilled. So I say it.

    • Cleo

      In my experience, finding the style of clothes that looks good on you makes SUCH a difference in confidence!

      Also, ladies, I SO encourage you to get someone to measure your bra size. I recently had a stint of unemployment and didn’t like what I saw in the mirror (I took it out on my body when really, I just felt that way internally), so, in a moment of clarity, I decided to go lingerie shopping. Silky things just feel nice.

      On a whim, I decided to let the sales associate measure my bra size, even though I had been the same size since what seemed like forever…or so I thought. Turns out I had grown 2 cup sizes and didn’t even realize it. I bought bras that fit and my confidence soared. I felt like a fox after that.

      • Dawn

        Oh man, let me second that suggestion for a bra fitting. I had always been rather flat chested and wore a 36A and thought nothing of it until I walked into a bra shop one day and the woman immediately looked at me and said I was wearing the wrong bra. Come to find out I was actually a 36D! Wearing the correct size bra made me look so much thinner because you could see the narrowest part of my ribcage again thanks to me not squishing my boobs down (in addition to giving me cleavage I didn’t realize I had).

        • http://www.twitter.com/babyinabar Shotgun Shirley

          This is ESPECIALLY important after childbirth… boobies change size, ya’ll. Like, multiple times… and a nursing bra can just be a regular bra, converted with a couple of hook and eye closures. Just sayin’.

        • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

          If you’re in New York, the Town Shop will change your life. Most department stores don’t carry anything past a DD, and you would be surprised how many women wear E+ sizes.

          • H

            The Town Shop, Linda the Bra Lady, and BraTender are all really great places that will give you an excellent experience in NYC. I used to cry at bra fittings- then someone told me to visit BraTender, and the rest sort of came word of mouth after that.

            Now I pass on the knowledge. My colleagues have called shopping with Linda or at Town Shop “life changing.”

            A good bra in the right size can change a lot about your mental view of your body.

            Also? You’d be amazed at the quality of swimwear in bigger sizes, and how much better you can feel! I own THREE bikinis, which I hadn’t worn in over ten years. Remarkable, I tell you.

    • http://www.wrightremedy.blogspot.com Addie

      The best New Year’s resolution I ever made was to give more compliments. It makes everyone better.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.ca/ Sheryl

      You know, I had a twelve year old tell me I was pretty the other day and it just made me smile so big. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had more moments like that?

      The one thing I would say, is while compliments are great it’s important to be sensitive about the tone and focus of the compliments. More on the “you look beautiful in that dress” or “gosh you have a pretty smile” line and less in the “you’ve got a hot body” line. For myself, I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past year or so (partly on purpose, partly due to health issues) and I now find I get a million compliments … on my size.

      While it’s nice to hear nice things about myself, it’s not very nice to have people constantly talking about my d*mn weight. Because, hey, not the most interesting thing about me. In fact, probably the least interesting thing about me. Plus, it really reinforces the idea that body image and self worth is in some way tied to my weight in a good OR bad way.

  • KEA1

    This was AWESOME. And, while I know that body image discussions are a delicate thing, so are discussions of so many of the other topics that APW bravely and eloquently opens. And they matter to our well-being, which sure as hell matters to the relationships we’re able to have.

    My wonderful alma mater was, unfortunately, a hotbed of dysfunctionality when it came to supporting positive body image. To be fair, I attended a highly selective, all-women’s school, and so it’s possible that we were a high-risk group for eating disorders. BUT the College over-corrected. From health services we were bombarded with the mixed messages, from “how to choose healthy foods” to “how to confront a friend if you think she’s anorexic” and everything in between. The ultimate WTF moment: Several varsity teams, including mine, were visited by some health services person to talk about exercise bulimia, and she made a big deal of how exercise for more than 6 hours per week was a big red flag. At that point I realized that, while I could certainly have used some good information about nutrition for athletes, especially in terms of in-season versus out-of-season needs, I was NOT going to find it here, because I trained more than 6h per week even in the offseason. And I sure as hell wasn’t doing that to avoid weight gain: I’m a swimmer, and I knew that offseason training equaled preseason practices not sucking. %)

    Short end of a long story is that if even a women’s college can’t get it right, we REALLY need to encourage more healthy discussion of body image. We need to be able to discuss physical health, including weight and physique changes, without falling back onto value judgment. And we REALLY need to be able to discuss mental health, especially major life experiences, without falling back onto value judgment of accompanying weight changes. If that begins on APW, hells yeah!

    • rys

      This sounds so familiar! When a woman walked into the college health center, the first two questions were inevitably: a) are you eating? b) is it possible you’re pregnant. And I too was on a varsity sports team — so clearly we worked out more than 6 hours a week, which messed with the “healthy eating + exercise” guidelines provided. Oy!

    • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

      I found women’s college athletics to be one of the most body screwed up environments I’ve ever seen–as bad as theater and dance (and I worked in the costume shops so I saw plenty of body worries in those areas). How to eat was NEVER discussed on my team. Our coach encouraged us to make “smart choices” but we all understood her to be referring to alcohol use more than the food we consumed in the dining hall.

      • http://webecomeus.wordpress.com Caitlin

        when traveling as a team, we got menus with most of the items crossed out– so despite the intense hours of workouts and weight-lifting, we were apparently supposed to eat salads. with light dressing only. i remember feeling bad about sneaking spoonfuls of peanut butter because i was SO hungry! so yes, agreed, that’s a pretty messed up way to go through your early twenties.

      • One More Sara

        I was too! I was a rower and some of my teammates were lightweight, and it was always so terrifying what they would do to themselves the week before weigh-ins. The scariest part? The coaches KNOW exactly what is going on, but do NOTHING about it (and worse yet, they are sometimes fuel to the fire).

      • KEA1

        To be fair, the varsity athletes and coaches at my school tended to be more realistic about healthy eating patterns than the people in health services did. But I SO hear you guys on the effed up messages. Gah.

  • Carbon Girl

    I like Micheal’s response “(Mind you this responsibility was never reinforced by Michael, who only ever asks that I be confident, because he hates how mopey self-conscious Maddie can get.)”

    This is exactly the response I get from my husband. He loves my body in its normal and heavier forms but absolutely cannot stand my lack of confidence when I get insecure about my body. Which then, of course, makes me feel guilty about feeling insecure, which I then blame on my body too (but that is my problem not his).

    I think, though, what I want to point out is that “real world” (not magazine/media) attractiveness is a lot more about self confidence than it is about looks. We all know someone who is not a 10 in the looks department who gets tons of attention from potential suitors and it is often due to the self confidence they project to the world.

    • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

      I agree so much – husbands/partners/fiances have a huge role to play here. Someone should provide them with special training (and not just always saying that you look great in those jeans).
      My fiance is an extremely health conscious guy. He loves to eat right and exercise and he’s very fit. Somehow, his workouts always leave me feeling inadequate. While I love being active together, I can’t keep up with him. This makes me feel ultra-self conscious when I have a busy day and make pizza for dinner, or put on a little weight during stressful times at work. It’s not his fault, but he just doesn’t know how to reassure me that I’m still attractive to him even when I’m not up to living those healthy values. I know we’ll both fine balance eventually, but we both have a lot to learn about supporting each other when it comes to food, exercise and body image.

  • Hlockhart

    Thanks for this thoughtful and sensitive post, Maddie. I’d be really interested to hear from any parents with daughters here. How do you foster a positive body image in your daughter? My mother is amazing, but she has real body image issues which she passed down to me. I’m sort of terrified of having a daughter someday and doing the same. What do you do?

    • LMS

      Can I second this request? I’ve just recently had conversations about this issue with my two closest friends. All three of us had variations on the same experience with our moms. In my case, my mom is awesome and supportive and tried really hard to help me form a positive body image. But she also became somewhat fixated on her own post-menopausal weight gain — and because that coincided with my own hyper-self-conscious teenage years, I still ended up internalizing a lot of that insecurity. If I ever have a daughter, I know I’ll be completely paranoid about passing my issues onto her!

      • Lee

        I’m not a mother but I had a mother who was absolutely wonderful at being supportive of me (in many ways) but especially in making me feel beautiful simply because she told me that I was my whole life. Not in an over-the-top sickening way and not in a fake way. She genuinely means it every time she says it. She was the only person I took wedding dress shopping with me because I knew she would be honest without being critical and she would be so, so, so supportive when I found the right dress. She still tells me that I’m pretty, or beautiful, or I look good, or that she’s happy to see my face. And even as an adult it still feels good. I think it helps me to believe my fiance every time he says those things.

        The other day I was having a conversation with a friend on how she and her husband were trying to stop telling their baby how beautiful and cute and pretty she is and start saying different things like smart to take the focus off of looks. Thinking about it now, I think they should tell her she is beautiful for the rest of her life, along with smart, and all the other wonderful things she is.

        And now I’m off to say thank you to my Mom :)

        • Steph

          Full disclosure: I am not a mom. But I still strongly recommend the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. She addresses this question and many others related to parenting strong and confident daughters in our current society.

          • LBD

            YES! I was just about to suggest this book. She talks about not only instilling confidence in her daughter as a whole person (Like Lee says above: smarts, talents, abilities! Not just pretty and cute!), but also raising her daughter to think about and be critical of the media she’s being bombarded with. At her daughter’s age this was toys and Disney princesses, but I imagine that is a skill that will serve her as she enters the pre-teen and teenage years as well.

        • meg

          YES. I agree with this so much. (Also, obviously, tell them they are smart all the time and that is more important, but telling them they are beautiful and meaning it is pretty fucking key.)

          • Kate F

            I know my sister and I (and, as a result, my parents and our partners) are really trying to set this up with my niece, and it’s so easy because it’s true. I’ve yet to meet a kid who didn’t have serious potential and considerable talents in some area, and I hope that if we can imbue these values into our kids we’ll have a pretty amazing generation on our hands.

          • http://ifyoucangetit.wordpress.com jenn

            Evidently praising smartness and beauty can be quite damaging, particularly for young girls. It promotes the idea of smartness being intrinsic and disconnected to effort, and can create a lot of challenges for these girls later in life. It’s covered in detail in Nurtureshock (Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman), which incidentally is an excellent read. A summary of the praise section is here: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/nurtureshock-parenting-tips-praising-kids-hurt/story?id=8475074

        • http://www.moodeous.com Kristy

          Those of us who had awesome supportive moms should definitely go thank them today!

          I’m so lucky that my mother fostered an environment for me to grow confident, strong, and individually beautiful, smart, talented and unique–no matter what weird clothing I was wearing or hair color I was experimenting with that month. And I have NO IDEA how she did it while working full time and raising my three brothers too.

        • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

          I am totally stealing “happy to see your face”.

          My mother never, ever told me anything complementary about my appearance, and it did fuck me up a bit. Of course, she also would go a step too far and say shit like, “this other person said you were pretty but I don’t see it.” It’s funny to watch her now with my daughter, and listen to her coo about how beautiful the baby is. (Which, truth. My kid is adorable.) My husband and I are making a semi conscious effort to tell the baby how beautiful she is. But also how strong, and smart, and clearly advance over her peers she is. Because of not getting those messages growing up, I know how totally important they are to hear.

          The world gives us enough terrible messages. The least I can do for my daughter is to be a source of love and positivity.

        • Kess

          I think that it’s actually really important to tell your daughter that she’s beautiful, as well as all the other things. My parents never did. To be fair, they didn’t give many compliments unless they had us alone which didn’t happen much – scared of creating sibling rivalry/inadequacy issues, I think.

          Still, that meant that it was 18 years until someone called me beautiful – when I met my SO. I didn’t know what to do when he said that because no one had ever said that to me before. The most I had ever gotten was “you look nice”. I still have some major issues with body image.

        • jen

          hi! maybe there are more answers later on the thread? but here’s one. i have a little baby daughter- 9 months old- and i’ve put a lot of thought it this but would love some advice from mamas with older girls.
          1. i 2nd the advice to yes, definitely, tell your daughter she looks great (but also hi-5 her when she learns to ride a bike or gets a 100 on her math test or whatever)

          2. never ever body-snark in front of her, even if you don’t think she’ll notice! don’t look in the mirror and say “oh, my thighs…” or be bad-mouthing the tv: “someone should give that kate moss a sandwich” or let someone gossip meanly in front of her: “wow, so-and-so’s gotten really fat!”

          3. it’s always totally creeped me out to see little girls whose moms have them all dolled up in make-up and hip-hugging jeans and “sexy” (wtf? i can’t even write that w/o quotes!) clothes… those girls tend to display inappropriately man-pleasin’ (barf) behavior, too, which might be a chicken-and-egg thing. so don’t let her wear grown-up clothes, maybe? i don’t mean don’t let her play “dress-up” or anything… i just mean that when she’s a little girl, she shouldn’t be “sexy” yet. at all.

          i think having a daughter was a wake-up call to me to try to really deal with & hopefully resolve my remaining body-image issues instead of pretending they didn’t exist because they made me feel bad about myself. i’m still trying to figure this out, obviously, and i’d really love to hear from other women whose moms did it right!

      • sarahrose

        I can relate to this fear, but just wanted to throw out that my experience has been the opposite: I have a mother who is a health fanatic, to the point where she can be extremely rude and insensitive not only to family members but to others, and when I was a teenager she would comment about whether I was thinking about my weight when I was eating a couple chips or a cookie (I have a distinct memory of her patting my belly — in front of my friends — while making such a comment once) and nag me about exercising. But it’s never really bothered me. I’ve always loved my body, and no one else can take that away from me.

        It’s this: “Your body is working. You heart is beating and you are breathing and that makes you a winner.”

        So, mommies do and can have a huge impact on their daughters…but it doesn’t have to be that way.

    • charmcityvixen

      I have a step daughter, and I don’t discuss my body in front of her (I tend to beat myself up), I talk to her about healthy food and doing activity, and I tell her she is beautiful. I think the rest is up to her own self-esteem and peer pressure. I try to do the best I can, but I can only control what messages she hears at my house, not what messages her mom tells her or what she hears at school.

      • http://thegreatwideworld.blogspot.com Becca

        As a future teacher, I worry about what messages my kids, boys and girls, will hear about their bodies in my classroom. It makes it a lot more important for me to accept my body, wherever I happen to be, and to teach my kids to appreciate what we can do, not just what we look like. Hopefully I can be a positive voice for kids, and back up what parents like you are saying at home!

        On another side of being a teacher, spending time with young kids can be a great confidence boost! I could be having a day where I feel like I look terrible, and they’ll have no problem telling me I’m beautiful and the best teacher ever. I wish the rest of us had that view of others instead of defaulting to silent comparisons and judging.

    • daynya

      I also would like to see this. My mother was not exactly a healthy body image roll model. She didn’t care at all about eating well or exercising until she had my brother, when I was 12 years old. She became so frighteningly obsessed with her weight after that, I remember so many weight watchers meals, and her compulsively exercising at 4 in the morning while I was sleeping. When I got to high school and college, and realized that I was not as thin as most girls, she offered me diet pills. I took them, thinking that of course she means well! I didn’t have a healthy role model for how to eat well, or exercise properly, so it took until my mid twenties (and gaining about 60 lbs, thanks to school/working/fast food all the time) for me to start figuring it out. I still struggle with this whole issue, and have lost and re-gained that 60 lbs about 5 times now. I’m finally getting to a point where I love my body for what it does for me, and I can accept the fact that I am overweight. I work out daily, and eat amazingly well, and I feel great. To me, that is WAY more important. However, I am terrified about what is going to happen when I have kids. If I have a daughter, I certainly don’t want to accidentally pass any of these issues on to her.

      • Emily

        My post a little further down touches on the negative body issues my mom passed down. I think it’s important to first be self accepting of your own body, then pass on your positive body image feelings to your children. You can’t fake self-esteem, so if we can truly adopt positive body ideas, then those ideas will be passed down. If we cling to the negative, the negative will be passed on.

        • http://theatreprojects.blogspot.com Jessamarie

          While I would never argue against this concept. I believe that I am proof that you can absolutely raise a daughter with a healthy body image without having one yourself. I have had a very healthy body image since I can remember and am surprised often in discussions with my mom when I am reminded how painfully self conscious she is.
          Part of it, I am sure, is that she always told me how beautiful I was. But I think what effected me the most was her explaining her body issues to me. I remember her telling me about how mean her grandmother had been to her, always criticizing her and telling her she getting chubby and needed to loose a few pounds. I think what I took from that, at a very young age, was that people who say things like that to me are mean.
          I wasn’t a mean person, and my friends weren’t mean people, and my family wasn’t mean, so anything that was said to me about my body was either innocent and well meaning (if it came from someone I loved) or unfair and cruel (if it came from someone who I didn’t like) either way, it was not something to be taken to seriously or worried about.
          Especially when my mom made comments that stemmed from her own ideas about body image (about me putting on weight, or plucking my eyebrows or taking the time to put on a bit of make up, or even consider a breast reduction) I was able to keep in mind that my mom had a negative body image and that maybe I shouldn’t take things she said personally.

          • LBD

            I agree with this. Kids are smart. I’m not sure not letting them know you have body issues is the right idea either. They’re going to see you struggling sometimes even if you don’t say it, and they might instead get the idea that it’s something one doesn’t talk about, which isn’t good either. And, whether we like it or not, we’re not the only influence on our kids. We’re probably the biggest one, but even the best body-positive moms I’m certain can end up with a body-conscious daughter. I think developing a good working conversation with your kids about your own and their struggles (though in moderation of course of course! Your kid is not your BFF to vent to!) is probably a good thing.

            My mom didn’t have body issues, but she struggled a lot with untreated mental illness. I knew something was wrong, but I internalized all the wrong messages by her never talking about it to me. I talk a lot with my therapist about how I fear having kids because I fear doing the same to them. She tells me that kids learn from us how to work through things. It’s not our job so much to protect them from all the bad in the world (we can’t unfortunately), but to help them learn to navigate it. So, I guess what I’m advocating is not never showing daughters that you have body issues, but trying to do your best to model good practices in dealing with them in a way that has empathy for one’s self, like I think Maggie’s post does a great job of.

          • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

            Same here in that my grandmother wasn’t particularly nice to my mother when it came to her body, and I was a witness to that attitude and language. Because of that, I think my mother made a conscious effort not to do the same with me.

    • Emma

      This is such a fear for me as well. And the hard thing for me is that I know my mom didn’t mean to give me issues. It’s just that she was so insecure and self-critical as I was growing up that I just absorbed that attitude. I mean, she did some other things that were unhelpful (like pointing out my sister and I weighed the same even though my sister is several inches taller), but I really think it was her own lack of self-confidence that affected me the most. I catch myself frowning at my reflection in the mirror, or refusing to accept compliments, just the way she does.

      But in some ways it’s a relief to see this as a learned behavior. It’s hard, but I think I can replace the bad behaviors I learned from my mom with good behaviors that I could then demonstrate for my (now totally theoretical) daughter. So when I catch myself doing the whole self-pitying, self-hating act, I force myself to turn it around. I put on my favorite dress or do my hair, or I remind myself how strong my arms are. I may never get to the point where I can run around in a bathing suit without feeling self-conscious. But I can try. And hopefully my daughter will see me trying and at least learn to try, right? And that’s a step in the right direction.

      • Michelle

        I’ve spent my whole life watching my mom deal with body issues and low self esteem, and I used to do the same things she did. A huge moment for me was when I realized that it was HER problem, and if I had learned it from her, I could also learn to give it up in favor of confidence.
        One of the scariest things in life is deliberately trying to change something about yourself, because if you fail, it is YOUR failure. But realizing that it is possible is the most liberating feeling in the world.

    • Emme

      I’ve got two daughters and 1 step-daughter – they are all in their twenties and discussing weight is such a tricky thing. When I was in my early 20’s I had my first bout with anorexia. For me it was about controlling something in my out of control life. There weren’t the counseling resources available back then like there are now. The thing that really snapped me out of it was getting pregnant — I started looking at my body as a resource that wasn’t just working to get me through life but now working overtime to get my baby ready and healthy for the world.

      My weight has fluctuated so much over my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and now into my 50’s — menopause is just a peach by the way!!! (If there are any of you out there with moms dealing with this – give them a break — it’s coming for you eventually!). At one point I was double – yes double – the weight I was at my lowest. Now I don’t look at the scale so much. When you get older your weight starts being an issue even more in a health related manner. When I was in my 20’s I gained weight so I could help make my unborn child as healthy as possible. Now that I’m in my 50’s I lost weight and try to exercise and eat as healthy as possible so that I can live to be around for my unborn grandchildren.

      It’s not about the number on the scale anymore. It’s about levels. Cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, so many frickin’ levels! That’s the important number. The healthy number.
      I’ve watched all three of my girls from the sidelines when it somes to their weight. I know that my mom pushed food on us when we were little as a control thing — “You can not get up from the table until you eat everything on your plate!” “See I love you — I made you brownies”. I tried not to do that with mine. I’m sure I wasn’t perfect but at least I was aware. I just really try and instill in them the notion that they are beautiful, smart, talented women who are in control of their own destinies.

      And humor – it’s always good to laugh – don’t take stuff so seriously — my middle daughter and I were having a chat recently about my weight and I just joked that it’s all good that I remembered a quote/theory that I had heard from my southern grandmother that when a woman reaches a certain age – she has to choose her face or her figure and that I had just chosen my face for the last 6 years. A little humor goes a long way.

      I feel good. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for my daughters. That feeling goes a long way and that’s what life is supposed to be about isn’t it?

    • meg

      Yes!! I am not a mom, BUT I have a 100% positive body image, thanks in large part to the way I was raised (people often say “Oh, it’s just because you’re on the small side,” but I was a CHUNKY kid, and I had a positive body image then too). So, my tips:

      – My mom never complained about her body ever in front of me.
      – My mom never dieted.
      – My mom always told me how pretty I was, and meant it.
      – My mom always told me that girls could do or wear anything, and that how we looked wasn’t what mattered and meant it.
      – My parents put us in dance and other physical activities so our focus was on what our bodies could do.
      – We grew up with no TV, and very limited exposure to mass media, so I had NO idea there was a way I was supposed to look.

      Takeaway: I genuinely had no idea that I was supposed to have one kind of body (I worried about things like what clothes to wear or haircuts, but never my body). I didn’t figure it out till 6th or 7th grade, and by then I didn’t care.

      • http://www.notintentonarriving.blogspot.com Kristin

        I completely agree. Both of my parents are overweight, and they’ve gone on diets before, in front of me, but I never, ever heard a single one of them complain about the way they looked. My mother never wore make-up, and they made exercise fun for us – mostly it was swimming and playing soccer. Even though I was really heavy for most of my childhood, and I did have some body issues, they were no where near as bad as they could have been, and I think that stems entirely from the comfort my parents have in their bodies. I hope that’s something I can pass on one day.

      • meg

        Oh! And also! My parents never talked to us about things like “Healthy Foods.” The only discussion of food in our house was about taste. They didn’t need to talk to us about healthy food when we were small, since they fed us, so why bother? We knew cookies and soda were a treat, and they were almost never in the house. And we knew fast food was also a rare treat. But I didn’t have a concept that there were “good foods” and “bad foods” until, um, frankly college ;) As a result, while I’ve since learned how to eat to loose weight (I needed it now and then), I’ve never thought of foods as good and bad, just about how they taste and how they make me feel. This is a total lifesaver.

        Because really there are two twin epidemics in America: feeling terrible about our bodies, and feeling terrible about what we eat. They are so intertwined you can’t solve one without the other. But I will say that countries with a food culture, like Italy, where food is to be enjoyed, don’t seem to have a culture of attacking their bodies in the same way. Plus, people tend to have a more instinctive sense of how much is enough (because they are paying attention simply to how food makes them feel). So, I think we have to fix BOTH epidemics for our kids to keep them healthy.

        • charmcityvixen

          I think it depends on how we talk about “healthy food” and what we consider healthy. Growing up in a European household, “healthy” food was talked about as non-processed food, food without chemicals. And that’s what I try to pass down to my stepkids. Healthy food is real food that you can see and watch grow. We always talk about what types of food are healthy at the farmers’ market, and we almost never go to fast food restaurants. We also do not eat artificial sweeteners because they are chemicals.

          My stepdaughter enjoys hummus, fresh fruits and veggies, and is newly obsessed with fingerling potatoes (she is almost 7!).

          My stepson is still into McDonalds, pizza, and chicken tenders… oh well :)

          • Class of 1980

            You know how we’re always hearing there’s an obesity epidemic? I think it’s hard to wrap your head around the word “epidemic” if you are young. The way it is, is all you’ve ever known.

            But it’s absolutely true that a A LOT fewer people were heavy when I was growing up. I see tons of teenagers with weight issues now, whereas they were a minority when I was a teen. Same with adults.

            The food source itself has been compromised in so many ways. There is junk in food now that used to be uncommon.

            I think it stinks that so much of what is available to eat has been altered in such a way as to guarantee far more people have weight struggles.

            The obesity epidemic is NOT because everyone all of a sudden became less disciplined.

            Charm is right. Europe has been in the forefront of keeping their food sources local and healthy, whereas in the U.S., giant corporations have had more influence. We now have a food divide with financially secure people eating more organic and less processed food, and people with less money eating chemical laden highly processed food.

            Europe does not have such a divide.

        • http://webecomeus.wordpress.com Caitlin

          yes, yes, yes. meg, this is amazing. yes, being healthy is important, and god knows obesity can do terrible things to your health, but foods themselves are not “good” or “bad”. (unless they’re questionably not-food, like poptarts, maybe.) and if you think of them as bad, often times you want them more. the forbidden fruit, if you will… except it’s not usually fruit. as my 91 year old grandma always tells me, the secret to a long, happy life is: everything in moderation.

          • meg

            Even poptarts ;)

        • Denzi

          Yet another resource about this: [http://itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com/] (Yay for learning things from toddler nutrition blogs!)

          Her approach to teaching kids how to eat “healthy” is proportion, variety, and moderation. Proportion: there are some foods our body needs more of than others–no good and bad foods, just “always” foods and “sometimes” foods. Variety: trying different kinds of foods helps us experience different cultures and learn how to value the experience of eating itself. Moderation: know what “hungry” and what “full” feel like, and learn to listen to your body and work with it.

          • Caely

            Thanks, this site is great! I’ll add a plug for another “niche” nutrition blog that has much broader relevance:
            http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/nutrition-agnosticism/

            She works primarily with overweight clients, but as a person recovering from disordered under-eating I find her approach really helpful was well.

            She sees all eating behaviors are driven by legitimate needs (emotional needs included!). Her approach emphasizes building good habits so that your body can trust its basic food needs will be met. If your body is afraid that you’ll forget to eat lunch during your busy workday, it can’t send you clear signals about what you need for breakfast.

            Or, as she says, “Even on a strictly biomedical level, isn’t it possible that the stress induced from being deprived of an emotionally meaningful, culturally significant food source might negatively impact your health?”

        • Aurélie

          An onther important point about countries with a food culture, in France at least, is that eating is not something you do alone traditionnally. You share it, you enjoy it together, so the focus is not only on the food, but also on the people you eat it with. And I do not talk about the occasionnal grand family reunion: we do it everyday, we get lunch with colleagues and friends, we dine with our family, and we like to have great food to share together. This is really a culturally important point.

      • Claire

        I also grew up without TV or pretty much any exposure to mass media. We weren’t constantly being bombarded with messages about how girls “should” look (or act), so the real-life women around me were my reference for what “normal” was. I think that helped shield me from some of the body images issues that I hear so much about but don’t fully understand personally.

        Also, the adults in my life rarely made appearance-based comments about other people. Any comments were usually focused on that person’s interests or hobbies or other characteristics. So instead of overhearing, “Becky is so pretty”, I would hear, “Becky is such a fun person. She’s got a great laugh”. I only noticed this when I was older and would go over to friends’ houses and hear their mothers talk among themselves. It was always “this one is so cute” or “that one’s gonna be gorgeous when she grows up”. Even positive, well-intentioned comments were always focused on a girl’s looks.

      • Cate Subrosa

        Thank you for this, Meg. x

    • http://amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com Lisa

      Laying the foundation for a realistic approach to body image for your daughter is a long process. You can’t tell them it doesn’t matter, they will find out you are lying. You can tell them that it’s hard to eat in America, that we’re not set up for good food choices. You can tell them they are happier if they exercise. And you can tell them they are beautiful, strong, graceful creatures. All. The. Time.

      Also, frankly, help them find the physical activity that suits their body type. Ballet is great for the natural willowy sorts. Muscular thighs? Soccer. Let them find out early that their body is for so many more things than dressing up, showing off, and attracting boys.

      And I wholly agree with Meg. Do not, as a mom, talk about your own weight, or go on diets. Model what you wish for.

      • meg

        But, I do think that as part of teaching them about parts of the world that need to be changed (feminism!) you can teach them that how they look SHOULDN’T be the thing that matters most. I definitely took that message to heart.

      • Cleo

        Lisa, you are so spot on with this part:

        “Also, frankly, help them find the physical activity that suits their body type. Ballet is great for the natural willowy sorts. Muscular thighs? Soccer.”

        I have large, muscular thighs. When I was 6, my parents put me in ballet because my doctor said I was slightly pigeon-toed and clumsy. I saw that I wasn’t graceful and that I couldn’t copy movements my teacher made as well as the other girls. I blamed my legs and I hated them for not being lithe and coordinated and felt embarrassed to wear dresses and skirts because my legs were so huge, especially compared to my mom and sister’s.

        I tried others sports, but I wasn’t fast or coordinated, so even at the ones I did enjoy, I always lost and felt like a failure. Again, I blamed my “fat” legs.

        The one physical activity I did take pride in was the fact during those damm presidential physical fitness tests, I would run the whole mile without stopping, no matter how long it took me.

        I would brag about it. And I wish someone would have notice I had an aptitude for that sort of thing, because it took about 15 years and several other failed attempts at sports before I discovered long distance running. Now, I run marathons and half-marathons. I’m slow, but unless you’re one of the few elite runners, the sport isn’t about being the fastest, it’s about finishing with your head held high, and I have the endurance and mental fortitude for that in spades.

        My big, powerful thighs are built for this sport, and I now love wearing skirts because it reminds me how strong and fantastic my legs are. The sport thing really is key.

        • http://ahobbitatheart.blogspot.com/ rachel

          Yes! I’ve got a pretty muscular, large Norwegian frame, and I also discovered a love of running late in the game. It’s such a wonderful sport, because it’s about heart and discipline. I’m just starting running again post-pregnancy, and I forgot how much I loved it :) My sister is the same build as I and struggled through ballet…and then discovered lacrosse ;-)

        • Meredith

          Personally, I think finding a sport that your child loves is very important. In an ideal world, this sport would lead to healthy competition, hard work, learning to lose with grace and most importantly, a passion and joy for a sport that they can carry with them into adulthood.

          My only small point of contention is that the parent should choose, or limit options, based on the physical make-up of their child. You want your child to succeed and you want to give them the best chance to succeed so saying “oh you are tall and willowy let’s try ballet” seems logical.

          But the opposite side of that, “oh you are short and stocky so let’s not think about ballet” seems to send the wrong message. That simply because you aren’t built for something means you shouldn’t try it or it shouldn’t be an option. That is not explicitly what was said (nor was it the main point), but in only choosing sports your child is seemingly ‘built for’, it is certainly implicit.

          Gah. Sorry. I think this just touched a nerve because I am a gymnast and you constantly hear people say “Oh I was/am too tall to do gymnastics”. Not true. No one is simply ‘too tall’ for gymnastics. It may not come as easily to you, but you can still participate, learn a lot and have fun.

          • Cleo

            Definitely Meredith!

            The irony is, regarding my story, I wanted to take ballet anyway! However, while I’m sure my parents were encouraging to me, the thing I remember most was that I was enrolled in ballet because: “you’re awkward and pigeon toed and you need to correct these things about yourself.” I think I would have fared much better and enjoyed myself more if those reasons were kept from me and all I was told was, like you said: “You’ll have so much fun and learn a lot!”

            I was never going to be a professional ballerina, but I could have had more fun with the right attitude.

          • JEM

            You nailed it, cheers!

          • MC

            My definition of “I’m too tall for gymnastics” was when I started whacking into the default setup on the uneven bars because my legs were abruptly a few inches longer (growth spurt on an all-legs-and-arms body type, been there, done that, got the bruises). Height does make some other things harder (probably for center of gravity or distance of rotation reasons?), but gymnastics can still be awesome for tall people. :-) Just watch out for those mean uneven bars after a growth spurt…

        • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

          My daughter is all of 3 months old, but we’re already talking about what sports to put her in, if she continues to be my body double. So, basically, the sports I wish I could have played or would have probably been good at. We’re thinking hockey, speed skating, swimming, soccer… Things were being strong and muscular is a virtue, not a limitation.

          Of course, if she wants to dance, we’ll find a nice non-competitive dance studio and encourage her to do awesome at that too.

          It’s funny – I was never GOOD at any sports – I am short and stocky and overly chesty and had no coordination as a kid, but man did I enjoy it. I swam semi competitive for a decade, and never placed above bottom 10 (until there was less than 10 people…) but I loved it anyway. I wasn’t there to win – I was there for the endorphin rush and to hang out with my friends. That’s what I want for Jess – although maybe with the possibility of winning at least once in a while…

      • ChCh

        This all resonates with me, but particularly the importance of being truthful with your daughters, and the importance of modeling what you wish for. Thanks!

      • http://petitechablis.wordpress.com Petite Chablis

        Can I also suggest “don’t force your child to continue sports that she really hates?” I grew to loathe almost all kinds of physical activity because my parents kept forcing me to participate in team sports that I really wasn’t good at and didn’t enjoy, on the grounds that “exercise is good for you.” (I personally feel that playing backup right field in a softball league where the players rarely hit into the outfield, much less deep right, is not actually much exercise at all, but my parents would not be dissuaded.)

        Now I jog and do a lot of yoga and it makes me feel good and less stressed. I found what worked for me, but being forced to do things that didn’t work for me ended up making me feel unhappy and inept. I think I might have been less reluctant to try other things — and felt more confident about myself and my body — if I hadn’t learned to associate “exercise” with “frustration and public embarrassment!”

        • North Star

          I second this! I was miserable in gym class growing up as I was not good at most team sports. After college, I finally accepted that physical activity was necessary and started doing yoga. I actually enjoyed exercise when there wasn’t anyone to berate me for letting the team down.

    • Maddie

      I think my mom did a fantastic job instilling positive body image in me. And it’s interesting, because my dad’s side of the family (who I didn’t live with growing up) didn’t do such a great job. They both spent a lot of time telling me I was beautiful growing up, but the difference is that my mom said it as a matter of fact. I was beautiful. Not for any reason, not because of any specific attribute. But just because I existed and because she loved me. Also, she instilled in me the idea that beauty is tied to what’s inside. If you are good and kind, you are beautiful. And if someone was cruel or mean, they were ugly. The end.

      My dad’s side of the family, on the other hand, spoke of beauty as a kind of cultural currency. It was something that could be lost or gained, and it was something that I had and needed to protect. As a result of this kind of encouragement, I began to see beauty as something that could fluxuate, which was damaging because then I began chasing it.

      Luckily I spent more time with my mom growing up, so her message stuck. :) But I’m glad my dad taught me how we easy it is to change the perception of our children’s body image from a young age, and how it can happen even when we are meaning to be complimenting them. Realizing this has totally affected the way I plan to raise my children.

      • meg

        Yes, this. I think that this goes with all things for children. Studies show that you shouldn’t tell them “Oh, you’re so smart!” when they do a good job on their homework, because then they think they shouldn’t take risks, lest you stop thinking that. But if you tell them, “Oh, you worked so HARD, great job.” then they know what you value is the work.

        So beauty should be something our kids just HAVE, not something that can come and go.

        • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

          Yes exactly. Kids work harder when you tell them you value the work. In the case of school, focusing on the work is often a good thing. In the case of appearance, HELL NO.

        • Claire

          This is exactly what I’m trying to do with my nieces. When it comes to school or activities like music, art and dance, we praise their effort, hard work, practice, perseverance, dedication, etc. rather than praising them for being innately smart or talented.

          I also tell both of them that they are beautiful. Sometimes it’s a comment on their looks. Sometimes I’ll pair that with a comment about a positive characteristic they’ve displayed. “That was really kind of you to help that boy up the stairs. You’re a beautiful person.”

    • http://thenextdot.org Dot Maker

      A bit tangential, but here’s an emotionally charged post from Margaret Cho about not getting what you need in childhood (or really as an adult) regarding positive body image, and the incredible seriousness of correcting that: http://jezebel.com/5875219/cho-mad-twitter

    • Victwa

      While I think there are already some great suggestions on this list, I think it’s also really important to remember that we’re all imperfect human beings, and so we’re all going to be imperfect parents, step-parents, guardians, mentors– there is no magic bullet for raising children (especially girls) with healthy body relationships 100% of the time. Can it happen? Yes! Can you do everything “right” and still end up with a daughter/stepdaughter with a fraught relationship with her body and/or food? Yes!

      We all live in a world that tells people their bodies have to look a certain way. People hear those messages different ways depending on what else is going on in their lives, some of which you can and some of which you can’t control as a parent. I say to my mom often (and I think my mom was/is a great mom who gave me wonderful, amazing gifts through her parenting) that everyone’s parents will give them something to talk about in therapy. My mom gave me some body issues, a large dose of perfectionism and a strong resistance to ever being sad. I’ve had to do lots of reflecting and learning about these things and the ways they show up in my life, and other ways of being to not be perfectionistic, etc. She also gave me a love of entertaining, a commitment to cooking and eating healthy food, and modeling taking time to care for herself every day.

      I’m currently pregnant (with a girl!) and I know that while I’m going to try to avoid some of the issues my mom passed on to me, I’m sure that somewhere in there, I’ll end up passing on another issue or two to her, because I am an imperfect human being, and as such, I will be an imperfect parent.

      • Hlockhart

        Thanks for this perspective. I asked the question above not in the spirit of pursuing perfection (sure, I have issues from my Mama, but I wouldn’t trade her for anybody else’s!), but because body image in particular is something I have had few positive models for and have had to figure out mostly on my own. It’s really helpful and fascinating to hear from people with different experiences on such a complicated, personal topic.

        I’ve really enjoyed reading what everyone has to say! I look forward to more.

    • Lturtle

      I am a mother, and I consciously try to instill self-esteem and healthy body awareness in my daughter. I don’t know how well I am doing yet, she’s only 8. I do know that now she is out of “little girl” clothing sizes I have trouble finding things for her to wear that aren’t sexually charged. (padded swimsuit tops for my 8 yr old? No thanks!)
      My efforts focus on learning healthy habits and that it’s most important to feel beautiful – not so much how others say you look. Rather than talking about food as “junk”, at our house we have strong food and treat food. We eat strong food every day and treat food occasionally. We focus on fun physical activities, not exercise for the sake of weight management. We talk about how different body shapes are healthy; such as when she was a baby being really chubby was healthy, now that she’s older and getting tall it is healthy that she is skinny, and that as she grows up that will continue to change. And we frame dressing up not as something we do to be pretty, but as something we do to be fancy or just for fun. I also tell her she is beautiful as well as smart, creative, funny and kind.
      These choices were in response to some alarming ideas she brought home from preschool. She once told me that all women had long hair, wore dresses and make-up. I had long hair at the time, but I almost never wear make-up and I live in jeans. When I pointed this out she said “that’s because you’re not a woman mama.” gah! She also said she was worried about getting fat someday. Cue mama anxiety. So my hope is that the choices I make now have changed her perspective a bit, but I think I won’t really know for another ten or twenty years.

      • Claire

        This sounds just like our house! We have “Yes!” foods and “Less” foods. No foods are bad, we just need less of some foods.

        When my niece was three she saw me put on make-up before a night out and she told my husband I was making myself pretty. He told her make up doesn’t make you pretty. I was always pretty, but sometimes I liked to put on make up to feel all fancy. I liked that and now we talk about getting “fancied up” when we’re getting all dressed up.

    • ChCh

      My daughter is ten. I’ve been a single mom most of her life, so I’ve been the queen of her universe in terms of parental guidance. Because my mom was a terrible person in a variety of ways, including in terms of fostering positive body image, I’ve felt oddly fortunate to be able to fully make things up from scratch as I go. I want my daughter to grow into a magnificent woman, and I use that goal as my guiding principal in decision-making.

      Practically speaking, for us this has meant a lot of straightforwardness. My daughter has always asked me a lot of questions about bodies, in part because we have a lot of differently shaped, colored, abled, and sexually-identifying friends. This diversity in our world makes us fortunate – she can ask questions and I can answer her questions fully and straightforwardly, while also taking every opportunity to explicitly appreciate the variety of bodies there are in the world. (That said, even if your immediate world doesn’t include a lot of visually-present diversity, the broad world around us does, so (for example) living in Norway wouldn’t have to be an excuse not to address these issues. :))

      One current example for us: My daughter is in a split grade class, and the other grade in her class is the one above hers. This means that there are some kids who haven’t yet hit puberty and some that are *fully* in it. This has recently led my pre-pubescent daughter to ask me a whole lot of questions about breasts. My daughter is very small and thin, and is worried she won’t get “enough breasts” like one of her good friend has. In these conversations, I explicitly honor her friend’s beauty, and then go on to point out the variety of beautiful women that we know, large and small, and large and small breasted. I tell her that she will be beautiful regardless of the size of her breasts, and that her breasts will be hers, which will make them beautiful snowflakes all her own. :) I tell her not to worry about getting them sooner or later – everyone gets them eventually, and there are benefits and drawbacks to early and late blooming. I tell her to appreciate her child body while she has it, because it’s beautiful too.

      I spend time asking what she would like to feel more comfortable as she’s growing. (She’s asked for some thin t-shirts, for example, because she’s not quite ready for a bra but is feeling a little self-conscious.)

      And we talk about it as much as she wants. This morning, she wanted to know what a breast is made out of. So we googled it. When she gets a bit older, I’ll show her that web site with all the photos of real breasts, so she’ll know there’s no “normal,” and that variety is a beautiful and cool thing. :)

      It’s kind of awesome having a daughter, and being able to right some of the wrongs done by my family of origin, and by the world at large. It makes me feel really honored, to be able to do this.

      • Claire

        I love that you’re having these honest, sensitive and body-positive conversations with your daughter from a young age!

    • http://lovethemama.com annemarie

      I have a daughter, and even though she’s only two, I’m extremely cognizant of this issue. I’m 6’2 and hit puberty and she’s well on track to following my footsteps, plus she has glasses. Already she’s in size 4T and her 2 year old friends are dwarfed. But she’s got hella confidence and I’m doing as much as I can to encourage her to be herself. We have a print up in her bedroom that says “LUCY YOU ARE FABULOUS” and if I say “Lucy, you are…” she’ll say “FABULOUS!” It’s all guess and test, but we’re trying to teach her that she is smart and creative and interesting, as well as cute and pretty.

      • Rebecca

        I love this – fabulous, as in just amazing, not tied to looks or smarts or a particular talent. Added to my stash of future-baby-raising plans.

      • Claire

        Ha! Love this! When my niece was three, whenever I would ask her “how are you?”, she would answer, “I’m Faaabulous, dahling! Just faaabulous.” Always cracked me up.

    • es.tr

      I’m far from being a mum, but it reminds me of this article about a mum who tries to rationalise to her 7-year-old then ends up dancing and singing naked with her.
      I’d love to know what others think of it: http://www.rachelsimmons.com/2012/01/mom-im-fat-one-mothers-inspired-response-to-her-7-year-old/
      “I flounder. This child – my first and wildly celebrated daughter – was breastfed girl power. I read picture books with only central female characters, I insisted she wrestle her big brothers, demanded family call her words like smart and brave as much as cute and adorable. I tell her we are all different – straight and thin to round and plump and millions of ways in between. I tell her it’s what makes us all beautiful. Unconvinced.”

    • Caitlin

      I was raised using many of the tips that Meg listed (I also didn’t have TV!). Now that I think about it I do have pretty good body image. One thing that helped me tremedously during my pre-teen/early teen years was New Moon Magazine: http://www.newmoon.com. It’s written entirely by girls and emphasizes inner beauty and being yourself. I remember lots of discussions on what that meant and how it was different for everyone. It was community of smart, witty, strong girls discussing real issues. Kinda like teenage version of the APW community. :-) Despite having growing up in such a supportive environment, it still meant a lot to me to hear from my peers that outer beauty isn’t the be all end all.

      I should note that I’m not affiliated with the magazine in anyway, it just was very influential in a transitional period of my life and I just thought others might want to check it out.

      • Kathryn

        I LOVED NEW MOON MAGAZINE!!!!! Ahem. Yes. Exactly, a million times.

  • http://thegreatwideworld.blogspot.com Becca

    This is exactly what I needed to read right now! I’m moving back to the States after a year in Spain, where I ate all the delicious food I wanted and didn’t work out, and I’m really worried that I’ll be “fatter” then I was when I left, especially to people who haven’t seen me. Plus, my wedding dress is sitting in my closet and I have nightmares that it won’t fit anymore. I really just need to be proud I made it through this year, and not worry about what a scale says. I know that my fiance could care less about what I weigh, as long as I’m healthy and happy, but I still feel all the pressure to be super thin and tan for our wedding.

    Looking forward to the discussion about this topic!

    • K

      If there is anything one *should* regret at 80, it would be living in Spain and not eating and drinking everything you can get your hands on!

      • Maddie

        Amen.

  • http://www.ouatinreallife.blogspot.com Erin

    Thank you for this Maddie.

    I think one of the most transforming things for me was learning (or being awakened to the reality) that our bodies are connected to our emotions, stress and experiences. Duh! But as a teenager and college student, I truly felt divorced from my body- it was something to be perfected, hated, compared, cried over, but I failed to see it as a vessel for my being.

    And so when I started realizing that my body was more than a weight, but an entity that reflected my life and what was going on in it….I started being able to look in the mirror during the terrible, stressful, emotion-fueled seasons of my life and asking myself to have grace with me.

    Our bodies are a part of telling our stories….and they will change as we change. Thank goodness! Who wants to live a life without experiences?

    • Corrie

      I once read an interview in Runner’s World where the interviewee offered this advice: “treat your body as an instrument, not an ornament.” I have adopted this as my motto ever since, especially when I am feeling negatively about my body image. Not only do I think it perfectly encapsulates Maddie’s comment about having a working body making you a winner, but it also holds true with what you say about our bodies telling our life story – as our life story changes, our body changes with it. Our bodies are an insturment for living life and we should appreciate it for that instead of focusing on what our bodies look like as a result of our living. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but trying to keep that mindset really helps me through times when I beat myself up.

      • em

        This! I remember having this body image breakthrough in High school. I was visiting my grandparents and hiked a really tall mountain, and I remember just being so proud. It was like: I did this! so what if I’m not a twiggy trackstar — Look what an amazing thing my body just allowed me to do!

        I think that was language I had access to because it was the way my mom talked about bodies growing up…but it wasn’t until that hike that I *got* it

        • Lethe

          Love this – I had this same realization, but not until my late 20s, so you are ahead of the game. :)

        • Corrie

          Yes, most definitely! It wasn’t until I ran my first marathon a year after I graduated college that I really started to change how I looked at my body. Training forced me to realize that eating unhealthy foods (…or maybe I should say ‘not appropriate foods for the task at hand’) could not properly fuel my body for a long run the next day (my stomach would be upset and I would have no energy). I really started to view my body as that ‘instrument’ that needed to be fueled properly in order to function properly. It forced me to understand how what I put into my body affects my physical ability to accomplish what I want to do. Despite feeling pretty educated on nutrition and exercise prior to my training, it seems crazy that it took a marathon to really make me understand all of this and change my body image. I know most people don’t take on exercise to that extent, but it’s definitely an eye-opening way to understand what your body needs and to learn to love it for it’s capabilities. I got injured during the race that year, but boy was I proud that my body was able to cross that finish line, and it’s changed my mentality ever since.

      • meg

        “treat your body as an instrument, not an ornament.”

        YES. You know, having been really sick for years drove this home for me. Every day my body works I’m just so so grateful. Full stop. (And the more you use your body, the easier this becomes.)

        • Shiri

          Agreed. And every day that my body works and doesn’t hurt that I do complain about my weight, I remind myself how much I’ve lost track of what matters.

        • http://ahobbitatheart.blogspot.com/ rachel

          Yes. Yes. Yes.

          I’m not bedridden with chronic illness anymore. I am thrilled every day that I can get out of bed and my body functions normally. My stretch marks from weight gain when I was ill are battle scars, baby.

    • http://thenextdot.org Dot Maker

      “I may have gained fifty pounds, but that’s because my body, this incredible piece of machinery, it weathered the storm on my behalf, freeing up my brain and my soul to do the hard work of putting the pieces of my life back together.”

      This is something I had never thought about before, for all of my assertion that things like eating well and exercise show up on the body, I hadn’t also really recognized (and honored) that the rough stuff shows up, too. For me, my body is dealing with me working in an emotionally unhealthy work environment and negotiating some challenges of growing up and seeking progress in my life.

      My own experience, in brief: In recent years, as life does it’s little dance on me and I’m more aware of society’s expectations for women, I feel more and more crippled by body image (and skin image) issues. I used to understand this as impacting my life when literally looking at my appearance or trying to change it. Those moments I hate how I look in the mirror, those moments I spend on exercise/eating/skin regimes to address the “problems.” What I’ve only realized lately is how much this bad body image feeling impacts other things. Every day I think I look particularly bad (or not good), I have ambient bad feelings, all day, even when I’m not in front of a mirror. Choices about food and drink are wrapped up in anxiety as I weigh (ha) what I want vs. what I imagine I should be eating. Too many meals have devolved into emotionally challenging nights at home. These are only the tip of the ice burg, I imagine.

      My wish: I’ve often wished lately for real pictures of real women, so I could know what the hell we actually look like at particular ages. I’ve wished for someone to tell me exactly what I should eat and exactly how much I should exercise so I could just follow orders and be ok. These are all tools that would address some of the ways my bad body image is externalized, but, clearly, what I really want is to feel ok. I want to have my choices on what to eat, how much to exercise, and all the rest to be driven by a desire to seek pleasure, rather than a desire to avoid pain.

    • suz

      This! Exactly! the feeling divorced from your body and it’s something to be ruled over and subdued. That’s how I felt my whole life until my late twenties. I’m not sure what happened, but somewhere along the way it just changed (mostly) and I started seeing my body as being part of me and needing me to care for it emotionally and not just subdue it.

  • Aurélie

    This is such a great post. Brava!

    You’re absolutely right when you want to say “You aren’t failing! The world is failing you!”.
    I also have this weird guilt for feeling good about myself even if the World tells me I should be 50 pounds lighter in order not to be ashamed with myself. This is the strangest feeling, and this so hard to sort out.

    But what makes me flare up every time is when one of my smart and educated female friends or colleagues makes a joke about how it’s only two months before the bathing suit trial or how those chocolate-chip cookies are just evil temptation.
    How brainwashed are we, to take for ourselves the awful criteria of a mad and cruel world? This is just folly. We fling ourselves the hammer that crushes us into pieces. This is so sad and I’m at loss: how can we change this?

    • katieprue

      Absolutely, to your first point. Those moments when I catch a glimpse of myself and think, “OH DAMN WHO IS THAT HOTTIE–Oh. Hi, ME!” I feel like it’s not okay because, well, it must be an illusion because I could never be that gorgeous with an extra 50 pounds hanging around. A strange feeling, indeed.

  • kyley

    Thank you for this: I may have gained fifty pounds, but that’s because my body, this incredible piece of machinery, it weathered the storm on my behalf, freeing up my brain and my soul to do the hard work of putting the pieces of my life back together.

    This made me tear up; it was like a lightening bolt. Because it’s so damn logical and brilliant and kind to ones-self. My big weight gain came with a period of pretty intense depression, and I’ve spent the last few years being really upset for “letting that happen.” But I desperately need to change my thinking; during that period I was surviving and my body was taking care of me.

    • Another Meg

      I agree- hooray for a logical thought process related to body image! It’s so difficult to accomplish that sometimes- and SO difficult to be kind to yourself. I’ve gained and lost the same ten pounds so many times, I’ve decided it might as well come hang out and live with me. It’s too freaking hard to lose and SO easy to gain it back, it clearly wants to be my roomie.
      I went to a girl’s high school and I think that really helped with my body image. I spent a very important four years mostly cocooned from boy-related stress. I’m still close with the same group from high school, and we were recently talking about how we’ve all changed since then. It was really great to hear my friend mention how happy she is that she gained some weight during college and has balanced out now- she’s a solid 20 pounds heavier and looks amazing.

      THANK YOU, Maddie, for being brave and writing this. AND THANK YOU, Meg, for being brave and letting this post happen! I’ve seen only awesome responses so far, and I’m so happy to have a community that takes such a tricky subject and runs with it in the best way.
      LOVE.

      Also- scars are AWESOME. They mean you’ve lived.

      • Liz

        Three cheers for single sex education!

        I’m an alumna of an all-girls high school too and SUCH a fan!

    • Maddie

      I went through this too. I was mad at myself at first, which made me realize that I wasn’t ready to move past what had happened yet. Now it’s been a few years and I’m in a much better place emotionally, and now that I am, it is SO much easier for me to make a choice to get up and go for a walk in the morning, or eat fruit with my breakfast, or other things that are good for my body. Because I’m no longer punishing myself over a “bad thing” I let happen. Now I’m just moving on in the direction of making my body feel better, and doing the same repair work on my body that I did on my psyche.

  • Laura

    I can’t tell you how much I love and appreciate this post. I have felt the internal conflict of wanting to feel feminist and therefore above all norms about what a woman’s body “should” look like, and succumbing to the praise that happens when I do focus on my weight and start to fit within those norms, and therefore having lost weight not in healthy ways. Basically from about age 14. And it angers me, and, talk about notions of “failure”–here there is being a “failed” feminist for caring so much and restricting myself to conform, and being a “failure” when I have gained a lot of weight during busy, high stress phases of life.

    Hence, my absolute favorite quote from this passage, because I find it to be truly empowering: “I may have gained fifty pounds, but that’s because my body, this incredible piece of machinery, it weathered the storm on my behalf, freeing up my brain and my soul to do the hard work of putting the pieces of my life back together.”

    Thank you for writing this post.

  • http://minnesota-chic.com PA

    “On the one hand, we are aware of the cultural importance of physical beauty in our society. And on the other, we’ve been educated time and again that our worth is greater than the sum of our parts. So when our bodies change in ways that we haven’t signed off on, our guilt is two-fold.”

    I can only speak from my experience, but here it is: I was SMART. I went into adolescence understanding the statistics and issues around women’s body image and patriarchal norms, etc., etc. (we have an unusual family, and I read a lot of psychology books). I knew about all of it, so I thought I would be able to steer clear of it. And let me just say, I WAS SO WRONG. It walloped me sideways, and I almost feel like it hit me harder because I was so sure it wouldn’t get me at all.

    And then, yes, I felt like a failure on two fronts.

    Personally, I’ve adopted the habit of having discussions with my body. It seems to work, but maybe that’s just me. Things like, “Listen, babe, I know I haven’t been very good to you lately and you’re really tired, but I really, REALLY need to have enough voice tomorrow to teach class, and then I promise I will go home and take a long nap and have as much tea with honey as you want. Can we make that deal?” Or, “Hey, I’ve been beating up on you a lot, and I want to say I’m sorry. It’s not fair to be upset that your knee is hurting when you do all sorts of things that I dont’ thank you for. I can walk and breathe just fine, you digest my food and keep my heart beating all day long. There’s so many things. So, thanks for working.”

    I feel like I got off-topic. Anyway – thank you for sharing, Maddie. I hope the discussion is productive and people end up feeling better!

    • Maddie

      Love this. I think the more we treat our body like a friend and not an object, the closer we get to having a good relationship with it.

      • Rebecca

        THIS. Because, gee, your mind is in your body. They are not separate things! They go together, and they affect one another, and what’s going on with one makes a difference in the other- which is TOTALLY NORMAL.

        For me, doing things where my mind and my body have to work together (yay judo!) makes me feel like a person, not a brain inhabiting this mysterious object. And I feel a lot better about my body when I feel like my body is mine, not a robot. Because bodies are not robots- this is why they don’t always do what we want them to do.

        • meg

          Yup. I think this part of why bad body image feels so foreign to me. I did all the training in mind/body work in college (Experimental Theatre is all about being IN your body). So I just think of my body as… ME. Just like I think of my mind as… ME. It’s all me. So, not thinking of it as this other THING “My Body” makes the idea of hating it seem really weird. It would be me hating me, which is slightly different than me hating my body, this other THING.

    • sarahrose

      Yes! I totally do the talking-to-my-body thing too!

  • http://sarahayars.com sarahayars

    Thanks for writing this Maddie! It’s exactly what I needed I literally (like, actually literally) read this just after I added my current weight to my spreadsheet calculating exactly how much weight I need to lose per week to meet either a more or less ambitious goal – both are reasonable, long term goals that I’ll reach by taking care of this amazing machine and not punishing it. But even with those reasonable goals and the whole point being better health and fewer ongoing health issues, getting off the scale, no matter what it says, is a tricky moment when I easily fall into the self-hate trap. It doesn’t matter how much I know that it takes time and that health is the point, I FEEL like I want it to happen now, yesterday, not in 8 months or a year or more. This post helped me avoid that slump today. Right now I feel like it’s okay to WANT it to happen impossibly, insanely fast – that desire is okay, but what’s not okay is being angry at my body for not doing the impossible. My body is doing it’s best to recover from the hell that I and life have thrown at it for years and it’s doing a damn fine job at that.

    Thanks again again Maddie. And thanks Meg for creating a place where we can risk having even the most loaded conversations about this mess of body expectation and body guilt.

  • Emily

    This post touches on a super personal issue for me. All my life I have battled with body image issues. When I was 12, my mom put my on my first diet. I was in my “prepubescent chunk” phase, as my mom loved to call it. Since then, I have been on and off diets (for 15 years now). I am a healthy weight, I enjoy working out, but still feel so bad about the way I look sometimes.

    It all stems back to my mom and her own body image issues. She has been overweight her entire life and she was afraid that I would follow in her footsteps. In her mind, putting me on a diet was the best way to curb my weight gain, but as a child, it seemed like my mom didn’t like me the way I was and I had to change for her acceptance. Now as an adult, I struggle to love myself exactly the way I am and when I have a bad day, the first thing I do is eat junk food and then beat myself up for it.

    I am working really hard to drop the baggage that my mom graced me with and move on with my own ideas about body image. I applaud you Maddie for being so open and candid about your story. It’s inspirational for so many and comforting to know we aren’t alone.

    • Emma

      “[I]t seemed like my mom didn’t like me the way I was and I had to change for her acceptance.”

      This. My mom did the same thing with me, only instead of putting me on a diet, she was always trying to “fix” my hair and my skin. As an adult, I finally realized that her dissatisfaction with me was due to seeing herself in me. She looked at me the way she might look in the mirror. As in, “Disappointing.” Not to indict my mom too much here — she had absolutely no idea she was doing it, and still doesn’t really. And her own mom was a real piece of work, so…

      But the awesome thing about realizing that her disappointment in me was really about her disappointment in herself is that now I can break the cycle. I spent the first decade of my adult life figuring out how to like and accept myself. Now I only wish I could help my mother do the same.

      • MC

        My mom always said that she was ugly (which she had been told constantly by her mother). And everyone else told me “Oh, you look so much like your mother!”

        It’s amazing how many ways things add up to bad messages, and I’m still working on how to break the cycle while still not really liking a few parts of how I look (specifically, my not-traditionally-pretty and not-at-all-photogenic face, which I love for how expressive it is, but… not pretty).

        • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

          I look like my mother’s clone. My baby looks like my clone. (No, seriously, it’s hard to tell that there’s been much gene mixing here.) My mother hates her looks. I think I look okay most of them time, and great some of the time. I think my work is to make sure my daughter thinks that she looks great most of the time, yes? And all of us with the same face, basically. I WILL break the messaging I got from my mother.

          (The nerd in me is excited to use this as a controlled trial.)

    • Teresa

      I think it’s sad that your mom took a negative approach rather than, hey let’s go bike to the bagel store as a family on Saturday, or let’s go for a walk together…

    • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

      Also! That “prepubescent chunk phase”? VITAL to growing taller, stronger, etc. during puberty. To this day I’m sure that I would’ve ended up at least two or three inches taller than my current height if my mom had just let me gain the damn weight when I was thirteen…

  • Lynn

    Most days I don’t notice how big I am because like Maddie–I have always had pretty positive self-image. I don’t beat myself up every day about it because it’s not a factor in my every day life, if that makes sense. My husband tells me I’m beautiful, gorgeous, sexy. But even if he didn’t say it, I’m not sure that it would matter. It’s not a thought for me.

    Until I see pictures.

    I am terribly ambivalent about my wedding because the woman I see in those pictures is not the woman I see every day when I look in the mirror. The day after the wedding, one of the first things I said to my closest group of girlfriends was, “Someone please post a picture from the wedding where I look good because in the pics that are coming through, I don’t see it. I feel like I looked ridiculous in an awful dress with too much make-up and awful hair.”

    My best friend, who is brutally honest (sometimes hurtfully so, although she doesn’t mean it to be hurtful…she doesn’t see me as big as I am either), tells me that I was lovely…everything was perfect. But I still can’t see it. I *know* she wouldn’t lie to me because that’s just not who she is, but I can’t see what she and everyone else does when I look at those pictures.

    In the everyday, I’m fine with who I am, but when I have to confront it, that’s where things get distorted.

    • daynya

      Pictures are the worst for me too. Even when I’m doing great, and feeling like I’m not in a rut with body image, if I see a picture of myself that seems to scream the opposite, I stumble. And I hate it, because I know better. I know that my weight/size/how I look in a picture does not define my self worth, but damn, it can be really painful to look at a picture of a beautiful day, and only think about how huge my arms look. I’m working on it, but it is something I am worried about for my wedding pictures. I hope I am able to drop all of this crap, and focus on the amazing love and joy.

    • JEM

      This is what I am terrified of about my wedding (which is stupid, I know. reference Maddie’s double shame cycle quotation.) That I will get back photos and be so disappointed in my appearance and think “if I just worked out more/didn’t eat X/etc.”

      It’s actually quite paralyzing.

      • Lynn

        I don’t worry about it before. I didn’t worry about it before our engagement photos. I didn’t worry about it when I was getting ready for the wedding. I don’t even think about it. It’s not something that enters my mind. I don’t dislike myself or my body.

        …and it is always such an incredible shock when the pictures come back. One of the things that I said to our photographer after our engagement photos was, “I swear I have a mirror and I looked in it before I left the house.”

        It always makes me wonder how I can have such a disconnect in what I see and what others do…and that’s when all of that negative crap starts. It’s intense for a little bit and then I seem to forget. Until there are pictures again and the cycle begins.

    • meg

      Can I encourage you to give yourself a pass? I think even people who love their bodies go through periods where we don’t love PICTURES. I think that’s fine. What’s important is how we feel and what our bodies do, not how they look. So, no point in beating yourself up for feeling grumpy about it. Allow yourself to feel grumpy, but in a “These pictures do not do justice to my beauty!” way, not in a “I didn’t look good!” way :)

      • Kristy

        When I sent my sister the pictures of me trying on my wedding dress, her response after, wow that’s pretty, was, “Seriously, don’t eat carbs for the two months before the wedding. You’ll have these pictures forever, your grand kids will see them – it’s worth it.” The messages about my BRIDAL WEIGHT are terrifying. Am I going to hate myself for eating up to the wedding? Is it worth it to spend a huge amount of money on a trainer? Should I just be happy as I am? What? NO! One must be THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THEY’VE EVER EVER EVER BEEN IN THEIR LIFE ON THEIR WEDDING DAY!

        It is so much pressure. :( I think I’ll keep eating carbs.

        • Caroline

          I know you know this, but just to confirm: you do not have to make yourself the size and shape of a fashion model in order to feel and look beautiful at your wedding, and in your wedding photos. Especially if you are having a professional photographer shoot your wedding — they should make sure you look gorgeous in your photos, regardless of your weight, size, or shape.

          I did not lose weight before my wedding, and I was worried about how I’d look in the wedding photos. Not to be vain or anything, but I looked great! I was not the thinnest, youngest, or most toned I’ve ever been in my life — but my wedding day was still among the days I’ve been the most beautiful. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to mentally reconcile the fact that “thinnest” and “most beautiful” are two different things — but they are.

        • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

          Yes – but have you ever looked through the pictures of brides on this site? They all look freaking radiant. Every last one. You’re sure to look beautiful (whether you think the pictures show it or not) because you’ll be surrounded by love and because you’re getting married! It’s exciting, and happy and will make you glow.

        • H

          I’m having the same problem- only no one but me is saying that I need to lose weight for the wedding.

          BUT THE PRESSURE. The pressure makes me want to eat lots of carbs, and then I feel lousy when I do, which makes me crave chocolate… it’s a vicious, ugly cycle.

        • One More Sara

          I have had a similar experience with other people pointing out my bridal weight. Recently we were at my FI’s grandmother’s house for her birthday, and they had ordered chinese for everyone. I ate two (small) plates and was honestly stuffed. The grandmother, however, is a classic European-oma who thinks you probably shouldn’t stop eating until the food is gone, and if you stop eating before that, you are probably sick. After I decided I was finished eating (because I was full), Oma was talking to me, surprised that I could be done after ONLY 2 plates. There is a bit of a language disconnect between us, and an aunt jumped in to help and said (in my defense) “She has a wedding dress to fit into!” It was good enough to get Oma off my back, but I bought a dress that fits, so as long as I don’t gain a copious amount of weight, I should be fine! And if not? I’ll figure it out. I just don’t understand why people think that everyone wants to go down a size (or more) for their wedding day.

      • youlovelucy

        Can we do this with clothes as well? I think I look great naked, but then I put on these clothes and….bleagh. There are some clothes I have that are great, but when it’s 10 days until your wedding and the only clean things left a capris and shirts that don’t fit quite right anymore, it just makes me downright grumpy.

        I turned to Bryan yesterday when we were getting ready for work and said, “Bry, clothes are the worst- NO, mirrors. Mirrors are the WORST. Where did we get all these damn mirrors?”

        Mirrors and clothes are not doing justice to how awesome I look today.

        • meg

          First step, throw out all Capris ;) As my husband always says, “Those things look terrible on MODELS.”

        • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

          I agree. I’m pretty naked! Clothes cut me up in all sorts of weird ways… Which I suppose means I just haven’t figured out how to dress myself…

          • SusieQ

            Oooh, also, I just discovered that Macy’s offers personal shopping. I have always hated shopping for clothes, because I don’t know what to get and I find it boring and frustrating, and I don’t even like bringing friends/sisters, because they seem to find it fun, and then I’m even more frustrated because I’m ruining their fun…but a personal shopper solved all those problems! She knew what to pick, helped me choose from among limited options, gave unbiased advice on what to get, and worked with my budget to get me stuff which looks good and also goes together. And…it’s free.

        • http://www.suncentered.com Jen

          What Not To Wear has really great advice for dressing different body types!

    • Janet

      I’m right there with you Lynn. My self image is not be perfect. I know I’m heavy and I do my best to dress appropriately for my size and to wear nice looking clothing, but there are days where I just hate my body. Pictures make it even worse. Having recently been in a good friends wedding party I loved the way my hair, makeup, and dress looked but after seeing the pictures (even the ones where I’m laughing as I try to reattach the brides veil after the wind ripped it out of her hair) all I can see is my fat arms, round face, and double chin.

      A photographer in the audience at the concert my fiance and I got engaged at captured the most amazing moment of my life (thus far), but again all I can see is how fat I look. I dread having engagement pictures done and I’m pressuring myself to lose weight for the wedding. I don’t want to look back after we’re married and only see how heavy I was in our pictures. My fiance tells me he loves me no matter what I look like and that he fell in love with the woman I am inside, not what dress size I wear. He makes me feel sexy and beautiful, but that horrible little voice in my head keeps telling me that everyone else sees me as a lazy, overweight woman. It’s just….well it sucks!

      I take full responsibility for my own weight issues. I know I shouldn’t eat some of the crap I do and that I should be working out more. I dread going to the doctor because of the lectures I get about my weight. While I’m almost back to my heaviest weight (yay for yo-yo dieting, not) I pride myself on being able to walk long distances, do hard manual labor in the yard (I love my many flower beds), and overall be very active.

      Maddie is right, it’s an armor my body has developed over the years to protect myself from all the hard times and enjoying the good times. However, I need to work on making this armor smaller for (a) my own health, (b) the health of my future children, and (c) to improve my self-image. Most importantly though I need to learn how to love the woman I am on the inside and how to help her not hide behind the unhealthy armor. I will never be a size 8, but I can be a healthier, active, sexy, beautiful curvy woman if I believe I can be.

    • Maddie

      You know, sometimes we just don’t look good in pictures. And by that I mean a hearty, me too! I remember going through book tour photos while traveling with with Meg and her telling me, “That is NOT how you look” and feeling so relieved, because it didn’t occur to me that maybe photographs were not the best way to gauge what I look like.

      Pictures are not honest. And I firmly believe that if you don’t love the way you look in photos, it’s because you are too dynamic to be captured in a still image.

      Also, as someone who makes her living as a professional photographer, trust me when I say that EVERYONE can be done an injustice by a crappy photo. If you are happy with yourself, I encourage you to make “photographs don’t do me justice” your mantra. It’s not you at fault. It’s that damn camera. :)

      • Janet

        Thanks Maddie, that just made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt. I’ll keep that mantra in mind for future pictures for sure.

      • JEM

        Maddie-
        You are someone who I would like to share a bottle (or three) of wine with and discuss photography/body image/relationships/etc. It goes beyond the realm of APW but I think you have a unique perspective and I would love to pick your brain/spill my guts out to. Ahem.

      • Class of 1980

        When you realize that photos are flat and one-dimensional and add pounds … yeah. ;)

        • Peabody_Bites

          I remember a tricky photographer once saying, frustrated after trying to take a decent picture of me for a couple of hours “The beauty of your face is in the movement”. She did not mean it kindly, but I have embraced it and in the day we got married, the movement of my face shone through. Photos are not an accurate representation of how many people look, no question.

  • SW

    Thank you so much for this post, Maddie. Along with other commenters I’d like to add another EXACTLY to the two-fold guilt – worrying about meeting society’s expectations on appearance, and then worrying about being a bad feminist.

    I used to be in the habit of occasionally and guiltily perusing “news” websites devoted to celebrities (almost always female celebrities’ appearance). Eventually I realised it was affecting my self-image and leading me to hold myself and everyone else to completely unrealistic standards. After a self-imposed ban I am finding it easier to focus more on how my body feels (exercise gives me an endorphin high and makes me feel strong!) and less on how it looks. Surrounding myself instead with positive feminist voices like APW is much better for the soul.

  • Kelsey

    Awesome post, Maddie! Thanks for sharing!

  • charmcityvixen

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for a long time now — since I was in elementary school — and being a bride has put even more societal pressure on. Even though our methods for dealing with this pressure are different, I really appreciate your comments and experience — and your bravery for sharing them.

  • Fermi

    “It’s about the way we treat our bodies when they begin to change, either through weight gain, the aging process, or other means of transformation.”

    Amen to that! I think this post made me compare it, not to weight gain, but to my hair. Yesterday I was showing my Mom all the gray hairs (and there are MANY) that have started to peak out of my dark black head of hair (I’m 29-almost 30) and she asked, “are you going to start dyeing your hair” and I said, “you know, I’m not, they are there for a reason and I really don’t mind the way they look, if it ever starts to bother me, I will, but for right now, I’m okay with them”

    They are battle scars, so to speak, they are from working a hard job, dealing with two difficult breakups in the past 10 years, and a cross country move in the past year. I am proud of them and I’m going to let them shine, literally, against my black hair. Because after it’s all said and done, I’m still here!

    • rys

      Maybe it’s because I noticed my first gray hairs in high school (10th grade French class, to be precise!) and have therefore had time to process it, but I actually delight at the thought of (eventually) being a long-locked white-haired lady.

    • http://www.sporkhashi.com sarah

      I totally hear you on the gray hair issue! I’ve been watching them poke up since before 30. I would pluck them out one by one and I told myself I wouldn’t dye my hair before the big 3-0. Now here I am at 32 and while there are way too many for plucking I still haven’t started dying my hair to hide them. I too have super dark hair and the silver strands shine against it, but I just don’t care. Part of me feels like I am “supposed to”, but when it comes down to it they just don’t bother me enough to start the routine of constant upkeep. My super supportive boyfriend reminds me that I tell him how much I love his flecks of silver (I really think it’s handsome on men), but here I am questioning my own… which is just a ridiculous double standard!

    • meg

      Yes, totally to this, and totally to not feeling bad either way. I’m going SO white SO early, that after years of resisting, I decided I felt way better dying my hair. It’s been interesting seeing people (who are, of course, not going white) try to shame me for dying my hair. And I’ve learned that I just have to embrace what makes me feel good, and f*ck em. I’m thrilled with the idea of going all Helen Mirrian when I get ALL white, but till then, I’ll do what makes me happy and not bother with what people tell me I should feel.

      • http://www.sporkhashi.com sarah

        I’d be so excited if my gray hairs were coming in as one big perfect “silver streak” I’d completely embrace it. Something about it seems so superhero! ha!

      • youlovelucy

        This post made me think of this randomly, but I’ll have you know that the “F*ck Em if they don’t like the chairs” APW book ad has become a call and response in our household for EVERYTHING.

        So if I said f*ck em if they don’t like you dying your hair, Bryan’s response would be indeed, fuck em.

      • Shari

        This confuses me. The entire article confuses me. Maddie wasn’t at war. She gained 50 lbs because she made bad food choices but everyone is responding like it was something her body did for her without her having any control. Healthier food is better for your body and your emotions during high stress situations. Why are we encouraging unhealthy behavior? And why is it women need to fight society’s pressure to look thin but it’s ok to cave to society’s pressure to look young? Dying your hair is vanity, plain and simple. Which is ok. I’m all for a little vanity. But along that same line, wanting to be a size 8 instead of a size 14 because it looks better to you should be ok too. It should be ok that I don’t want to have a round face, double chin, big arms, or thighs that rub together. Too many women get met with “you’re fine,” “you don’t need to lose weight,” “you’re just big-boned,” when what they really need is love and support. There’s nothing wrong with “I love you no matter what you look like and I support whatever you want to do. How can I help you meet your goals?”

    • Victwa

      Here’s a local exhibit that a friend of mine was in as a model recently on women/aging/not dyeing their hair. I love the images– I think we need more images like these around us. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/gray-hair-silver-vicki-topaz-buck-institute_n_1490866.html

      • meg

        Yup, but as ALWAYS when this subject comes up in APW comments, I feel like there is some pressure/ shame going on here for women to not dye hair (which is interesting, because it usually comes from people not half grey). My point is there is ZERO shame in dying your hair, and ZERO shame in not dying it. There is no one right road for everyone. And trust me, you’re not going to know what you want till you wake up and realize you look 10 years older than you are with your hair half grey. You might embrace that or not, but you can’t know what you’ll think till you get there.

        • Class of 1980

          Uh oh. Guilty of that last week.

          I just get tired of society mostly telling women they must dye. And if they don’t, there’s a litany of Things That Will Go Wrong. Even worse are the people that tell them they are “letting themselves go” if they don’t.

          Didn’t mean to make you or anyone feel bad for choosing to dye. Of course you are 1000% right. No matter what you think now, you don’t know how you will feel until you get there.

          Besides, I reserve the right to change my mind too. ;)

        • Another Meg

          I think the problem is that sometimes we aren’t trusting each other. It’s not for me to decide if dying your hair is right for you or not, or if you’re at your best at this weight or will feel better changing it. Or heck, if you want a big fancy wedding or not. This is at the root of it- the shaming of other women for their choices. I know we don’t mean to. I catch myself doing it, too.
          I think it’s going to take a long time for the world to say hey, we don’t care if dye your hair your old natural hair color, or go rainbow (which my sister did and it looks fab), or go half-gray. What matters is that you like it. I fervently hope that the whole world starts to look more like this- look however you want to look, and feel however you feel about it. I trust that you’re doing what’s best for you.
          *Also, I actually always wanted to gray out young, thought it would look cool. I kind of forgot that first it has to actually grow out. But I bet it will look Helen Mirren-wonderful once it’s all gray.

          • meg

            White. I’m going stark slightly curly white. It is going to look AMAZING (particularly with some platinum highlights). But in the 10 years in between, it just looks like total shit. Did I mention that at least for those of us who start young it can take 10 to 15 (or 20?) years to go grey/white?? I mean, those photos that were linked to are RAD, but that’s not what you look like “going grey.” Trust me. Not that it can’t be awesome, but boy it is not always.

            Not only do you not know what you want till you’re there, what all you not-greying-seriously-types don’t realize yet, is you don’t know how you’re going to grey. It COULD look awesome. It COULD look awful. It looks a lot of different ways. (Also, do you know often your grey or white hair comes in a different texture than your other hair, so you’re trying to make two textures go together while you wait? Another reason I dye. My white hairs curl away from my brown hair. This looks BATSHIT in two colors). So, let ladies off the hook for their choices. At least till you go through it ;)

          • rys

            Even with wavy/straight hair, the texture is different! My white hairs feel so much thicker (in diameter) than the rest of my hair. I find it odd and mesmerizing at the same time.

          • One More Sara

            The women on my fiance’s side go gray/white really early. (My FMIL was totally gray/white in her 30s). And they are all definitely hair dying women. What I find interesting is when they decided to stop. My FMIL stopped shortly after my son was born (it also had to do with the fact that her oldest daughter/hair dyer had just gotten married and moved out) and I think she looks great! Her middle sister recently stopped dying as well, and she also has a new grandbaby. I think they all look great either way! I just think the timing is really interesting.

  • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

    This is so dead on. Even though I feel like I’ve been educated about positive self-image and caring for my body, I’ve never really felt prepared for the fact that our bodies change and react to our environment. I keep expecting myself to be able to weigh what I weighed in high school, have the arms I had 2 years ago, the hair I had last summer and the life I have now. Of course I can’t lose weight! Frozen pizza is all I have time for when I get home at 10pm and whiskey keeps me from screaming at my mom when she keeps adding people to the guest list.
    I find it fascinating the way people bandy around the word “healthy” when they talk about women’s bodies. It shocks me that they seem to leave the way you feel and think completely out of that definition. We can’t all be everything all the time, and I would rather feel good about myself than be thin any day of the week. I just wish we could all start embracing the fact that “thin” and happy don’t always go hand in hand.

    • Abby J.

      “I just wish we could all start embracing the fact that “thin” and happy don’t always go hand in hand.”

      That is a great quote!

      • Maddie

        I also wish we could begin to embrace an idea that body type and mental state have nothing to do with each other. Period. Because the thin folks? They get it too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen conversations that are supposedly about positive body image that end up shaming thin women. (She needs to eat a sandwich! She looks miserable! etc.) Thin and happy don’t go hand-in-hand. And neither does overweight and miserable. Or thin and miserable. Or thin an unhealthy. Or anything else.

        Though apparently there is *some* magical body type and shape that we are all supposed to be achieving, it’s just that nobody seems to be able to attain it. Hmmm… wonder what that says. :)

        • meg

          YUP! I was drastically underweight as a teen. (The funny thing is everyone would say, “Oh you like your body because you’re skinny.” I did like my body, but I also desperately wanted to put on 10 pounds and get healthy.) I was shamed NON STOP about my weight. I’d try on clothes and not fit them, and they would call all the sales women over to gawk at me. It. Was. Terrible.

          • Claire

            True. Just yesterday I was at a huge work function and a very senior female executive embraced me then said, “I swear you just get skinnier and skinnier every time I see you. Stop that.” This was in front of half a dozen other executives. I get that she meant it as a compliment, but I was embarrassed and totally did not know how to respond. a) it’s not true, my weight is consistently at the same healthy level and b) that would never be okay to say to someone about gaining weight.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I was never unhealthy, but I’ve been around the 20th percentile for BMI since preschool. [Not that BMI is the best measure, but to give an objective sense.] I got and get, “You need to eat more” and “Are you sure you don’t want a third cookie” comments just like I hear overweight women get “Are you sure you want that second helping?” comments. Neither are appropriate.

        • LBD

          I am on the thinner side of the spectrum, and I can’t tell you how many times my not-as-thin friends comparing themselves to me or being dismissive of my having body-consciousness-issues made me feel even more ashamed of them. So yes to this. Our society messes us ALL up.

        • CMH

          This! I have difficulty fitting into ‘adult’ clothing. There is nothing that makes me feel less like a grown, powerful woman than shopping in the juniors section. It makes me feel diminutive not just in stature.

    • Maddie

      Oh, the “healthy” shame. That one gets me all the time. You can be thin and unhealthy. You can be bigger and be super healthy. Our perception of “healthy” is so distorted that we’ve begun to believe that “healh” can be measured with our eyes.

  • daynya

    I appreciate that APW runs this stuff, even if it’s tricky to navigate. These discussions need to be happening. There needs to be more people opening up and talking about these things because it sucks. It’s so painful to hate the body that you have been given, and not have anyone to help you through it. So thank you, Maddie, for sharing, and I’m so thankful that you guys are running things like this!

  • Anon

    As a woman counting down that last 60 days until her wedding, thank you.

    Your post reminded me that I conciously did not choose to diet, bridal bootcamp, or do anything different prior to my wedding. But like everyone else, in the final weeks, I wondered if I “should.”

    Dammit World (you too, WIC)! I strive to look my best every day because I feel good when I look good. And that “good” is defined my me, not you and your pretty pictures, smug bride models, and super-skinny 20-someting grooms.

    • youlovelucy

      THIS TIMES A MILLION.

  • Penelope

    Yes–thank you for writing this! I’m in my last month of pregnancy and this post resonated with me in lots of ways. It’s hard to deal with the fact that my body doesn’t do what I want (like move quickly or have enough energy to do as much as I could a month ago). But it is so good to be reminded that it’s doing what it needs to do, even if it’s sort of awkward looking and not remotely in line with the societal ideals of thin and lean.

    • Vmed

      I’m sure your body is not awkward looking; unless you work in a labor and delivery unit, most people are not used to seeing real pregnant women. I loved prenatal yoga in part because I had the opportunity to see all the other pregnant women and internalize that THIS is what a pregnant body looks like. And it’s beautiful, and round, and overwhelmingly powerful in its ability to sustain life. So congratulations! Your body is amazing and beautiful.

      34 weeks with child over here, and lately the limitations of my body have frustrated me, as well. Favorite thing my yoga instructor said:

      “If this or any other pose is more difficult than you expect it to be, remember that balance pales to what your body is accomplishing right now.”

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      I loved being pregnant. I don’t know if I ever felt sexier than 30 weeks pregnant. I’ve certainly never worn a bikini before, but round like that? Even as covered in stretchmarks as I was/am? I wish everyone could feel like that during pregnancy. Or, hell, during the rest of the time, either.

      (I’m working on feeling the same warm thoughts to my post-pregnancy, post emergency c-section body.)

      Good luck and fingers crossed for a speedy and easy delivery!

  • LMS

    Maddie, thanks so much for this post. There’s so much wisdom here. Like a lot of the other commenters, I have definitely experienced the “two-fold guilt” where I felt like a feminist failure for worrying about my appearance. And it’s not just limited to weight issues. C and I are in the process of getting our passports renewed in preparation for some travel later this year (yay!). Last week, we went out after work to get new passport pictures taken and, long story short, that one little picture managed to trigger a fit of OMG IS THAT WHAT I REALLY LOOK LIKE??? self-loathing (the eye bags! the non-flawless skin! and are those jowls already?). I ended up back at home, lying in bed and fighting back tears — not just because of how I looked in the picture, but because I was ashamed that I was *that girl* who was forcing her boyfriend to tell her over and over that she’s pretty. Yikes.

    Um, anyway…can we also talk about how awesome that picture is? “Oh hey, I’m just standing here in front of this artful graffiti, rocking this kick-ass dress while people bicycle past me.”

    • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

      Hey – sometimes you need to hear that you’re pretty! There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s an even deeper need than that too – for me, I want my fiance to look at me – REALLY look at me, affirm that this is what I look like and that he finds it attractive. We all get used to our bodies and faces looking a certain way and then one day you look in the mirror (or the passport photo) and it’s not what you were expecting to see. It helps me to take some time to get to know my “new” body and face when I have those moments and learn to love it. “oh, a gray hair! How distinguished!” or “Wow! Look how great my breasts look in this low cut top!”. It’s not easy, but it’s a process that has really helped me cope with the way my body changes.

    • Maddie

      Aw, shucks. Thank you! :)

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      The delightful Erma Bombeck wrote a book called, “When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home.” The lady was dead on the money.

      Mine, for the record, makes me look like a terrorist. Seriously.

  • JEM

    Maddie, thank you. I could never put words to the complicated feelings I was having but you have done it so eloquently.

    “So when our bodies change in ways that we haven’t signed off on, our guilt is two-fold. There is the visceral reaction to what’s happening to my body (I’m uncomfortable with my appearance). And then there is the logical reaction to the visceral response (I am ashamed of the discomfort I feel about my appearance, because it is frivolous and makes me seem like less like of a confident, intelligent woman). Great, now I’m not only disappointed in how I look, but I’m also disappointed with how I feel. AWESOME.”

  • MC

    I have been thinking a lot about starting a business that offers women assistance finding a style that works with the size they are NOW. Women are so incredibly beautiful but often find one aspect of their bodies that drives them crazy and harp on it, rather than playing up features that they often ignore. As another poster mentioned above, looking beyond the size listed on the tag and focusing on how we feel makes a large difference in the image we project to the world. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a person who projects confidence…. I wasn’t sure where to start, but it seems like there is a place for this sort of thing.

    • rys

      This would be awesome. Seriously. It wasn’t until I started reading blogs by garment-makers (as in, regular folk who make their own clothes, not high fashionistas) that I started to understand how different clothes complement different figures (because they would talk about how they modified patterns to suit and flatter their regular-people bodies). It was eye-opening! I’d love to learn more, and I bet there’s a place for both a blog/website and actual in-person consulting.

      • Susan

        YES. I’m in a mid-twenties metabolism slowdown/stressful job/ trying to budget responsibly spiral that made it seem like trying to squeeze into dress pants from 4 years and 10 pounds ago was a good idea. When I sized up, I felt and looked more chic, slinky and confident. I wish I would’ve allowed myself to bought bigger clothes that fit better much, much sooner!

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      I just bought my first post-pregnancy clothes, and I spent much of the time in the change room reminding myself that no one could see the tags and how they fit mattered and the size didn’t. It was sadly harder than I expected. But I bought stuff that makes me look good and allows me to nurse, and that’s all that matters. Rinse and repeat and repeat.

  • Molly

    Thank you so much for this post, however complicated and messy the issue gets. Bodies and how we feel about them and how it feels to be not-exactly-what-you-want, we need to talk about them.

    I have struggled on a simultaneously massive and minute scale with my weight – I’ve felt incredibly anxious and unhappy with my weight and appearance but utterly defeated by the prospect of making the little every day changes necessary (and not knowing how I actually wanted to look even I could make those changes – I didn’t care about ‘thin’ so much as ‘not how I look right now’ which is a pretty vague goal). My weight gain came a result of emotional turmoil both good and bad, falling in love and into happy communal eating and family dysfunction and loneliness which led to food and eating being one of life’s few rich and unassailable joys. While I didn’t want to be the way I was, I also love eating and the pleasure it gives me and my husband – we’re not talking 8 krispy kremes in a row here, we’re talking fine cheeses and home-cooked pies and pastas and salads and fresh fruit and husband-baked bread and butter. This food felt good to make and consume – the feeling bad as a consequence of the resulting weight gain seems so confusing. People were patronising and softly insulting in the attempt to ‘make me feel better’, often unsolicited and entirely unsuccessfully. My body worked just fine but like my heart and head, often seemed to invite the judgement of others in ways that defied how I had been feeling and thinking about them. I was ok or at least dealing with how I looked and thought and acted but others weren’t.

    But this, THIS passage:
    “Is it easy having gained the weight? Nope. Do I still sometimes wish I hadn’t? Sure. Am I beating myself up over it? No way. Because those stretch marks? I consider them my battle scars. So who gives a shit if they’ll never look good in a bikini? You don’t need a bikini when you’ve got armor. Will I feel like a sell-out if I decide eventually that I’d like to lose that weight? Nope, because I’m done having a guilty conscience about the way I feel about my body, regardless of which direction I’m leaning.”

    This isn’t great writing, damn; it’s a manifesto. It’s something I’d get tattooed. I’m going to memorize it and recite it to anyone who’ll listen. Thank you. I’ve recently lost 30 pounds and am literally afloat without any sense of how I feel about my body right now. Do I like it better? I’m genuinely not sure, which flies in the face of every dieting catch phrase and philosophy I’ve ever encountered. But Maddy, in one paragraph, has literally resonated with me more than anything I’ve ever read about body image. So. Thank you.

    • Cleo

      I’m with you here. I also recently lost 30 pounds…and then I started gaining it back. This is something that has happened to me every time I’ve finished a diet, and I don’t think it’s because I deprive myself (I don’t, just eat less and with more moderation of whatever I want), but because I don’t know what to do after I’ve hit my goal. I’m happy with my body. My clothes fit awesomely. My thighs are rubbing together less (because they’ll never not rub together, for real, lol).

      But I don’t know how to be content. I just know how to be unhappy and stagnant or dieting. It’s weird, uncharted territory, and hopefully when these 5 new pounds come off, I’ll learn to just BE about my weight.

  • http://nickandnoragettingmarried.wordpress.com Annie

    Really glad you wrote this post; kind of choked up reading it. Since the wedding I’ve put on a little weight and have been beating myself up over it. It’s not even health concern pressure, either–it’s totally some messed up idea of what I “should” look like and a ridiculous concern about numbers. What struck me about this post is the idea of “failure”and its relationship to weight and women in marriage. There’s such a stereotype about women getting married, gaining weight, and become the totally un-sexy, overbearing wife, which is absurd. Marriage and love are not dictated by a size on a dress tag or a number on a scale. Might have to come back to this post whenever I’m feeling pressure about how I “should” look.

  • Jessica

    It is not just about body image. It is about women not being allowed to age in our society. I agonize just as much over the beginnings of wrinkles and the appearance of grey hairs as I do over not being able to fit in the pants I bought last winter. In fact, just last night I had a dream where no one looked at me because I was no longer good looking. In the dream I wailed, “I used to be beautiful! I swear”. It is so disturbing to me that this is happening in my subconscious, and I don’t know what to do about it.

  • http://www.sarahhoppes.com Sarah

    Wow! Maddie, you really hit this one out of the park. Meg and the rest of APW, thanks for running this. Body image, and our reactions as our bodies change, can be really tricky, and I totally understand you not wanting anyone to feel like they need to “measure up” to anyone else’ experience.

    That double dose of insecurity is so hard. We feel bad about how we look, then we feel bad about feeling bad because we’re supposed to be smarter and less shallow than that.

    I’m someone who battled body image issues on a pretty consistant basis, from a fairly young age. I’m 25, and I feel like it’s only within the last 2 or 3 years I’ve gained real confidence in myself and my body. I know who I am and what I can do, and I’m proud of myself. That makes me want to take care of myself for the long haul, rather than trying to fit myself into an ideal that someone else made up.

    MC-that sounds like a fantastic business idea. It’s certainly one I’d check out in a heartbeat!

  • http://laurenmcglynnphotography.com Lauren

    Oh Maddie, I love you. Loads.

    Also yes & exactly. Though I have to say that my twitter stream & blog feed seems to display a lare amount of women who do not feel at all uncomfortable about cutting themselves or their bodies down in public forums & it does usually make me mad – and yes that’s impart because many of them are skinnier than me.

    But it’s also largely because our society promotes over and over again the notion that the most valuable thing about a woman is the way that she looks, and the most defining aspect of weather or not a woman is attractive is her body size. I even f*cking believe it – sort of – not because I think it’s ultimately true – but because it is such a wide spread cultural belief that I can’t help but feel that 90% of the people that I meet are in some way judging me and deciding how to treat me based on what I look like and what my dress size is (especially if they’re men).

    I don’t like it, and I refuse to buy into it, and I refuse to participate by publicly cutting myself down – because I truly believe that by participating I”m not just damaging myself, but I’m perpetuating a cycle that damages other women and society at large. My private thoughts are my own, and I’m certainly not trying to shame anyone for feeling bad about their bodies. There is SO MUCH PRESSURE OUT THERE. But I do think that we should all endeavor to rebell, to break the cycle, and to demand that the world recognizes that there is so much more about women that is incredably worthwhile than just what our bodies look like. I know that we have to believe this about ourselves before we can start making other people pay attention.

    • meg

      Yup. This, please.

    • Maddie

      YES and more YES. I find myself falling into this trap when I think things like, “Oh I shouldn’t wear that dress because it shows off my legs and my legs are too big for a dress like that.” But I love the idea of rebelling. Because that’s exactly what it feels like when I buy that dress and rock the SHIT out of it regardless of what Cosmo tells me about “dressing for my body.”

      And then for the love of God, this:

      “I do think that we should all endeavor to rebell, to break the cycle, and to demand that the world recognizes that there is so much more about women that is incredably worthwhile than just what our bodies look like.”

      • youlovelucy

        I never wore maxi dresses or floor length skirts because I’m 5’2″ and believed it when magazines said those would accentuate my shortness. (Though long formal dresses are ok. Weird much?)

        This spring I bought a floor length skirt and it’s my FAVORITE.

        Yes I look short in it. But maybe that’s because, oh I don’t know, I’M SHORT. And perfectly fine with my height, damnit.

        • Maddie

          Hahaha I love this.

        • charmcityvixen

          I DID THE SAME THING!!! HOLLAR SHORTIES!!!!!

        • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

          Hahaha, I did the exact same thing last season re: a maxi dress. I was all, “I can’t weeeeaaaarrr thaaaat.” And then I bought one. What’s more — apparently it’s a maternity dress. I’m far from preggers, but . . . Why not? It’s pretty, it’s flowy, and I look lovely in it. Size? Pfft. Fuck it.

      • http://laurenmcglynnphotography.com Lauren

        aww. my grammatical imperfections and all. <3

  • K

    Maddie, thank you! Fantastic writing on a difficult subject.

    I just can’t imagine anyone lying on their deathbed at 80 years old saying, “Man, I only wish I’d lost that last five pounds.”

    This is a *very* useful check for so many things! I have used this for the past 25 years to justify everything from staying up all night before finals in college to talk to the guy who became my boyfriend to quitting my job to travel — I knew I would never be 80 and think, “Man, I sure wish I’d spent that six months working in an office building instead of backpacking around Europe.”

    I have been lucky in that my body conforms to the current fashions of beauty/weight, but I want to second the post that mentioned thinking of your body as an instrument. When I shifted in my late 20s from liking my body because it was attractive to men to loving my body because it could bike and ski and rock climb and so forth, it was an amazing difference. Even if you’re not the athletic type, if you’re walking to work and climbing the stairs and picking up your kids, you should marvel at it. Our bodies are incredible instruments and all too often we just think of them as the equivalent of a cute dress.

  • Julia

    Ahhh!!! YOU’RE IN MY HEAD!

    How did you get there and see everything?!?!

    Thank you.

  • Teresa

    This article was really interesting for me to read. My cultural background makes it impossible for me to ever decide anything like a 50 pound weight gain would be okay (my mom is German, and with that comes the double whammy of never having sugar coated anything one bit). But, for me, 50 lbs is not okay because I want to be healthy. Not to look good, but so that I can feel strong, pick up big boxes, go rock climbing, and go on long 14 mile hikes with my parents in the mountains on our yearly family vacation. I can go farther and see cooler stuff when I’m in better shape. I’ve never gone on a run and not come back in a better mood than when I’ve started— which is powerful. I’m in grad school.

    I’m not trying to be negative but I want to just express a different point of view.

    • meg

      I just want to point out that all bodies are different. For me, my body would fall apart under a fifty pound weight gain. It has a pretty specific set weight, and even five pounds above it it gets really unhappy. But that’s not true of everyone, and it’s hurtful when we assume it is. Maddie is actually really healthy, for example. She’s able to lift and carry and hike and all sorts of things. She’s frankly probably stronger than I am. Her body is just built differently than mine! And it’s super important that we really internalize that bodies are different, and they don’t all fit the media ideals we’ve been fed.

      So. Talking about health is great (and honest) but we need to be careful when we assume that everyone who puts on weight isn’t healthy. I know plenty of people with plenty of weight who are way stronger and fitter than I am… skinny does not equal fit, and bigger does not equal un-fit on every body.

      • Jessica

        Thank you Meg for saying this! At my fittest, I was 170 lbs and wore a size 12. I am 5’6″. I could consistently do back-to-back hour long, intensive group exercise classes, go on 20 mile bike rides, and run over 4 miles nonstop. I ran circles around “skinny” girls in 5K races as I blew by them. Skinny does NOT equal fit, which is something else our culture needs to realize.

        At my fittest, I ate healthy, counted calories, and exercised 6 times a week for 1-2 hours per day. Yet, I still wasn’t wearing a single digit size, nor would I ever be confused for a model. I had curves but I also had muscles. I was strong. And I would rather be strong than “skinny” any day.

      • LMS

        Word. The relationship between weight and health is a really complicated one…says the former skinny asthmatic kid who regularly ate the dust of “chubbier” classmates when we had to run the mile in PE. As an adult, my weight has been pretty stable, but actually tends to go up a little bit when I’m working out a lot, because exercise really kicks up my appetite. But it’s totally worth a bit of weight gain to feel healthy and strong!

      • Maddie

        Yup. And I’d also like to add that I think there is a big difference in measuring how you feel about yourself as it relates to your ability to accomplish things you want to accomplish vs. measuring against a change in the scale (like, for example, I have recently achieved a goal of being able to hike 3-4 miles uphill without getting winded. I am proud of this, and it has nothing to do with my weight). It’s when we start equating weight and body type with capability that leads to discrimination and self-hate. It’s the same kind of discrimination that assumes an amputee can’t run a marathon because of what has happened to *their* body. Achievement and physical composition are not necessarily in a cause-and-effect relationship with each other. (And when they are, I like to think that achieving things affects my weight. Not the other way around).

        • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

          YESSSSSSSSSS! The disconnect between how we value what our bodies can do and what our bodies look like is ridiculous! One of my favorite things to do is spectating marathons. They are so full of people of all shapes and sizes and they are all out there feeling the same joy, pain, and pride of ROCKING something that monumental. It’s so inspiring!

      • Elizabeth @ Lowe House

        Exactly. At one point I was 100 (um, yes, one hundred) pounds overweight. And my body was NOT HAPPY at all (neither was I, but for reasons that had nothing to do with my weight, except in that the weight was a symptom of other things.) I was starting to develop health problems that I just shouldn’t have had in my early 20s, and I was literally physically uncomfortable most of the time. So, I started working out again, and eating better, and lost a huge amount of weight very quickly – my body was simply not meant to be that size and I realized I was actually working actively to keep it there. at the moment I’m about 30lbs over my ideal, and you know what? I feel pretty fine, both physically & emotionally about it.

        For me part of it was also realizing that I had felt overweight even when I was thin, because when my body is objectively skinny? I’m still a size 10. I’m also 5’10” and literally big boned. So in high school I was wearing a 10/12 while all of my tiny girlfriends were wearing 2/4s, and I thought this meant that I was fat. But I look at those pictures and look the same size as them, just, well, taller and bigger framed. But not heavier. And now? Yeah, that last 30lbs sometimes bugs me, and on some days more than others. But much of the time it doesn’t, and I still feel hot, and still get hit on *a lot* (not that we should judge our attractiveness through male attention, but let’s be honest, it can help.) and the thing is, I know how to lose it if I want to. But right now there are so many more things in my life that I want to put my energy into, and the benefit of having a third glass of wine with friends often supersedes the calories that I know are in there.

        • Maddie

          THIS.

        • H

          “But right now there are so many more things in my life that I want to put my energy into, and the benefit of having a third glass of wine with friends often supersedes the calories that I know are in there.”

          This. Yes.

      • Gloucester

        Yes, reading this conversation, I’m also realizing that folks who are not conventionally abled may also have different definitions of what “healthy” or “strong” look and feel like.

        This is something that’s perhaps left out of the cultural noise at both the “skinny is good” extreme and the far more reasonable “fitness at any weight” position.

        What’s so great about Maddie’s post and her focus on emotional and physical resilience (as distinguished from fitness or health per se) is that it opens up a space for us to think about bodies that maybe won’t ever go hiking or enjoy a runner’s high and how they can be beautiful and wonderful and strong too!

    • daynya

      I understand how you can feel that gaining 50 pounds would not be okay and would make you unhealthy, but I am here to say that this is definitely not a fair general statement. When I was thinner, I did not work out at all, and I did not eat well. Now that I’ve put on 50+ pounds, I am the healthiest I’ve ever been. I eat mostly produce, and my workout schedule is pretty intense. I run when I can, I bike 5+ days a week, I do strength training and body weight exercise 5 days a week, and I do physically demanding yoga classes about 5 times a week. My blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol are all amazingly healthy, and definitely are all better than when I was thinner. So, my point is just to give you an example of a person who is considered ‘obese’, and I’m one of the healthiest people that I know.

      • Teresa

        I didn’t mean to criticize Maddie that her weight gain was unhealthy- some people are built differently, I agree! 50 lbs on my body would wreak havoc and feel terrible.I’m so happy for her that she’s strong and for everyone else that isn’t a size 6 but is exercising a lot. Keep it up!!
        Also there are a lot of skinny people that are unhealthy, I agree– you know those girls, they skip dinner so they can have more beer, and don’t work out ever, or maybe they are in the gym doing elliptical on setting like 2. Booo!! Strong is sexy, and good luck dealing with those habits in middle age!

        • http://txtingmrdarcy.wordpress.com Txtingmrdarcy

          THIS! Strong IS Sexy. :)

          • Meredith

            I take fitness classes with an awesome personal trainer and the motto of his program is “Strong is Sexy!” Love it!

        • lmba

          Of course it’s true that slim people can be unhealthy, but I’d rather drop the language that bashes “those girls” for not being all about fitness and health. Health is complicated. It is the sum of SO many things – weight, genetics, underlying conditions, mental wellness, stress, financial stability, class… It bothers me to see Teresa’s comment that is so critical of women’s choices. If my fairly-slim body can only handle the 2nd setting on the elliptical, whose business is that? Nobody benefits from being judged and shamed for their physical capabilities or their choices around food/exercise. And nobody benefits from the ‘you’ll seeeeeees’ about middle age either.

          What someone can achieve in the gym is a reflection of where they are at, and nobody knows the details of that but them. For example, I have *always* been extremely inflexible, particularly in my legs. Going through public school gym class, this was always an embarrassment. I couldn’t touch my toes! I must be in the WORST SHAPE EVER. As an adult, I’ve discovered that I actually have underlying medical conditions that make my lower back/hips/legs SUPER tight. It sucks, but it’s just the way my body is put together. The external ‘fitness’ marker of touching one’s toes just doesn’t apply to my situation! And for so many people, ideals about ‘healthy body weight,’ size, diet, and elliptical settings (!) do not apply in a generalized way either.

          • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

            I couldn’t touch y toes until several years of yoga – I swam semi-competitively and had the tightest hamstrings. It bugged me a lot in school – what an arbitrary measurement of fitness! I could swim 3000m without a second thought, but because I couldn’t reach my toes I was a failure? I still call bullshit on it.

    • Dawn

      I’d just like to point out that we are fed a line of complete crap in terms of the relationship between body weight and health. The reality is, until you get into the ‘morbidly obese’ category (and do not even get me started on the sheer idiocy that is the BMI calculation) your health outcomes are not detrimentally affected. Statistically it is actually healthier to be in the range of weight that most people would probably consider to be ‘overweight.’ I certainly do not want to make judgements about Maddie based on a few pictures but from what I can see she probably falls into that range where people are statitically healthier than people in her previous weight range.

      For a whole host of reasons we now equate health and weight in a way that is not even remotely based on reality. It’s one of those things where the same message is repeated so many times that no one actually stops to question it anymore. But if you go back to the actual data, there is very little correlation between weight and health and what correlation there is actually says that being underweight (which is actually probably a weight that most people strive for) is actually statistically the most unhealthy. But by equating health with weight it somehow gives society a right to comment on what is largely an aesthetic issue.

      The reality is that health has much more to do with what we eat and how much we exercise (which actually has very little correlation to weight interestingly enough) than the weight on the scale. A thin person who eats nothing but sugar all day and never exercises is likely not going to be as healthy as an overweight person (even a ‘morbidly obese’ person) who eats a more balanced diet and does exercise. But society typically looks at the thin person and says ‘healthy’ and looks at the overweight person and says ‘unhealthy’ based solely on the outside.

      I just reread all that and realized it might come across as an attack on Teresa which it absolutely is not. I’m just constantly frustrated by the acceptance of the idea that gaining weight=being less healthy when it just flat out is not true.

      • daynya

        Amen to this. What really kills me is that it’s not just the general public pushing this mentality, but most health care professionals as well. Every single doctor I go to brings up my weight. When we discuss my diet, my exercise habits, and my numbers, they have nothing but compliments to offer, but then they promptly reprimand me and let me know that I have to lose weight…or else!! Sigh.

        • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

          I posted this elsewhere on this thread, but I really recommend telling your doctor that you prefer a Health at Every Size approach and that you’re not interested in knowing your weight or discussing it. That’s totally your prerogative: it’s damaging to your mental health to get shamed for something over which you have minimal control (and weight is definitely in that category, especially if you are already making healthy diet and exercise choices and your health indicators are good).

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        YES. THANK YOU. The correlational studies also don’t even TRY to control for the negative effects of stress & poverty on health (not that you can really control for things, but that’s a rant about statistics for a different day). There’s pretty much NO EVIDENCE that body weight, independent of stress and poverty and food choices and exercise, tells you something about health.

        • Dawn

          They don’t even usually try to control for age! The biggest risk factor for disease and mortality out there, for heaven’s sake! Correlational studies make me stabby. I know that often they’re the best thing we’ve got but then people (including researchers who really should know better but data really is only as good as the person analyzing it and presenting it) take it and repeat it over and over again until everyone starts to think there’s some causation going on when there just isn’t.

          And thank you for bringing up HAES — I meant to but forgot because I got all angry and frustrated in general about the whole overweight=unhealthy thing.

          I actually now start off pretty much every doctor’s visit by telling them not to even talk to me about my weight because I don’t want to hear it (and I’m only ‘overweight’ according to the stupid BMI so I don’t get the lectures nearly as often as people I know who are more in the ‘obese’ range). If the doctor wants to tell me that I need to be eating more vegetables or fiber (I don’t need to) or exercise more and eat less sugar (yep, need to do that) that’s fine. But don’t tell me I arbitrarily need to lose 10 pounds and act like that is going to have any impact on my health. If I lose that 10 pounds by eating better and working out more then sure, it might have an impact but if I just lose 10 pounds somehow (like through diet pills or just fasting or in my case going low carb for two weeks which immediately takes 10 pounds off me) it’s not going to improve my health.

          • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

            The thing is there are ways to do observational studies well, but because of the institutional incentives in academia people just don’t. No one ever got famous insisting that we have limited evidence and need to be more careful about our conclusion. (Except David Freedman, but he was a statistician, not an epidemiologist or social scientist.) And then the media reports never tell us about how tentative the evidence is. So much stabbiness.

    • B

      I completely agree with what Meg is saying. Biologically, there is nothing intrinsically “healthy” about being skinny. “Skinny” people frequently still have the visceral fat that sits on our organs and is so dangerous to our health (think heart disease, diabetes, insulin intolerence, etc.). It drives me crazy when I see skinny people who eat nothing but pizza and cookies and think they are healthier than me. I am NOT skinny, nor will I ever be. I am a big boned, tall woman who carries alot of muscle and some extra weight, but I am so much HEALTHIER for it. Our bodies are made to WORK and they need a little more substance to do that effectively.

      • daynya

        I like your style, Laurel. I have a feeling we could discuss this topic for hours on end. I am a huge fan of Linda Bacon and HAES. :)

  • Ambi

    Wow, I am an emotional wreck after reading this, because it REALLY hits home for me right now.

    First, and I really applaud your approach Maddie, but honestly, I can’t relate at all to your ability stop the negative thoughts and love your body. Over the past several years, I too gained about 50 lbs, and I am in the deepest pits of self hate over it. I’ve actually lost about 15 so far, but I honestly can’t see any difference. If anything, I feel bigger now that I am paying close attention to my body and weight. I look in the mirror and literally feel disgusted – I do not find myself attractive at all. I used to love fashion and clothes, and now I wear whatever I can find that conceals my shape. I have been working out (bootcamp) for about 9 months now, and I am definitely in better shape as far as my ability to run or do push ups, etc. – but I haven’t lost the fat around my middle, or the double chins or the celulite on my arms. . . it’s all eating, I know. And I am trying. But right now my mindset is about as low as it can get. I was crying reading this and now I’m crying writing this comment. It sucks. I am so disappointed in myself because I know what I need to do if I want to lose the weight, and I am just not making it happen.

    The emotional part also has to do with how this has impacted my relationship. My boyfriend tried, for years, to be kind and supportive about me eating right and exercising – but he is really frustrated now. Having a partner that is healthy and physically able to enjoy hobbies and activities with him, and who he finds attractive, and who values herself enough to take care of herself – all of these things are important to him. He is frustrated because he feels like I don’t care enough to address this problem, even though it is making him unhappy as well as me. I do care, and I want to lose the weight, but I just haven’t been able to do it . . .

    We have other issues, but this is a big one. We very well may end our relationship because I want someone who loves me just as I am, flaws and all, and makes me feel better about myself – and he wants someone who makes health/fitness/appearance more of a priority. I try to tell myself that this doesn’t make me a failure, but it sure as hell feels like failure when the person you have loved for most of a decade and want to spend your life with views your weight gain (and inability to lose it) as, essentially, a character flaw.

    My parents are also pretty negative to me about the weight gain. I just feel like we have to accept the fact that all this body-hate and negativity isn’t all within our own minds – we also get it from our partners, families, jobs, tv, etc. I don’t know what the solution is. Right now, my approach is to keep trying to lose the weight. But the emotional issues are deeper.

    • Jessica

      This situation has always been my biggest fear. I experienced it second hand in my parent’s relationship, which led to divorce. I am sorry that I cannot offer you a solution to your problem, but I want you to know that you are not alone. Be strong and try to love yourself. Perhaps counseling can help. You have to understand that you are your worst critic, and that there will be a time when someone will love you for yourself, whether it is your current partner or another. This too shall pass.

      • Ambi

        Thanks. We are in counseling. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it just points out how far apart we are . . .

    • Rebecca

      Emily Nagoski had this great post about treating your mind as a garden. I think one of the key things to remember is that a lot of how we feel about our bodies is stuff that got planted in our minds really early on- and we have to decide what we want to keep and nurture and what we need to weed out. And like building a beautiful garden, that can take years. And that’s okay.

      Not to mention, being in better shape is awesome! I love push ups because they make me feel all strong and tough. Being able to walk, and move, and do things- that’s what bodies are for! They’re not just decorative, after all…

    • Maddie

      First, hugs. This is really hard and I’ve been pretty close to where you are. I couldn’t have written this post a year ago.

      Second, I obviously can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what worked for me. And what worked for me was letting myself off the hook about my physical appearance for a while and focusing on repairing my soul. It was like closing the door on a room in my house that was in need of repair so that I could spruce the rest up and go back to that room later. Because it sounds like you’re doing a lot of work to make yourself healthier physically, but that what really needs to happen is for you to feel better emotionally. So what I did was I told myself it wasn’t in the budget to fix my weight *right now* but that I could come back to it later when I had saved up some emotional capital. It was in those months that I went to work starting my business, fixing up my relationship, spending time with friends, etc. And it worked. I started to feel much better about myself when I was working on the things that made me feel better emotionally. And it wasn’t that I forgot about the weight, but it began to have less control over my life because it was being outdone by all these other good things I’d accomplished. It was also important that I did these things WHILE I was at my heaviest because it proved to me that my weight has NOTHING to do with what I can and can’t do in my life, unless I let it.

      So now that I’m in a better place emotionally, I am able to tackle my body with a much healthier outlook. I’m no longer trying to fix a problem, I’m just doing good things for my body like I did good things for my life.

      As for your partner, is he doing anything to help you right now? I know he wants better for you, but I want him to help you get to where you want to be by supporting you in a positive way. My roommate goes on walks with me 4-5 times a week. He is in really good shape, but he keeps my pace because he knows if he leaves me in the dust, I will feel discouraged and lonely. I want your partner to be able to do that you for you emotionally as well.

      Good luck, lady. It can be a long road, but I need you to know that you are not failing right now. Be good to yourself, because you deserve it.

      • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyEF

        I agree so much with the comments on partners and friends being supportive. My fella is also super health-conscious and loves going to the gym, running, walking around shirtless… the works. Because those things make him feel so confident, sometimes he doesn’t realize how discouraging it is for me to be around that attitude and lifestyle when workouts are a struggle and I’m not a natural-born athlete like he is. It sounds like you need (and deserve) some validation for all the hard work you’ve been doing. I hope you can work together to find ways for him to give that to you.

      • Ambi

        Thanks for the advice. I can definitely see how it would be helpful to work on repairing my soul for while, not just my body. I have never been able to separate the two – it is really hard to distinguish “my body” from “my feelings about my body” – which is, essentially, what this post is all about.

        My guy is supportive in the sense that he is always up to cook healthy food or pick a restaurant based on whether they have healthy menu items that appeal to me, go for a walk or play basketball with me, and congratulate me on successes. The problem is, there has been very little success in the years that he has been trying to get me to work on this, and he is frustrated. He is 100% great on being a cheerleader when I am losing weight, not so great about being patient and supportive and a shoulder to cry on when I’m not.

        I really agree with the comment below about needing to first love myself, flaws and all – that is huge. I hadn’t ever thought of it that way, but that is so true. Right now, I definitely don’t love myself, flaws and all. I probably wouldn’t marry me. And that’s the problem. And up until now, I’ve viewed the solution as “fix the flaws” whereas maybe it is “love the flaws.” I’m a long way from getting to either goal, though, really.

        Anyway, Maddie, thank you for opening up this conversation.

    • Emily

      If you want someone to love you, flaws and all, then you must first love yourself, flaws and all. If you are able to embrace where you’re at and still love yourself, then everyone else will see that and love you too.

    • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

      I’m super, super sorry you’re going through this. One thing it might help you/your partner to know is that weight is really not something over which most people have much control. The research suggests that there are things you can do to improve your health (the first 20 minutes of moderate exercise like walking being the most important) but that whether and how these things lead to weight loss has a great deal to do with genetics and is very hard to predict on the individual level.

      So the things that you’re talking about your partner valuing are really all totally separate, even though he sees them as being all about weight loss. You could potentially be physically able to enjoy activities and in very good aerobic condition even without losing weight. There is nothing about having a larger body that means you don’t value yourself (and honestly the idea that you don’t value yourself if you’re not thin makes me really angry, and way angrier with your partner and your parents than I have any right to be). His attraction is something else again.

      You deserve to love yourself and be loved by others no matter your body weight. I am really sorry that you’re getting such negative messages from the people around you.

      • Ambi

        Thanks. I always hesitate to talk about this honestly, because there is an element of my story that is about my partner being unhappy with my weight gain, and everyone’s knee-jerk reaction is, essentially, “he must be jerk, you deserve better.” But it isn’t that simple. When one partner gains significant weight, it really does affect both people. It changed our hobbies and activities, our sex life, our social life, his attraction to me, my confidence level, my mood, etc. And, in my opinion, the nitty gritty of marraige (or in my case, long-time cohabitation) is that these things DO matter, they DO cause conflict and stress, and they are not just the private business of the partner who gained weight – they are also the other partner’s business because they affect that partner too. Honestly, if the situation were reversed, and I had maintained a healthy weight and a really healthy routine of exercise and physical activity, and my boyfriend had eaten poorly and stopped exercising and put on significant weight (probably mor than 50 lbs, for him, but the idea is the same), and it caused all kinds of changes in our relationship – well, I’d be frustrated too. And I’d support him in getting back into shape, but when you do that for years and nothing happens, it just builds up frustration and resentment. My boyfriend loves me and our day-to-day life is pretty good – but he also can’t just ignore the fact that my weight gain bothers him and has caused us problems. We are discussing marraige, and he has said a few times that he is worried about the path I am on, regarding my weight and health. He is looking 10, 20, 30 years down the road, and is pretty scared about what would happen if I just stayed on the same path I have been on regarding my weight and overall health (and yes, an element of that is attraction). While it is getting better right now, since I have lost some weight, his concern is still there. And the problem is compounded by the fact that he has never had to lose weight, so he just does not understand that you can want to lose it and you can try and you can care a great deal, and still not lose it. He equates results with how much I care about the issue, how much of a priority I am making it. He is slowly starting to see that, for example, I have been working out for 9 months and eating healthy (although not always eating low-cal), and after initially losing 15 lbs, I am not losing any more. Most of us understand what it means to “struggle” with your weight – and he is only now starting to get it. Part of the problem is that he is one of those people that, whatever he sets his mind to, he just does it. No excuses, no failure – he makes it happen. And that is how he expects people to be – if you really want to lose weight, if it is important, you just make it happen. But I think he may be starting to understand that it isn’t that simple.

        My parents . . . yeah, it is complicated. They love me and are proud of me, but they also hate the fact that I’ve gained weight because it means that I am following my dad’s path, and his whole side of the family is obese. My mom is one of those naturally thin people, and I was very thin through college and law school. At one point, she even said something to me about being glad that I didn’t get my dad’s genes. But now that I have gained weight, I can tell that they are just sad and stressed about me ending up obese like my dad and his siblings. And I am talking about real health issues – my uncle has had to have two weight loss surgeries, and all of them have diabetes. So, there is an element of appearance and societal pressure and all that (my mom has commented that certain clothes don’t look good on me anymore) but there is also an element of real parental concern.

        Thank you all so much for your comments. I actually talked to my guy about this today at lunch and I feel a bit better. I kind of felt like we were at an impasse – this is who I am, and this is not the kind of person he wants. At lunch, he disagreed with the idea that this is who I am. He feels like I am resigning myself to being overweight, when I don’t have to be. But at the same time, he acknowledged that this will be a lifelong struggle – I will never be naturally thin, and he doesn’t mind fighting that battle together for the rest of our lives – he want to help cook and be active and support me – he just wants me to actually fight it, to be willing to work hard to maintain a healthy weight and fitness level.

        • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

          I’m glad you’re talking with him.

          I just really want to encourage you to remember that health and weight are separate things that are sometimes related for some people, and that many of the changes in sex life, attraction, confidence, and health can be resolved without losing weight.

          I also want to push on the idea that if you just try, you’ll lose the weight soon in a healthy way. The experience you describe of losing 15 pounds and then staying at that weight is really, really common. To whatever extent weight loss has any proven health benefits (really, not) you basically get them from that weight loss. The other stories I’ve heard about sustained weight loss either involve a really intense, extremely controlled approach to food FOREVER, or an incredibly gradual kind of weight change from the accumulation of small, reasonable changes. I wouldn’t find the first of those at all emotionally healthy. It would trigger all my body image concerns, and remind me of the many many eating disorders I’ve watched friends and family suffer through.

          If your partner is genuinely invested in your health (physical and emotional) rather than your shape, I think he might have to be prepared for the possibility that you will be healthy and active and eating well and GORGEOUS, and still not be thin, and that in fact it might be much healthier — physically and/or emotionally — for you not to be thin. Everyone’s body is different but there are many many people for whom being thin is unhealthy. I hope he can wrap his mind around that idea.

          (btw, if you want some info on this that’s more focused on technical/scientific issues, this comments thread on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog is a good resource.)

        • Anne

          Ambi — this sounds like a really frustrating and isolating place to be. Hugs.

          I feel so much sympathy — but from the other side.

          My husband gained about 100 pounds over about 5 years. His family has a history of difficulties with managing weight. He felt like he was becoming his father and felt pretty helpless about the whole situation. I worked hard at being supportive — weight gain or no, my husband is still the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. In the last year, he’s made some changes that have really worked for him and he’s lost a lot of weight.

          He’s said that he had to lose weight for himself, not for me. He didn’t need me to be a cheerleader for him. He didn’t need me to encourage him to make the right decisions. All he needed from me was unequivocal love.

          You’re in my thoughts.

  • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

    “So in some twisted cavern of my brain, I felt like it was my job to rebel against this expectation and reclaim the definition of wife… with my body.”

    I LOVED this line. I think a lot of the pressure to not gain weight after marriage comes from the fear that I think a lot of smart, badass, take-charge, feminist women have — the fear that being in a relationship will change us, and in a bad way. People talk SO negatively about women getting married and having kids; they treat it like it’s a death sentence. I feel like I get the message repeatedly that my life is now over, that I’m boring and only care about my partner, that I sold out the sisterhood, and OOPS THERE GOES HER CAREER (because a lot of my writing was about sex/dating). Basically, I get the message from the mass media and other women that getting married = giving up.

    So not gaining weight seems to me like a way to say, “SEE, I’M STILL ME!” after you get married. It’s a very clear way of showing the world that yes, you’re in a relationship, but you’re still who you were before — a smart, badass, take-charge, feminist. The problem, of course, is that your weight has nothing to do with whether or not you are still you. Still, I can see why it’s so tempting for so many women to fight the negative perceptions of marriage and married women in such an obvious, physical way. So maybe we start fighting that perception and stop fighting our bodies?

    • Ambi

      The pressure was almost the reverse for me – in my small social and professional circle, and especially in the world that my boyfriend comes from, there are a LOT of very fit, very attractive, very accomplished wives and mothers. At least in his parents’ social group, it is absolutely the norm. And the few women who do gain weight and don’t live up to those standards are definitely looked down on. I think my boyfriend has had that planted in his head for so long, and it all comes up regarding my weight gain. He comes from a world where “wife” and “mom” tend to mean someone who doesn’t work and spends a lot of time at the country club gym; someone whose appearance reflects on the whole family. I am NOT saying it is right – it definitely drives me crazy – but that is part of this community we live in and part of how he was raised. When talking about it in theory, he agrees with me that a woman’s physical attraction isn’t a measure of her worth and isn’t a reflection on her family. But still, he sees his mom and his parents’ friends and now peopel our age . . . and the message is pretty clear to him: to be happy and successful, you need a hot wife. It’s part of the formula, along with college degree, good job, house, dog, and two kids – not just a wife that is a great partner that you love, but someone that you are proud to show off in public.

      • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

        So true — I think there’s a lot of shame in some communities when the wife “lets herself go” and I agree that it definitely contributes to the pressure women feel to not gain weight after marriage! It’s just another way that women are expected to be Everything to Everyone.

        Sigh.

        • Erin10

          You know, I think that “let herself go” is one of society’s most toxic phrases. First of all, let herself go *where?* The unnamed destination makes it scarier. Once we start to fill in the blank, some of that phrase’s power is removed. For example, “she let herself go to the Land of Larger Jeans” or “she let herself go to the World of Sweatsuit Fashions” just makes me think, “so what?” But just saying that women let themselves *go* feels amorphous, vague and frightening.

          What’s scarier to me, at least, is the phrase’s proximity to “let go of herself,” and that’s a huge fear of mine going into marriage. I’m marrying a wonderful guy — an enlightened man who loves and supports me unconditionally — and let me tell you, I am still kind of shaking in my boots. I catch myself thinking, “Will I still feel like me when I’m married? Will I still be able to chase my dreams, or will I be ‘stuck’ in another life?” What I’m really worried about is that instead of growing into myself even further when married, I’ll instead somehow come unmoored and float into some gray, unhappy space.

          • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

            Yeah, I put that phrase in quotes because I do NOT think it’s an OK phrase at all. I do like “to the Land of Larger Jeans” though because now it sounds like a vacation. And also, because it’s SO much easier to realize it’s not a big damn deal.

            The similarity between “let herself go” and “let go of herself” is a spot-on observation! That was kind of my thought…for those of us who fear the exact things you described — like me!! — it’s so easy to worry that our physical appearance is just the first step to losing our identities. So I get why we cling to them and are afraid of that change. And all the changes. Every time I do something that I didn’t do when I was single, I’m like…OH NO WAS THAT THE FIRST STEP!?!?!

  • http://www.benotsimplygood.com Jennifer

    I have to share this with every woman I know. It speaks to me experience, and the experience of my friends and family, so completely. Bless you.

  • Emily

    Hey Maddie, thank you 1000 times for this. I am struggling a bit with this right now, post-wedding but even more so post-our-recent-giant move, where I’m dealing with working and trying to finish my thesis… it’s just not a great time for exercising, but a big time for stress. Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok, and thank you Meg for going ahead and posting this, it means a lot.

  • Sarah E

    I feel blessed to have had a mother as great as mine. She and I are both in good shape. Actually, she’s in great shape. My mom has been in the fitness industry for as long as I’ve been alive. She is currently self-employed as a top-notch personal trainer. At 55. she passes for much younger because she takes care of herself and stays active. Do we both still over-do it on baked goods? Absolutely! With a grandma and mom who bake delicious foods, it’s so easy. But we don’t beat ourselves up- we take the dog out for an extra walk. We work hard in the garden. Or we just nap, give the rest of the food away to friends, and get on with it.

    My mom has always taught me to be strong, not thin. And even when I’m frustrated at some poor eating habits, or laziness, I don’t seek to be skinny. I seek to be strong. Any fitness professional who doesn’t take into account emotional or mental well-being is not worth their push-ups. Our bodies, minds, and souls are all intertwined in this one space we call “me.” Not everyone has to be an athlete or model, we just need to stay healthy- physically, mentally, emotionally- so that we can function well in our lives.

  • Jo

    I am going to try my best to be very careful with my words here and please know I am not trying to offend anyone. I might even be a little bit off topic but here it goes:

    First off, I totally understand and agree that there are is a somehow, f**kd up idea in this society of how our bodies should look like and that we all should be super thin and model like and all that. And that is plain and simple wrong! because as stated at some point in the post, every body is different and a lot of things go into the process of gaining or loosing weight and we abosulutely should NOT tie our worth to someone else’s standard or how we should or shouldn’t look.

    That said I also think people in this country, in general, not even women per se, *have* to start making the conscious decision of eating heatlhier and excersice. It is not an issue of dress size. Being healthy and eating healthy increases our life happiness, it make us feel good and it saves us money and time in the future with healthcare related issues ( in general. I am sure there is people who get sick regardless but I would dare to say those are the least).

    The way people eat in this country is a problem. Over I/3 of the population is overweight and to be honest we are not doing ourselves or anyone else (but specially ourselves) any favors by having high cholesterol, developing diabetes, having knee and back problems and all the other issues that steam from being overweight. It is not about hitting yourself up because you would like to loose those 10-20-30 pounds you put on and hating your body for it. It is about *choosing* a healthier and more balance lifestyle. Frozen pizza? why not brown pita bread, a little bit cheese, basil and tomato and voila! home made, fresh and delicious pizza Margarite! (It is just a example taken from the post). The point is: we need to change our mindsets about this issue.

    Overweight and obesity are serious issues in this country and I dont think we are doing any one any favors by telling them it is ok to eat frozen/boxed/premade canned food for for months and months and that if you dont exercise ever and eat McDonalds every day is still ok because you are still a good person. I think, above all that we shoudl be striving for balance.

    • Jessica

      The problem with this mentality is that sometimes women do the right things and still gain weight, especially when compared with our younger selves. I am still considered “thin” by most standards, but I am 40 pounds heavier than I was in high school. I still feel “fat” when I look at myself in the mirror and see someone bigger than the waif I used to be. I exercise and eat really well. There is a problem in our country with obesity, but the problem with not accepting women with mature bodies is even worse.

      • http://engineerbaker.blogspot.com Caitlin

        Oh my god, this. In high school, I was tiny, a four sport athlete, and someone who never stopped moving. And because I continued to run in college, I stayed the same weight. I nearly worked myself into an ED trying to stay that size once I was out of college, and the last two years have been an attempt to eat and exercise normally and get used to my new size and shape. My friends look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I just wanted to fit into the clothes I wore in high school. You’re not supposed to fit into those clothes ten years later!

    • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

      @Jo — I think it’s important to note that Maddie’s weight gain was directly tied to emotional eating and a really hard two years. Why didn’t she make a healthier pizza? Because when your life is falling apart, it’s REALLY hard to do what you know logically is healthier. Sometimes, when you’re really hurting, it’s healthier to let go of guilt and just eat the frozen pizza. Guilt isn’t any better for you than excess calories. So I think that’s what everyone is supporting here — the idea that an unhealthy couple of years isn’t the end of the world in the grand scheme of things.

    • daynya

      As I just mentioned above, this is a very dangerous generalization. I am overweight, and I don’t eat like that at all. No processed foods, no fast food, no frozen foods. Fresh, local produce comprises about 75% of my diet. My workout schedule is grueling, my health numbers are all well below the healthy ranges (other than the one on the scale). There are always going to people who want more convenience foods, and who don’t want to work out, but that is THEIR business. If it ends up affecting their health in any way, it is their problem to solve. I just think that pointing fingers at others and saying that all they have to do is start eating better is a gross oversight, and it’s dangerous.

      • Jo

        I am not pointing fingers. They are just facts. Of couse there are exceptions as with any other rule.
        It is great that you are doing what is right for yourself. Your numbers are great, you eat and feel healthy and that is great! That is the point.!! As I said before, is not about trying to loose the pounds and beat yourself up , or be a size 2 BUT to live a healthier lisfestyle. I am not pushing for everybody to weight 110 pounds! I am just 5’2 and weight 30 pounds more than that!

        As for what was mentioned before of the emotional eating…i totally undestand, what woman hasn’t been there? The point I was trying to makes is WE are the ones with the responsability to take care of OUR bodies. Yes, you should totally look at yourself at the mirror and be grateful for the fact you have this amazing machine that is your body but I also think we should give our bodies the respect they deserve. Letting go for a couple of months, or years is not, for sure! the end of the world but we have to accept that staying there and just.let.go. forever is not good either.

        • Dawn

          The thing is though, they actually aren’t facts. Study after study (why oh why do I not have links to all of them at my fingertips!) shows that the health outcomes you mentioned are not correlated with being overweight and only slightly with being obese. The thing is that obesity may be a symptom of eating poorly and not exercising and those things can make you unhealthy but the obesity itself (except at the really extreme levels) is not the problem. And yet people treat it like it is. We actually do not have an obesity epidemic in this country. The rates of obesity went way up because they changed the guidelines (I’m not saying we haven’t gotten heavier but it’s something like 7 pounds over the last few decades).

          What is frustrating is that you get people talking about the ‘obesity paradox’ every time yet another study comes out showing people who are overweight actually have better outcomes on whatever variable they’re studying but it’s not a paradox at all. I agree completely that most people need to eat healthier and exercise more but framing it as being a problem of obesity is really problemmatic because it’s focussing on just one of the many symptoms of the real problem.

        • Angela

          Agree that healthy decisions are important, but here’s the thing: this is a PRIVATE issue, and in our culture we feel like it’s okay to shame/”encourage” overweight people PUBLICLY.

          I happen to have excellent emotional health, but never do I feel I need to make comments on how people with depression are harming the entire society and how they really should take responsibility for themselves. People feel like they can tell me to take responsibility for my body all the time.

          It seems to all stem from this cultural narrative that a woman’s body is somehow not wholly her own, and we can discuss it publicly and decide what’s best for her and how she should manage it. We don’t do this with any other aspect of our lives.

          • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

            YES. THIS.

          • Maddie

            THIS. So much THIS.

        • Newtie

          I see what you’re saying, and it sounds like you have your own experience which is important to you, and I respect that. I say this only to continue the discussion, not to be argumentative, and with the understanding that everyone’s way of finding health and body peace is valid.

          That in mind, I personally find the phrase “letting go” to be problematic. If we say “letting go” for a few months or years isn’t the end of the world, it implies that there’s something else we should or could be doing — holding tight? reigning in control? — during the other times.

          Personally, I don’t think good health comes from reigning in my body or controlling what I put in it. I trust my body to ask for what it needs. If I told myself “OK newtie, today you can ‘let go’!” I would eat exactly the same way I normally eat because I’ve found a balance in my life where my body craves what it needs, ie, a balanced diet and some exercise, and where I have the resources to give it what it needs. Some nights my body craves, say, an entire box of macaroni and cheese; other times it might crave a small salad for dinner. When I eat the macaroni and cheese, I’m not “letting go,” and when I eat the salad I’m not “in control.” In both situations I’m trusting my body to know what it needs (and it does). In both situations I’m coming from a place of holding myself gently and lovingly.

          I just wanted to put that out there because I didn’t get the sense from Maddie’s post that she felt like she had to “let [herself] go” for a while because life was stressful. To me it sounds like she was taking care of herself as best she could, and actually holding on to herself in a very good way.

    • Sarah

      I kind of agree. 2/3 of our population is actually overweight, not 1/3, that’s a huge number. Our society does not encourage healthy lifestyles, in fact, there are a lot policies, etc. in place that actually work to discourage them. Eating disorders, including emotional eating, are real and work both ways. It’s so important to encourage balance. Sometimes it’s okay to eat a few cookies when we feel bad, but not all the time. I really like the point somewhere in the comments about taking steps to be emotionally healthy and then taking those same steps to have a healthy body. Having been on both sides of that struggle, when you treat your body well, other things sometimes become a lot easier.

    • http://extoria.blogspot.com Vee

      It would be so helpful if in some future time we could have discussions about healthful eating and good nutrition that are divorced from body image. It’s true that every body is different, and every healthy body will weigh and be shaped differently. It’s also true that some foods are inherently more healthful and “better for us” than others. It’s also, ALSO true that that doesn’t mean I have to beat myself up when I eat dessert in moderation. I think it’s a problem that people generally assume that when we talk about nutrition, we talk about “getting skinny.” I think it’s also a problem that when some people see a person that doesn’t fit the media “skinny” image, they are assumed to be unhealthy. Health is about the way things work on the inside, not about how we look on the outside, and it’s dangerous to make assumptions either way. But it’s also dangerous to ignore the role that the foods we choose play in our health.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      On nutrition, there are some people who genetically can eat “awful” and be healthy. My mother’s family has a history of LOW blood pressure, and there have been times she’s had to purposefully eat MORE salt. My grandfather doesn’t allow anything “low fat” or “low cholesterol” in the house, yet his health issues are related to his time in the Navy, or just to age.

      So, just like there are some people who can gain 50 lbs. and be healthy, there are people who can eat steak and butter and lots of carbs etc. and be healthy.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        My husband’s grandfather is 80 years old. He eats fried eggs and bacon for breakfast and fried liver for lunch, most days. He drinks a lot. He smokes. You’d think he’d be a mess, right? He’s in GREAT shape. He still breaks horses for fun and goes on trail rides every weekend and rides every day and still does most of the farm chores. So. Healthy can live hand in hand with all sorts of things.

        (I, however, would weigh a ton and have asthma and probably cancer. I’m not taking his as a role model, just proof different things work for different people.)

    • Caroline

      I dont think we are doing any one any favors by telling them […] that if you dont exercise ever and eat McDonalds every day is still ok because you are still a good person

      I see what you’re trying to say — that not exercising and eating McDonald’s every day is really not healthy, and people should change those behaviors.

      However, you seem to also be saying that if we tell people “Even if you don’t exercise, even if you eat McDonald’s every day, you’re still a good person,” then we’re telling them not to change those behaviors. Or conversely, that in order to encourage people to change unhealthy behaviors, we need to tell them that they’re not good people and that they should feel shame and guilt for unhealthy behaviors or for being overweight.

      And that I disagree with. First of all, I don’t think it’s effective. Shame and guilt are very likely to just make people paralyzed with anxiety, or make them give up entirely. Moreover, it tends to make unhealthy behavior more attractive, because it becomes forbidden fruit.

      In my own experience, I’m much more motivated to exercise and eat right if I think about it as loving my body and taking care of myself — and that has to start with believing that I am a good person, worthy of being loved and taken care of.

      Second of all, I think it puts a moral frame onto weight and body size that is hurtful. I don’t think this was your intention, but your words imply that overweight people should be scolded “for their own good” — to correct some failure of moral fiber. That in turn implies that overweight people somehow lack moral fiber — that you can judge a person’s character by looking at the size and shape of their body, and that thinner people are morally better people. Obviously, that’s not true.

      I think changing our mindsets to choose a healthier lifestyle necessarily involves thinking about food and exercise as practical issues, not moral issues. I think Maddie’s post actually promotes a healthier mindset by encouraging people to let go of the moral judgments and view things more pragmatically and realistically.

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        THANK YOU.

      • Jo

        You are absolutely right about the moral frame. It was not the intention at all. I didn’t mean that by not exercising, eating right or whathaveyou your are automatically a “bad person” … I guess I just want all of us to feel good about ourselves and I think , in my humble and very personal opinion, that feeling healthy, eating right (and I don’t mean crash diets or crazy “juice cleansing” ) being active, doing what is right for our bodies can give us a big boost in our confidence. And I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a little bit of that! :)

  • Katie

    Thank you for this post Maddie and to all the commenters for sharing their own struggles. This is an issue I find incredibly hard to talk about and body image is probably one of my toughest struggles.

    I identify very much with the commenters who talked about their mothers relationships with food and body image and how that affected them but I think it’s very interesting that no one mentioned their fathers. For me a lot of my self-worth issues stem from my relationship with my father and his relationship with food. One of the most scaring things he ever said to me was that boys don’t date fat girls (I think I was 13 or 14 at the time). I hear him in my head when I look in the mirror and it’s something I struggle with every day. And I struggle with these feelings doubly because intellectually I know that I shouldn’t let anyone’s view of me define what I think about the way I look but it’s harder to really internalize and believe that.

    Thank you so much EMMA for your comments about your mother’s dissatisfaction with you really being about her. It was like a light bulb went off in my head. All the things he used to say to me were really about HIM. This certainly rings true to his character and helps me take that first step away from internalizing this the way I have always done in the past.

    Also to SARAHAYARS I too have set realistic goals about my own weight loss but struggle to maintain realistic expectations about that journey. I miss the energy that I used to have, and I miss my skinny jeans, and frankly sex has changed for me and my partner since I’ve gained the weight.

    This discussion has given me so much to think about and work through around my own expectations and the negative self talk I put myself through. Thank you for such a supportive place to work through this.

  • Kristina

    Thanks APW for running this. It really hits home. Since moving in with my fiance I have gained twenty pounds. I think there are a number of causes — eating real meals (when I was living alone I often skipped meals), an ankle injury that makes it impossible to keep up my running routine, and, I suspect, age-related hormone changes. As someone who struggled with body image issues, I sometimes feel the body-hate creeping up. I have moments of wanting to throw myself into a pre-wedding crash diet. But I try to remember that I am very healthy, probably healthier than when I was thinner — I eat healthier, still exercise (with my fiance, which is fun!), and am happier and less stressed. My finance thinks I look beautiful and sexy. I have many accomplishments that have nothing to do with the size of my thighs. The people who are coming to my wedding love me for me, not because of my weight. But it’s a struggle to stay sane about this. As women, we really have been fed a “poison pill” when it comes to our bodies. When I think about all the brilliant, creative, kind women who put so much of their minds and their energies into being unkind to themselves because of their weight …. it makes me sad.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for writing this! I lost 80 lbs before my wedding (not even BECAUSE of my wedding, as I had lost them before I even got engaged!) and then maintained for a year. After our wedding, including our honeymoon, I put 40 back on. I’m just now starting to turn this thing around and lose the weight again.

    But thank you for discussing these complicated issues, and you’re right; it’s about more than just weight, but a cultural conversation we need to have about why we constantly beat ourselves up over how we look. At my thinnest, I wore a size 12. I LOVED how I looked, I loved my curves, I loved not being stick-thin. I was healthy. It baffles me that we consider that “plus sized” in pop culture or the modeling world. I considered myself normal.

  • http://emiliajanephotography.com Emilia

    Yes. To all of this. You are so beautiful Maddie!! Thank you.

  • Lee G.

    I was going to write a comment about the health aspect, but I see that’s been covered! It’s so hard to keep up with all these comments.

    I was one of those people who didn’t like talking about body issues because it frustrated me when people would say “I’m fat and fabulous!” or “I ate so much today and I’m going to get fat,” when this person is a size two.

    What I didn’t get for a long time was that it is important to feel fabulous, regardless of what weight. That goes two ways, for people that are over weight or underweight and everything in between. Trying to look fabulous to feel fabulous sometimes works, but I don’t think that’s the point that’s trying to be made here.

    Anyway, good post. I like how the issue was presented!

  • Anonymous today

    Oh man, this is exactly what’s going on in my head. I stopped weighing myself a while back but I recently figured out that I’ve gained about 40 lbs since moving in with my husband 6 years ago. I haven’t stressed too much about it because I was only about a year out of college then, and when I look at my pictures from college I don’t look like an adult yet. I figured some weight gain and size change was just normal. But in the past several months the weight seemed to increase exponentially and I’ve started to feel exactly what Maddie is describing here. It didn’t occur to me until reading this post that the past year or so has been the most stressful in my entire life so maybe the weight gain makes sense.

    Plus now I’m pregnant so I’m not allowed to lose weight even if I finally tried, and I’ll be gaining more, and my body is doing all kinds of weird things I haven’t give it permission to do. Despite knowing the weird stuff is totally normal for pregnancy I’m still having a lot of anxiety about it all. Then like Maddie explained I get anxiety about feeling that anxiety, and it gets ridiculous quickly. It helps to know I’m not the only one, so thanks as always for APW.

    And thanks for all the comments about caring about strength and ability more than weight, and the body as an instrument quote. Hopefully as I get in the 2nd trimester in the next couple of weeks I’ll feel better and be able to focus on making myself strong for giving birth.

    • http://ahobbitatheart.blogspot.com/ rachel

      I hear you. My husband and I have both always struggled with our weight, and our lives have been stressful for awhile. I always hated my body, my weight, etc. Then I got pregnant. Yes, there were times when I still was frustrated with my body (like when I gained 10 pounds in the first trimester because all I keep down was Chipotle burritos and donuts). Overall though, I am so thrilled with my body now that I don’t really mind the stretch marks, or the post-baby tummy pooch that won’t go away. I am just so proud of myself for bring this cute little guy into the world and I want to be healthy for him.

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      IF you can, take prenatal yoga. I found it wonderful, both from the whole stretching-relaxing-calm angle, but also to be surrounded by other pregnant ladies and see how different each body was, and how differently we changed shape and put on weight. It was very, very good for me.

  • Lturtle

    Totally crying now! Thank you Maddie for writing this, and to Meg for running it. I really needed to read this right now.
    While recovering from an eating disorder years ago I made peace with my body, whatever size and shape it was, and that held for years. But now, post-baby and ill and heavier than I have ever been, it has become a struggle again. Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to love and appreciate my body at any size. Getting to work on that now…

  • MM

    Thank you for this post. This is something I struggle with… I used to be very heavy, as in I’ve lost 200 lbs heavy. I lost the weight right before I met my boyfriend (almost 5 years ago), and even though I know it’s irrational and unfounded, I am currently obsessing about the 20 lbs I’ve gained in the last year since moving to be with him after 2 years of long-distance. I’m secretly terrified that if I gain weight that he’ll suddenly no longer want to be with me, even though I know there is zero chance of that actually being true. I am also scared that I will somehow lose control and go back to being almost 400 lbs.

    On most days I’m able to talk myself down and convince myself that I eat pretty healthy, workout on a regular basis, and that should be good enough. And that I should be able to have a cookie or beer if I want it. On others, I feel the need to obsessively plan everything I’m going to eat in the next 2 weeks because that’s how it worked to lose the weight in the first place. It certainly is a vicious cycle of feeling bad about how I look and then feeling bad for feeling bad. And I know that what I see in the mirror is not what others see… I’m always suprised when I see a photo of myself. But I know that is a result of being heavy for so much of my life. Just another thing to struggle with…

    • H

      I don’t have any advice for you, I just wanted to say that it is INCREDIBLE that you lost 200 pounds (even if now it totals 180- whatever that is STILL TERRIFIC!)! I want to hug you super tight and celebrate you for that. Congratulations for getting yourself to where you are now!

      Man, you are inspiring!

    • Ambi

      MM, you are truly inspiring. And I really really really relate to your fear. I *thought* I was overweight in my early twenties, and became obsessed with dieting. I’ll be honest and say I probably developed some sort of eating disorder, and I ended up being very thin, underweight, for several years. When my guy and I started dating, I gained weight. We broke up, and I spiraled downwards – I blamed my weight gain and I quickly shed the extra pounds (not healthily). I basically developed a very intense fear of being overweight (most commonly seen in anorexics), but at the same time, over the course of several years, I DID gain quite a bit of weight. Let me tell you, that fear, when it comes to fruition, is crushing. My extremely negative self image has a lot to do with the fact that I let this thing come to pass that I had dreaded for so long, and as a result, I felt worthless.

      I know this seems depressing, but what I am trying to get at is, the fear is unhealthy and can build into really negative emotions. You are aware right now that you have that intense fear – watch it, try to soothe it, but if it persists, you may want to see a counselor or someone before it gets to the point that it has with me. I have no doubt that you are doing great. It sounds like you are being very healthy and happy and your guy loves you. But I see a little bit of my story in you, and I want to warn you not to let that fear become overwhelming. I think my current situation and mental state would be very different if I hadn’t lived the last ten years with the kind of fear you are talking about. If you foster that fear, you aren’t creating a mentatility that will allow you to love and accept your body and value yourself, regardless of your weight.

  • Jashshea

    Running out of time to read all the comments today, but wanted to put something out there that I never fully realized until now – I treat exercise and eating healthy negatively. It’s something bad I have to do to atone for previous sins of gluttony and or sloth. Drank too much? Ate fast food? Forty hail marys/minutes on the treadmill for you!

    I got to thinking, after last weeks money conversation, how I used to have a toxic relationship with money – guilty overspending, guilty of charging what I shouldn’t, guilty of not saving – that is similar to my exercise/food relationship. And I decided to apply my money ideals (Saving money isn’t a chore, it’s something you’re doing so that future you can have an awesome wedding/vacation/pair of shoes/house/kid’s education) to working out and eating well. If I exercise today and tomorrow and eat well both days, I’m “saving up” positives – I’ll live longer, feel better, be happier with my body and in my skin.

    Only time will tell how that’ll work, obviously. I’m sure there will still be days where I don’t meet goals. But that’s why I’m trying to change habits at all – so that those days don’t make me angry with myself and I can just let them slide.

    You are all awesome people, by the way. Love that we can have these conversations and not have it be reduced to talking negatively about bodies and weight. Thanks for being a total badass, Maddie.

    • Teresa

      I agree with you– if you see exercise as punishment for that cheeseburger you ate last night and make yourself do sh*tty monotonous stuff, of course you’re not going to work out!
      It’s much better if it’s how you catch up with your friend, or in a yoga class and laughing at yourself trying to get into crazy poses, or what you do after you get home from work to clear your head before you talk to your partner.

    • meg

      You know? I love exercise (says the girl who just got back from the gym). It makes me feel good and it’s something I choose to do because it makes me happy. That means I do it a lot and have a really good relationship with it. So yes, try to shift the paradigm, and find something you ENJOY (maybe no treadmill!).

      • Meredith

        Definitely finding something you like is key! I hate going to the gym. Hate it. But, I LOVE taking classes where a trainer tells me what to do, encourages me, knows my capabilities, plays loud music and builds his own mini-community (it also helps that I’m pretty competitive so having other people there makes me work harder).

        Find what you like! It’s WAY easier to stick with it if you like it.

      • Jane

        Amen! I’ve long tried to get myself into running. I liked it back in college, and I guess I have this mentality that it’s the pinnacle of fitness or something. I only recently finally said screw it and just stopped forcing myself onto the treadmill. Now I enjoy working out SO MUCH MORE. P.S. Perfecting Beyonce’s dance moves counts as a workout in my book.

      • http://becomingbrown.wordpress.com Jennifer Lyn

        Exactly. Now that I’m probably developing Rheumatoid Arthritis, swimming is the only thing I can do that doesn’t constantly hurt. But I love it. So I joined a team and I swim with them every day. Works for me.

      • Lynn

        A friend and I have started working through Julia Cameron’s Sound of Paper. We’re each taking our inner artists for walks because that’s what recommended. And when I tell the PA, “it’s time for me to take my inner artist…and the doggie…for a walk. Would you like you to come with me?” it’s the greatest excuse.

        My *inner artist* needs to go for a walk. I’m sorry–she speaks, I respond.

        I’d like to eventually take my inner artist for a run because I used to enjoy the power I felt while coming up on mile 9. It’s been an incredibly long time, but perhaps eventually.

    • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

      I now love exercise BUT I didn’t use to. What changed my approach and helped accept my body as it is now, is yoga. I practice at home, with Marianne Elliot’s wonderful courses. She practices the yoga of kindness (as in don’t beat yourself up and be kind to yourself) and she has different courses, including a Curvy Yoga program with Anna Guest-Jelly, so I would highly recommend her.

      • Ambi

        I would just second the fact that it is all about finding a type of exercise that you enjoy. I used to think I hated working out, but it turns out that I really hate the gym. And yoga. But I LOVE bootcamp and walking outside with friends. It doesn’t make your mindset change overnight – there are still days that I dread boot camp – but overall, I have a much more positive view of exercise now that I have found an activity that I like. Of course, as I mention above, my overall mindset about my weight isn’t great right now – but hey, to look at the positive side, in the past year I have become one of those people who like working out.

        • KatieBeth

          I totally agree! I did a marathon this past year because, well, it seems like everyone gets to be in their mid-20s and runs one. And while the race itself was positive and uplifting, I had a realization – I hate running. I always need a distraction, like the TV at the gym or a This American Life podcast.

          The bright side is that the marathon experience led me to something really cool. While recovering, a friend suggested that I try her weightlifting class at the gym – AND I LOVE IT. Lifting weights in time with pop music is really entertaining, and each set is only 3-4 minutes, which is perfect for my modern-ADD self. Sure, squats and dead-lifts probably don’t burn as many calories as continuous sprinting for 60 minutes – but at least I don’t spend the hour thinking “GOD, when is this OVER???”

          • Denzi

            Ha! I totally listen to This American Life while I’m running, too! (Although I actually like running, I just get so numbers-obsessed if I’m on a treadmill with no soothing Ira Glass to distract me!)

          • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

            They may not burn as many calories, but they built muscle, right? And muscle burns more calories even at rest. So you’re still coming out ahead. Especially by not hating every minute.

            (I also love those classes. I’m looking forwards to being able to start them again, once I’ve recovered from my c-section. I’m surprised how much I miss them.)

  • Steph

    Maddie, thank you so much for this post! I recently started (and then temporarily put on hold due to life getting in the way) a blog about body image issues. I feel like this is SUCH an important, complicated and also taboo topic in our culture.
    My own journey toward self acceptance and body acceptance has been anything but a straight line. A big help has been realizing I am at once many sometimes contradictory things: physically active and an emotional eater is one example.
    I loved what you said too about the double standard of being a smart woman but also having negative body image, and what caring about gaining weight after marriage represented for you. There are so many layers and I’m glad you are at a place of acceptance.

    Sorry for rambling, just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you for sharing your story and starting the conversation :)

  • Liz

    Maddie, you rock!

  • Sarah

    Wow, I don’t think I’d admitted to myself how much pressure I feel to be a “hot wife” until I read your post. I know that I am so much more than my physical appearance, and I am married to someone who loves me for everything that I am. My husband has a very close group of male friends from college, who are all smart, interesting, good people (three of them are doctors, for pete’s sake), and are all in meaningful, loving romantic relationships. But I have to admit that I still feel pressure to be my husband’s arm candy, in addition to his wife. I hate that I compare my appearance to my husband’s friends’ wives/girlfriends/fiances, and hate that I constantly feel like I come up short. Just as Maddie described, I feel guilty about all of this because I know better! Yet I can’t seem to shake the feeling that secretly, my husband wants me to be hotter than his friends’ wives, or that secretly, my husband’s friends feel sorry for him because his wife isn’t attractive.

    It’s horrifying, but also strangely healing, for me to read back to myself these thoughts that bounce around in my head so much. Thank you, Maddie, for helping me to open up to myself about these hard truths.

    • Ambi

      I completely relate to the pressure to be a “hot wife.” I mentioned this above, but guys also get that pressure in a way, since it is ingrained in them that part of a successful life and a happy marraige is having a really attractive wife. We need to fight against this somehow. Women don’t feel like the outside world is judging them based on whether their husband is hot enough (at least I don’t feel that way), and I doubt most guys compare themselves to their wive’s friends’ husbands and try to figure out if they are attractive enough. Yet songs and movies and books and everything else constantly drive home the idea of the “beautiful bride” or “beautiful wife.” Beauty is great, but it is just one attribute. How about a social narrative that congratulates men on picking smart wives? Or capable, hard-working wives? Or funny as hell wives that they enjoy drinking beer with? I really really chafe at the social pressure placed on both men and women for the wife to be hot. If the two people in the marraige love each other and are happy, why does it even matter?!

      • Jashshea

        Hopefully you’re still reading this, but I, for one, would love to have all my friends be “funny as hell wives that I can drink beers with.” Funny people are always gorgeous to me!

        OOPS ETA: I don’t care if their “wives,” actually. Just that they’re funny as hell.

  • Ann

    This is the first time I’ve ever commented on a website before, but I just want to thank the APW community for providing such a supportive and helpful environment. Every challenge I’ve been encountering in my life lately has been dealt with in APW posts, and it’s comforting to know that there are others dealing with the same issues, from weight gain (50lbs too!) to illness and even sick animals (cat with ulcerative colitis-diagnosed today, meaning two of us in the house now have chronic illnesses. Fun times!). Not that I would wish these experiences on anyone, but I take such hope from APW posts and from all the comments posted by others.

  • Shannon

    Wow, to all of this. I had no real terminology to the generalized sense of blah I’d been carrying around. The spiral of guilt related to body and mind as well as the (completely self-inflicted) pressure to be the “hot wife” nailed it. This is why I’m still reading APW all these months after the actual wedding.

    Thank you, Maddie and Meg for making this happen. I feel a little better knowing I’m not so isolated over this, and that’s kind of nice.

  • pixie_moxie

    Maddie, I just love your voice. Thank you

  • Angela

    The ad above these comments is for “Tauts Belly Wrap” that goes across your midsection to make you skinnier. We can’t escape! :)

    • meg

      Ugh. That’s a google ad. We work hard to screen them, but what everyone sees is different. They latch on to key words, but also search histories and all sorts of things. Apologies.

  • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

    This is a wonderful post.

    I think one of the most pernicious sources of poison about body image is actually the medical narrative around weight. Focusing on weight is demoralizing (because for most people it’s very hard to change intentionally) and not very useful (because it’s not closely related to health), but so many people hear weight loss messages from doctors and public health figures. There’s a better health care approach called Health At Every Size which encourages people to focus on healthy behavior regardless of the effect on weight which has very good clinical results: because people are focusing on behaviors that are closely related to health (like moderate exercise) they have better health outcomes and don’t get frustrated trying to lose weight. It’s a great way out of the weight = health trap involved in most media and public health messages.

    • http://ahobbitatheart.blogspot.com/ rachel

      So true. My doctor regularly comments on my weight and my BMI borders between “overweight” and “obese”. But you know what? My blood pressure is awesomely low, my cholesterol and all other stats are great, I exercise daily, and I eat healthy…but I still get the shame game over the number on the scale at the doctor’s office.

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        This makes me STABBY. You can read Fat Politics to learn about where those BMI ranges come from (spoiler: they’re totally made up). Also, the correlational studies, which are super flawed, still tend to find that people in the ‘overweight’ range live longer than people in the ‘normal’ range.

        It also makes me stabby because shame is useless. People don’t learn from shame. Even if you ate nothing but donuts, the shame game would do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help you.

        I recommend saying that you prefer not to know or discuss your weight. I have a friend who does that because she’s in eating disorder recovery: she turns around while she’s on the scale and requests that the nurse not tell her. Works great, 99% of the time.

        • Dawn

          Ha, Laurel, will you be my new best friend? I just submitted a comment above saying all of the bad health statistics make me stabby.

          It drives me absolutely batty that even most medical professionals will say the BMI is basically useless as a measure of anything and yet they still use it for everything!

    • Maddie

      YES.

    • daynya

      Double YES!

    • Anne

      Thank you so much! As someone who endures offensive comments and suboptimal health care from physicians because she is underweight, I found your HAES link really helpful and eye-opening. I had a healthy body image until a physician drilled me about being underweight and scared me into seeing a dietician, which started a downward spiral of obsession with my diet and really low self esteem. Focusing on healthy behavior is useful for all of us, irrespective of where we happen to fall in the BMI range.

  • Justin

    I don’t quite understand the trepidation around talking about body image and weight. Is there something I’m missing? (I’m a dude, so I figure that’s entirely possible.)

    • Maddie

      Talking about body image and weight can trigger a lot of knee-jerk reactions if you’re not careful. Someone might write a comment that is as seemingly harmless as “But Maddie, you look great! You should feel awesome about how you look!” It might be intended as a compliment, but what I might hear is “You have no reason to feel self-conscious, so if you do, you’re doing something wrong.”

      It can be a very delicate subject because so much of self-worth for women in this country is tied up with our weight.

    • meg

      The history of body image discussions at APW has been… unpleasant. But not today! (And yes, you are blessedly missing something as a dude! Enjoy that! :)

      • charmcityvixen

        I’ve still found some of the previous posts about weight, body image, self esteem, etc. to be incredibly moving posts… despite whatever comments have said! I absolutely love these discussions — most importantly, I love how they give me reasons to challenge my own preconceptions. Please keep rockin’ it :)

  • http://medeamaterial.com Jules

    This post moved me. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life, and the guilt, and i recognize so many of those feelings of failure: for not keeping up with a diet, and for feeling bad about dieting and for wanting results and not just being healthier and BLA.

    Every day I struggle with losing weight: I got married at my heaviest weight ever. After marriage, I have been on a daily battle against hormonal disorders, eating addictions, trying not to seek comfort in food, and wanting to exercise and not being able to do so. It is ongoing. And then people mention I look better and what I fear they really mean is I look thinner, and thinner is better. And I feel guilty again for preening for the weight loss and terrified I’ll gain it back, and guilty again for being terrified.

    I feel like it doesn’t matter how much I weight or what I look like, I’ll have body image issues because in my case they are not related to weight or numbers, but to how I perceive my body and what it means to me. Unless I change my mentality, there won’t be a “right” weight or a “right” body, it will always “fail” in some way that society tells me I’m not doing things right. I have to make those changes and make those choices to refuse to be budged by media. Believe that my body is a wonderful machine. And that is harder than any weight loss program I’ve been on.

    • Ambi

      You aren’t alone. There are quite a few of us who can relate.

      And I totally get what you are saying about how compliments can actually make you feel worse. I recently lost about 15 lbs (of the 50 that I gained), and I have had several friends and coworkers compliment how I look and comment on the weight loss. It makes me feel like shit. It just reinforces my fear that people were very aware of my weight, think I need to lose weight, etc. When I lose weight, I never want to talk about how heavy I was – it just makes me so uncomfortable. And compliments about weight loss really bother me.

  • katieprue

    There are so many serious and thoughtful and fabulous comments here! I just have to say: “hot wife” is totally a state of mind, or being. Even when I think I look horrible, I will always be a hot wife because my husband-to-be will say so. He has insecurities too, but all I see is hot fiance. We should all love ourselves as we are, but we should love our partners how they are too.

  • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

    Thank you Maddie, there really is a need for women to discuss these issues more.
    My grandmother died of anorexia. At 65 she started dieting like never before and, despite the psychologists and the help my father and his brothers tried to provide her, she refused to listen, destroyed her body and passed away. I always wished she could have seen how funny, interesting and incredibly attractive she was, but all she could see was a self-imposed ideal weight she desperately wanted to attain.
    I have reflected on this a lot as I fought against the societal pressure to be a “yummy mommy”and magically lose the twin pregnancy weight I had gained. I HATED that pressure, HATED it because it made me feel like all the mothering was worth nothing unless I was also “yummy”. I mean, who can feel yummy without sleep and with her t-shirt covered in vomit?! My body had just created two lives, so I figured it had earned the right to have a break from any pressure for at least a year (not that I had any time to cook, anyway). The pressure was so big, however, that I refused to appear in pictures because I was tired of feeling judged. And that’s awful. Fortunately I had my grandmother’s experience to keep me focused.
    So, yeah, let’s please give ourselves and each other a break. Let’s value our bodies for all they are right now and let’s give ourselves permission to enjoy life, as it is.

    • Ambi

      Marcela, thank you for commenting! I am so sorry about your grandmother, but you are right – this is something we all need to be talking about. In my own life, my weight gain has caused conflict in my relationship. We talk about it, but the elephant in the room is the fact that my boyfriend’s sister (and to a lesser extent, his mom) have eating disorders and are underweight. I also had a very unhealthy lifestyle and was underweight when we started dating. I have tried to bring this stuff up in our conversations by explaining that, for me, “weight loss” and being thin are tied up with very unhealthy paterns and, honestly, misery and depression – and I do not want to go back there! His views are shaped by the fact that the women in his life have always been very thin and very careful about what they eat – he doesn’t really see it as anorexia (although he is starting to see a problem with his sister, who is losing even more weight for her wedding) – he just sees it as normal. Eating disorders are a real part of mixed-up cocktail of health and emotional issues related to weight. I am glad you are talking about them.

    • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

      There’s no winning, post pregnancy, I think. I gained very little while pregnant, as I was starting off pretty heavy already, and I lost the weight right away. But that doesn’t change how totally different my body is now, or the bags under my eyes, or my skin, or yes, the shirt covered in spit up. I wish I could feel that I’ve earned a break – I somehow feel more pressure than I expected too. All internal, of course, as Loosing The Weight is the cultural message. And I achieved that, so I should be okay, right? Sigh, I wish. I’m working on it.

      Acceptance is hard and sleep deprivation doesn’t help.

      • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

        Awww, you guys. Here, let me take those vomit-covered shirts and wash them for you.

  • Kara

    I LOVE this post. I never have understood why women can’t discuss body issues amongst each other and support each other! It’s something that so many of my friends struggle with, and yet I’ve never had a honest conversation about it with any of them. I even divulged some of my most guarded secrets about my food issues, and I got LAUGHED at. I luckily could go to my fiance about these things, he’s really the only one who’s helped me get through these issues.

    In planning my own wedding, I had a goal weight in mind. It would require me to lose 20 lbs and be the same weight as I was when I was 15. Unrealistic goals, ya think?? I have lost some weight, but I’m finding that I love my body, not just because of how it looks but because of how I feel. I’m not dragging myself to the gym to work off those 55 Reese’s I just ate, I’m going to work out because I’m stressed the EFF out and I need to feel better. It’s funny how these things take 28 years to learn, but finally glad I’m learning them.

    Go Maddie! and APW! Keep going with this self affirmation! We are all awesome!

  • Emme

    I posted earlier and have been thinking about this topic all morning. Something that has stuck in my mind is this thought – it seems as though years ago when I was growing up that the women that I saw photos of in magazines and watched on tv and in movies were not as thin as they seem to be now. I mean I still to this day think that Sophia Loren is one of the most beautiful women in the world for her age — frankly at any age. And also style seemed to be more important than weight. Personal style. Can you even imagine Sophia Loren or Doris Day going about their day in public in baggy sweats and the like?

    I understand where people are coming from when they talk about how the way that you look or the way that you dress shouldn’t be indicative of who you are……..BUT isn’t there something to be said for making some effort to look as good as you can? I for one feel good when I’ve made an effort with my appearance in the morning. And that feeling does not have to be dependent on your weight. It’s about putting your personal style out there.

    It feels as though we as a society stopped embracing the natural beauty of the curvaceous woman awhile ago. Why? I was brought up seeing photos of Sophia eating fresh pasta and vegetables. Now I see articles of celebrities and their liquid diets. That just seems like it sucks.

    As for this healthy eating topic — skinny doesn’t mean healthy and overweight doesn’t mean unhealthy. Every body is different, built different. But as a society – I can’t help but think that we’d be a lot better off if we made unprocessed foods the mainstay of our diet. All the while not beating ourselves up when we indulge in whatever yummy wonderful edible thing we want to eat from time to time –

    • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

      Read Fat Politics! It’s all about race and class and social signaling!

  • Ashley

    The money quote “As smart women, we are that much more prone to feel like failures when our bodies change because we have been trained to know better than to care.” I totally felt that one.

  • Casey T-S

    This was wonderful, thank you! I haven’t read all the comments, but I read through quite a few and was also happily struck by the emphasis on the DOUBLE disappointment with body image (the initial disappointment with your body, and then the disappointment with your disappointment).

    One thing to add, though, and it’s tough to say while still clapping wildly for this piece, but there really ARE health consequences to eating unhealthy food and not exercising. And it’s a really, really tough balance to maintain — focusing on your health but not beating yourself up too much and making yourself feel bad about your “failures.”

    I only raise this because when I saw the line about dying at 80 and not regretting five pounds, my gut reaction was, “What if you don’t make it to 80?”

    Please, ladies (and gents [and other and all]), rock your bodies and love yourselves. But also beware of what’s out there and what’s being advertised ad nauseum, because it is SO easy to choose the cheap, fast drive-thru, and it can be SO hard to take the time to exercise and spend the money on produce and real food. But it really is so important to get some activity in your days, and to eat more than just processed food, for example.

    Live in the moment, be yourself (and love it!), but take care of yourself too.

    • Maddie

      I agree that it is important to take care of our bodies just like it is important to take care of the rest of our well-being, but I think there is such pressure to be smart about eating and exercising ALL the time. I gained 50lb. I didn’t say I plan on keeping it forever. But people treat me like I’ve made a long-term life choice by not immediately starting to eat healthier and exercise just because I’m heavier than I was two years ago. Sometimes we do make decisions that are bad for our bodies because that’s all we can do at the moment to survive (emotionally, physically, economically). But I don’t think it makes things *better* by shaming ourselves for those decisions. So it’s a delicate balance. Of course we should all do better for ourselves, but often there are lots of things going on behind the scenes that need to be fixed first before we can do the seemingly simple things like going out and exercising and adding veggies to dinner.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        Shame almost never works as a motivator. Especially external shame.

      • Dawn

        It’s also kind of frustrating that some people (not necessarily you Casey — I’m talking about people in general) think that we have some sort of responsibility to the world to exercise and eat healthy. The reality is, I would probably serve society a whole lot more by say volunteering at a soup kitchen for five hours each week instead of exercising for those five hours. Maybe that’s not a very good example but recently I feel like I’ve seen a lot of comments from people (not here but on other blogs and articles) that seem to suggest that there is moral value in exercising and eating healthy as though we owe it to the world to be skinny.

        • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

          The exactly button isn’t strong enough for how right you are.

      • Casey T-S

        I hope this isn’t too late a comment!

        I absolutely agree with the difficulty of maintaining the delicate balance, as it is so hard to maintain so many of these delicate balances — how much we work, how much we watch TV, how much time we spend with loved ones, how much we volunteer, how much we give blood, how much we sleep, how much money we spend on clothes, etc. etc., and not feeling guilty about what we’re not doing as well as we *should.* Or as well as the Joneses are. Or as well as Kate Moss is.

        Everyone needs me-time, everyone needs to feel ok eating chocolate and watching reality TV, everyone needs to feel ok not giving blood because they’re afraid of needles. But I also believe that everyone (including myself most certainly!!) should also try to live the best life they can, which means trying to be that much nicer to other people, that much more generous when we can be, that much less selfish, that much more appreciative of a beautiful day and a breath of fresh air. Instead of watching TV for the next 2 hours, maybe we go outside for 15 minutes and THEN watch TV for the next 2 hours. Know what I mean?

        It’s a really tough challenge not to feel shamed, externally and/or internally (and trust me, I’m half Jewish-half Catholic, so I certainly understand shame and guilt). But as individuals, it’s our lives we’re living, no one else is living them for us. We only get one chance (as far as we can tell for now, at least!) and we only get one body. That means we can and should try to be down with our bad selves and maybe, instead of buying a 1000-calorie caramel frappucino every day, we buy it once a week and make our own coffee the rest of the week (and hey, saving money certainly helps!).

        I know this is a crazy fraught conversation, but while I ABSOLUTELY clap my hands and snap my fingers to this post, I also fear that if we focus exclusively on fighting the negative-body-image battle, we miss the other battles: against fast food chains, against 9-5+ days sitting in front of computer screens, against the lack of physical education programs for kids in schools.

        I hope that was what mostly came across; thank you so much for this website and for the conversations that can be had here. This is so important for our world. :)

        • Casey T-S

          UGH. I took too long editing. This is way more what I meant to say:

          I hope this isn’t too late a comment!

          I absolutely agree with the difficulty of maintaining the delicate balance of living healthy but also not shaming ourselves, as it is so hard to maintain so many of these delicate balances — how much we work, how much we watch TV, how much time we spend with loved ones, how much we volunteer, how much we give blood, how much we sleep, how much money we spend on clothes, etc. etc., and not feeling guilty about what we’re not doing as well as we *should.* Or as well as the Joneses are. Or as well as Kate Moss is.

          What I wanted to emphasize earlier is that we’re fighting a two-pronged battle here. We’re constantly bombarded with how we’re supposed to look and feel (skinny and happy), but we also live (especially in the U.S., as far as I understand) in a society constantly bombarding us with ads for food; with netflix and cable and the internet; with cars and exurbs and 9-5+ work-days sitting in front of computers. Corn and meat are subsidized at WAY higher levels than produce, which means there’s corn in just about everything we eat and strawberries cost 5 times as much as beef. Not only are we supposed to be young, skinny and pretty, but we’re also supposed to do so while living lives so busy that we don’t have time to eat anything other than McDonalds and a Snickers bar between our 9-5+ job sitting in front of a computer and our hours-long commute home to the suburbs. This is a ridiculously hard battle to fight, and that’s why I’m saddened by the shame we feel when we think it’s our fault we’re failing. We’re not failing! But we must keep trying.

          It’s a really tough challenge not to feel shamed, externally and/or internally (and trust me, I’m half Jewish-half Catholic, so I certainly understand shame and guilt). And no one has the magical answer for how to strive to be healthy and good at work/school and relationships without feeling any shame whatsoever. But as individuals, it’s our lives we’re living, no one else is living them for us. We only get one chance (as far as we can tell for now, at least!) and we only get one body. I’m not saying anyone should feel ashamed of buying a frappucino or a Big Mac. But I AM saying that it’s good for us to support each other as we try to live healthy, happy lives as free of shame as possible. Which means being supportive of trying to make conscious decisions about our health — not based in trying to be skinny, but in trying to live a life where we can run around with our grandkids, where we can take vacations we’ve dreamt of, where we feel good about ourselves because we’ve accomplished things, etc.

          I know this is a crazy fraught conversation, and while I ABSOLUTELY clap my hands and snap my fingers to this post, I also fear that if we focus exclusively on fighting the negative-body-image battle, we miss the other battles: against fast food chains, against 9-5+ days sitting in front of computer screens, against the lack of physical education programs for kids in schools.

          I hope that was what mostly came across; thank you so much for this website and for the conversations that can be had here. This is so important for our world. :)

  • Alice

    THIS. Thank you so much, Maddie, for sharing this story. I join you in calling bullshit on the double-guilt effect. I am tired of feeling bad about gaining weight, then feeling bad about feeling bad. I’m not 17 anymore – DEAL.

    I went through similar feelings when I quit smoking after 5 years (~2.5 pack-years). I’m coming up on the three year anniversary (GO ME), and my body has changed in so many ways, I barely know where to start. I was a skinny kid who had a figure, but would lose weight when I was depressed. I spent all of my college years weighing 115-125 at 5’4″ and got it in my head that 125 was my “perfect” weight due to a doctor’s comment at age 12. All the while I was smoking and not realizing how much that was keeping my body from going through the early twenties changes that so many women go through. I knew it was bad for my lungs, but never thought about it keeping the shape away from my hips.

    Fast forward to 25, and I’d quit smoking, started an office job with lots of baked goods and free food all.the.time, got into an awesome relationship with my now-husband, and generally became happier. BOOM. 10 pounds. I started bussing to work instead of walking. BOOM. 10 pounds. By the time I started shopping for a wedding dress, pictures of me looked like pictures of another person to my distorted eyes. DISTORTED being the operative.

    When the wedding came though, I hadn’t lost a pound, and yet *never felt more beautiful*. The whole day went by without a single worry about looking fat, which was somewhat surprising, and really REALLY good. The dress fulfilled my requirement of showing off my nice rack, but discretely, and my round little hourglass looked smoking, if I do say so myself. It never hurt that my husband finds the curves alluring as hell.

    I’m now at that higher weight still, but I can bench 95 lbs and run a 10k, no problem. Couldn’t do that at my version of 115. The most useful thing anyone said to me about this weight crap, was a nurse-midwife who did a physical & women’s exam around when I quit smoking. I had started to gain a few pounds, and expressed concern, and she said something like this:

    “Honey, you look great. You need to give yourself a break. You have been stunting your development for years with the smoking, and some things are just going to change. You have been stuck in this mindset that your teenage body is your forever body, and it isn’t. Get to know your new body (and it’s thanking you for not smoking way more than it was ever thanking you for weighing less).”

    • Lee

      Way to go Alice! I quit smoking too so I know how much work you did. Great job on the perspective. I love how active I can be now that I no longer smoke.

    • Amanda

      Omg. That nurses advice just made me teary eyed. That’s so cool

  • Kristine

    Maddie,
    I feel like I could have written this post. Eight months post-wedding, and I have gained about 30 pounds (50 in the last year…the curve started shifting up during wedding planning). I had a doctor’s appointment last month and when I told him how much weight I had gained, he literally collapsed into a chair all dramatic-like and started avoiding eye contact. As if somehow I was indeed a failure that he didn’t have time for anymore. It was brutal.

    So I just wanted to say THANK YOU! Thank you for reminding me that just because recent rough times have manifested themselves in stretch marks and an expanding abdomen, doesn’t dictate who I am or negate my value. It doesn’t mean I’ve let myself go. It doesn’t signal anything except demonstrate that some of us wear our scars more visibly than others.

    My husband still loves up on me now just as much as he did 50 pounds ago (possibly even more so). And when I shrink from his embrace or turn away from the mirror with a disgusted look on my face, I am failing to see what he sees: a smart, caring, beautiful woman.

    • Ambi

      When I went to the doctor and talked about how much weight I had gained (also about 50 lbs), his immediate reaction was concern – he ran a whole spectrum of tests and bloodwork to see if there was some kind of hormonal or thyroid problem causing it, even though I told him right off the bat that I had simply been eating wrong and not exercising. When the tests came back and, lo and behold, there was nothing medically causing my weight gain, he was suddenly less sympathetic. Like so many people who have posted, my health was fine, by all the standard measures – extremely low blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. He didn’t counsel me about health concerns, but his overall attitude just made me feel like a failure that he didn’t have time for.

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        Ambi, everything you’ve said on this thread makes me so sad. I just want you to know that there are doctors out there who practice Health At Every Size, which is a health approach with a much better track record than weight loss. Also there are doctors who aren’t JERKS.

        • Ambi

          Thanks. Sorry to be so depressing on this thread, which is really about Maddie’s empowering post and about banishing the negativity. I recognize that weight is THE big issue for me in my life, at least in recent years. I have very intense emotional baggage wrapped up in my weight/body image issues, and I am actually in counseling to deal with some of it (my boyfriend and I are in counseling together). I agree that it is sad. I think what I am finally seeing, as part of this thread, is that I should be able to recognize that my weight is a problem, and address it, without hating myself for having the problem.

          I agree about the doctors. If/when I have any real medical issues, I will seek out a better doctor. As it stands, I see this guy maybe once a year, and it just hasn’t caused enough of a problem to motivate me to find someone else. He definitely doesn’t practice Health At Every Size, though – most of his medical advice includes losing weight. I have seen him for an injured back, plantar fasciitis, and sinus trouble (including sleep apnea), and weight loss was always brought up. I am so torn on this issue though. I tend to believe that each person is different (so my weight may be unhealthy, while another person at my height and weight may be healthy), but when a doctor tells you that you weight is unhealthy and you need to lose weight, that is probably true. Health At Every Size sounds great, but a part of me feels like it may be ignoring the problem. This really gets to the root of some of the comments we have had – do you love and accept yourself at your current size, or do you see it as a problem to be fixed? And medical advice really plays into that- for me, my doctor has reinforced the idea that my weight is a problem to be fixed, which is always how I have viewed it too.

          • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

            when a doctor tells you that you weight is unhealthy and you need to lose weight, that is probably true.

            This is part of what is so damaging about the social stigma around weight. Doctors are people — people with good training, but just people — and almost all of them are WRONG about this. Really. I’ve read a ton of studies about weight (which are mostly just exercises in statistical evaluation of observational data, and that’s something I know quite a bit about) and there is just no good causal evidence that weight, rather than stress or poverty or problematic dietary choices or being sedentary, causes much damage. There’s a little evidence that it contributes to diabetes, but the mortality studies say that being ‘overweight’ is the category with the lowest risk of mortality.

            Here’s a useful article about HAES. It draws on several experimental comparisons of HAES with weight-loss counseling as a treatment (so the information is very high quality, much better than an observational study). The key finding is that people treated with HAES have better outcomes: better blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, more likely to be active, more interested in making lifestyle changes, and (interestingly) more weight loss. HAES is NOT about saying that whatever you’re doing is healthy. (Although I feel very strongly that, if you can’t make healthy lifestyle choices for a while for some reason, that’s morally OK and no one should shame you.) It’s about shifting the focus away from weight loss — which is unreliable, strongly affected by genetics, makes people feel bad, and not necessarily useful — to behaviors that definitely improve health, like healthy eating and exercise.

          • Dawn

            “I should be able to recognize that my weight is a problem, and address it, without hating myself for having the problem.”

            Actually you might want to think about recognizing that your weight is not really a problem and that the problem is that you think it’s a problem :) I mean, it’s a problem in that it’s causing relationship issues for you and I don’t want to dump on your boyfriend because I actually do understand the idea of physical attraction being a large part of a relationship and it kind of bugs me when people act like that is superficial but there is definitely a problem in that both he and you seem to have a frame of reference where people who clearly have disordered eating and in fact are very far from being healthy (I recall you saying that some of his family was anorexic) are seen as models of what to stive for. That is the problem.

            You mentioned before having lost and gained a lot of weight and it’s possible that your current weight (plus or minus a bit) might be where your body is actually supposed to be. If you were practicing disordered eating when you were thin you may have been forcing your body into a state it didn’t naturally want to be in if that makes sense?

            I just feel really bad for you right now and I’m sorry that this is such an issue for you. I really do undersand where you’re coming from as I gained about 30 pounds after my guy and I got together (and I was already a bit heavier than might be seen as ideal) and it’s had a definite impact on our relationship in that it has really affected my sex drive (his too I think as he has also gained weight) and I just don’t feel as sexy as I used to. So I’m working on that but I don’t couch it in terms of wanting to be healthier. The reality is that doctors aren’t paid to keep up with the research. They were told that obesity is a huge risk so that’s what they pass down to their patients (there are exceptions of course). And we believe them because why would we question our doctors?

  • http://stellacooks.com Stella

    Amen, girlfriend!

    I wrote a post dealing with similar themes (even down to the Fat Betty reference) a few weeks ago: http://stellacooks.com/2012/04/04/let-yourself-go/

    The part about feeling guilty (for being a “bad feminist”) for caring about it really struck home for me. Women just can’t win. Unless we give up playing this game altogether and start making new rules.

    Excellent, excellent post (and, as always, comments).

  • Ambi

    Hey, as the day is starting to draw to a close (and I’ll be leaving my computer soon, to go work out no less), I just wanted to say thanks for all the love and support I have gotten in these comments today. This issue is HARD for me, easily the hardest thing I have ever discussed on APW, and it is so scary and difficult to really be honest about what is going on in my life. So I appreciate all the replies and support. And to Laurel, above, I am sorry about making people sad – Maddie’s post was really uplifting, and I have kind of undermined that. But I am trying to talk honestly about where I am on this issue, and right now, it is really negative and sad. But posts like this help. Discussions help. Having people to talk to helps. So bravo, APW, Meg, Maddie, and everyone else for having such an amazing discussion on such hard subject. It almost defies logic that we are able to talk openly and very honestly, disagree with each other, and give each other advice, on a very sensitive topic, and somehow keep the entire conversation so civil and positive. Yet again, I have to post just to say APW ROCKS!

    • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

      Hey! you don’t need to be sorry about making me sad! I am sad for you, which is more like sympathy than being deeply personally upset, and talking about this and other difficult stuff is always going to involve sad feelings. Honestly I’m glad that you can get perspectives here that are different from the ones you get elsewhere. Please don’t feel like you’re taking anything away from my experience by sharing your feelings.

      • Ambi

        Thanks. It is all part of that guilt cycle Maddie was talking about – I feel bad about my weight, then I feel bad about feeling bad. I think I am embracing Maddie’s approach – I just realize that I am not there YET. But I can’t live the rest of my life hating myself for being overweight. Something has to give. I haven’t let go of the idea that losing weight is part of the solution, but you and Maddie and Meg are absolutely right – a much bigger part of the solution is accepting myself. But, as we all know, that is so much harder to actually do than it is to talk about. But you know, really, it is huge step to even acknowledge that I SHOULD accept and love myself at any size. If you had asked me this morning, and if I was being really honest, I would have said that I shouldn’t accept myself at my current size- I should fix it. I now see acceptance as a goal – just not one I am anywhere close to yet. Honestly, I need to reread these comments and Maddie’s post and see if people have tips for HOW to get there. How in the world do you go from being disgusted by your reflection to loving yourself?

        • Maddie

          Hey Lady. First of all, please don’t apologize for ANYTHING you’ve said on this post. I’m all about you not feeling bad about feeling bad, OK?

          So now that that’s clear, one of the best things I can suggest for you is to do something that makes you happy that has nothing to do with losing weight or food or exercise. Paint something. Volunteer. Buy a cheap camera and start taking photos. Write short stories. Just do ANYTHING that shows you that happiness is possible at the weight you are currently at. If you can start doing things to remove the connection between happiness and weight, you will inherently start to feel better about yourself.

          Also, I started feeling better when I threw out my full-sized mirror and began wearing outfits that I would wear at my thinner weight, even if they aren’t “flattering” (they have to be awesome, of course, but not flattering). I also tossed out my shapers. Basically, I took small steps the reinforce the idea that my size is OK.

          It may seem counterintuitive, but the less I focus on my body, the easier it is to know what is reasonable to ask of it and what is a crazy expectation that I’m trying to achieve because of external pressure.

        • Maddie

          Also, I know Laurel has touched on this quite a bit with her fantastic advice, but try and surround yourself with people and influences who are going to support you RIGHT NOW. I know you are working on your relationship with your boyfriend and your parents, but until those relationships are where you need them to be, you can seek out positivity & support elsewhere as well.

          Just like there is a community on APW that breaks away from guilt and shame associated with weddings, there are a bunch of great resources on the internet that will help you realize that you are not failing and can assist in some of the emotional healing that is so necessary to your journey.

          My friend runs this Facebook page and always has AMAZING links to resources that have helped me feel so much better about myself and sometimes brought me back from dark thinking.

          http://www.facebook.com/bihtf

          And again, hugs. You are doing so much good for yourself today by being brave enough to talk about all this. Please know that you are a worthy, important person despite the way you might feel at the moment.

        • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

          I second everyone who said that if you know how to take care of yourself physically and are struggling to do it, it’s time to take care of yourself emotionally. I always say, you gotta work on your head before your ass. Lots of things can improve your body image and make you feel good about your reflection; for me, one was physical (yoga) and one was not (focusing on my career). Also, making sure my hair and makeup look good always helps. The starting point for me always is, What makes me feel AMAZING? Usually, it has nothing to do with my weight. So I try to bring back the things that bring me confidence and happiness, even if I can’t do them 100 percent, and slowly but surely, start to build myself back up again.

        • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

          It’s such a huge, tremendous, valuable step to accept that your goal is to love your body. That’s a really big deal. For me, knowing that’s what I want to do makes it easier to interrupt negative self-talk.

          Maddie is spot on that loving YOURSELF, full stop, is the most important thing. If you can’t think about your body kindly, don’t think about it. Think about other awesome things about yourself and keep the mirrors, etc, out of your way. It also helps to think about how you’re approaching and talking about food and exercise. How can you make food and eating and movement about love for yourself, not about an obligation to fix a problem?

          I also recommend taking a look at your media diet. I can’t handle magazines with a lot of weight loss talk. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. That means I can’t handle having pretty much any mainstream aesthetics/fashion publications in my house. My first year of college I didn’t have a full-length mirror and I lived in a dorm where no one had any magazines and it was the biggest discontinuous improvement in my body image ever. It’s part of figuring out how to keep out negative messages about yourself. (Also those magazines are trying to make you feel bad about yourself so you will buy things, which makes me angry.)

          Therapy can help. I’d look for a therapist with eating disorder expertise, because those are people who know how to talk about body image and family expectations. Therapy is expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it’s only good if you find a therapist you really connect with. At the same time, it can be life-changing, and it’s amazing to have someone who’s there FOR YOU.

          Also, hugs. You deserve to love yourself, and you deserve to be loved. It is super brave to be able to talk about this stuff, and a huge, huge step.

        • Dawn

          Oops, I hadn’t finished reading all of the comments when I replied to your comment earlier in this thread.

          Anyway, there are actually quite a few fat acceptance blogs out there that you might find helpful. I’m not really there yet (I accept other people’s fat but not my own I guess?) but I’ve still found them really helpful in reframing how I view my weight. It’s actually not up and running anymore but I’m working my way through the archives of Shapely Prose right now and finding it pretty informative and useful in just shifting how I think about my body. I only started reading fat acceptance blogs a few months ago but I’ve already had a really big change in my perspective that has made me a lot happier. It’s like I already knew that it wasn’t really about health but I was still buying into the idea that I somehow had a responsibility to be thin even if I was driving myself crazy trying to achieve it. It’s somehow freeing to choose to eat healthier foods (or in my case to eat less sugar — I eat a lot of healthy foods but unfortunately I supplement them with a few too many foods that are not good for my hypoglycemia — sugar isn’t inherently bad but at large quantities it is for me) because I want to and because they make me feel good, not because I’m trying to change the number on the scale.

          And don’t feel bad about sharing. I don’t actually post here all that often (though I’ve clearly gotten really chatty today thanks to this being a topic I’m pretty passionate about) but I always notice your posts and appreciate your contributions to this site. I like that this is a place where people really do feel comfortable sharing details about their life and while I’ve never met anyone on here I still feel like I’ve gotten to know some of them, including you. And I appreciate that this site is the type of place where people do empathize with each other and their problems.

    • http://www.rachelwilkerson.com Rachel Wilkerson

      @Ambi Didn’t get a chance to reply to your first comment earlier today, and it looks like you’ve gotten GREAT advice so far, but I just wanted to add one thing, as the partner in a relationship who is watching someone struggle with weight gain.

      It may not be easy to believe this right now, but your partner’s frustration are not necessarily because you are no longer attractive to him, or even because you’re no longer prioritizing health/fitness or taking part in your fitness hobbies together. It’s also entirely likely that your partner DOES love you, flaws and all. But when you love another person that much, his or her pain is your pain, the frustration is your frustration, and it’s impossible not to wish you could help. Hell, all the commenters who are feeling sad for you right now are experiencing this a little bit, and we don’t even know you or love you like he does! So while he may not be expressing it very well (and it’s totally OK to be pissed about that), just know that it might not be as simple as him not liking how you look.

    • Ambi

      Thanks y’all. I am actually feeling a lot better today. Yesterday I had basically a meltdown to my boyfriend about how hard all this is and how sad it is making me. Nothing was really resolved, but he was loving and understanding and very sympathetic. We are in a better place, at least right this moment. We also talked about very small, concrete things that will help (how we pick restaurants, how we cook at home, what kind of language we use when talking about these issues, etc.). Because part of the problem is that I am projecting my own feelings onto him, so when he isn’t totally clear when he talks to me about this stuff, I assume the worst. Rachel Wilkerson, you comment REALLY hit home – it made me realize that he may not actually be thinking about me in the ways I think he is. He reinforced that when we talked. He loves me, he has stayed with me all these years, we are talking about marraige (very seriously) and he volunteered to go to counseling so we could work through this stuff. There have been a few times (including yesterday) when I just said maybe we should just end this because you want me to be a certain way, and I am not, and he is always very strongly opposed to that – he wants to stay together, and he doesn’t believe that he wants me to be something I am not. He doesn’t see it as wanting to change me. Basically, he kind of wants me to snap out it, to find a way back to being the person he is in love with – and I think a LOT of that has more to do with my confidence and attitude than my body. So, yes, it is complicated, but not as dark and hopeless as I felt it was yesterday.

      I also had book club with my girlfriends last night, which helped a lot (I really enjoyed good conversation, wine, and pizza, and it took my mind off things). I did feel bad eating unhealthily, but I justified/rationalized it because (1) I had just done an intense workout, and (2) I had a pretty shitty day.

      Overall, just tackling this stuff head on (not just trying to lose weight, but tackling the mental side of it and the relationship issues and trying to figure out what my goal actually is) has really made me feel better. I still have a long way to go before I am anywhere near Maddie’s wisdom and insight, but I now see that as the goal, rather than seeing a smaller size as the only goal (it is still one of the goals, though). And that is HUGE for me. So, if nothing else, we need to stop right there and wonder in awe at the power of APW – seriously, y’all, our conversations actually DO make big differences.

      • http://thevoiceofthelobster.wordpress.com Laurel

        I’m so glad you’re feeling better. I realized yesterday that there’s a really simple thing you can do to help feel better that I forgot to mention: get rid of your scale. Because of our cultural focus on weight, having a scale around often makes people focus on that number as the measure of their success or failure. Even if you end up deciding that making changes in your body shape is one of your goals, you don’t need the scale to keep track of it.

        I think people often get into this mindset where losing weight is going to fix other, unrelated things (health, confidence, sex life, relationship stuff, work stuff, whatever), which is a recipe for disappointment given that body shape is only body shape, but makes perfect sense when you think about the moral and aesthetic importance our culture attaches to weight. Starting to disentangle that stuff is really really hard and really really important.

  • http://threlkelded.net Emily

    In my wedding photos, I was about 155 pounds. At the time, it was the heaviest I’d ever been in my life. I had left college to come live at a hospital while my father was dying. Between stress and grief, I hardly ever ate, so my body latched on to every single calorie I consumed. After I got married, I lost thirty pounds, which happened because I was walking a beautiful trail outside our apartment every day and eating regularly. Starting last fall, I had a pretty bad relapse of depression and I slowly gained back all the weight I’d lost, plus about ten more pounds. I’m around 170 now, which is a lot for me–I’m short–and for awhile I was really angry that I’d let myself do that. Then I realized that when the poo hits the fan, you can’t keep everything together. I forgave myself. And I embraced this new body. I smush my belly fat together and laugh. I have fun with my huge breasts. I smack my bum in front of the mirror. And I know that my body won’t be this size forever, because as my mind gets healthier, I have more energy to move my body and cook myself good food. But whatever size it is, I’m going to love it. Because life is to effing short.

    • Maddie

      This is pretty much my post, just a few hundred words shorter. :)

      And do you want to know the funniest part? 155 pounds was the weight I fought SO HARD to get to for the wedding. It’s all so relative, these numbers that plague us.

    • http://heart-of-light.blogspot.com/ Rachel (heart of light)

      Yes – you have to forgive yourself! I gained 30 lbs over the course of a couple months in a very similar situation. Living at the hospital, eating out of vending machines and stressing constantly will do a number on your body. I kept the weight on for a couple years because I needed the energy (mental and physical) for other things, more important things. And I just remind myself that I gained that weight honestly, that I was doing something that was important and I was handling it as best I could and being as good to myself as I could manage. I sloooowly took most of it off after things calmed down a little and I had the head space to start cooking and sleeping properly again.

      There are different kinds of health, physical and mental, and they are intertwined but you can’t conflate them. Sometimes mental health needs to take priority and that might mean sleeping whenever you can and not beating yourself up for eating saltines and pb nonstop because you don’t have many other options at the time.

      I love Maddie’s acknowledgment of the double-guilt, feeling bad for the weight and then feeling bad for feeling bad. I feel like I should be able to love myself at every size, but I’m not quite there yet. And I can forgive myself for that too.

      • Amanda

        This. Completely. I’ve needed to focus on mineral health for the last couple of years and I’m just getting to focus on physical health now. And I have been completely aware of that dichotomy and making the conscious choice of where to focus the whole time. And that has been right and good for me.
        But. The number of times i have had to defend that choice and over explain it to well meaning friends and family has been exhausting :(

    • KM

      “Then I realized that when the poo hits the fan, you can’t keep everything together.”

      Yes. I need to remember this. My body and weight gain are definitely the shit that I have let go of in the last 2 years of miserable-impossible-hours-at-unfulfilling-job.

      I need to remember that my choices of what to do with the only 3 waking hours I have to myself in each day are valid choices. Choices that have consequences, of course, but consequences that I can accept and live with. My choice is usually to spend time with my fiance trying to remember how to be a human being. I will not feel guilty about that time spent not-exercising.

      I can’t keep everything together.

  • http://www.suncentered.com Jen

    1 cookie per serving IS BS! Thanks for this great post, Maddie.

  • Marissa

    This was a great post to read as the partner of someone who has struggled with weight gain. My boyfriend gained 40-50 pounds during our first year of living together, which was mostly a response to the stress of living with me in addition to starting a new job and living in a new city far from friends. He has not been very communicative about his feelings in regards to the weight gain, and I know that men experience different cultural expectations about their bodies, but it was clear that he was not happy and didn’t know what to do. At first I didn’t know how to be supportive because I didn’t understand where he was coming from. When I get stressed out, I go salsa dancing because the music and people and spinning make my mind and body feel great, and I didn’t know why he wouldn’t choose to deal with stress in a way similar to mine. We’ve been talking about what I can do to help him (which is often not much more than sticking around and giving him hugs now and then) but for me the understanding part has been the biggest hurdle. So thank you for the insight :)

  • Lola

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Peg

    Maddie, thank you so much for writing this! I’ve been visiting APW for months now, have felt wedding-inspired and relationship-advised by this community on a daily basis, and yet it was THIS post, this non-wedding, non-relationship related post, that triggered something so deep in me that I am actually posting a comment. That catch22 just kills me. And as women, we are constantly up against those impossible standards for both our bodies and our minds. And yet, I never realized it until you put it all into words. A light bulb went on in my head as I read your beautiful post. So I just want to thank you for the shiny new bulb.

  • Laura

    Wow, so so many comments. Also, I think this is a totally appropriate post for “change” week – bodies changing is a big change! A lot has already been said, much of which I agree with. But one point really seems to be missing in the above comments (or maybe I missed it in the sea of words)…

    Weight *gain* is not the only kind of change that is hard and painful. Weight loss, especially when dramatic, can also be a total mindf*ck. Even when it’s planned or welcome.

    Like when you find out from the Bali lady that your boobs have shrunk 2 cup sizes, and you cry in the fitting room at the outlet mall.

    Or like when people call you beautiful or pretty or hot way more often at your new weight than the weight you’ve been since middle school.

    Or when you wear a deep-ish v-neck and realize you can see your ribs in the front and you think it looks super gross.

    And you realize you kind of didn’t mind the way you were before, and you certainly had a much better sense of self at that size – who is the skinny stranger staring you in the mirror anyway?

    (I will also say for posterity that I’ve since gained a bunch back and have returned to my homeostasis weight, where I’m pretty darn happy and know how to dress myself. I do miss the smaller me sometimes, but mostly when I’m exercising and realize I could enjoy a run so much more if I had less mass to carry every mile.)

    The point is, *down* change, not just up change, in the body image department can be tough.

  • NF

    I really really needed this post. I’m at the low end of healthy weight (after struggling a lot with trying to avoid being unhealthily underweight), but I’m about to start taking a medicine that is guaranteed to make me gain a small amount of weight and has a reasonably strong possibility of making me gain a lot of weight.

    My husband and I tried to have a discussion about how much weight gain I would consider too much, and I’ve been sort of panicked about how on earth I’m supposed to figure that out. At some point I assume the weight gain would become unhealthy/problematic, but I think I need to get beyond just the basic body image questions, I don’t want to give up on a medicine if it’s helping me just because of feeling self conscious about weight gain.

  • http://notsolittlethings.blogspot.com Stephanie

    371 comments! Evidently I am not the only person who needed to read this: “There is the visceral reaction to what’s happening to my body (I’m uncomfortable with my appearance). And then there is the logical reaction to the visceral response (I am ashamed of the discomfort I feel about my appearance, because it is frivolous and makes me seem like less like of a confident, intelligent woman). Great, now I’m not only disappointed in how I look, but I’m also disappointed with how I feel. AWESOME.”

    I spent my entire life gaining and losing 10 lbs and am now 20 lbs heavier than I have ever been because…well, I had a baby. I figging made a person and I feel bad that my body has changed because of it? That is totally effed. Does it help that I hold all my weight in my stomach so people think I am pregnant again? No. Is it okay that they assume that? Eff no. Do I know I need to work on the reasons why I find it so hard to be in this body now? Totally.

    In the mean time I bought myself some spanx. That helped a bit.

  • http://badassurl.blogspot.com Amanda

    “Will I feel like a sell-out if I decide eventually that I’d like to lose that weight? Nope, because I’m done having a guilty conscience about the way I feel about my body, regardless of which direction I’m leaning.”

    THIS! On the one hand we’re supposed to be thin. But then, feminism! and we’re supposed to be happy with our bodies at any size. And these two sided fighting it out make it very hard to just accept not only that this is where I am now, but that I have the power to say “I would like to be somewhere else and that’s ok, too.”

    Seriously, that whole thing about the battle scars and the armor? My battle is with my body image (there are others too), so it can become this whole vicious cycle if I’m not careful (stress out about how I look -> stress eat -> stress out about that Kit-Kat I just ate, and about fulfilling that stereotype of the person crying into their pile of cupcakes… UGH)

    … this comment sort of got away from me. In conclusion, THANK YOU for this post. You are very wise.

  • jamie

    Just wanted to say you look fly, grrl! Thanks for the great post.

  • Jaq

    Wow, this really hit home. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Thank you. This was my first post, sent from a caring friend and it’s just what I needed. Thank you.

  • TIFFANY

    Wow, this was an amazing read. I am not getting married but do live with my boyfriend of ten years. There is no doubt that the stresses of being on our own and navigating through this hectic world has left its mark on me. It makes me feel better to know that I am not alone. Thank you. :)

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  • Jessica

    The paragraph about how the first two years of marriage were difficult and your body was what took the beating, the scars, and was what helped you through, about stretch marks being battle scars. Thank you. I have never heard a more powerful or succinct summary of weight gain during a difficult time in life and I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me that someone else knows what it feels like. Thank you.

  • Megan

    Wow. I cannot thank you enough for this post.

    First, let me say I am now engaged to a beautiful man who loves me 100% for who I am and am working hard on loving my body as it is.

    However, in my younger years, I spent 4 years in an relationship which ultimately ended with my discovering of my then fiance’s affair one month before our wedding. And he told me, and I “knew”, that it ended because I had gained 35lbs in the 3 years since he had proposed to me and we had moved in together. Year one was most of the weight gain and occurred while he was serving in Iraq as a Marines Corps Reservist. Year two was the rest of the weight gain and also contained his being diagnosed with cancer and my nursing him through it. Year three was when the wedding planning happened and when the affair started.

    The weight bashing started when he returned from Iraq.
    “He was disappointed”, I could understand that.
    It got worst when he got cancer.
    “He was sick and angry”, I could understand that.
    And he told me after I discover the affair, that he wouldn’t have loved the woman he had the affair with if she was 20lbs heavier.

    I left when I discovered the affair; Two weeks out from under the haze of the relationship, I realized that it wasn’t something wrong with me, I was in a relationship with a very sick person, I realized the systematic beating down of my self confidence I had lived with and understood that I had stayed because I believed myself to be undesirable, I realized and admitted that I had been in an abusive relationship. I worked on these things, I grew from these things, and I healed from these things and learned to love myself again.

    All of this is to say, it wasn’t until I read this post that I realized that, although I am on the road to true self and body acceptance and DO, in fact, love who I am again, I still saw my weight gain as the true reason for his affair. I still see that weight gain as my failure in the relationship, I still think of those 35lbs as my contribution to what pushed his sickness over the edge.

    I cried as I read the article. I cried as I read the comments. Because I have harbored, all these years, the genuine belief that those 35lbs where what caused everything. They were my failure. And they are not. And I cannot thank you enough for reminding me of that.

  • Nathalie

    I’m getting married next summer and have been enjoying this blog so much. I ordered some dresses to try on for the wedding, and I felt fat when I tried them on. I am nowhere near fat – in fact I’m pretty unquestionably skinny. I’m a feminist – it’s one of the main ways I define myself in fact, and I can completely relate with so much that’s been said, including the “shame spiral” of “why am i so superficial to care about my looks this much? i should be more confident and empowered and fabulous!” I grumbled something to my equally outspoken feminist fiancé, and it makes him uncomfortable because he doesn’t like commenting on women’s appearance etc. I’m not sure what the most supportive reaction would be from a partner. I feel like I wanted him to say: “you look great, you have a great body” or something like that, but then I didn’t want my positive body image to be based on external things like what he thinks of my looks. But sometimes I wish he would tell me I’m beautiful more often… Any thoughts on a positive, healthy way to give myself a reality check when I feel down about my body? Again, thanks for being such a wonderful, feminist community. After my fiancé struggled to find a way to make me feel better, I googled “body image a practical wedding” – i’m so glad this space exists! :) xo

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  • Kate Stous

    This is incredible! I have gained 10 lbs since getting married 7 months ago. I too have struggled wondering if I should lose the weight or accept myself right where I am right now and be content with being a little bit larger than I was at my “ideal.” I don’t even look in the mirror and think, “I look bad.” I just feel pressure to have tiny little legs and a flat stomach.

  • Bryna

    GAH! I’ve been waiting for this post! Mainly because the prevalence on Pinterest of “sweating for the wedding” t-shirts. I want to burn all of those t-shirts. WHY do those t-shirt even exist? WHY do we need to associate relationships with physical appearance?!

    What is it with women and marriage and weight?! I’m just as bad as everyone else – I’ve been gymming up a storm getting ready for my wedding in two weeks. When I mentioned to my fiance that I wanted to be all fit and awesome for the wedding he said “GREAT!!!”. When I mentioned that I wanted to lose weight he said “WHY?!?!?!”

    I fancy my fiance and he fancies me. But really, now that we’ve been together for two years, I don’t really see him any more (not that I’m blind or don’t like that he’s fit…..). When I look at him I see his soul and all the good things that he is.

    I’ve come to realise that – despite all the pressure to look like someone shrunk me in the drier for my wedding – that actually I love how I look. My body is awesome. I’m strong and fit. I have stretch marks from being pregnant. My arms are NOT the skinny nice variety but rather the strong good-for-carrying-stuff variety.

    I think I’ve finally come to that happy place of acceptance. I’m not going to look “perfect” on our wedding day, but I am getting married. And that’s what it’s all about, right?!

    Finally – just on this: “Because those stretch marks? I consider them my battle scars. So who gives a shit if they’ll never look good in a bikini? You don’t need a bikini when you’ve got armor.”

    I recently saw this and loved it: http://iamnotthebabysitter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/meme112.jpg

  • Amanda

    “Because those stretch marks? I consider them my battle scars.” I’m adopting this. I gained my thirty pounds before the wedding. Engagement was hard. Family was hard. I dropped out of school. So yeah. And I proudly show off my stretch marks when I’m trying to encourage friends who have body image issues. Because like you, I have pretty great stuff esteem. I still haven’t lost my wedding stress weight three years later and I’ve gained ten pounds to add on top. But I’m learning to build a healthy non-guilt induced relationship with exercise for the first time in my life. Mostly to manage my anxiety. And my goal is to have metabolic health as well as emotional health. And to be perfectly honest weight is pretty far down on the list of reasons I move my body.

  • Elizabeth

    In the months prior to my wedding last summer, I had a heart to heart with my mother, mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law. I very bluntly told them that they were not allowed to use my wedding as a reason to go on a diet, and if they did, I would seriously freak the fuck out on them if they told me about it. Looking back, my telling them this was a way of also giving myself permission to not go on a crazy diet before my wedding. I ended up gaining some inches, but I was still able to maintain my “this is my special fucking day so no one gets to ruin it with fat talk” attitude.

    I have been beating myself up since then, though. I’ve continued to add inches and the way I feel in my clothes chokes out every other feeling I have, every day. I’m so tired of thinking about it. It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized- I’ve had a really hard year. I graduated (with student loans), started a new job (that doesn’t cover them), got married (yay!), tried unsuccessfully to move out of state (talk about failure), and the cherry on top is my parents divorce after 37 years of marriage. I’ve somehow connected my weight gain to every single one of these events. “My job sucks and I’m fat”, “I’m broke and I’m fat”, “I got married and now I’m a fat wife”, “My family structure has been shattered and I’m fat.” I wish I didn’t feel like I needed permission to not beat myself up for my weight “failures”, but right now I do. Thanks for the permission, Maddie. I needed it.

  • Belle11

    I can’t tell you how timely this post is. Thank you. I too am dealing with weight gain. It’s a small change, in the long run. But the true reason why I’m so upset over it is that we’re visiting friends soon. Who haven’t seen us since the wedding. And I’m terrified they’ll think this: “I’d done a bad thing by carrying out a self-fulfilling prophecy about letting myself go and now the whole world was disappointed in me because I’d become just another once-pretty girl who got married too young and then let herself get … too comfortable.” And then I’m upset because I’m supposed to know better, than to care over something as trivial as a few pounds and other people’s opinions. Seriously – this whole piece is me right now.

    And my husband dislikes mopey self-conscious Amy as well. He gives me good advice though, when I fall into this particular mood. He tells me to think positive – just push all those negative thoughts out of my head. Eventually, I’ll only think of the positive. On one hand, I hate it when he tells me this because I really just want him to indulge my “I’m getting so fat” mood (even though it’s not healthy). But he’s always right. Positive thoughts. My body is alive – my heart is beating – with any luck my body will be busy creating a new little body soon. That’s what matters.

  • Granola

    Oh my god Maddie THANK YOU for writing this. From the very bottom of my now-much-warmer heart.