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Skinny dreams meets skinny reality

27th April 2010

Skinny dreams meets skinny reality

I have never liked running.  Before I lost weight, I thought I didn’t like running simply because I was physically unable to run and believed that once I lost the weight, I’d magically become one of those cross country runners sporting an armband iPod and gloating about my runner’s high.  Fast forward one year and 175 pounds lost.  I weigh 125 pounds, wear a size four and guess what?  I still can’t run more than a mile before dissolving into a huffing and puffing red-faced mess.

MSNBC has a great story out today on people who’ve discovered that the skinny dream is just that… a dream. The story profiles three women, all of whom thought their lives would be just fabulous once they lost the pesky weight holding them back, and discovered that weight loss isn’t a panacea for life’s problems nor has it made them a better person.  Self-described “accomplished fat girl” Jen Larsen had a master’s degree in creative writing, a great job working in an academic library, a great boyfriend and a slew of friends.

By age 32, she believed she’d be writing a book, “doing something important,” she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight.  “Not so,” she now says. “The only thing that’s different is the size of my ass.”

Larsen thought skinny came with a mega-boost of self confidence. And a huge dollop of happiness. She thought she’d be dynamic and brave and ready to take on the world, just because she was thin.

“I think fat people are sold a fantasy, and then get no support in the reality, because we’re simply supposed to be grateful that we’re no longer fat,” Larsen says.

…In a culture obsessed with BMIs, the tears and triumphs of “The Biggest Loser,” and the latest-greatest surefire way to lose weight and keep it off, Larsen’s take on her new lean physique sounds like heresy. But weight loss chat rooms, forums and blogs are filled with people who are wondering why their newfound svelte selves and stellar metabolic profiles are leaving them ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Jennette Fulda, a.k.a. PastaQueen, was a national merit scholar, her high school class valedictorian and graduated with highest honors from college — all accomplished while weighing 372 pounds.   “You can be fat, accomplished and pretty darn happy.  I think people forget that,” she said.  ““I guess we all really think that losing weight gets rid of our issues. But in so many ways we’re still the very same person, not that skinny woman we dreamed about.”

It’s something that Darliene Howell, 55,  knows all too well.  A yo-yo dieter since the age of 6, Howell says she’s tried “every diet on the planet” and has counted calories, points, carbs and proteins “until I thought I was losing my mind,” she says. She finally lost 100 pounds on a liquid diet.  “I’ve weighed 150, 250 and even 300, and each time I lost weight I thought I was going to live the skinny dream,” she says. “My life was supposed to have changed. I thought I was supposed to be more popular, more attractive, if only I were thinner. Well, that didn’t happen.”

I think many of us suffer from the delusion that is the “skinny dream” — that if we just lose weight, everything else will follow.  We will become vastly more interesting, creative, outgoing, self-assured.  Guys will beat down our doors laden with bouquets of roses and people much cooler than ourselves will clamor to be our friends.  We’ll finally land the dream job we’ve always wanted, become a veritable social butterfly, get the guy and live happily ever after on that thin, thin cloud of delusion.

Reality check: weight loss, in itself, is unlikely to bring about any of the above.

I’ve been morbidly obese and I’ve been on the low end of the “normal” range of BMI and have now settled somewhere comfortably in between.  Before my weight loss, I also suffered from the delusion that my weight and weight alone was the only thing holding me back from becoming the person I wanted to be.  I discovered all too quickly that happiness can’t be found in the junior’s department. If you read the so-called weight loss success stories, they’re chock full of just how awful and miserable an existence life was before weight loss and how fabulous it is after.   And yet, I have never understood (or fully believed) these people who lose weight and lay claim to some newly found self-confidence that has just laid buried beneath fat, like a diamond waiting to be mined.  If anything, I was even more insecure after my weight loss than before!  I still battled the same self-doubts and fears.  I still had the same old fat girl self-image.  I still had the same money problems.  I still had the same unresolved family issues.    The only thing that changed was that I went from being morbidly obese to morbidly afraid of regaining the weight.

This is not to say that weight loss did not change my life in any significant way.  I sincerely believe I would never have landed a contract job with a major computer corporation had I weighed 100, 75 or even 50 pounds more than what I weighed at the time.  Sales clerks, professors and classmates and even some family members treated me more nicely than before.  It was easier to find fashionable and affordable clothes in my size.  My personality even changed after my transformation to the point where my sister, the person to whom I was closest to at the time, remarked that I was like a new person.  It wasn’t that weight loss freed some skinny girl inside me clawing her way out, but rather that it took a while to reconcile my split identities between living Life as a Fat Person and Life as a Thin Person.  For a while, I felt like an imposter infiltrating a thin insider club, a fat girl masquerading in a thin suit, laying claim to a title I had no right to claim.  I always thought I wanted to be part of them, the Thin People, but after my weight loss, I found myself literally disfiguring myself with body piercings in an attempt to salvage some element of my Fat Girl identity, to show that I wasn’t one of them.

Although I struggled with my identity, being thin did not grant me membership to some exclusive club in which being thin absolves you of all your problems.  If anything, the compulsive calorie-counting, over-exercising and general obsession with my weight only created more problems and took away from the time I could have dedicated instead to facing the existing problems I had, like, oh, resolving longstanding issues with my mother, my poor self-esteem and dead-end job situation.  And surprise… once I committed to face the real problems head-on, my issues with food and  body also began to resolve themselves.  

How about you?  Did you (or do you still) suffer from the delusion of thinness?  How did your skinny dreams measure up to reality?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 at 1:36 pm and is filed under Body Image, Mental Health, Personal, Rachel, Recovery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  1. 1 On April 27th, 2010, Heather said:

    I have never believed that being smaller would make me happier; I did, however, think it would be easier or that going through life without being constantly made fun would be kind of awesome. Then I realized that those things aren’t my problem.

    Sure, I do have my moments where I wonder what life would be like if I were thinner; would I enjoy fitness more? Would I feel more confident to wear a bathing suit in public? Would I enjoy shopping for clothes more? Would I experience less back pain? And then I wonder if even all of those thoughts are caused by the constant swarm of the media instilling the “obesity crisis” bullshit.

    But yeah, I’ve gotten straight A’s, had an amazing boyfriend, traveled to fantastic cities, made some of the best friends of my life, and had the best memories ever, all while being fat.

  2. 2 On April 27th, 2010, Rachel said:

    @Heather: Same here, only I didn’t blame the people making fun of me; I connected the harassment to my weight and thought that the solution was to just lose the weight. Classic victim mentality.

    And likewise. All I accomplished in the brief period I was skinny was exactly that: I was skinny. Whoopdidoo. I graduated from college twice (BA and MA), landed my semi-dream job, met Mr. Right and married him, traveled to some amazing places, rescued countless number of critters, and appeared on TV and radio, all while being fat.

  3. 3 On April 27th, 2010, Ashley said:

    Associating confidence with weight loss is the wrong way to go about it. Personal happiness isn’t just pounds away. People keep looking to change their outer appearance thinking that they can score inner peace, but it just doesn’t work that way. It truly comes from within.

    My ex boyfriend, used to be overweight and unhappy. What he did was, learned how to be confident and happy with himself first. He had to come to terms with lots of things, including things that had to deal with our relationship. Once he did that, he had a completely different perspective on life. He is the type of person that loves to take long, leisurely walks. We always walked together, just because we liked it. few years ago, he started running instead of walking, and found out that he enjoyed that too. He didn’t even aim to lose weight, wasn’t even thinking about it…it just happened. He lost about 100 lbs and has kept it off since now that he keeps running. He says that he feels a lot better outwardly because he has a lot more energy than he used to when he wasn’t running. The idea, though, is that if you learn confidence from within, the rest is likely to follow.

  4. 4 On April 27th, 2010, sannanina said:

    The idea, though, is that if you learn confidence from within, the rest is likely to follow.

    Ashley, I am glad this worked out for your boyfriend, but it doesn’t work out for all (or even most) of us. And in my opinion, the myth that it does is just as toxic as the myth that weight loss will make you happy (because it comes very close to seeing fat as a sign of unhappiness or mental pathology).

  5. 5 On April 27th, 2010, notpollyanna said:

    I was never overweight, so perhaps my skinny dreams are a little bit more delusional than the norm. I got it in my head that my level of extroversion had to be directly proportional to my body size; the bigger I was, the more extroverted I had to be. But I had severe social phobias to the point that people sometimes wondered if I was mute or deaf. Therefore, I concluded, I had to be incredibly skinny.

    I also often find having a body so troubling that I wish I could be rid of my body altogether and just be an abstract entity of my nonphysical characteristics. (I have trouble remembering what people look like because I do think of them as abstract entities.) But I do know that is a poor solution to my problems, in part because it would take away many of the things I enjoy doing.

    And that before-to-after, sad-to-happy trope? That shows up in equally unrealistic ways in more places than weight loss. It shows up in ED/SI/addiction recovery stories, in religious conversion stories, in relationship stories. It drives me crazy; I intensely dislike that trope.

    @ Ashley – That reminds me of the Carl Rogers quote my therapist has on her website, “The curious paradox is that when I accept my self just as I am, then I can change.”

  6. 6 On April 27th, 2010, Ashley said:

    I completely agree and understand that it’s not as simple for a lot of people as it was for him. I think it’s just easier for him to lose weight, by doing something as simple as running a few times a week, than it is for most people who try to lose weight. I mean, yeah, if it were that simple, there would be a lot less people struggling than there really are.

  7. 7 On April 27th, 2010, sannanina said:

    I don’t think I ever fully subscribed to the fantasy that thinness would bring happiness. What I did find confusing, however, was that people treated MUCH better after I had lost weight even though I clearly felt that I was the same person inside. In fact, I never got as much recognition for anything else as I got for losing weight – and, boy, did that hurt. On the one hand, I wanted people to treat me well because they liked ME, not because I looked different. On the other hand, I had experienced so much rejection as a fat person that I really did not want to go back to being fat (in fact, I told myself I would kill myself if I should ever end up weighing more than 100 kg again – something I fortunately did not follow through with, but yeah, the thought was there).

  8. 8 On April 27th, 2010, sannanina said:

    Ashley – sorry if I misinterpreted your comment. I have just been judged as having mental health issues simply because I am fat one too many times, so I am a bit oversensitive in this respect. (The truth is, I DO have some mental health issues, but being fat is not an outward sign of them.)

  9. 9 On April 27th, 2010, inge said:

    Reading this I was nodding so hard my head nearly fell off. I have waited for 28 years for a diet to work or a miracle to happen so I would be skinny and my life would begin. Of course, while I was waiting, life happened and needed my attention, so the belief ended up somewhere in the back of the cupboard with the calorie charts, but I could still hear it murmuring, “one day you will be skinny and then your *real* life will begin”, or, as the years crept on, “you will always be fat and can never have nice things”. In the meantime, I got a good job, awesome friends, and even made some kind of peace with my mother.

    I’m not fat anymore (right now) for the first time in 25 years, and know what? There’s exactly *one* thing I can do now that I couldn’t before: Find clothes in my size. Which I never even considered important.

    The whole “be skinny, be happy” is a scam, a three-card monte where the lady isn’t even on the table. One thing I learned, you want to achieve something, work towards it — not towards something else entirely.

  10. 10 On April 27th, 2010, Happy life, happy body « Real Live Revolution said:

    [...] at 3:55 PM (Body, Goals) Tags: adventure, belly dance, body, fat, pride, skiing So today I read this which led to this which led to [...]

  11. 11 On April 27th, 2010, Jackie said:

    “Although I struggled with my identity, being thin did not grant me membership to some exclusive club in which being thin absolves you of all your problems.”

    This reminds me of an episode of Family Guy, where once Peter became handsome and thin, he was granted access to the community’s Beautiful People’s Club. Where among the things in their welcome gift basket, were pills that made your farts smell like cinnamon buns, lol!

  12. 12 On April 27th, 2010, BigLiberty said:

    I think it’s important to recognize that:

    1. We do live in a system that treats thinner people better in many ways, especially thinner women
    2. That being thinner naturally relieves fatter oppression (to reiterate, by definition)
    3. That this still isn’t any reason to lose weight. Because when has cooperating with one’s oppressors ever led to true happiness, at any rate?

  13. 13 On April 27th, 2010, fern said:

    For me it is not so much will I be happier if I lose weight, but who would I have been if I was always skinny? Being fat never really held me back from career success, friends and finding a partner, but it sure as heck eroded my self-esteem and reduced the enjoyment I got/get out of life. I know that if I could take a magic pill and be thin overnight, I would not be any different. But if I never had to feel the relentless lack of acceptance as a result of my weight, would I be a happier person now?

    Ironically, after I got through my teens, 20s and into my early 30s, I thought that weight would cease to be an issue. I was older, married and essentially ceased to be only valued as a sexual object, so my looks became less relevant. However, the whole obesity epidemic has turned that dream on it’s head. I despair for those in their teens and 20s that are not only seen as unattractive, but also have to put up with the stigma of being part of the “epidemic”. So even if they lose weight in the future, this cruel reality will never leave them. Who would they have been?

  14. 14 On April 27th, 2010, J.S. said:

    The only thing that changed was that I went from being morbidly obese to morbidly afraid of regaining the weight. Yup. That was me. I mean, I wasn’t morbidly obese before (although very overweight) but I was absolutely obsessed with fear about regaining that weight that I lost. It literally consumed my thoughts. I gained it all back plus some, though, when I unexpectedly got pregnant with our 3rd child. Today she’s four and I still haven’t made any serious effort to lose the weight because I just don’t want to have my brain space ruled by fear again.

  15. 15 On April 28th, 2010, Kath said:

    In 2005, I lost over 50lbs. I went from a size 26 to a size 16-and-a-bit. I was the thinnest I have ever been in my entire life.

    And I was the most miserable. Because to get there, I had to exercise more than 6 hours per day, plus starve myself. I worked so hard at it that I lost my social life, most of my friends, my quality of work slipped and the only people who wanted to be around me were those who were shallow enough to only like me if I was slim, or wanted to piggy back on my “weight loss success”.

    And on top of that… my life didn’t change. My health didn’t get any better, in fact, my PCOS symptoms, that I had been promised by so many different sources would miraculously disappear on weight loss, were worse than ever. My skin was bad, I had more hirsuitism than ever, my periods were far more painful than before and don’t get me started on the hormonal depression.

    It was heartbreaking. I wasn’t happy, and what’s worse, is that I was still me, and I hated me.

    I was lucky enough to have a good doctor. She packed me off to a very good psychologist and I have had 4 years therapy in building up my self esteem and confidence. I am fat again – back up to a size 26. But I have re-gained the good friends that waited for me to get over the madness of weight loss, my social life is better than ever, I have built my job up to one that I love and I had a relationship with a man that was in no way connected to my being fat (we didn’t work out, but that’s got nothing to do with my weight). And I’m happy. The happiest I have ever been in my life.

    I don’t believe the thin myth. I don’t believe the health myth. I believe in the reality of good self esteem and confidence leading me to a happy and healthy life, no matter what my body shape and size are.

  16. 16 On April 28th, 2010, Rachel said:

    For me it is not so much will I be happier if I lose weight, but who would I have been if I was always skinny?

    I’ve often wondered that, too. I think that part of the reason I am the academic geek and bookworm I am today is because I would rather be seen as “the smart girl” than “the fat girl” and I often escaped into books. Would I be the same geeky girl interested in the same geeky things had I not been fat for most of my life? Who knows. I’m pretty happy with the person I turned out to be, so I’m not too hung up on what might have been.

  17. 17 On April 28th, 2010, Rachel said:

    And on top of that… my life didn’t change. My health didn’t get any better, in fact, my PCOS symptoms, that I had been promised by so many different sources would miraculously disappear on weight loss, were worse than ever. My skin was bad, I had more hirsuitism than ever, my periods were far more painful than before and don’t get me started on the hormonal depression.

    Likewise. I had the highest cholesterol (a symptom of hypothyroidism) I’ve ever had when I weighed 125 pounds and ate barely 500 calories a day. I also had debilitating depression, bad skin and hair loss. In fact, I’ve never been so unhealthy as when I was eating disordered and thin! I’m glad that you were able to find a good doc and work on rebuilding your emotional and mental health. For a nation so obsessed about health, mental health seems to be a forgotten bygone.

  18. 18 On April 28th, 2010, Manda said:

    Finally someone has said it. I lost 126 pounds over 3 1/2 years and I too am more insecure than ever before. At least before, if I met a man, I would know that my fatness was readily apparent. Now, I look like this, but undressed, it is quite obvious that I used to be much larger. All this ugliness hiding underneath. Yes, I am a fat girl masquerading in a thin[ner] suit.

    My BF weighs over 300+, and she told me recently that when I started losing weight, she was terrified she’d lose me. When she told me how grateful she was that I didn’t change who I was in any way, I think that was the nicest compliment I’ve ever received – and the greatest reassurance. But it makes me question: Did I ever really want to be like “them?” (The thin people) Can I love myself for who I’ve always been on the inside, when clearly the rest of the world does?

  19. 19 On April 28th, 2010, Sarah said:

    I found that I am glad to be healthier and can be proud of that, but something has also been lost by losing weight. Before I simply accepted my weight for what it was and knew that if I put the effort in it I would be skinnier. I was more able to just be. Now I put the effort in and am constantly wondering if I worked out hard enough, if I ate healthy enough, and if I did why I’m still scrutinizing my body at all.

  20. 20 On April 28th, 2010, Alyssa (The 40 year-old) said:

    When I look back, one of the lowest points in my life was when I was at my thinnest. I was having anxiety attacks and was borderline anorexic. More like a skinny nightmare!
    These days I have fewer skinny dreams and more buff, strong dreams. I picture myself doing effortless handstands, or spinning on ribbons a la Circque de Soleil, or effortlessly twisting into Reverse Triangle Pose.
    And having a spotlessly clean house. Yeah, like THAT’S gonna happen!

  21. 21 On April 28th, 2010, Rena said:

    I’ve never been fat. I’ve been heavier than I like (e.g., 165 lbs on a 6 ft. frame) but not so anyone else would notice. But I’ve been in shape and out of shape (climbing stairs while huffing and puffing versus running up the stairs while hardly noticing) and in shape is better. It doesn’t make me particularly better looking, or smarter, or nicer, etc. It doesn’t change my life. But it makes me feel better (not necessarily “about myself” although that can happen too- but just better.) And it’s hard to be really “in shape” while obese. And it’s hard on your joints to be obese – if not now, then down the road. And all the young folks who feel like that’s not something to worry about now, will be amazed how soon “later” happens – and how much they wish they had thought about their knees and hips while they were younger…. You can accept yourself all you want, but gravity, etc., will happen whether you do or not.

  22. 22 On April 29th, 2010, Body of Reason said:

    Because when has cooperating with one’s oppressors ever led to true happiness, at any rate?

    That is a VERY good point to make. If a person is going to lose weight, just WHO are they doing it for? Themselves? Or for those who hate them for being fat in the first place? Why should we give them the satisfaction of defeat?

    When I think about going on “another diet,” I think of these points.

  23. 23 On April 29th, 2010, Rachel said:

    @Rena: So, you’ve never been fat, but you can assuredly, without doubt, tell other fat people how they must feel or will undoubtedly feel in their fat bodies? Fatness and fitness are not incompatible and it’s possible to be fit even at very large sizes. I know of people whose BMIs qualify them as obese who compete in marathons and even triathlons and I know of thin people (like my husband) who are couch potatoes.

  24. 24 On April 29th, 2010, Kath said:

    Rena seems to be popping up on a few of the fatosphere blogs today to tell us that we’re deluded as to how we feel in our own bodies and that she knows us better than we do ourselves.

  25. 25 On April 29th, 2010, Other Kate said:

    Hey Rachel,
    Thank you for your reflections and I don’t mean to make this minor comment take away from the power of your piece. I’ve seen a lot of ED advocates say that we shouldn’t post specific weights or sizes (Jezebel commenters constantly debate this,) could you talk about why you are OK with it?

  26. 26 On April 29th, 2010, Rachel said:

    @Other Kate: I usually try to avoid referring to specific weights when writing about eating disorder-related issues. This post however, while mentioning my eating disorder, was not ED-centric, and I used the numbers here to show that the weight itself is really irrelevant, which speaks to the larger message of post itself. And, of course, the other womens’ weights were mentioned as part of the story I linked to.

    While I try to avoid specific sizes/weights in my posts on eating disorders, sometimes I don’t think it inappropriate to use numbers. It all depends on the context and whether the numbers are being used to glorify eating disorders or to raise constructive awareness of the dangers of them.

  27. 27 On April 29th, 2010, LindsayH said:

    I’m not going to lie. I loved being thin. But, like you, it takes calorie counting and overexercising just to be a “normal” weight. I am a former anorexic as well. By 20, I had blown out my knee (patellofemoral syndrome).

    I suffered for so many years trying to be or stay thin, thinking I was too fat, hating my body. I am bipolar and I used to go off meds to get manic so I wouldn’t be hungry; or I’d avoid taking meds that worked for me becuase they made me gain weight. Not a way to live.

    Eventually, I had to ask myself if it was worth it. While I will admit a part of me still misses those thin days, and hates ping ponging around (psych meds and having babies did a number on me), I won’t let that stop me from working every day to accept myself just as I am.

    One of the things that I never realized would be so hard is doctors and parents. I’ve never really been completely plus sized before, but now I am an 18 and I am constantly dealing with negative comments. I can only imagine what larger people must go through. I think that really sucks.

  28. 28 On April 29th, 2010, LindsayH said:

    I might also add….it’s hard for me to choose not to lose weight because I have a fairly serious condition that may (but may not) be improved through weight loss. Also my knee pain could get better.

    I feel like that’s a snowball rolling down a hill, though. I don’t want to go down that path again. I’m trying to just make healthy food choices instead.

  29. 29 On April 29th, 2010, Bree said:

    I see there’s a new troll in our midst. Rena, please give it up. You’re not adding anything new to the table. Fat people know they’re fat.

    No, losing weight for many isn’t sunshine and rainbows and lots of admirers. My mother lost 60 pounds last year. Along with it came increased health problems on top of the rheumatoid arthritis she already suffers, and she has gained most of it back because of limited mobility due to her health. Her eating habits really didn’t change and she is already talking about dieting again.

    Myself, I’m deathfat but in pretty good health. I understand there are risks with being very large but correlation doesn’t always equal causation. There are many fat people who do not have supposedly weight-related ailments and many thin people who do.

    Accepting yourself as a fat person isn’t a failure, and it’s not the job of strangers to constantly tell you that. Perhaps if more people minded their own business and focused on their own health, we would be a lot better off emotionally. As we keep saying, if shame actually worked, all of us would be wearing single digit sizes.

  30. 30 On April 29th, 2010, Linda said:

    Whether losing weight and keeping it off is worth it is different for everybody. It depends on what you expected, and if losing weight would get it for you. I expected to have joints with less pain, and more stamina, and I got it. I didn’t expect a personality transplant, so I wasn’t disappointed. Also, the new weight is not so insanely low that I have to obsessively exercise or starve–I don’t have to choose thinness or sanity. Those are all important considerations.

  31. 31 On April 30th, 2010, LindsayH said:

    Linda: for me, I really did have to choose thinness or sanity, LITERALLY. Psych meds are some of the worst medications out there in terms of weight gain. What’s worse is people will blame the patient for gaining wight, when really, their habits didn’t change at all!

    I really did have to starve to be a normal weight, truefax. At the height of my anorexia I was 125 lbs at 5’4″ and wore a size 8. That’s not an “insanely low” weight for my height, in fact it put me smack dab in the middle of the “normal” range.

    At this point, many years, three babies, and many pounds later, I would probably have to starve and overexercise if I even wanted to be about 30 lbs overweight. I just want to make healthy choices and honor my body. For a long time, I said I wanted to be healthy but really I just wanted to be thin and I didn’t care what the cost was. Now I am paying for that choice.

  32. 32 On April 30th, 2010, Rachel said:

    I really did have to starve to be a normal weight, truefax. At the height of my anorexia I was 125 lbs at 5′4″ and wore a size 8. That’s not an “insanely low” weight for my height, in fact it put me smack dab in the middle of the “normal” range.

    Same here, except I’m 5’3″ and wore a size 4 at my lowest weight. That weight truly required an anorexic lifestyle to maintain. This is one of the reasons why so many are pushing for a removal of the low weight requirement for an anorexia diagnosis. I couldn’t be diagnosed officially with anorexia because my lowest weight still put me at an “average” BMI, but most anorectics also aren’t “morbidly obese” at the onset of their disorder. I lost 60 percent of my body weight in one year, but because I wasn’t at or below 85 percent of what is considered “average” for my height, I couldn’t receive the official anorexia diagnosis.

  33. 33 On April 30th, 2010, Tina said:

    I had posted a link to the original article on my blog. And received comments immediately … not a usual occurrence, as I am a neophyte blogger. Now, as to THIS blog, I feel I just have to hug you, Rachel. You, with your story about running a mile or so, is the first blog about this article, that I found addressed the actual physical traits and qualities, not just the psychological or the circumstantial, that !DO NOT CHANGE! when you are at a more socially proscribed weight. I am right now, not a young person, slightly overweight and roughly, in fairly good physical condition. Yet, I get red-faced upon physical exertion, where others do not (it so confuses “normal thin people”—who ask me if I’m all right—a moment of checking in, and then a “miraculous” recovery and I go back to what I was doing).

    You have so influenced me not to be blinded by the bright, shiny objects in the road on my journey; not to be alternately lured by the Scylla and Charybdis of popular culture and its shills and apologists! ❤ ♡

    I so thank you!

    –Tina

  34. 34 On May 1st, 2010, Leslie said:

    I’m surprised to say this, but give me the smaller body. I am more happy now, but excess weight does inhibit life. It makes you a target and you have to constantly be on guard. When I was smaller there was no worry about airplane seats, finding things to wear, sharing cabs with friends (without them saying “you sit in the front”), spilling on my chest, having men turn me down (or interested because I’m overweight, eww!), having to order pantyhose, feeling the target of OBESITY campaigns, having people tell me to “just put down the fork, when I’ve had an eating disorder”, concern about high risk pregnancy (though not all have this concern), or even not having a shirt to support your favorite cause (because people don’t normally carry a 3x).

    No, I’d rather be the smaller body. Anyone who says differently is lying.

    By the way, I know that change comes from within.

  35. 35 On May 1st, 2010, Rachel2 said:

    I laughed in the doctor’s face when he told me that my BMI put me ‘into the obese range’. Right now, I’m a few pounds lighter, but I’m training for a marathon. I run 3-7 miles just about every day, and I know that my strength, stamina, and endurance are all making vast improvements. I can go longer, stronger, and faster at this point, and I’m looking forward to improving this even farther.

    I run because it’s great stress relief, and I need to take care of my body. I know that I feel incredible when I run 7 miles like I did today, and THAT’S what I’m hanging onto.

    This post struck an intense chord with me, though. I’ve spent SO LONG chasing this “skinny dream” construct that is, as I’m seeing, a load of shit. I’m not running to lose weight. I’m running to gain muscle, endurance, and improve my lung capacity. I’m also running to improve my allergies (which are HORRENDOUS right now).

    I’m still vaguely self-conscious of my midsection, but with all of the added mileage, even that’s improving! (That has, by far, been the most farking stubborn area on my body – for my ENTIRE life!). I’ve lost 5 belt sizes since I bought the belt in October, and I generally feel good from getting good and sweaty on nearly a daily basis. I have found that I needed something to shoot for (the Marathon) to keep myself on track with the exercise, otherwise I’ve got a tendency to get bored and fall off rather quickly – and this strength thing is something that I want to maintain. I LIKE that I can run 5 miles without feeling like I’ve terribly overexerted myself. I LIKE running 2 miles and feeling like I’ve just done a warm-up.

    I’m still keeping a very vague record of my food input, namely because I am trying to figure out what will keep me fueled for the long haul. This whole food=control/body-image-negativity thing is gradually loosening. It’s been a deep, dark monster that has clung to the inner crevices of my mind for about as long as I can remember. It is loosening it’s icy grip, though, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s not easy, by any means, but things are very gradually getting better when it comes to my body.

    I check my weight occasionally, and guess what? It’s about exactly the same as it’s been since I started running! How am I gauging my overall health? Looser jeans, bigger muscles, better stamina, and my pulse rate (from my HR monitor) has reduced drastically. It also takes more effort to get my heart pumping the way it did when I first started. I’m learning that the weight is just a damn number, and NOT an indicator of overall health. I’m learning that I don’t really care about the number so long as my clothes fit, and I’m comfortable in my body (which happens to be when I’m more muscular and running my butt off – literally!)

    I would rather stay at 170lbs my entire life and have the body I do (even now, after month one of my training), than weigh 130 pounds (a former goal) and have NONE of this. I REFUSE to get hooked onto this “skinny dream” any more. I’m looking for strength – inner and outer. I need to take care of the mental issues and problems anyway, and they’ll still be there until I actively work on them to fix them – and they’re not going to be automatically fixed once I weigh 150 pounds. They’ll still be there.

    Before I step off of my soap box here – my point is that I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing about calories, exercise, etc, but I’ve never really taken the time to take care of my body as a whole. It’s always been about the weight. The weight. The weight. Pfft. Then what? Right now? I want strength, and I want to feel good and happy. THAT’S why I’m running the marathon (an excuse to KEEP me running, by the way! That’s all!). The weight at this point is irrelevant. I just don’t care about that number anymore. I like this muscle mass stuff. It’s doing good things for me! :-)

  36. 36 On May 2nd, 2010, NameofRain said:

    I agree that the “skinny dream” is pushed on us to the point of unhealthiness. I’ve lived with a mother who had weight issues (very critical, was on many diets, and was very image-focused- all psychological issues), I was an anoretic for a time, and I was involved in a certain performing art where there was a lot of pressure to be thin, so it’s obvious that I have quite a history with the “skinny dream” already.
    Now, years later, at almost 8 months pregnant, where my body is supposed to be bigger and gain weight, I can’t look in mirrors or at my own body without feeling fat, disgusting, and ugly. I feel like a failure for gaining weight at all. Even in the doctor’s office when I was being weighed, I nearly burst into tears when they told me what my weight was, even though it was just a few pounds over “normal gain”. My husband constantly tells me, “You’re not fat, you’re just pregnant!” but I can’t seperate the two. I’m terrified that I have to start working out the day after I give birth to lose the extra weight or I’ll be fat forever. What should be normal for a woman has been transformed into something frightening, ugly, and unnatural because we’re expected to stay model-skinny no matter what. I can read these articles and comments and such, and know it’s a myth, but it doesn’t stop me from being scared of and disgusted with myself for being “fat”, and I hate it.

  37. 37 On May 2nd, 2010, JennyRose said:

    Rachel – great post.

    My ED has always been fueled by the skinny dream. I believe the heart of my obsession is that skinny= I am OK world. After many long years of recovery and false starts I am still working on it. I just don’t want to be an elderly woman who is still weight obsessed and judges herself by the number on the scale. Overcoming an ED is hard work, especially with the culture valuing thinness to the degree it does.

    I found the quotes from the article and the article itself hopeful and empowering. The people were presented as complex individuals who had engaged in true self examination. It was so honest. This is a counter point to the masses of headless fatties or treating all fat people like they are a group of similar people with the same damn problem.

    @ I still can’t run more than a mile before dissolving into a huffing and puffing red-faced mess.

    I think it is fantastic that you can run a mile! I am very fair skinned so almost any exertion makes me read faced. I can’t rum much either but I love walking outside because it fees my mind and feels good.

    As far as your policy on weights and #s, I appreciate how understanding and nuanced it is. I understand why ED recovery boards do not allow weights and numbers but I also feel like an adult here who is trusted to use them when relevant to the conversation.

  38. 38 On May 3rd, 2010, Kath said:

    @Leslie – don’t assume that because you feel a certain way, others are lying if they don’t feel the same way. You feel better thin – that’s great. But don’t cast your views on other people, it’s insulting.

  39. 39 On May 3rd, 2010, Rachel said:

    @Leslie: Yes, but do you feel that YOU yourself changed dramatically as a result of being thinner? Because that’s the point here… not that you aren’t treated differently, but that you yourself are no different.

  40. 40 On May 4th, 2010, Leslie said:

    @Rachel–thanks for your response. I was treated differently when I was thinner. Men were nicer, people held doors and I didn’t have the health worries that I have now. I openly admit that I felt more free and alive. Did I appreciate it? NO. I didn’t have good self esteem then. It’s better now. I can appreciate life. Now that I want to do things, my habitus is causing problems. When I was thinner, I the attention felt insulting because the interest was on my body, not on my mind (which is the problem with obesity stigma-wow). Now, I feel ready to handle it.

    @Kath–I apologize for making a sweeping judgment.

  41. 41 On May 4th, 2010, Rachel said:

    When I was thinner, I the attention felt insulting because the interest was on my body, not on my mind (which is the problem with obesity stigma-wow).

    Yes, I also grew to resent being treated nicer for the exact same reason. I felt that I didn’t change who I was a person and I really resented the hypocrisy of it all. I love body piercings for many reasons, but I think that one of the reasons I got all the piercings I did was because even though I was thinner, I still wanted to be seen as “the other” in some way, shape or form just to avoid seething inside with anger at the way I was treated thinner versus when I was fatter.

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