When I’m at Goddard for my residencies, I hear the term “joining the conversation” quite a lot.
I’ve joined Goddard conversations about preferred pronouns (more than once), the lack of marking of gluten-free foods, the death penalty, the difference between commercial and literary fiction and a whole host of equally fascinating (really) topics.
In the last month, I feel like I’ve joined maybe a wider conversation. The conversation about body acceptance, health, nutrition and athleticism.
So, what is this conversation?
It’s the one that sometimes starts with, “have you lost weight?”
Or, “I’m on this new diet.”
Or, “that many carbs will make her as big as a house.”
Or, “I’d be so mad if I did all this work and didn’t lose weight.”
Or, “my ass is so big.”
In the past, my part of this conversation was often silence. More than I’d like to remember, it involved mutual body hatred. Sometimes I would agree–how dare that fat person eat cheesecake. In public. Especially when I’m on a diet and eating a salad by dipping my fork in the dressing instead of tossing the stupid thing.
I think a huge part of getting to a place where my body is just my body and not something that I hate and must change at any cost is changing my part in the conversation.
No more mutual body hatred. No more sitting silently while others indulge in negative body talk. No more smiling and shrugging when someone asks me if I’ve lost weight.
This week I was asked more than once if I was trying to lose weight. I straightened my shoulders, looked the people asking in the eye, and said ‘no.’
I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m trying to get stronger and feel better.
I had a couple of responses. One person kind of blinked and nodded, and shut off the conversation herself. Another listened when I told her why I have to keep my legs in a V when I do yoga (to make room for my belly.) And a third conversation lasted longer, but ended with awkwardness.
So, the conversation about body acceptance isn’t necessarily only about our bodies. It’s about cultural norms and myths, and how deeply ingrained they can be. It’s about asking what we can do now, rather than what we want to do after the diet is over.
Here’s a dirty little secret: I love to watch Biggest Loser. It’s an addiction. Did anyone see the latest episode? I watched it on my DVR last night. Three of the parents in the group intentionally gained weight in their effort to keep their children on the ranch for another week.
This was largely seen as a positive, selfless act by the entire group (including Bob and Jillian.) The two mothers involved were the ringleaders and one father was reluctant but in the end pressured to go along. (He was told he was being selfish if he didn’t do it.)
But one father, who wasn’t part of the conspiracy, said something afterward that I thought would have made an important part of that conversation. Moses said something about how he thought the parents gaining on purpose showed a lack of faith in their children’s ability. They recorded him saying this when he was alone, and he didn’t say it to the group that they showed.
Now, we’re talking about losing weight here. And that’s not supposed to be what I’m talking about, right? But my point is that Moses had an idea that would have added to the conversation if he’d spoken up. Or if the other father had stuck to his guns.
The three parents who gained on purpose put the entire focus of all of the incredible hard work their children had been doing onto pounds lost. What if the bullied father had said, “my son is becoming an athlete. His hard work is valid, regardless of what the scale says.” What if Moses had pointed out that the son of that other father, who once weighed over 600 pounds and literally could barely move, had run at 6.5 miles per hour that week and who cares if that translates into weight loss? That that man’s father had discounted his accomplishment by making it only about weight.
I don’t know. Maybe he would have been shut down and told that this show isn’t about being an athlete, it’s about losing the most weight so you can win a lot of money.
But maybe one of the millions of people watching the show would have heard and agreed, and carried that conversation on to someone else.
Right now, I feel like my part in the conversation about HAES and body acceptance is to say that it’s hard to change a lifetime of negative thought patterns, but it’s possible. That athleticism doesn’t start at the end–it starts at the beginning. And that fat and fit and feeling good, are not mutually exclusive.
What’s your part in the conversation?