In my last blog post I hinted I had some deeper, more controversial topics I wanted to touch on and body acceptance and size-shaming is one of those. I hope I can get my thoughts into words clearly as this is a difficult topic to explore. The gist of it is I’m affected by this issue and feel like talking about it.
Like most women I have inner struggles with my outward appearance. Even though I’ve been a relatively healthy weight my whole life, I struggled with body image acceptance. My highest weight was when I was 30 years old and my lowest was when I hit the stage in July at the Naturally Fit Super Show. Right now I’m the most muscular I have ever been and the largest in size.
Most of you know the journey I am on to transform my body. It has been a relief to stop chasing skinny (coined by my friend JL and her blog Stop Chasing Skinny), to not worry about dieting or feel like I have to do crazy amounts of cardio to stay thin. Thin and skinny are words that carry a lot of emotion. Just like the word fat. Even the word strong carries meaning. It really bothers me when people call me skinny or thin. Why is that? There’s nothing wrong with being thin. But I’ve got curves. I’m petite and a pear shape. Now I have big muscles. Surprisingly it takes work for me to be “thin”. I strived year after year to be thin because that is what the media told me was acceptable, but what I realized this past week after seeing another vegan chef boast about her skinniness that I’m sick and tired of trying to live up to this image of what a vegan should look like!! Take a look at many of the respected women in the vegan/plant-based/raw movement. I wonder if they struggle to stay thin.
Many people are naturally and genetically thin. Those who aren’t but are thin-obsessed will most likely work really hard to get there by restricting calories and exercising a lot (or acquire serious eating disorders). You might even do things that aren’t safe like eat too few calories for your activity level, take fat burners or excessive caffeine to make it through the day (because of lack of energy from not eating enough), or possibly even binge and purge. I continue to witness these actions with clients and with women I connect with online in fitness forums. Why do some women have such a strong obsession with being thin that they will do anything to get there? Is this a product of our society to be so obsessed with size? Or is it partly the fault of those in the vegan/plant-based/raw communities that encourage restricted eating, pronounce a vegan diet as a get thin quick diet, shame those who are overweight, and praise only those who have had weight loss transformations?
I’m realizing that one of the main reasons I got into bodybuilding is I’m tired of being put in a box. I want to be free to eat what I want and gain some sexy muscles. Many people will say I look “manly” or “don’t get too big”, just like many people said “omg eat something” “you look sick” when I got down to my lowest weight before my bikini competition. Some will even say that this new obsession of gaining muscle and getting stronger is not any better than an obsession with being thin. I actually see it as a new form of activism for veganism that’s healthy.
Know this; I am happier with my outward appearance now than I ever have in my life. At a heavier weight. At a bigger clothing size. Eating 2000+ calories a day. Go figure.
Many in the vegan/plant-based world boast that once you eat the “right way” your body will gravitate towards it’s natural size (thin) and you won’t have to worry about how much you are eating (or exercise). It’s a miracle!! What is your “natural” size? Many believe we are all naturally thin but years of overeating (and lack of exercise) has caused our obesity crisis (and lack of even knowing what is our natural size). Could there possibly be an ideal size for every man and woman? I think not. The human population is way too diverse for us to be carbon copies of each other.
Some would even argue that you can be healthy at any size. The Health At Every Size movement was created out of the obesity crisis as a way for women (and men) to be more loving and accepting of their bodies. It sort of gives the middle finger to the notion that BMI’s, numbers on a scale, and your pant size can be determining factors for your health. It’s a pretty large movement that shows that people can be healthy even if they aren’t an “ideal” weight picked off a chart or what is suppose to be their natural size.
I recently started following and reading blogs from some of the people in the HAES movement. It’s a whole other world from what I have seen in the vegan, plant-based, and raw communities. Size-shaming has become the norm in our very own backyard. Plant-based gurus tout their diet as being the answer to all your problems including obesity. You don’t have to worry a bit about counting calories and the weight will just fall right off you. If you continue to stay overweight then you are doing it wrong and are eating too much fat (or salt, sugar, processed food or whatever food villain we have this week). The fat you eat is the fat you wear they will say. Oh really? I’m not a low-fat vegan and I’m not fat. If you need to lose weight for your health than it is totally possible through a whole foods vegan diet. It’s possible to maintain too. And it’s possible to be healthy at whatever weight you are at!
Many women are standing up to these notions that you have to be thin to be healthy (though the blogs I’ve started to follow aren’t vegan-based. Is anyone in the vegan movement talking about these issues??). They are showing that you can have a high BMI, still be healthy (by any doctor’s terms or blood tests will prove), be active and enjoy exercise even though a chart may call you “obese”. So what if you fall in this category? Is it ok to be overweight if by all standards you are healthy? Do you set a bad example to those who want to be vegan by not striving to be thin(ner)?
Expressing an unwarranted opinion on someone’s body is becoming the norm with the internet, but size-shaming is not a new thing. Magazines (and now websites) have been bashing the way celebrities look for decades. We have made it acceptable by buying those magazines and participating in the online discussions. I’m not sure who made up the rules on what body shape and size is acceptable for celebrities but young girls and women (and men) look at these images and the hateful words said and in turn feel that their bodies are not acceptable. It’s horrible really. Many women with eating disorders start following a plant-based diet because it’s touted as being the healthiest, but then they continue to calorie restrict and flaunt their “thigh gap” to the rest of the world like being vegan makes it ok to be obsessive about food. And it’s not.
You can be healthy and happy not obsessing over every single calorie you put in your mouth. You can be healthy using moderation. Moderation does work for healthy people.
I guess the take home message is = Health is not determined by your size. Don’t judge others. Worry about your own health. Don’t perpetuate myths about health and weight because a guru said it was true. Love your body.
Would love to hear your thoughts on these issues in the comments! Thanks for reading as always!