Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Myth of Weight Loss

I'm sure you've all heard it before. Every time you have a problem in your life, some well meaning person, be it family, friend, doctor, douchebag on the street tells you to "Lose weight fatty, your life will get better." Or variants thereof. I know I've heard it plenty of times. Over 25 years it's been said to me so many times, it's practically carved into my skin.

Well I did it. Some years ago now, when I was at one of the lowest points of my life, and had been freshly diagnosed with PCOS, I made the decision that I was going to lose weight. I started with swimming, which I do really enjoy. And I lost a little weight straight away and then it settled at a constant level, which was what totally spurred me into a very frightening spiral into insanity.

I had been assured that by losing even as little as 5% of body weight, all the horrible PCOS symptoms would go away. "Cysters" know about the ones I am talking about - all those physical things that make us hate ourselves because we feel ugly. Not to mention the agonising hormonal cycle, that left me in crushing pain each month. So I jumped in with both feet determined to chase all these horrid things away by losing weight.

It started with little compliments. "You're looking good, have you lost some weight?" People who didn't normally speak to me suddenly started asking me what diet I was on, how much exercising I was doing. It was like a drug. I ramped it up from swimming a few days per week, to swimming 5 days per week, and walking every day. I then started to starve myself. All I ate was fruit and salad.

Soon after that, my workplace offered a gym course for overweight staff. I was on a roll, so I joined. Once that started up I found myself exercising a minimum of 4 hours per day. All I talked or thought about was losing weight, how much exercise I was doing. I became one of those boring women who talks about nothing about how fabulous it is to have all that exercise and my diet habits. I stopped socialising with my friends. I made new friends, all of whom never spoke to me before I started losing weight. I told all the fat people I knew "If I can do it, anyone can!" In short, I was a nutcase.

It worked. I lost over 25kg (55lbs) and dropped FIVE dress sizes. Yep, five. People told me I was fabulous and awesome.

But inside, I was dying. I was so miserable. My entire life consisted of the gym/pool and obsessing over what I wasn't allowed to eat. I alienated a lot of my real friends because I was so boring and militant with it all. I hated myself because I couldn't get any thinner than the 25kg I had lost. I swung between manic hyperactivity and crushing depression. The only people around me were people who had only decided to value me because I was thinner. And the worst thing? My PCOS symptoms got WORSE. Yep, the acne, the hair, the painful or non-existent periods, the constant heartburn.

I felt so robbed. I'd worked so hard, I did everything that the "experts" and everyone else told me I should do, and it still didn't work. I was a failure even when I succeeded.

Quite predictably, I had a breakdown. Both physically and emotionally. I couldn't maintain the insane lifestyle I had to adopt to lose any significant weight, nor could I handle not having a life with any depth in it. Everything was superficial and about my body, not about ME. I hit absolute rock bottom and ended up a real mess.

And of course, gained all that weight back and more, which just sended me even deeper into the pit.

At my lowest point, my GP referred me to a psychologist who specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy. Mostly to teach me out of the self loathing and total lack of self esteem spiral I was in. Her first step was to ask both my GP and I to stop weighing me on my visits. I haven't been weighed since. And over the past two or so years, she's been working with me very closely to build my self esteem and self worth up to where it should be. We've worked through it all, from my body hatred to relationships, family, work, you name it.

But she does still push me to lose weight occasionally, but I have the confidence to be able to push back now. I know that losing weight does not solve my problems, and it didn't even make me healthier. I know when I feel at my healthiest and at my best. I am probably at the top end of my weight scale these days (no pun intended) but I seem to have settled to a level that I feel good at and have the most energy. All my bloodwork etc comes back in the normal range, so I don't feel that I have to fix anything there either.

I'm not saying don't eat healthy or exercise. Not at all. But forget about the number on the scale and the size on your clothes, forget about foods being good or bad, forget about valuing yourself by your body shape. Eat healthy because it makes you feel better. Good quality food, from ALL of the food groups, will do you good. Move because you enjoy it. I want to get a bicycle, cos I love that feeling of riding around, the wind in my hair. I like to swim because I find it really relaxing. Dancing is so much fun because music sinks into my bones. Find whatever it is that you find fun and pleasurable by way of movement and do it.

Most of all, forget the myth that your life is suddenly going to be better if you're thinner. Because it's not. Firstly it takes more than body size to make a life good, and secondly it's statistically more than likely you'll put all the weight back on and more anyway.

To make your life better, learn to like yourself. It's what has made my life immeasurably better.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Altered Reality

The old black dog of depression has been plaguing me over the past day or so. I'm sure a lot of you know what it's like, you go from normal to just not being able to see the good in anything very quickly, and you don't feel yourself. Things all feel really bad, and a big sadness just overwhelms you.

I know it will pass, it's just sucky while it's here, you know?

What I did notice is that I'm REALLY hard on myself when I'm depressed. REALLY critical about my body, which I am not when I am in a "normal" mood. Instead of being able to see the positives about myself, and remembering that I am more than just my body, I get really critical and caught up in myself as "parts" rather than as a person.

Does this make sense to anyone?

The difference these days though is that I catch myself doing it. Once upon a time it would have been a total spiral into self loathing and further depression, but after years of professional counselling and working on my self esteem and self image, I can see when I get in that headspace now.

It was looking in a plate glass window at my reflection that I busted myself this time. I was walking back to work at lunch time, feeling crap, when I spotted myself in the window of a bank, and my thought was so full of self loathing, I shocked myself. For a moment there, I really hated what I saw and felt shame about myself. Which is something I NEVER feel outside of the realms of depression any more.

I'm glad I can recognise it now when I find myself thinking that way, because then I can work towards removing my head from that space. But it still sucks when it happens, because it's really painful to think of myself in that way.

How do you deal with the negative self-talk? Are you able to recognise it when it happens?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Smile and say CHEESE!

Hands up if you hate having your photograph taken?

My hand is half way up. I don't hate it like I used to, but I'm still not entirely comfortable with it. For many years of my life I simply refused to allow it, and if I found any photos of me, I destroyed them, even when they weren't mine to destroy. My self esteem was at such a low place that I couldn't bear the thought of there being a photographic record of me.

It started when I gained weight at the onset of puberty and really stuck around until my early 30's. I had a couple of patches where I softened my stance a wee bit, I have a few photos of my late teens where I was very happy nannying for friends of mine, and then again in my mid 20's when I had moved back to Brisbane and away from my family. But I ebbed back into it with an abusive relationship and only really found myself allowing to be photographed a few years ago.

I have a friend and colleague who is an extremely talented photographer, and he taught me a lot of little tips and tricks about being photographed that have given me confidence in allowing photographs to be taken, and I'm much more relaxed about it now than I have ever been.

However, I still feel the need to vet every photo of myself that I see. I look at them and criticise myself SO harshly. Even though in my rational mind, I know this is pointless and does more damage than good. I know I should be looking at photographs of myself and seeing the things I love about myself rather than the things I hate. But even though I know this, I still look and think things like "My hair looks cute but how fat does my arse look?" or "This would be a good photo if only you couldn't see my double chin."

So how do you deal with it, my fellow fatties? Do you not allow photos at all? Do you like being photographed? If you do, what made you like it? What gives you confidence in being photographed? And when you see photographs of yourself, are you critical of them or do you see the positives?

And because I'm a generous woman, I'm going to give you all the tips my photographer friend has given me for flattering photographs:
  1. Pose. If you try to avoid being photographed, people will try to paparazzi you, and you'll end up with lots of really unflattering photos. Say yes, and ask the photographer to give you a second to get ready to be photographed.
  2. If you are seated at a table, move a glass or mug to one side in front of you. Then reach over and touch it with the hand on the opposite side. (If it's in front of your left breast, touch it with your right hand and vice versa - best to hold it as if you are about to pick it up). This straightens your spine and puts one shoulder slightly forward, which elongates your neck.
  3. Just before the photo is taken, run your tongue over your teeth, and then smile, with your tongue resting behind your top teeth. This makes your teeth look shiny when the photograph is taken, and makes you subconsciously lift your chin.
  4. Another good thing to do is close your eyes and blink slowly, looking straight at the camera. This eases red-eye and prepares you for your photo.
  5. If you can, stretch before the photo is taken. It straightens your spine. (A straight spine is a good thing in a photo - posture is flattering!)
If you have any more tips for achieving photographs that make you feel great, share 'em!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fat and Feminism... (or shut the fuck up bitch a man is speaking)

If you have seen the comments on my post "Still a Long Way To Go" you will see I have been plagued a bit by a troll over the past couple of days. Not your standard troll who likes to antagonise just for the fun of it, but a poor, hard done by man called William who really believes that he's got the God given right, just because he's a man, to fill up someone else's blog with his "You women have got to stop whinging, we men have got it so hard too." attitudes.

Unfortunately he doesn't respond to either open debate or ignoring/deleting him, and has started emailing me as well. Because what he wants is not for his voice to be heard (which he could quite easily do by blogging in his own space and move on from mine, which he is so determined to prove is WRONG and MISINFORMATION), but he wants for me to just SHUT UP and say "Oh yes William, you wise man, you are so right, men are so hard done by."

Well that ain't gonna happen folks.

You see, this is one of the problems with fat acceptance. Not only are we fighting for acceptance as fat PEOPLE in this world, but there are also a very noisy population of men out there who just want women to shut the fuck up and stop talking, which makes it a feminist issue too. Stop complaining, stop having a voice, stop standing up for what they believe in, stop speaking for other women who don't have the confidence to do so, stop arguing... just shut the fuck up already bitch, you are so WRONG!

The saddest thing is that douchebags like this drown out the very valid points that other more respectful men are trying to make, as you will see by the other man who comments on that blog - who is a respectful gentleman and not swallowed up by the "Oh my God a woman is speaking and she doesn't agree with me, that' can't happen!" attitude.

Yes, I said douchebag. A douchebag is a man that has offensive attitudes towards women.

Because what men like William want is for women to be invisible, especially fat women, because then he doesn't have that pedestal of "Well I'm a man AND I'm fat!" over them.

I don't want to get involved in the politics of fat acceptance. But so long as there are men out there who honestly believe that women don't have the right or reason to point out that there is a vast double standard when it comes to the attitudes in society towards women and their physical appearance and men and their physical appearance, I will have to. Especially as I am a woman who has some confidence and the ability to string a few sentences together.

So long as there are men out there who demand that women stop complaining about this double standard and expecting us to just shut up and go away, I feel obligated to speak up about it. I will continue to do so until those men get it that there IS a double standard, and that while there are issues that fat men face in society today, that those issues are vastly amplified for women, who have their value read in their appearance more than their brains, or heart, or humour.

Until then, I will exercise my power on my blog to delete, block and report the douchebags to my heart's content.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sex and the Single Fatty

Ok it's not really about sex, not yet anyway. But stick with me here. I'm going to talk about dating as a fat woman tonight.

You may know already, but I am a single fat woman over 35. I know, I know, I'm on the shelf. Or so a 42 year old man who lived with his mother told me on a dating site once. I told him to go fuck himself, I'm on a pedestal, not a shelf.

Anyway, I've had an ongoing conversation with my friend Shane about dating and people's prejudices. Shane is Asian and while a married man these days, he has told me that he had some really bad experiences with white women being very prejudiced against Asian men. Which I am sure happens often, but I've thought a bit about it and I'm not sure it's about the women being white so much as being shallow.

However, I have to say, as a fat woman, I am more than happy to date an Asian man, but I'm not sure there are many Asian men who are happy to date fat women. See what I mean about shallowness? It's not about me being white that is the problem, it's about not meeting some kind of shallow aesthetic.

That double standard seems all over the place. I also know a bloke who claims he never gets any dates because he's short. Yet he won't date a fat woman. And I know LOTS of fat men who won't date fat women!

Personally, I find tall, short, thin, fat, dark, fair, blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, grey eyes, long hair, no hair, and so on attractive in the right man. Most of the famous men I develop crushes on have something a bit odd about them, that other women go "Oh but ewww, he's got..." William McInnes has a huge nose. Zachary Quinto has mega eyebrows (and is really hairy all over). Chris Garver is skinny and all arms and legs. Jamie Hyneman has that big moustache and is as bald as an egg. Craig Ferguson also has a big nose and a pasty white body. But all of them are sexy men simply because they are who they are, funny, smart, talented, kind, honest etc.

In my relationship history, I went out with a man who was considered REALLY handsome by a lot my friends. I got lots of comments about how good looking he was, and I used to notice other women throwing themselves at him when we were out. But he turned out to be a MASSIVE douchebag who was more interested in himself than he was a relationship with anyone normal.

But that said, I am a single woman who is on the market and I don't believe that being fat excludes me from the dating world. For all the shallow douchebags out there that think they're going to land themselves a Lara Bingle despite being a Jack Black, a Nick Frost or Dwayne Dibley themselves, there are lovely guys out there who see a woman for who she really is, not what size her clothing is or what the number is on a scale.

However dating for the fat lady is a tough world. Because the old self esteem gets an extra heavy duty workout, with so many people out there to put you down, make disparaging or patronising comments, or generally just insult you. It's hard work to keep the self esteem good and strong in the face of that kind of treatment.

You'd think that if a guy likes you enough to ask you out, he'd not be one to make disparaging comments about your body right? Not quite so true. I recently had a guy ask me out, and then in the next breath said "I have no problem dating fat women, you know?"

Oh really Captain Tactful? Well I have a problem dating patronising men. Buh-bye!

I am determined not to let the douchebags and losers out there keep me from dating, because I do know there are great guys out there, and I believe there's a great guy out there for me who will value me for the smart, funny, kind, sassy, beautiful woman I am.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Still a Long Way to Go

I want to talk a bit about body image and body confidence tonight. I've been following a lot of fat acceptance blogs and Tumblr accounts over the past few months, and it's great to see so many positive representations of fat women. The fellas aren't getting that much representation much, but isn't it always the way when it comes to pictures of bodies?

Some of the good ones I regularly read are The Adipositivity Project, Fuck Yeah Fat Bitch and Hey Fat Chick. There are others out there.

One thing I am noticing though, is that the only fat bodies that seem to be acceptable to post, are those with seemingly flawless, soft, white, creamy skin, no trace of body hair, stretch marks, scars or other flaws. Occasionally you might get a gorgeous fat black woman, but again, miles and miles of perfect skin. And often it's quite obviously through snazzy lighting, flattering photography and post camera editing that we're being presented these images.


While I do think it is amazing that we have come this far, I do think we have some while to go before we're really getting the message ourselves, let alone sending the message out further to the rest of the world.

I think perhaps these arty, flawless shots, sometimes contribute to some of the body image problems we have. While it's good to see these gorgeous fat bodies, and we feel like we're closer to being something to admire, I wonder does the fact that EVERYBODY has flaws and blemishes somehow get missed with the message?

I know the guys are used to seeing their porn retouched for many years so that women are flawless or some image of flawless, and then the fashion mags picked up on it and have run like crazy with it too. But I'm wondering what the point is having "body positive" blogs and such, but still filtering out things that are labelled as "unsightly" or "unattractive" in the content?

The reality is though, that human beings are big old lumpy creatures, and they have hair, scars, stretchmarks, zits, pores, freckles, scratches, bruises, moles, pigmentation and all kinds of other marks all over them. It's all part of the complex system that the human body is. And despite all of these blemishes, the human body is still beautiful. Even because of these blemishes in a lot of cases.

How many other women look at photos like the one above and say "But she's gorgeous, I couldn't be seen in just my underwear, I look nothing like that."? How many men think that all women are as flawless as the young lady above? Are we striving even now for an unrealistic perfection, even though we're allowing fat bodies to be seen?

I wonder is it time we need to start being even more honest and realistic about human bodies?