‘Real women’ come in all shapes and sizes

body image

body image

Since I had Anorexia, my lovely mum has developed a habit of pointing out very thin people and saying they look ‘ill’, and pointing out fuller-figured women and saying they look ‘great.’ In her defence this has become a habit which I think was originally designed to help me to feel better about myself, but as I’ve grown up it’s become something which I don’t feel is helpful for anybody – her included.  

The idea that a thin person is ‘ill’ or ‘Anorexic’ purely judging visually alone is incredibly unfair. ‘Anorexic’ should never be used as an adjective in my opinion, let alone an insult. Meanwhile, ‘curvy’ women (who may be a size 16-18, yet have killer curves) have come to represent the ‘alternative’.

My mum isn’t alone in this perception. Since the ‘size zero’ debate and public backlash against the ‘skinny model’, ‘curvy’ women are ‘in’. It’s a trend which certainly helped me to feel better about myself, as I’m naturally not built straight up and down. Now Kim Kardashian, Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj are hailed for their tiny waists, rounded behinds and fuller thighs. Whilst I’m all for celebrating all body types, this trend has actually started to exclude women who aren’t typically ‘curvy’, and throws a whole host of new insecurities at those who aren’t ‘perfectly shaped’ into an hourglass – all of which is equally damaging compared with the ‘size zero’ and ‘ultra fit’ trend promoted by high fashion outlets and lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret.

Harmful new phenomenons like the waist trainer (which has been known to hospitalise users due to the undesirable side-effect of organ rearrangement) and bum implants (many a dodgy implant has landed a hapless girl in surgery) are emerging to help us all to achieve this ‘perfectly curvy’ body shape. These have even been known to cause death – so aren’t they just as bad as slimming pills, laxatives and diets promoting self-starvation?

I’m looking at this from both sides of the table – so I wrote this post from my perspective to encourage others to do so too. Next time you hear someone say ‘oh she’s got a ‘proper figure’’, remember that if you don’t fit that bill, that’s okay. Because everyone’s body is a ‘proper body.’ Every woman is a ‘real woman’ – curves or no curves, size 2 or size 20. 

Saying someone has  ‘proper figure’ is just as bad as saying ‘skinny is the only way to be.’ Everyone is acceptable, as they are. Coveting the ‘hourglass’ and praising ‘curvy’ girls is unfair to women who are born naturally slim. Lots of body image campaigners forget about this.

Although I’m all for plus size, I’m more concerned with acceptance – of others and of ourselves. And that starts with scrapping ideals – and stopping senseless judgement of a person based on their body shape.

Like this post? You’ll love these.

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Why do you weigh yourself?

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Weight is an increasingly prevalent issue in society, not just for anyone with an eating disorder. As we become more anxious about the image we project to others, we naturally wish to be slim as the celebrities and advertisers tell us we should be. As a result so many people weigh themselves every week or even every few days – but what benefit does this bring (if any), and most importantly what harm can it cause?

I did a radio interview and phone-in last year in Ireland and one of the ladies spoke openly about her lifelong obsession with her weight. She didn’t believe it was a problem – although as she described the way she’d starve herself if she found she’d gained a couple of pounds I listened horrified and waited for my opportunity to speak. I told her what I’m about to explain in this post – that although stepping on the scales may appear to be an innocent and healthy habit, sometimes it can become a controlling obsessive compulsion which results in harmful behaviour.

Regularly weighing yourself doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a problem with eating or with your appearance. It’s often suggested it is a healthy thing to do – and for people who are overweight, it certainly is one of the only ways to monitor progress. I talk about weighing ourselves in Tough Cookie and Tough Love – and I discuss how I feel it’s a harmful thing for ‘healthy’ people to do for all sorts of reasons. It’s not the action but the motive that concerns me. That’s because lots of women and men now weigh themselves constantly.

I know that January is the ‘height’ of the diet season – and that’s partly the reason behind me putting out this post. As an important part of dieting, we are encouraged to weigh ourselves to ‘monitor progress’. But most people who embark on these fad diets (mentioning no names) aren’t morbidly obese. They’re just dissatisfied with themselves and are influenced by advertisements filled with ‘bikini bodies’ and encouragement to diet. They feel ‘fat’ because they’ve eaten more over the festive period and are inactive because it’s so bloody cold. In fact, diets have ruined our relationship with food and our own bodies systematically for years – you can read more about my view on that if you don’t know already here.

Part of the reason I’m passionate about sharing my viewpoint on weight is that it is something which shackled me for a long while. It meant such a lot to me to weigh myself – but now I never do it anymore. Originally out of fear, but now because I have realised how unhealthy it is for me. I don’t need to weigh myself. I was always within a bracket of half a stone, and whatever end of the spectrum I was at, I looked the same and felt the same – that is until I stepped on the scales and realised I’d put on a pound. Then I’d spend a day (or even a week) panicking and stressing until I weighed myself again and surprise surprise, discovered it was just a fluctuation. After all, a pound is a miniscule amount of weight to gain or lose.

It consumed a fair amount of energy as I panicked about which number would pop up this week, orchestrating my eating and toilet habits around this 1 or 2 minute ritual. It was one of the things which stayed with me since my eating disorder – a (pretty bad) habit. When I was poorly, I’d weigh myself once or twice a day. Then I went to once a week eventually and stayed that way throughout recovery because it was essential for me to monitor my weight gain. After a few years however I was still weighing myself once a week on a Friday morning every single week, but now I got panicked as I stripped off to step on the scales and felt sick and fat all day if I’d gained even a tiny bit of weight.

The reason I’m discussing weighing habits is that I know that I wasn’t alone in this and that so many people still weigh themselves even though it’s fruitless and makes them feel unhappy. Monitoring weight gives us control – something which Anorexia craves. Therefore it’s very easy for all of us to change our habits to fit in around the number on the scale because we become addicted to the feeling of control it gives us – whether we have an eating disorder or not.

I speak to lots of women and men who constantly weigh themselves – something which makes them miserable and dictates the way they live their lives. It also distorts how they see themselves based on the weight – so putting on a pound or two suddenly reveals every inch of ‘extra fat’ on their bodies and their clothes feel tight. Lose a couple and you feel like a supermodel. Or (worse) you feel so good that you’re compelled to continue – even though you’re fine as you are.

Many people also have a fixation with their ‘ideal weight’. This isn’t something a doctor has calculated for them – it’s not even based on how they look and feel. It’s based on how they think they look and feel. I used to have an ideal weight, too. But now I’m probably half a stone over that and I look and feel the same – I’m happy with my body and I don’t need to know how much I weigh. At the time you could have told me that and I’d have been horrified. Occasionally of course I’m hit with the urge to get the scales out – but I never do because I know that it’s the wrong thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who are similarly feeling frightened as I was at the thought of going over your ‘perfect’ benchmark weight.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t been there to understand obsessive weighing – but I have. That’s the reason I’m asking you today to try letting go. Try to remember that your body is constantly working for you to keep you alive. This means that things change from day to day – levels of water, hormones, chemicals. Your weight also changes. The way you see yourself and your body in relation to your weight has been cleverly implanted into your mind by diet companies who don’t care about you or your physical or mental health – they want your money. By treating your body as a wonderful thing which deserves to be looked after, and realising that you are often a static, steady and healthy weight with fluctuations as part of that process, you can begin to enjoy life without having to worry about stepping on those scales every morning.

For more about diets and weight, take a look at my books Tough Love and Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

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Why I stopped weighing myself

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 weight body imageAre you always weighing yourself? Do you weigh yourself regularly?

Does your weight dictate how you feel?

It’s just over a year since I stopped weighing myself – and here I explain why.

If you’ve read my post Why do you weigh yourself? or my book Tough Love you’ll understand why I don’t believe weight should be an emphasis in anyone’s lives – however ‘fat’ they feel. Weight means nothing. It only represents one part of ourselves – it’s impossible to get a measure of someone’s overall health simply using their weight alone. For this reason focusing on it and calculating your worth and beauty based on it can be very dangerous and misleading.

Of course, this principle is easy to preach – but it wasn’t always so easy to live by for me. Until January 2015, I was weighing myself religiously every Friday morning.

 I’d weighed myself every single week since the age of 11 or 12 – so roughly 12 years. During the time I had Anorexia I would weigh myself more frequently. I laid a lot of store by how much I weighed, because that’s what I’d been told by the people around me and the media we were all watching and reading – the diet companies, the magazines, the television programmes. It was unthinkable that I could consider not weighing myself.

Most of the time I felt good weighing myself. It was actually a confidence boost as well as a way to obsessively monitor my weight. I normally maintained at a static weight or lost, so I always felt pretty good about myself. On a Friday or Saturday I’d stuff myself with rubbish as some kind of ‘reward’ for having kept my weight the same.  

But the good feeling was always short lived – because then I’d worry frequently about whether what I was doing (or wasn’t doing) could result in weight gain. The feelings grew towards the end of the week, when Friday rolled around again. Even though I knew that I’d done nothing different, I’d still dread stepping on those scales. This meant I was also stuck in an unhealthy cycle of eating poor quality food and eating too little, choosing the same things (at the same time) time and again because I worried that choosing something different could end up in me piling on the pounds. Sometimes even though I’d religiously stuck to my strict regime, I’d find that I’d gained a pound. This caused me to feel fat for the rest of the week (or few weeks depending on how long it took) until I’d lost that one pound. I’d starve myself and beat myself up. I never recognised fully that the ‘excess’ weight could have been water retention or something perfectly innocent. It certainly wasn’t enough to worry about – and probably didn’t represent a pound of fat. And this was all long after my eating disorder – behaviour which is often considered normal by lots of people – especially women.

 At the end of 2014 I’d been through a stressful time. I lost my job after my employers bullied me, and the whole experience had left me struggling with anxiety and crippled by its physical symptoms. Amongst the shaking, the headaches, the insomnia and the panic attacks were two key issues – nausea and loss of appetite. My weight plummeted and within a few weeks I’d lost just over half a stone. For someone who was on the lower side of a healthy weight this obviously wasn’t good. Physically I was weak and exhausted – mentally I was emotionally drained. Although I knew the weight loss was a bad thing, a small part of me felt good about it. I took concern as compliments. Although I’ve never relapsed, these parts of my ED have stayed with me and used to resurface when I was vulnerable. They’d never lead to anything, but they certainly didn’t make me feel good. After a while I began to eat a little more again. But when I did, something strange happened.

My weight started to slowly creep back up again. I wasn’t too bothered by this as I knew I needed to gain more to be healthier. But as it passed the lower end of what I’d decided was acceptable, I began to worry. I was even more distressed when it started to rise past the weight I’d been before everything had happened a few months before. I couldn’t understand why – I’d gone back to my strict way of eating. How could this be happening? I started to question everything. I felt sick worrying about it. I couldn’t understand why this was going wrong when everything I was doing appeared to be right. I couldn’t eat any less than I was now – I’d be ill. I just couldn’t understand how to slow the weight gain and initiate weight loss again too.

I spent a few weeks in this state of anxiety until I realised something. This was all ridiculous. I’d been through a lot and here I was beating myself up over something completely stupid. I could never know why the weight was going on. It couldn’t be fat – I looked the same. I knew that weight was only a rough guide and could be mysterious, influenced by many factors. I’d put on over half a stone after originally joining the gym, and I’d come to terms with that eventually. I didn’t look bloated or puffy – so it couldn’t be water, either. Whatever it was, I was just torturing myself if I thought I could pinpoint the cause. So even though I was frightened that the weight gain would never stop and I’d end up obese somehow, I made the decision to stop weighing myself, and to stop the emotional distress that came with it as a result.

I thought that the anxiety would increase. But actually things started to improve for me. I started to enjoy food more. I felt so liberated not worrying so much about what I was eating. I loved not getting up on Friday morning with a sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. Slowly my IBS improved a little as I recovered further from my difficult few months.

Although I’m not fully liberated from this idea of ‘weight’ meaning something, you can see that it’s made a considerable difference to my mental wellbeing and directly influences my opinion of my own beauty in a positive way. I no longer panic every week in anticipation for the regular weigh-in, change my routine before I step on the scales or starve myself for days to get my weight back to what I felt was ‘acceptable’ after a higher reading than normal.

 I hope you can also see that I’m sharing this post because it wasn’t easy for me to stop. And even now, I still wobble sometimes because I feel as though by not knowing my exact weight, I’m not in control. When these times come, I remind myself:

       Weight means nothing – it doesn’t indicate your body composition, so a ‘high’ weight doesn’t mean you’re fat

       If I step on the scales now and I don’t like what I see, I will undo all the hard work and positive steps I have taken since I stopped weighing myself. Doing this to myself achieves nothing!

I’m going to set you a challenge: go cold turkey with the scales. Every time you have a wobble, remember those three things. Keep going until the wobbles become less frequent. Soon you’ll forget that you used to dread every Monday or Wednesday or Thursday. You’ll forget the misery of the diet groups where you were publicly forced to step on the scales and were praised it pitied depending on the result. Most importantly, you’ll be healthier mentally and physically.

 

For more on body image click here.

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You are not a dress size

sizing

sizing

 

One thing I discuss in Tough Love is sizing. It’s always been such an issue for me and the people around me, because nobody in my family (or my group of friends) are actually ‘one size’ across the board.

So often I see magazine articles promoting ‘drop a dress size’ or ‘celeb X is now a size 10’ – but what does any of that mean? It means nothing, because dress sizes are different everywhere you go.

You’re not defined by your dress size – fact

I always thought growing up that sizes were grouped into ‘fat’ and ‘thin’. Anything below a size 10 was thin, 12-16 was middling, and over 16 was huge. This meant that as an overweight teenager I spent many hours in changing rooms feeling shit because I couldn’t get a size 14 or 16 pair of jeans near my thighs. To me, this meant I was ‘fat’.

But your measurements can’t dictate whether you are ‘fat’ or ‘thin’. I’ve since learnt that most women who appear to be a regular, healthy size struggle to fit into the size which would naturally correspond with that in a retail outlet. I’ve also learnt that sizes change from shop to shop and between different types of clothing – so really how can a size define you when you’re a 10 in Topshop and a 14 in Miss Selfridge?

What IS your dress size anyway?

Very few of us are created as per manufacturer’s instructions. The contradictory ‘one size fits all’ remit shops use (cleverly in some cases to exclude certain women) just doesn’t cut it for the majority of people who are all shapes and sizes. I use my own body as an example because my measurements are pretty extreme. I have a 24 inch waist and a 30 inch chest, but my hips are 37 inches. That means that I can be anywhere between a 6 and a 10 on top, and anywhere between a 12 and a 16 on the bottom. Loads of women have this issue – and whether you’re ‘top heavy’ or ‘bottom heavy’ it’s unlikely that high-waisted skirts and trousers or jumpsuits and dresses fit perfectly every time.

With this in mind, how can you honestly say you’re a 12, or a 14, or an 8? You could be all three.

Remember this when you’re feeling bad about your dress size

Unfortunately dress sizes have connotations attached to them. The ‘size zero’ debate has been raging for ages – and really there’s little argument against there. But what about all the other sizes? Why is an 8 acceptable, but a 12 isn’t? When a size 8 in one shop could also be a 12?

Next time you’re sitting in a changing room feeling fat, or hear your friends boasting about their dress size, remember that sizing is actually rubbish. It doesn’t define you – it means nothing. It says nothing about how you really look. Sizing made me hate my size 16 bum and thighs, but now I love them because my judgement isn’t clouded by pre-conceived associations about being ‘fat’. Lots of women hate their boobs because they make them a 14 on top – but those not blessed with a voluptuous figure are probably envious.

When you’re buying or trying on clothes, assess them on how they look on you, dress for the figure you have not someone else’s, and ignore the size labels, the mannequins and the marketing images filled with models who don’t match your body type. When you focus on your dress size alone you block out all the positives – and that’s a recipe for poor body image and low self-esteem.

Struggling with size? Want more on body image? Check out related blogs and Tough Love here.

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Why BMI and Weight mean absolutely nothing

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The massive importance of BMI and Weight – one of the biggest myths of our time.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, weight is a number on a scale which essentially tells you what your relationship with gravity is. It doesn’t tell you anything else; it doesn’t take into account other physical or personal qualities. I wanted to expand a little bit on this though because I get a lot of people talking to me about ‘weight loss’ and when I explain why I disagree with that so much I’m often met with a lot of confusion and questions!

I think the main reason for this confusion is the conditioning we have all been subject to over the last 30 plus years, which has seen the idea of ‘weight loss’ painted as a positive and ‘fat’ as a negative.

Of course in the 40’s, there was an influx of adverts promising ‘curviness’ for ‘skinny’ girls, who were ostracised just as bigger women are nowadays for their ‘undesirable’ size. Doesn’t that just go to show the power of the media, and the consequent effect it has on society? Someone, somewhere decides what is ‘normal’ or ‘good’ and we all follow blindly as we are told to do. At the moment, ‘skinny’ is in, and as a consequence we have all become obsessed with how much we weigh, with fat as a rule avoided like the plague.

BMI has long been painted by health professionals as an accurate and reliable gauge of a person’s health, based on the correlation between their height and weight. Contrary to this, many will now tell you that it in fact does the opposite and tells us very little about a person’s physical make up and overall health. Here’s an example: take a body builder who is very lean but has a heck of a lot of muscle. Muscle is more dense than fat, so they weigh quite a lot. They are however lacking in height – meaning their BMI indicates that they are clinically obese. Yet this person does not have a scrap of fat on them – so how can they possibly be obese?

This outdated system lumps people into categories of ‘healthy’, ‘unhealthy’ and ‘really unhealthy’ on opposite ends of the scale.  Another example is a naturally slim, tall person whose height and weight indicate that they are drastically underweight and dangerously so. Yet this is simply how they are made up naturally – it’s impossible for them to put on any weight.

What concerns me about this reliance on BMI is that many people are being told they are ‘clinically obese’ when that simply is not true. It focuses us even more keenly on a number on a scale, and not the health of our bodies as a whole. More recently, worrying stories of children and young adults being berated for the product of their BMI results have emerged in the press, which of course is unhelpful to say the least at such a formative stage both mentally and physically.

 

This brings me back to ‘weight’ as a whole. I admit I weigh myself once a week, same time, same day, so I absolutely cannot sit here and tell anybody not to weigh themselves at all, even though in all honesty that would be the ideal alternative. I know people who weigh themselves incessantly; sometimes twice in a day. When you have body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, gaining one pound can alter your whole perception of yourself and how you feel for the rest of that day. Clothes feel tighter, imaginary rolls of fat appear in the mirror. ‘Weight’ means nothing. The weight of our bodies depends on many different factors and varies from hour to hour, day to day, week to week. Women especially are subject to daily hormonal changes and don’t forget the contribution of our digestive systems to how much (or little) we weigh.

So what’s the alternative? Whilst I don’t suggest that this is widely used and suitable for everybody, I think it’s better to look to more accurate techniques such as fat calliper testing to get a clear indication of someone’s overall health. This coupled with other investigations can really give a true picture of how a person is made up, and where. If you are carrying excess fat, where it is on your body is important, as this often determines whether it poses a risk to your health and also the cause of its presence. Not everyone who carries excess fat eats cake for breakfast!

Next time you find yourself at the doctor’s and they insist on working out your BMI, please don’t lose heart if it isn’t favourable. It is a vague indication, if that, of your health and physical components. Not only that, there is more to you than a number on a scale. You are a wonderful person on the inside, and as long as you are also healthy, that is all that matters.

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Lana Del Rey – ‘Tummy Controversy’

It’s such a shame that apparently nobody can be successful without having their appearance torn apart by journalists!

Recently Lana Del Rey has been filming the video for her latest single, in which she plays a stripper. Paparazzi snapped images of her on set, smiling and having a lovely time whilst wearing a few questionable outfits (all for the purpose of the theme, of course!)

However some people feel it is necessary to take this opportunity to berate Lana over her figure, stating that she is ‘too big’ and ‘not toned’ .

No, she doesn’t have the lithe, toned, muscle-and-bone figure of Miranda Kerr, but does that mean she isn’t beautiful or is ‘wrong’ in some way? Of course not, for God’s sake. There isn’t one type of beautiful. She looks normal. Since when did being normal become such a crime?

The Sun reported the story with positivity and praise for the singer, with the headline ‘Lana Del Rey Sizzles in Red Undies to Play Stripper in Video’.

Despite this, certain ridiculous individuals have felt the need to comment on her figure below. Here’s just a couple:

‘A fabulous voice, one of the more genuinely talented female performers around, just a shame she doesn’t tone her figure just a little.’ – Irrelevant?? This was coming from a man, so I can only assume that for him to make this comment he looks like Jake Gyllenhaal.

‘You got to be bacon to sizzle…this is just suet.’ No words for this, frankly. None that are non-offensive at least. Others continue in the same vein.

I’d love to see what these people look like – I’m pretty sure they won’t be oil paintings themselves. It’s pathetic that they feel they need to contribute in this negative, unkind manner – as I always say, bullying is usually borne out of insecurity.

Above all this again proves this expectation that those in the public eye should be perfect; and this expectation of course filters through and into our daily lives until we are all at a point where we are striving to ‘look perfect’ so as not to disappoint others.

My overall opinion is this: firstly, it’s not down to other people to criticize how you look and decide how you should be and how you should not be. Fact.  Secondly, if you are talented or successful people will try to put you down one way or another – they will just find something obvious to them. Finally – I really don’t think it matters that Lana isn’t stick thin. It’s refreshing and pleasing to see a celebrity looking pretty normal. She’s a singer – nowhere in her job description does it state that she should look like a rake. Why do these people care so much that she hasn’t been spending hours of her life in the gym? It baffles me.

Who’s with me?

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