When Every Body But Mine Was Beautiful

Picture by Richard Sabel

One of the most common e-mails that I get is from blog fans who say that, while they completely understand size acceptance for everyone else, and they find bodies of all sizes beautiful and valuable and awesome, they just can’t get there for their own bodies. I got an e-mail like that today and it really struck me because I’m preparing to be an Adiposer tomorrow. If you don’t know about the [NSFW] adipositivity project, you are absolutely missing out. It’s a project that “aims to promote size acceptance, not by listing the merits of big people, or detailing examples of excellence (these things are easily seen all around us), but rather, through a visual display of fat physicality.”  There are stunning pictures of fat people in various stages of dress and undress.  It’s amazing, I’ve loved it forever and tomorrow I get to pose for the project and meet its amazing creator, Substantia Jones, which in some ways is a culmination of all the self work I’ve done about this,  and wow am I rambling off topic right now.

So anyway, I get a lot of people who e-mail and ask how to go from being able to appreciate everyone else’s body to being able to appreciate their own body as well.  I have been there, so I’ll just speak from my experience.  I’m betting my commenters will have other awesome ideas, because that’s just how we roll here.  Ok, I’m starting to think that I’m kind of loopy from all the excitement of the billboard project today, I’m seriously going to try to tighten this up from here out.

For me, the thing that triggered the idea that I could ever be happy with my fat body was the realization that I didn’t feel about other fat bodies the way that I felt about my body at the time. I was trying to quit a diet program that had me eating less than I had with an eating disorder and wouldn’t allow me to exercise, and I was gaining weight.  When I told them I was quitting, they made me go into a little room with a little poster about not quitting and a woman brought in a binder with pictures of fat women, and she started flipping through it silently.  She said “You might not know it, but this is what you look like and these women will die alone eating bon bons in front of the television and is that what you want for yourself?”

What I realized in that moment was that I didn’t find anything wrong with those women’s bodies, in fact I thought that they were beautiful.  I didn’t expect that they would never find love (and I didn’t know what bon bons were but that’s another thing.) So it occurred to me in a rush: if I thought that their bodies were beautiful… and if I looked like them…then maybe it was possible to think that my body was beautiful.

Of course that was the beginning of a long process.  I started that process by focusing on what my body does instead of how it looks.  I made a massive list of all the things that I appreciate about my body – I included things like blinking and breathing, I included standing, walking, reaching,  hugging and any other action I could think of.  I included that I love my curly hair and my eyes that change color.  I wrote down anything that I could think of that I liked about my body, or that my body did.

Then I committed to really paying attention to my thoughts and every time I had a negative thought about my body I would replace it with a positive thought from the list.  Every time it crossed my mind I would thank my body for doing anything that I could think of  – hey, thanks for breathing! I appreciate you reaching for that!  Way to climb the stairs!  Whatever I could think of.

More than any work that I have done, this started to shift the way that I felt about my body.

At the same time I made a point of noticing something beautiful about every body that I saw.  When something about someone caught my eye because it was outside the stereotype of beauty, I focused on what was amazing about it.  When I had negative thoughts I reminded myself that I had been spoon-fed these ideas by industries that profit from my thinking them; and that if they didn’t serve me or didn’t feel authentic, then I was free to replace those thoughts with thoughts that I came up with on my own that did serve me and felt authentic.

I stopped engaging in body snarking altogether and I started to interrupt it when other people did it.

I actively sought out pictures of people who were outside of the stereotype of beauty.  Some places I can recommend for this are:

The Fit Fatties Forum Photo Gallery

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW)

The Flickr Athletes of Every Size group

Full Figure Entertainment Gallery

I looked for similarities between the people I thought were beautiful and pictures of my own body, and I reminded myself that other people were looking at me and seeing the same beauty that I saw in those women.

And I had a lot of compassion for myself.  Changing thoughts and patterns that are ingrained, and sometimes reinforced by the culture around us is really hard work.  It takes time, there will often be backslides and mistakes, and the best ways to NOT succeed are not having compassion for the learning process, not having patience, and trying to rush it along. I know for me I decided that I was going to get there, and then I held that thought all the way through.  Patience, persistence, and belief that I would get there were the keys to my success.

Activism Update and Opportunity

We pointed out a problem to Planned Parenthood Northwest, explained why it was a problem, suggested how they could fix it, and they did!  They’ve removed “obesity” from their list of healthcare concerns.  You can send a thank you note to ppaction@ppvotesnw.org

Here’s the note that I sent in case it helps:

I forwarded the original letter with this message:  Hi,  I wrote the letter below to you about the use of “obesity” as a healthcare concern on your “War on Women has Come to Alaska” piece.  I looked at it today and saw that it has been changed and I want to say thank you.  As I said in the letter I have long been a fan and supporter of Planned Parenthood.  I understand that you are under attack and, whether it was my letter or others that caused you to reconsider,  I greatly appreciate you taking the time to address this  concern in the middle of what you are going through.  Thank you.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on March 27, 2012 at 5:16 am  Comments (41)  

41 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. They…they seriously told you “you will die alone and unloved if you stop giving us your money”? I have no words. Actually I have lots of words but they mostly all involve some variation on “fuck”, so.

    Anyway. I kind of think the “FA for thee but not for me” phase is a thing everyone has to deal with, and also that it’s the longest, most grinding section in the FA journey. The point at which I began to transition from that into full-fledged personal self-acceptance (and from there to self-love) was similar to yours, in that it involved the beauty of other fat bodies – only for me, it was a bit more personal. I started dating a woman about my own age who was fat – shorter than me, slightly heavier. And I found her beautiful. Beautiful and also explicitly desirable. Being with her, lavishing love and attention on her body, was the “click” moment for me. If I could – and did – find her beautiful and sexy, wasn’t it entirely possible that I, too, was beautiful and sexy (and my other partners weren’t just saying that because they liked me)?

    Talk about a revelation.

    I was also part of a women’s group where a number of us were dealing with this issue, and together we launched a “weekly self-portrait” project. One group member took responsibility for leading it, and every week she would post a prompt – a song, a quote, a poem – and our assignment was to respond with some sort of self-portrait photo that captured our response or reaction to the prompt, or in some way interacted with it. We would also write short responses on why we took the photo we took, the thoughts behind it, etc., and we would post back and forth responding to each other’s photos and stories. For one of the weeks, I don’t remember the prompt, but I posted a photo of my stretch marks on my belly, with my glittering, brilliantly-colored painted nails laying protectively over them. The response was 100% supportive and loving. It was amazing to see us all, in various states of fatness, living and being and what was different each week and what was the same. My membership to the group lapsed about three months into the project (we’d intended it to be a yearlong thing), but those three months helped me make amazing strides in my self-confidence and positive self-perception.

    • “”They…they seriously told you “you will die alone and unloved if you stop giving us your money”?”

      At least they were honest about their message. It’s the same message that the beauty industry puts out, but they don’t come right out and say it. It can be inferred, though. Think about it!

    • I said a whole lotta “fucks” when I read that too. And then my brain exploded.

  2. I second the WTF about that diet place. That’s the sort of behaviour I’d expect from a cult, are there trained de-programmers for dieting cults? (If not why not?)

    Ragen, the one details that made my day is that you have eyes that change colour – I thought it was just me! I love my mood eyes. ;-) Did you ever find out what a bon bon is, BTW? I mean, we have a sort of chewy sweet/candy called a bon bon over here but I think it might be some sort of cake too?

    Enjoy the photoshoot! :-)

  3. “I was trying to quit a diet program that had me eating less than I had with an eating disorder and wouldn’t allow me to exercise, and I was gaining weight.”

    You weren’t allowed to exercise? That’s a new one! I’ve heard of diets that boast, “No exercise required!” but I’ve never heard of one that expressly forbid it. Maybe they figured that with as little food as they were allowing you to eat, you wouldn’t have the strength for exercising!

    • its because “exercise makes you bulk up. muscle weighs more than fat.’ ect ect yadda yadda.

      • but…but…they’re freaking *muscles*…mother of…is anyone else getting a stabbing pain behind their right eye?? And the urge to get stabby with these diet idiots?

    • Unfortunately, I know of some diets that explicitly say you should not exercise– not because of fear of bulking up, but because on the diet you do not have enough energy (you know, calories) in your body to exercise without potentially causing damage. That kind of sealed the deal for me on the idea that diets are insane. :/ If it requires me to exercise LESS, it more disorder than diet.

  4. God Bless You – the most important work is to love one’s self……

  5. I think there are people who want to be better and above. So while they might genuinely see nothing wrong with others with fat bodies and think they look good, they still hold themselves up to a higher standard in order to be superior. Just my own conclusion.

    • I mean the comment above as in superior according to society’s standards.

    • Then that’s not acceptance and they still have a way to go. :-)

    • For myself, it isn’t a matter of wanting to be better or above. I’ve always struggled with extreme feelings of inferiority. For me it’s more a matter of wanting, at least subconsciously, to “fit in” a little bit. It’s kind of sad, really. Although some people might be operating under the motive that you postulate.

  6. Re: She said “You might not know it, but this is what you look like and these women will die alone eating bon bons in front of the television and is that what you want for yourself?”

    I cannot tell you how FURIOUS that made me. How dare she! HOW!?! I don’t even have words to properly express all the things I am feeling about that statement.

    • Agreed. Wow, what a ugh!

    • Also agreed. I’m glad the place wasn’t named, for their sake – they’d be besieged by outraged people by now.

  7. Check out Leonard Nimoy’s “The Body Project.” You would be pleased by the beauty of his fat models.

  8. It was crazy, but the fact that you have eyes that change color (like mine) popped out at me, Ragen. Then another commenter! We could start a chameleon eye club!
    Anyway, good for you for not punching that diet place woman in the head, or unleashing a torrent of [well-deserved] obscenities. Because I might have done it (could it be my famously red-headed temper?)

    Thank you for all of the people who are leaving their stories of how they have/are coming to accept and cherish their bodies. It’s a hard row to hoe for my still, but I have hope that I’ll get there.

    • Daphne, us chameleon-eyed, peppery tempered redheads should stick together. ;-)

  9. Thank you for contacting Planned Parenthood. I just emailed them to thank them for the change and urge everyone to do so. PP has always been a safe space for me and frequently the only doctors I would see during times of weight anxiety.

  10. Yes. This. I’m not there yet either, and even though I did a photo shoot with a friend (and fellow size acceptance activist), I could not bring myself to submit one to the “I STAND” campaign. Yet.
    Thanks for this article which is helping me over that particular hurdle.

  11. Now I want to snuggle on the couch with a box of bonbons and my b/f. I wonder what that woman would make of that…

  12. Ragen, of all of your posts, and there are countless manies, THIS is by far my fave. Thank you SO much. Hugs

  13. Finding a dance discipline that included other people who where shaped like me helped really get me to the next section of my journey of loving my body… I always ‘self defined’ as a dancer even when I wasn’t publicly involved in dance of any sort – and my first few belly dance teachers spent a lot of time talking about losing weight or getting tighter abs…. but I loved the dance form so much I kept going… and then one day I found Peggy. She was an ATS belly dance teacher and she was built like me – she was a little bit kookie and a whole lot awesome. I remember one day in class another student was talking about how she could never dance in a belly baring outfit – Peggy pulled up her tank top, stuck out her belly waaay out and started rubbing it – then she said in a super proud voice “I EARNED this belly, why shouldn’t I show it off?” and something in me just clicked. Now all these years later, Peggy has passed away, and I miss her terribly – but I’m a belly dance teacher now and all my students have seen me do the EXACT same thing…. and they can all laugh about it, and smile…. and many of them come up to me later and thank me.

    • You are where I aspire to be. I’m not there yet. My love is Zumba (though I want to go into belly dancing) and the image they promote does have the weight loss/fitness angle and a lot of cut-off tops in their official workout gear. So I can enjoy shaking my hips but my tummy still makes me self-conscious, even though I have a better personal relationship with it, if that makes sense. :-\

      • It does make sense – one step at a time, it’s your journey, take it at your pace! – though of course I encourage you to look into belly dancing if you have an interest. It’s fun, and all body shapes can do it beautifully!

  14. For my self love journey (and I still have a looooonnnnnnggggg way to go) I started by stripping down and sitting in front of a big mirror for 5 full minutes. I don’t really think the full impact of how much I hated my body hit until I did that. Not two minutes in I was squirming and wanted to be “done” already with the assignment. It was very hard not to just make funny faces in the mirror and ignore why I was really there. But at the end I sat down with my journal and wrote it all out. What I liked about myself (and I made an effort to find things that I liked about myself) and what I didn’t like. It was hard. I cried. But looking at myself, really looking, was a changing experience.

    I also make an active effort to compliment at least one other woman every day. More often than not, it’s someone who isn’t “traditionally” pretty or they’ve made a bold fashion choice. It sounds like a little thing, but it makes a subtly huge impact on your outlook for the day.

    Oh, and I’m also trying very hard to stop avoiding cameras too. That one is the most difficult for me, but I’m getting there.

  15. Something that helps me is to leave a post-it in places that I tend to feel badly about myself on which I write a few body affirmations – “I am in the process of loving myself exactly as I am/look,” or “Today, everything that I do and how I look is okay and enough.” I’ve put these on my car dashboard, on my computer at work, on every mirror in the my house, and taped to my bedside table. It’s beneficial to look at them and repeat the words to myself to drown out whatever negative body-shaming hateful thoughts may be running on a continuous loop in my head. This technique assumes that one lives and works in a place where others would not react negatively towards these messages, which I know isn’t the case for everyone, but even having a positive message on a small card in your wallet or purse can be helpful.

  16. For me, getting my belly button pierced was the first step to acceptance. I’d wanted it done for years, but I kept putting it off because in my head only ‘perfect girls’ should show off their stomachs. One day, I decided that I wasn’t going to wait until the world told me my body was acceptable to live, and I just did it.

    From then on, every time I got dressed or showered, I wound up looking at my stomach because of that glittery little jewelry. It just looked completely different – it had nothing to do with the jewelry and everything to do with the fact that I’d decorated my body like it was something special. I started wearing bikinis, not because I had a ‘bikini body’, but because they were what I wanted to put on my body, and the more I dressed my body and decorated it, and fed it and excercised it, the more I loved it.

  17. Funny thing… as I read that bon bon drivel, I happened to be sitting here eating a Cadbury creme egg with Law&Order SVU on in the background… and funnily enough, I was still wearing a wedding ring.

    Guess Mr. Twistie (who regularly shows his appreciation of my fat belly, and who loved me even when I was thin, too) is part of the definition of ‘alone.’ That suits me fine!

    Also, for those who are confused, here’s the link to the Wikipedia entry on bon bons.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_bon

    Basically, they’re delicious, usually chocolate covered treats… though I used to make a tasty cookie of the same name. They were sugar cookies wrapped around tasty things like chocolate chips and nuts, dipped in icing and sprinkled with colored sugar.

    They rocked.

    • Posting that last paragraph but no cookie recipe? Cruel and unusual. :_(

      Now I must go find a cadbury egg… ;-)

      • Alas! I lost the recipe years and years ago and have no idea where to find it again.

        But if I ever do find it? I’m totally sending you a copy.

    • Friends, I have the bon bon cookie recipe.

      In our house, this is the Cookie That Defines Christmas. My mother made them every year when I was little, and now I do the same. The original recipe comes from Betty Crocker.

      Mix thoroughly:
      1/2 cup soft butter
      3/4 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
      1 tablespoon vanilla (yes, I mean tablespoon)
      Food coloring to color the dough if you like

      When the above are all blended (essentially, you just made frosting), mix in:
      1 1/2 cups of flour
      1/8 teaspoon of salt
      You can add 1-2 tablespoons of cream if the dough seems dry.

      Wrap one level tablespoon of dough around the filling of your choice. For example:
      Well drained maraschino cherries
      Hershey kisses
      Nuts
      Dates
      Anything that sounds delicious in a cookie

      Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet 1.5 inches apart. Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes, until set but not browned. Remove from sheet, and allow to cool briefly. While still slightly warm, dip the tops of the cookies in frosting:
      1 cup confectioner’s sugar
      2 tablespoons cream
      2 teaspoons vanilla
      Food coloring as desired

      I’ve found that this recipe makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies. I make them with cherries every year, but have tried other fillings. Hershey kisses with mint frosting is especially tasty, but the mint extract is probably stronger than you think. I’ve also done Hershey kisses with a coffee frosting – I improvised using espresso powder.

  18. I believe I have had quite the “a-ha” moment thanks to this blog post: SA is the foundation of FA. We can’t stand up for ourselves if we think, even subconsciously, that we aren’t worth standing up for because we think our size is unacceptable. How can I say “Fat people should be treated with equality and respect” when I still wish I wasn’t fat? Fat is fat and it shouldn’t be stigmatized…but I have such a complex relationship with my fat it is not always easy to defend it. How can I defend my right to have something that I still wish would go away?

    Here is the saddest, most evil thing: I find myself thinking “I wish people wouldn’t treat me badly because I am fat…but I *really* wish I wasn’t fat so people would treat me better.” This culture has so thoroughly f-d with my mind it has me apologizing for being it’s victim and promising to do better. It tells me “you’re only getting what you deserve – if you weren’t fat we wouldn’t have to treat you like this…just lose the weight and everything will be fine.” It’s like an abusive spouse saying “Well if you’d behave I wouldn’t have to hit you. It’s your own fault for getting out of line. Now just come on back home and do what you’re told and we won’t have any more trouble.” Screw that!

    I call BS on the whole thing. I used to love myself until people started judging me. Now I am working to find the courage to take my power, and my body, back. It is a long, hard, often sucky process but I am determined to break the programming.

    My little (ha) success story: my tummy. I am still a little self-conscious about it but I’ve still come a long way because I’ve made peace with even *having* it. I ‘faced’ my belly (not literally of course I’m not that flexible lol). I lay in bed and stroked it and rubbed it and tried to think of what was good about it. I chanted “tummy tummy tummy” in this kind of silly voice. I realized I have a wonderfully soft belly. I imagined letting a boyfriend or child rest their head on it and how content and happy they would be to sink into such a perfect pillow. I realized the stretch marks on it had a fascinating texture. The abdominal chakra (Manipura/Solar Plexis) is a really cool chakra that is connected to spirituality and growth. Knowing that, I think it is only fitting I have the belly I have. ;-)
    Now when I find myself worrying that my stomach is too big or looks “gross” when it jiggles, I just think “soft tummy.” And I also happen to know that the abs behind that softness are strong enough to out-crunch just about anybody. ;-P

    • See, that’s an interesting point most “thin” people do not get: You can have abs behind the fat. Whenever I hear someone saying “You should do some crunches to make your tummy less flabby” I alternate between the urge to scream like mad or, as you so aptly put it, threaten to “out-crunch” them ];->

      • I always end up going anatomy geek on them and start listing all the muscles that make up the core and which exercises one might do to strengthen each of them. Now, it might only shut them up because they don’t care that much, but it does at least make them less likely to suggest methods for “burning belly fat” to me again. :D

      • Yeah I hate hate hate the myth that diet and exercise ppl created that fat can be “targeted” or “melted”, and that muscle can *become* fat and vice versa. Fat is fat and muscle is muscle – you can’t turn muscle to fat any more than you can turn muscle to bone. I had to take anatomy and physiology in massage school – I’m oversimplifying here but basically every single human being has bones covered in muscle covered in fat covered in skin (not getting into fascia and other things ppl would have to wiki). Changing the muscle layer isn’t going to do anything to the adipose (fat) layer. This actually means that some ppl that we think of as “more” muscular really aren’t – they just have a thinner adipose layer so their muscle is more visible so they look “ripped” but they aren’t necessarily stronger or more fit.

  19. “I’m betting my commenters will have other awesome ideas, because that’s just how we roll here.”

    My first advice is to acknowledge that just getting to the “it’s okay for other people to be fat” stage is HUGE progress. Don’t beat yourself up for not accepting your own body yet; congratulate yourself for getting this far. You’re doing fantastic, difficult work, and every “baby step” is a hard-won accomplishment. The rest will come if you keep working on it.

    Also, I’m not sure if this will apply to anyone else, but I’ve found that my most stubborn hang-ups about my body have both a practical and an emotional angle. So getting over them takes a two-pronged approach.

    For example, I used to loathe my thighs. I did all kinds of work on feeling better about them, and that did help, but I couldn’t get over the feeling that they were “wrong” because I got really severe chub-rub. Once I discovered pettipants (indirectly via Ragen – thanks!), and solved the practical problem, the emotional stuff finally started to unravel.

  20. Wonderful post and all of these comments are so great. Makes my day.

  21. She said “You might not know it, but this is what you look like and these women will die alone eating bon bons in front of the television and is that what you want for yourself?”

    I could think of worse things. One of them would be continuing to subject myself to the belittling of sanctimonious prats!

    I’m one of those folks that is still struggling to accept my own fat body even though I find nothing wrong with the bodies of other fat people. I think (well, most days anyway) that I’ve gotten past the vehement self loathing. I no longer use “fat pig” as an insult for myself and I no longer call myself “lazy.” But I still have a ways to go.

  22. I would be quite happy to die while enjoying myself with some bon bons and a good TV show. What’s the alternative? Dying slowing and horribly from some disease, surrounded by drips and machines?


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