We live in a world where people think personal responsibility means that we should feel personally responsible for doing what it takes to make them happy. Eat what they think we should, weigh what they think we should, and act how they think we should.
I think that real personal responsibility is you choosing for you. And I think that the best platform from which to make those choices is one of high self-esteem and positive body image. Love yourself first, then choose. That way you’re not frantically dieting hoping that you’ll love yourself 50 pounds from now. One of the most frequent questions I get asked when I give talks on self-esteem and body image is – If I just don’t love myself or my body right now, how do I get there?
It’s an excellent question (and I talk about some ways of doing that here) but I’m going to suggest that figuring out how to get there from here is not what’s most important.
When I first considered doing something other than self-hatred, disordered eating, dieting and generally feeling horrible about myself, I realized that it scared me.
So I wrote out a list of what I was scared would happen if I loved myself exactly as I was and stopped trying lose weight. What I had observed was that you’re often seen as a “Good Fatty” if you are always trying to “do something” about your weight. It’s not easy to be a good fatty but in a culture where 8 out of 10 women are dissatisfied with their bodies, at least the Good Fatty fits in and gets some support for an endless string of diets and gets some points for “trying”.
But when you choose to stop trying to lose weight and love your body as it is, you’re often seen as a Bad Fatty (no matter how scientifically sound and rational your decision might be). You’re costing employers billions of dollars, ruining health insurance, obviously not taking personal responsibility. Sometimes people who are in the diet cycle and frustrated with their lack of success and how much they hate their bodies are offended by the very existence of people who won’t buy into this cycle. If you’re an “out” Bad Fatty, they will lash out you. Until you get the hang of it, you might think that this has something to do with you (when in truth of course it’s all about their issues and what you represent to them). At any rate, Bad Fatties do not fit in.
Knowing this, I made my list of fears. Things like feeling crazy for being so different, wasting money and time on classes and books that didn’t work, losing friends, getting talked about behind my back, feeling isolated, people not liking me because I wouldn’t play with them in the sandbox of shitty self-esteem any more, and on and on. It was a huge list.
Then I imagined what would happen if everything on the list came true. I mean I took some time to really visualize each of them, really feel the pain of each thing.
Then I imagined spending the rest of my life as I had spent it so far – always unhappy with my body, trying diet after diet, feeling like a failure, feeling sick and exhausted all the time, believing what other people told me over what I knew in my mind and gut and heart to be true, trying so hard to be a self-deprecating Good Fatty who made sure everyone knew that I was trying to lose weight so that I could fit in and be accepted, living 100% of the time in a body that I hated.
Once I was done contemplating both scenarios the decision was clear. I knew that no matter what it took, I was going to learn to love myself. No matter how many books I had to read, classes I had to take, no matter how weird people thought I was, how many friends I lost, or how long and difficult the road might be I was not going to stop until I got there.
That was the turning point. It wasn’t about how I was going to do it – I had no effing clue how to get there. But in the moment that I chose to learn to love myself no matter what they hell it took, everything changed.
Now that I’m there, I’m certain that it was worth it. Even though along the way, every single thing on my list of fears happened to me. Some have happened several times. Some happened yesterday. But I have found that when your priority is loving yourself and being sure that you are in integrity with you, instead of trying to get everyone to love you by being who they want you to be and taking on their issues as your issues, things shift dramatically.
Today I received an e-mail today that so inspired me that I had to share it (with the permission of the author). It read, in part:
Recently, especially with the pressures of the holidays, I’ve found myself really struggling with body image and acceptance. The pressures to fit in have been mounting, and I found myself reverting back to the easy way out. But what is ‘easy’? The diet pills make me so sick that I throw up, and the over exercising 3 hrs a day leave me in bed aching. After a ridiculous amount of swallowed pills, and feeling disgusted and horrible, I decided to pop in and read a post. Which then turned into two, three, four. I just flushed down the rest of my pills, and have decided to just try my best at being healthy. Healthy thinking, healthy eating, healthy exercising.
How incredibly brave. To me that’s what it’s all about. Realizing that a way of life isn’t serving you, and choosing to start reaching from that dark place for the light. We all live in a crazy screwed up society with tremendous pressure to fit a certain mold, surrounded by people who hate themselves and want us to hate ourselves so that they don’t feel so bad, topped off by an astronomical amount of bad information being thrown at us every day by people trying to sell us stuff. But we can make a different choice. Loving being weird is far better for me than hating fitting in was. It’s a choice and it’s always in our hands. There’s a great quote by Les Brown that I think of often: “No matter how bad it is or how bad it gets, I’m gonna make it!” -Les Brown
So chins up you weirdos who have high self esteem and know that you’re awesome. Heads held high you crazy body-loving fatties and skinnies and in-betweenies. Stand up straight you non-conformist non-dieters and Health at Every Sizers. And be strong those of you who are on the way there. We are absolutely gonna make it.