Category Archives: body image

Friday Fluff

So… I’m going to honest here.  I have nothing to write about today.  Nothing.

I’m in a fab, it’s-almost-the-weekend mood, but my brain is just fuzzy from general contentment.  Plus I’ve been super busy from work, making sure we still would have a place to live on October 1st (we found a roommate, so HOORAY, we don’t have to to move), helping other people move, ramping up my workouts, being sore from said workouts, and just running around trying to get a few other things in order.  Also, I think maybe  got my ranting all out on Wednesday.  Whatever the case may be, I have nothing of importance to contribute today.

But these folks do!

Bess brought back her weekly Ferosh Female Fridays (which I LOVE, btw, because, well, how cool does that just SOUND?), and gave shoutouts to some lovely lady bloggers (including me!) for being fearless this week, and just kind of made me proud to be a woman who knows other women who support women. My lengthy sentences confusing you yet? Just check her out!

Laura and I must be on the same wavelength lately, because she’s talking body image and dismissing the silliness that is the BMI chart.  My favorite line? “I could weigh 105-119 pounds, as the charts suggest in “optimal weight” terms (ha!), but I’d look like a stick with a big fat wad of gum stuck to its lower half.  Or a kebob skewer stuck into a melon.  You know what I mean.”  Girl, I feel you on having a booty and thinking BMI truly is ‘a pile of poo’

Despite my raging sweet tooth, I rarely crave baked goods.  Until today, that is.  Rachel’s got me wanting to throw on my not-yet-purchased apron and whip up some of these white chocolate cupcakes while only speaking in double entendres.  And Jenna at EatLiveRun has got me craving something hot off the griddle with her whole wheat butternut squash pancakes, which I usually only do when staring at a diner menu on a Sunday morning after a rather late Saturday night.

Over at Hollaback Health, we’ve had a whole slew of awesome posts lately!  Read all of those, but start with AJ’s second installment in her set of guest posts, ‘I Call It Visibility,’ about her experience as a blogger with the intersecting identities of queer, vegan, and runner.  Which, appropriately enough, the name of her blog as well!

I’ve been thinking a lot about running lately and how I need to try some other exercises for a few months because I keep getting injured (well, hello, new possible case of plantar fasciitis, please meet old cases of tendonitis and a stress fracture) and because I keep SAYING I’m going to take a break, and I never do.  (Now it looks like I have to take a break, right during the BEST running weather in the midwest because I have really screwed up my feet).  Well, apparently, Ashley from Fashionably Fit has been thinking the same thing, because she rejoined a gym and has been having a love affair with the classes and their efficiency and they fact that they play nice with her joints.

Kristen’s post pretty much summed up my experience with weight loss in the past, and I felt like she was practically writing my story on her blog! Kudos to her for learning how to eat intuitively!  Still working on that one….

Last, but not least, Nicole’s post on Special K was so informative that I wish college me would have read because I was SOLD  on the low-cal Special K crap, not realizing that while I got skinny, I was putting some scary stuff in my body.  Also, I really think all of you will crack up at her title and the picture she posted to go along with it!

I like the idea of giving out a little link love to finish out the week, so happy reading!  And for the sake of discussion, since we all know I loooove talking, tell me what you’re doing this weekend– healthy or not! What fun stuff do you have planned?!

Body Image: Circles and Puzzles

On Monday, as I was getting ready to leave work, I stopped to chat with our office manager (Hi, Ali!).  As I somehow always do with other women, I got onto the topic of body image and weight. I find this happens so easily because most women I know have had some bad blood with their bodies in the past.  But it’s so easy to talk about it now because so many smart women are getting wise to the fact that no, this isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy, and we want to talk about it.  Because we want to resolve it, and just be OK with our bodies and use the time we spend worrying about our butt and abs to, I don’t know, fix the economy or reverse global warming.  But I digress.

Anyway, we started talking about how, while we’d like to improve upon our figures now, it’s not the most important thing in our lives.  Yes, we might want to lose a little weight or tighten up our rear ends, but these things aren’t our focus as they once were.  We both have our stories of the times in our lives when focus turned to obsession, and examples of when our quests for health became the antithesis of health itself.  But we’re realizing now that creating a good life doesn’t swirl around that one goal of ‘getting skinny.’ We’re understanding that this singular objective won’t make the other ones fall into place.  Getting healthy, losing weight, toning up… all nice things, but not the key to happiness.

“I realized recently,” Ali told me, “that losing weight or getting the body I want is one little part of that circle that is my life.  Whereas before, those things were the circle itself.” When she said this, I knew she had summed up how I had been feeling lately.  In college, everything centered around sticking to my plan and staying small, meaning I let social events or enjoyable company with delicious food pass me by because it wasn’t what I had laid out for the day.  ‘Oh sorry, I didn’t go running yet, I can’t.’  Damn, I bet I’m going to hear all about how fun that was tomorrow. ‘Oh, no thanks, I’m not hungry.‘ Plus that doesn’t fit into my calorie count for the day.

That circle had me spinning around and around, but I never got anywhere in life outside of my body.  I stayed the same, and my goal never changed.  I never progressed beyond, ‘Stay small and fit into that dress.’ It was like my life was a wheel of calories and miles and pounds and jeans sizes, and occasionally, the other stuff –my life — would happen because it accidentally got trapped in the spokes, and I would roll with it until I would snap out of it and get back to the plan.  Lately, though, the circle of my life has involved so much more.  Instead of those life experiences getting stuck to my tires, they ARE the tires. And I’ve decided that I can go ahead and let losing weight be a part of those rolling circles, but I won’t let it steer.

“In the same sense, I used to think that losing weight was the key, was the piece of the puzzle I needed to find before all of the others would fall into place, ” Ali said. “But now, I’m finding that I’ve got this beautiful puzzle, and there’s only one piece missing, but I’m working on it.” And again, it was as if she had read my mind, because this is truly the way I’m feeling about my life.  Am I entirely happy with my body?  No, but I’m working on accepting where it is and improving on it as best I can daily.  But the puzzle pieces I thought would fall into place when I was skinny or toned enough? I have so many of them now that I never had when I was thinner.

Career?  When I first moved to Chicago, I thought life would just be easier and I would like my 9to5 if only I could get skinny again.  But then I decided that I needed to be happy before I could get healthy, and the desk job wasn’t going to do it for me.  So I quit, became a personal trainer, and I’ve been calmer and more content with my life (not to mention healthier!) ever since, no matter that my size 4 jeans are a long way from fitting.

Love life? I had boyfriend and a few little crushes and flings in college, but you know what?  Even at my smallest, I never felt like myself around them.  I had been working so much on my ass that I let the work I had to do on my head pile up to the point where I didn’t even know who I was.  Now I’m dating someone who makes me feel more comfortable and happier in my own skin than I have in a long time, with or without makeup, “bikini-ready” or not.

Friends?  I seemed to have some friends in college who liked to hang out with me because I looked a certain way and because I was the ‘how can I make this healthier aka lower-calorie’ guru.  I was told that I was ‘inspiring’ more than once, and while this might sound flattering, it was also a lot of pressure, and it meant that they didn’t see the personality part of me.  They liked hanging out with me because I made them want to go running or make a salad, not because I was quirky or a good writer or because I lived for awkward stories and always had one to tell.  But my friends now are the friends I’ve chosen, because I’m confident in who I am as a whole, and I know that I can afford to be picky.  I can choose the friends whom I love for their never-ending optimism or no-nonsense logic, and who love me for the things I always wanted people to notice when all they paid attention to was what I was putting on my plate at dinner in the sorority house.

So you know what?  Between my job and my friends and my dating life and my family and everything I have to be thankful for, I’ve got so many puzzle pieces in place, that while I would love to be perfectly fit and trim again, I’m not obsessing over that tricky middle piece that finishes the puzzle but doesn’t necessarily hold it together. That one piece didn’t make the others fall into place — it actually did quite the opposite.  I was missing so many wonderful pieces when I did have a death grip on that elusive piece, because I let all of the others fall away.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

But, as always, dear readers, I want to hear from you!  Does body image or weight play (or has it in the past) a huge role in your happiness?  Is it the puzzle or the circle itself, or is that something you’re working for, but not feeling incomplete without?  Have you learned that, while it can be important, it didn’t make or break your life?  Spill!

Friday Food For Thought

First up, thanks to everyone who voted on their favorite muscle groups to work at the gym!  All eight of you (or maybe seven since I can’t recall if I voted or not) made my poll very representative of the blogging population (sarcasm alert!).  Although, based on what my I’ve heard my friends and clients say, it actually might be pretty accurate!  Looks like legs and core tied for first, with back and chest coming in second, and no one liking arm work at all.  Which, like I said, pretty much reflects everything I’ve ever heard when training!

Moving on, though!

Although last Friday’s post also involved food, I’m obviously talking about a different sort here.  I know I talk a lot about body image and staying sane and healthy with it, but today I was clicking around on my favorite blogs and came across a video that does the topic more justice than I can right now.  Leah posted this video of Jean Kilbourne lecturing about images of women in the media, and it reminded me of WHY I choose to write about these topics.  It reminded me why I write about eating disorders and self love and everything else.  I remember seeing other Killing Us Softly videos when I was a Women’s Studies major at Michigan, but this one really struck a chord with me.

So there you have it, folks.

THIS is why I was a Women’s Studies major. THIS is why I want to go back to school for a graduate degree. THIS is why I want to teach about destructive images of women in the media and how we can change them. THIS is why it’s so easy for me to hop up on my feminist soapbox. THIS is why half of my blog is about body image and being healthy but not succumbing to the pressures of someone else’s version of perfect.  Because it is a public health problem. It’s not just us girls being silly and taking things too personally. Although, when I see my fellow women beating themselves up, and even DYING, striving to be some ideal that doesn’t exist, I DO take it personally. But it’s not just our problem. It is the problem of every single person who has any relationship with any woman. It is EVERYONE’S problem.

(That was actually my exact comment on Leah’s blog, but I realized it conveys precisely how I feel about the topic, and I could think of no better words to express my thoughts, so there you go.)

Anyway, you know I love a good discussion, so lay it on me! What do you think? Of the video? Of the topic at hand?  Do you think the media is damaging to the self image of today’s woman?  Do you think it’s a public health issue?  Do you think we can change this?  How?  I know that’s a lot of questions, but SPILL!

Owning It: A Few More Confessions

So I’ve posted a couple times already about how I’m not a foodie, and on multiple occasions I’ve let you in on the not-so-secret secret that I still have body image/food issues. Then a few weeks ago, I posted myconfessions as a personal trainer.  And I’m going to post a few more here today. But unlike the confessions of my Catholic school days, I’m not going to ask for forgiveness or justify myself.  And I am most certainly not going to do penance for them.

These are a few of the things I’ve realized I need to own up to — things about myself that I need to lay out there because they are who I am and what I do, and, well, sorry I’m not sorry about them.  So what inspired this sudden show of bravado, you ask?  What made me decide to own up to all things Heather without feeling the need to explain myself?  Well my good real-life friend (we go wayyyy back, which is what I’m going to say when she becomes a ridic famous author) and blog buddy, Rachel, started the ‘Own It’ challenge, encouraging other bloggers to come out and state what they’re about, no apologies necessary.  Hmm, I thought, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about the things that I am constantly apologizing for that I really shouldn’t be.

In the past few years, I’ve noticed that my happiness factor has gone up exponentially since I stopped asking for permission so much.  And I actually remember having a conversation about this with Rachel on one of our many Starbucks dates back home in Michigan.  Last year, I told people that I was quitting my salaried desk job to become a trainer.  This year, Rachel told people she was up and moving to Texas.  We didn’t ask if these actions were OK, and we didn’t give a laundry list of reasons for why we were doing them.  And because people in general are so used to everyone (especially young women) asking if what they’re doing is right, this confused them.  You mean you don’t care what I think? Nope, or at least not enough to change my mind.  I’m forging on either way.  Anyway, inspired by that conversation and by her post on it, here are some more confessions that don’t bother my conscience one bit.  My opening declaration:

Since I’m a trainer, let’s start with something fitness related.  I hate running in the summer.  HATE. I do not like it at all.  Running in 90 degrees with 80% humidity just so I can tell people I’m a real runner?  No thanks.  I’ve been one, and maybe someday I’ll be one again, but not right now.  I like to breathe and not feel like I’m wading through the soup that is a Midwest summer.  If I run at all during the months of June, July, and August, it is at the gym or at night, and I do it because I know how many calories it burns, or sometimes because I need a change.  But you know what I would rather do for hours at a time in the summer? Bike or swim or dance or anything besides run.

Here’s another one: I am not a morning person.  Props to all of you that are, but I get pissed off when people make it seem like you are a lazy, slothful person if your internal alarm clock doesn’t have you springing out of bed at 6am.  Stop acting so damn self-righteous about it.  I get just as much accomplished as you do, but I just do it later in the day.  Give me a project to work on at 8pm and I’m way more inspired than I would be at 8am.  I like my workouts later in the day too.  I’m programmed this way, and I’m owning it.

For as much as I talk about loving the skin you’re in, I’m with Rachel on the fact that I would still like to lose weight, even if I do think I’m beautiful right now.  And as much as I talk about how unhealthy I was when I was at my skinniest (not having a period is usually a bad sign, folks), I sometimes still look at pictures and remember how much control I had and how good it felt to slide that XS or S on without a snag.  I will own that I feel that way, and I will also own that I still have some work to do, mentally and physically.

I also own that when fat talk starts with my girlfriends, I shut down.  I do not respond, or I get quite curt, all of my response being two words or less — if that.  I mostly do it because nothing about that conversation is healthy for any party involved.  We don’t need to perpetuate the cycle of caring more about our jeans size than our actual mental wellbeing.  But another part of it is that for the first time in my life, I’m not one of the skinny friends.  And that sounds catty, I know, but I know I didn’t fish for compliments even when I was the skinny friend.  It also hurts my feelings when my size-4 friends comment on how they need to ‘get rid of this flab’ because they are just ‘soooo disgusting.’ Gee thanks.  By the way, thanks for being a bitch and not thinking about anyone else’s feelings before you opened your mouth.

I also jump up on my feminist and body image champion soap boxes pretty quickly, much to the chagrin of any males in my life.  Sorry I’m not sorry.

I did a total 180 as far as careers go and quit my secure corporate job to become a trainer (with an unstable hourly wage) and a freelancer, and I put myself in a lot of debt doing so.  I also freaked my parents out and made them wonder why they paid for a bachelors degree in English and Women’s Studies (take a guess at how many times I heard, ‘So what are you going to do with that degree?’) from a good school for their eldest daughter.  I switched jobs again about a year into my gym job because it was so sales focused, and I refused to force people to buy training when they could hardly make their rent.  Sometimes I worried that I had made the wrong decision going into training.  But now I don’t regret it because I found a better fit that reminded me why I love what I do, and I love the freedom I have working at two smaller studios who really want the best for the clients.  I stumbled along the way, and I still don’t know what I’ll ultimately end up doing, but at 25, I don’t need to yet.

Even though I’m a trainer, I do not live at the gym.  And I won’t tell my clients that they have to either.  I won’t tell them they aren’t allowed to drink, because I do it, too (give me whiskey or beer, and I’m ready to go!).  I refuse to be a complete hypocrite with my clients, and I’m usually honest with them about how much I’m working out at any given time.  Also, lately, some of my workouts have taken a backseat to seeing friends or a boy.  But I’m good with this, because for a long time, it was the other way around.  I still work out, but I don’t let it take it over my life. I like this, and I own this.

So now it’s your turn — what are you owning, what have you owned, and what are you going to start owning that maybe you were afraid to before?

Worth a Look: Letters to My Body

Do you scrutinize or appreciate?

I haven’t done a whole lot of promoting for other sites — even though I think there are some amazing ones out there! — but I just couldn’t NOT say something about this one.

Elisabeth from Jogger’s Life has put together another, absolutely incredible site devoted to body image and EDs.  I’ve mentioned my relationship with my body and food plenty of times, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a big supporter of this project.  Please head over to Letters to My Body, and check it out! She’s compiled anonymous letters sent in from readers addressing their own bodies and how they feel about them.  Take a look at the forums and chime in!  Hopefully we can start some healthy discussions on our relationships with our bodies, and if these relationships aren’t so healthy, maybe we can change that!

Here’s what Elisabeth has to say about the site:

The site is akin to PostSecret in that people can anonymously write a “Dear Body” letter and have it posted to the website.  The goal is to say all of the things that you’ve wanted to say to your body but never could vocally express.  It’s sort of meant to act as a “purge” of sorts, and the idea was born while I was in treatment for my own eating disorder–I needed to find a less destructive way to purge my feelings about myself and my body, and a pen and paper were the easiest way.

Personally, I think this could be a fantastic resource, and would recommend it to all of the women I know (and hey, some men, too!).  And on the topic of self image, tell me, how do you feel about your body?  Love it?  Hate it? Tolerate it?  Somewhere in between? I know I’ve come along way with loving my body and accepting that my body and I aren’t separate beings, but one person that needs love and appreciation to stay healthy and happy.  But I know I still struggle at times, which is why I love Elisabeth’s concept.  So before you dash over to Letters to My Body, what would a rough draft of your LTMB look like?  Spill!

Fed-Up Friday: ‘Beach Ready Bodies’

Now, I know I’ve given you my gym pet peeves, and I’ve gone off on a (necessary) tirade or two about things that irk me, but usually I’m a pretty happy person!  Occasionally though, something just gets on my nerves, and I have to say ‘Enough!’

Well, today, my friends, that thing is the phrase ‘beach ready’ when it comes to whipping ourselves into shape for warmer weather.  I know everyone wants to look their best when strutting across the sand or running about town in their shortest skirts, and I’m not telling you to stop striving to be the best and fittest you can be (I am a trainer, after all).  But I get a little annoyed by phrases like ‘summer-ready’ and ‘bikini-worthy‘ because they imply that if these individual body parts aren’t ‘ready’ by whatever publication’s definition, then, well, we better not let them be seen!  Arms aren’t rock solid yet? Better keep those long sleeves on.  Don’t have abs of steel yet and there’s still some muffin top hangin’ around? Better keep your top on and don’t even think about trying on anything but a one-piece bathing suit.  Riiiiiight.

Well, here’s the thing, friends.  I didn’t drop 20 pounds or trim inches off my thighs by the time June rolled around.  But did I think my legs were prepared for shorts?  Yes!  Because it was hot!  My legs were ready to be freed, no matter what state they were in.

I really feel that phrases and articles like these can be really damaging, and can keep women (and men, too!) from believing that they can do whatever they want right now, no matter what size or shape or weight they happen to be.  It keeps the mentality of “Oh, I’ll do this when I drop 10 lbs’ in place, and keeps us from living our lives.  I know, because I’ve done it, and I’ve been there, and actually, it was when I was much smaller than I am now.  I had it in my head that I had to keep preparing for the main event, but I was always ‘getting ready,’ so it never seemed to roll around.  I spent a lot of time waiting for myself to get ready, and in the process, put actually living and loving life on hold.  But once I finally figured out that life keeps happening, whether I’m ready or not, I stopped obsessing as much.  As author Jessica Weiner points out, ‘Life doesn’t begin five pounds from now.’

So instead of asking yourself if your tummy or your butt is beach ready, why don’t you ask yourself if YOU are beach ready?  Do you want to lie on the sand soaking up the sun (with SPF, obvi)?  Do you want to play beach volleyball with your friends? Do you want to splash in the water or even bring out your inner kid and build a few sand castles?  Then do it!  Whether Fitness or Health or Shape says you’re ready or not.  Summer’s almost over, and you’re ready, I promise!

Let’s Discuss: ‘How to Look Good Naked’

So I recently saw this show (sitting home alone on a Friday night, watching back episodes on Lifetime online.  I feel like the beginning of one of the network’s movies.  When do I get a makeover and suddenly achieve all of my dreams at once?), and I have mixed feelings.  Overall, I really like it and what the show is trying to do.  ‘Love your body!’ Carson crows.  ‘Flaunt it! Adore every inch!’  And that’s really what they want women to do.  I believe that very firmly.

Do I think they totally achieve it or do it in the right way?

Eh, not so sure about that…so let’s discuss!

Here are some of the issues I have with the show:

  • Use of the word ‘perfect.’ What is perfect anyway? Some might say it’s Gisele, others might say it’s Beyonce or J-Lo, and others might be drawn to the ladies with even more junk in the trunk.  What’s wrong with thinking what we’ve got right now is perfect?  (I don’t tell myself I’m perfect on a daily basis or anything, but I think it’s something we could all work on) It’s nice that Carson says the women are beautiful, but I almost think he devalues the sentiment by starting those statements with, ‘You’re not perfect, but…’
  • Someone who has hated her body for 20 years changes her mind in 5 days?  Without the help of a qualified therapist?  Hmmmm… It just seems a little hokey to me.  Anyone who has ever had body image issues (like 99.9% of us?) knows that it’s gonna take a little longer to get over that.
  • The women only feel good enough about themselves to ‘flaunt it’ naked after they’ve had full hair and makeup done.  So we learn to love our bodies, accept our curves, and embrace our uniqueness….when we have the help of professionals making the part above the neck look phenomenal.  I feel like they aren’t REALLY naked, ya know?
  • Once they get the makeover, Carson and Jude (stylist extraordinaire) exclaim, ‘Oh you look so different! Amazing!’  Wait, what? Aren’t these women supposed to be loving themselves for who they already are?  Not for the glamazon that has been created? 
  • The lineup.  Carson makes the woman in question place herself where she thinks she fits in a line of women.  But he always asks them to place themselves in the order by size.  First of all, the thing about this show is that it is always about size.  There’s never anything about any other form of uniqueness.  Maybe they just didn’t want to dig that deep, but I think the show lacks depth (pun totally intended) for that very reason.  Anyway, this part always makes the woman realize that she was much smaller than she was imagining.  I have a problem with this.  I almost find it insulting to the bigger women in the lineup, and I think the women who are asked to place themselves do too, based on their hesitation to just jump in the line.  And the fact that when a woman realizes she is much smaller than her perception of herself, suddenly her self worth shoots up and she’s happier with her body.  Not helping with that whole ‘love every size’ concept.  Because even in this show about loving your body, subtracting inches is still positive, and a decrease in size equals an increase in self esteem.  It may only be in the woman’s head, but it’s still shrinking her and that is the part that makes her feel beautiful – not realizing that her differences are what make her amazing. 
  • When the picture from the final shoot is shown on the side of the building, they still cover her ‘trouble spots.’  Again, we’re not embracing everything here – just the good stuff and the parts Jude has worked his magic on.  The same goes for when Carson helps the women choose new outfits to dress their bodies.  ‘We have a lot of good to work with here!’  Which sounds to me like he just left out the part about how they need to camouflage the bad…implying that there is ‘bad.’
  • I love that the show makes women want to love the bodies they have, but most of the women have parts of their bodies that they describe as ‘fat’ or ‘chunky.’  Although I can identify with these women a bit more, I think the skinny girls need some love too.  What about the girls who try to gain weight because they too hate their shape, but stay bony or boyish no matter what?  I mean, I can’t really commiserate with homegirl on that end, but still, I know there are girls who are just as unhappy with their lack of shape as other women are with their abundance of it.  And while I usually agree with Carson that ‘zero isn’t a size, it’s a warning sign,’ I don’t know if there needs to be so much haterade being dumped on our slender sisters.

Anyway, what do you think?  Have you seen this show?  Do you agree with me?  Or are you thinking my perception of the show is totally skewed?  What do you think about body image shows like this?  Spill!