A few days ago I went though my wardrobe to sort through clothes that no longer fits the body I have now, and to make sure that what I do have is clothing that works for me right now.
One of the things that are often helpful when we are doing body image work is to do something tangible like going through our wardrobes. Of course there is lots to unpack when it comes to body image, and often a lot of that work is around Diet Culture, The Westernised Beauty Standards and concepts such as self objectification which is all tied into the fear of weight gain.
In Diet Culture it is so common to use smaller clothing as “motivation”. Whether it is keeping a pair of old jeans that we have outgrown as the motivation stick, or it is wearing clothes that now feels too tight as an incentive to try and “eat less”.
My question to you is, how well is this type of “motivation” working for you? I can see where the intentions are coming from but why do we subject ourselves to it?
Why do we think we don’t deserve to be comfortable in the body we have right now?
When I have clothes that are too tight, that sensation of being uncomfortable takes up a tremendous amount of brain space. Because my pants are cutting into my waist this is all I can think of. It contributes to increased negative self-talk and self-loathing. It doesn’t make me feel better about myself, it just makes me feel miserable.
There is this pervasive myth that if we are being hard on ourselves, not letting ourselves “off the hook” we will somehow stop caring for ourselves. But the opposite is the truth. And before you say it… remember restriction drives binge eating…
Bodies are living, breathing beings. They are forever changing. They are not meant to stay the same. Diet Culture says life will be better and we are more worthy when we’re thin (and yes due to weight stigma there is truth some truth to this). Beauty Culture says youth is the most important thing and that we should do everything to defy the laws of nature and ageing.
What we have to remember is that both Diet Culture and Beauty Culture is rooted in not only societal ideals and norms but both are also vast multibillion industries. Profiting of our personal insecurities are BIG business.
We might not always like the body we have, or what it looks like, and it is important to question where this belief comes from that, bearing in mind the number of companies that directly profits from it.
So, what would it be like to dress for the body you have right now?
If you could open your wardrobe and know that all the clothes there fitted you well, felt comfortable on your body and made you feel good, what would that be like?
Perhaps it would be possible to invest in some well-fitting underwear so it is not something that would rub or squeeze all day. I’m not suggesting that you need to dump all of your clothes that don’t fit right now, but perhaps you might want to store those ones out of sight for a while.
You don’t necessarily need to go out and shop for a whole new wardrobe, but would it be possible to have 2-3 work outfits that are comfortable and make you feel good right now?
My body has changed in different ways throughout my 20s and 30s. It has been bigger, and it has been smaller, and it has also stayed the same for a relatively long time. What I found this time, when outgrowing some clothes is that it felt some much less shameful and triggering than it would have done in the past. Instead of picking myself and my body apart and feeling pulled towards restrictive behaviours it felt so much more accepting and caring.
Yes my body has changed over the past few years, but so what?! Life is short, I want to care for it the best way I can, and right now that involves dressing it in a way that is comfortable and makes me feel good. Not trying to squeeze into the past and hating myself whilst doing so.
There are many factors that play into body image dissatisfaction. The solution that we are being sold is that we will feel better when we “fix” our bodies, however since our bodies are ever changing this will always be a precarious option.
We don’t need to fix our bodies, what we need to do is to “fix” how we think about them.
Your body is always inherently worthy. And it is deserving of your kindness and care, which may also include dressing in ways that is comfortable for the body you have right now.
Have you ever pondered this question? Even though we know that diets and dieting doesn’t work, it can be so challenging to not try another one. After the initial high, diets usually leave us feeling miserable, defeated and perhaps even heavier than before we started…
I can honestly say that I lost about 10 years of my life to dieting. Much obsessing around my eating and my weight with on-off, yo-yo dieting efforts. My efforts neither made me happier nor healthier. Besides a preoccupation with my body and binge eating episodes, I also ended up with digestive issues and fatigue.
Science tells us that intentional weight loss pursuits don’t work for the vast majority of people and that dieting is a pretty good indicator future weight gain. They tend make us MORE preoccupied with food and our bodies, not less… So why do we keep coming back for more?
Why on earth is it so difficult to let go of dieting?
I’m not claiming that I have all the answers here, what I would like to do is offering you some reasons to why it may be so difficult to let go of dieting, that are worth reflecting on. You are not wrong for wanting to lose weight. And there’s nothing wrong with your body if your attempts to lose weight hasn’t worked out either. It is the Culture we live in that is wrong.
Dieting gives us an illusion of control.
When life feels unmanageable it is so easy to use dieting as a way of trying to regain a sense of control. Planning, counting, restricting can all give us a sense that we are “in charge” and “doing something”. When in fact what we may actually need is some kindness and care and space to recognise that life IS hard. What we need are tools for self care and self compassion, not fuel to hate ourselves more.
It also gets tricky when dieting is done under the disguised as “a lifestyle change”. I have used brackets here because if your lifestyle change carries a main focus on making your body smaller, then it is in fact a diet. This is NOT the same thing as eating foods that makes you feel good, work on reducing stress or moving your body to feel stronger. Doing all of these things can support your health and wellbeing independently of change in body size.
Dieting is packaged and sold as the path to happiness.
Just have a look around at the endless messages that the multi billion dollar Diet Industry that are flung at us everywhere we turn. We are being told, and sold, that the pursuit of weight loss is the gateway drug to happiness.
We are also being told essentially, that we are not good enough as we are. A subconscious message that is all too often clothed as “female empowerment”. But that in truth is anything but. How can we become truly empowered when we are being told to spend our precious time, energy and money, to make ourselves anything but what we already are? Empowerment comes from owning the truth that we are already enough as we are, right now.
The final myth / lie that falls under dieting as the path to happiness is the sneaky one that convince us that if we could just get dieting “right”, then the rest of our life would just magically fall into place. This lie can make it particularly difficult to challenge when we are in the midst of a weight regain period. Please don’t beat yourself up if you’ve find yourself stuck here, time and time again. It’s cultural conditioning.
We get treated different when we are thin(ner).
To be honest this is not a myth, this is a fact. It is something that is continuously being upheld and perpetuated by fat phobia and weight stigma. Even if someone has lost weight due to a serious illness, they will get congratulated by other on how “well they look”… We also continue to up hold the Thin Ideal by assuming a person’s health, simply by looking at their body size.
Because we all live in this fat phobic culture the result is that those in a larger body desperately try to get thin, and people who live in smaller bodies live with a fear of getting fat. This does nothing to create an environment in where we can foster self care, but rather drives us further apart and disconnect our trust in our own bodies.
If you have done a multitude of diets, and are still searching for the one (that will work), please don’t be hard on yourself.
We’ve all been conditioned for almost all of our lives that thin = health. That we are “better people” if we could just learn to control our weight and that if we can’t, then the fault is our own.
I also appreciate that even if you have reached a place where you simply cannot do another diet, it may still be very difficult to put any weight loss desires to the side. That’s ok. It is difficult to live in this dieting culture. Be gentle with yourself.
Just know that letting go of dieting is not the same as letting yourself go.
Letting go of dieting is an opportunity to cultivate self care, body respect and body trust. It is an opportunity to end the war with your body, free your mind from obsessive thoughts about food and put your time and energy into things that will truly enrich your life.