Have you ever heard the saying that you should never meet your heroes as they will just let you down? Well I met 2 of mine recently- and they did not let me down in any way, in fact they filled me with so much inspiration that I presently feel like I can take on the diet industry and kick it's weight bias, calorie-restricted ass.
Last fall Marci Evans and Fiona Sutherland announced that they were offering a body image workshop in New York in November. I madly tried to rearrange my life and finances to attend but in the end it did not work out. I guess they had such amazing feedback (no surprise really) that they decided to go on a "North American" tour April 2018. Unfortunately there was not a date in Toronto but there was one in Chicago and one in Boston- both of which are not crazy long flights so I looked up flights and registered. I was going to Chicago. Little did I know that it would alter me more than I could ever have imagined.
I have known for a long time that this area is where my passion lives. That I want to be a warrior when it comes to bodies- learning to accept on both the personal level as well as reducing weight stigma and bias on the larger scale. I have been arguing about BMI scales at work, trying my best to make people aware of the language they use and how it affects bodies, adopting a HAES™ framework in my teaching and practices as well following a non-diet approach. Yet now I feel more prepared to face the world in this space. Not only was I blown away with Marci and Fiona, I was equally blown away by the other attendees. I learned so much from the wisdom in that room on those 2 days that I feel like I might burst.
So why is this work important? Simply put we all have bodies. Irregardless of how they work, how they look or how they feel- we all have a body. How we view this body can be informed by so many things: culture, trauma, biological factors, privilege and weight stigma to just name a few. We all internalize these messages differently and therefore have different experiences. I have realized that so many people have shame about their bodies. Shame is felt and it is personal. It can affect the decisions that are made around our bodies. Whether we nourish it or move it or take care of it. Shame can be a driving force to how we see ourselves. We as clinicians, parents or even just humans living on this earth need to bring shame into the room and acknowledge it as a human experience. As a parent I need to check in with my kids as to what the internal dialogue of their bodies sounds to them. What random (perhaps even well meaning) comments about their bodies have made them think differently about their bodies. I have worked really hard on myself in this area but also work hard with those around us. I realize as they get older and are exposed to different people in different situations they are going to be exposed to this toxic culture. I am not sure anyone can go unscathed but I think that we can help build some resilience. We can start with ourselves and how we talk and treat bodies. When we say "OMG you look great, have you lost weight?". That can be heard as " Wow, you looked like shit before good thing you lost weight." Or "You are perfect as you are right now." However bodies change over time and this sentence basically says that they body is only perfect right now...not when you grow or change or age. When you say "I can't eat this or I will have to go for a run tomorrow", you are saying that this food can only be eaten if you compensate for the calories later. This can be internalized by someone as this is a "bad" food. When medical professionals label bodies as "obese", "overweight" or "normal" we are not taking into account each bodies individual history or genetics. We all need to be doing this work. Not just clinicians who are dealing with clients with eating issues for instance. We all need to do our own work. Start to acknowledge your own weight bias. What is it you say about your body and how does that inform the choices you make. How could this be affecting those around you? Are you accepting of your body or do you want to change it to something else? How do you treat your body in this world and how do you view others.
Now I am not going to lie. These are huge complex questions that have no simple answer. We live in this diet culture stew and its messaging surrounds us everywhere we go. Even the terms "Body Positivity" and "Body Love" have been co-opted by the diet industry (UGH Weight Watchers) leading people to believe that they can "love themselves thinner". I am not at all saying we need to wake up every day and be in love with our bodies. I am not sure that is humanly possible. But what if you woke up everyday and just accepted this was your body without trying to "fix it". What if you did the behaviours that made your body and your heart and your mind feel good. The community of practitioners working in this space is growing. I am hoping that it continues to grow so that everyone can have access to someone that can help them work on their body image and self care.
I am going to be writing a little series on this and some of what I learned. I want to relate it to Type 1 diabetes as I have worked a great deal in that area and have seen how the language of bodies can really harm how people view their bodies in this world. I will also relate it to my experiences teaching students who self select into nutrition and fitness industries and therefore I have noticed really struggling with their bodies.
So I am not disillusioned after meeting 2 of my superheroes. In fact I am even more in awe of the work they and many others due. I only hope to live up to standard they have sent. I am posting the pic with Fiona so that it is eternally on the internet (OMG I fan-girled so hard I lacked words). And I didn't get one with Marci which means I will need to find her in real life again...ummmm can we get a level 2 of this workshop??????
Until next time be Unapologetically you while I be Unapologetically me...