I remember the day I walked away from the 30-year war against my own body.
In the fitting room of a department store, I was confronted by the reflection I usually tried avoid, and the all-too-familiar fear and disappointment bubbled up.
I felt completely out of control of my body. I had not chosen to be like this. I had fought tooth and nail against it, and yet it had happened. Here I was, bigger than ever.
My joints screamed, I waddled instead of walking. I couldn’t lie down comfortably and I couldn’t even breathe properly at night. I had been warned I was pre-diabetic, which scared me, but my response to pressure was to eat more.
Everywhere I looked were images and reactions from others reminding me that I didn’t look right. That I didn’t meet the standard and was therefore ugly, unwanted and of no value.
I stood there looking at myself, with suffocating horror and despair rising up in me, and I knew what was about to happen next, but felt powerless to stop it. I went and bought a packet of fruit jellies and ate the entire thing while wandering around in a daze.
As I licked the sugar off my fingers, I could clearly see what had just happened. I had responded to distress in one of the only ways I knew how. The fact that it was an extremely unhelpful response had bypassed my brain yet again.
Something had to change. I didn’t have any idea how to rewire my stress response to make it behave more constructively, so I decided to simply remove as much stress from my life as I could.
My main source of stress in that moment was the crazy self-defeating cycle of being miserable about my body and then eating foods that contributed to my misery.
That afternoon I began to wonder if I could simply choose to ignore every message I received about how wrong I was, how contemptible, disgusting, disappointing, ugly and dangerously unhealthy I was. Just as an experiment, and see how it affected my stress levels.
I asked myself what it would be like to never worry about, or even think about, the concepts of weight, diets or how my body is supposed to look.
What if all these topics were like Star Trek? By that, I mean something that might occupy other people’s minds but not mine. I’ve never given Star Trek a thought and never felt I should or that I was missing out.
What if I made an agreement with myself right now to just drop the whole issue of weight and diet. To forget about the possibility of my body ever being any different from how it was right then.
What would happen if I allowed all judgements and comparisons surrounding these topics to dissolve into neutrality?
It was worth a go. Nothing else was working.
Here was the deal: No thinking or talking about anything remotely related to weight or diets. Weight, as a concept, no longer exists.
‘I’m not overweight – I’m over weight!,’ I told myself. Totally over it!
For the duration of the experiment I would accept that I am what I am. I’ll never be any different. And that’s okay.
More than my meatsuit
That day I declared that I am more than my meatsuit. So my body doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing. So what? According to whom? And who cares?
Why the hell does it matter? I’m not a model; it’s not my job to look a certain way. I don’t remember signing a contract when I came to this planet, agreeing to be decorative at all times.
I’m not an ornament – I’m a person. And as far as people go, I’m okay.
I am a vast consciousness with an imagination that can stretch way out into the universe. I can love forward and backward in time. I am a source of joy, friendship, laughter and comfort for others.
My meatsuit is the address where my consciousness can reliably be found, but it isn’t me. I am more than my meatsuit.
If others want to experience being with me, then they will have to put up with how my body looks. Some people can manage that, and if they can’t, then they can walk on by. I don’t need to know them anyway.
Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.Dr Seuss
Everyone else is a vast consciousness too, bristling with their own unique energy, intelligence and power to love. If they can’t see that about themselves, and insist on dwelling in the small, contracted part of themselves that places excessive importance on the appearance of other people’s meatsuits – then that’s their misfortune.
Think about the people you love and the animals you love. I’m sure not all of them would look at home on the cover of Vogue magazine. What about your grandma or favourite aunt when you were a child. Was she perfectly slim and cellulite-free? Perpetually ready for her close-up? Would you have loved her more if she was?
What about the difficult characters in your life? Would they have been more bearable if only they had been 10kg lighter?
If one of your childhood caregivers could have improved either their appearance or their attitude, which choice would have impacted your life more?
I had a rescue cat years ago who, when I look back at photos of him in a cold objective way, was an ugly boofheaded creature, with an awkward kink in his tail and half an ear missing. But all I remember about him is how much I loved him, and what a lovely little friend he was. I didn’t care about his imperfect appearance and it would seem he didn’t care too much about mine either.
It is the love we share with others that makes us beautiful. Our souls, which are made from love, are the most beautiful and most important parts of ourselves.
Yes, when we incarnate on this planet we have to live in a meatsuit. That’s part of the deal. But we are much more than our meatsuits. The body makes up a tiny percentage of the totality of our being.
‘But I’m concerned for your health…’
Have you heard of a ‘concern troll’? Someone who is always eager to point out that being overweight is unhealthy. So you must lose weight immediately else you’ll diiiie. (And you’re a bad example for the children!)
Look, I do know that being overweight can sometimes be correlated with poor health. It can be uncomfortable to live in a body that isn’t the right size – whether too big or too small. And I understand that eating too much processed food is detrimental to physical and mental wellbeing, and probably should be avoided. I get it.
But being fat isn’t just a health condition to be corrected like a broken ankle. It is seen in our culture as a moral failure. I felt like I had a flashing sign on my forehead saying I was of no value.
If someone has maladaptive coping mechanisms like overspending, shirking responsibility or creating drama in relationships, those things aren’t immediately obvious to others. No-one can glance across the room and judge you for that straight away.
But when I was fat, I felt my vulnerabilities were constantly on display. My body was judged as the totality of who I was. I wasn’t seen as a person who was smart or kind or funny – I was just a fat slag.
My confidence was eroded every day as I went through life painfully aware of my sins against society. The sins of being the wrong size and not being pleasant to look at. (How dare I?!)
So I should just change my lifestyle huh?
Well, I did change my lifestyle, and let me tell you, it was hard. It was really hard. And if I had continued to let society tell me I was worthless, I would not have been able to find the strength to do it.
That is why you need to disrupt the cycle of feeling bad about being fat. Feeling like you’re a bad person does not empower you to make changes. And feeling pressured to make changes to gain approval from others does not result in sustainable, lasting changes.
I changed my lifestyle, not to appease society, but to create a more comfortable life experience for myself. I wanted to find better ways of coping, that didn’t harm my health.
But first I needed to feel good enough about myself to warrant putting in the effort to change. And that was never going to happen while I took notice of all the societal messaging about what a bad person I was.
I am fine as a person, as are you. How our bodies measure up to a bunch of arbitrary standards of beauty has nothing to do with our intrinsic worth.
We can choose to reject all those ideas about fatness being so terrible, or that we must conform to certain metrics. We can even reject physical attractiveness as an all-important goal. (Yes you can! Try it – it’s so liberating!)
We can choose to tune out the constant clamouring to try this shake or that diet. Our ears don’t have to prick up every time we hear the phrase ‘boost your metabolism’ or ‘drop a dress size’.
We can decide we’re fine just as we are.
Some time after adopting this attitude, I was trying on a top in a boutique. ‘It looks great,’ enthused the shop assistant, ‘it really hides your belly!’
I knew I had made progress, because the first thought that popped into my head upon hearing that was: ‘why would I want to do that?’
You can choose your own values
Just about every person you will ever encounter has been bombarded with countless advertising messages since infancy. We all marinate in this stuff. It informs our tastes and opinions and perceptions.
Even though it is expedient at the moment for big corporations to get on the body positivity bandwagon, our culture still has pretty narrow ideas about what constitutes an acceptable appearance.
What happens when you deviate from those standards? What if you happen to be the ‘wrong’ size, shape, height, colour or age? What if your gender presentation doesn’t fit the ‘norm’? What if your range of physical ability is different?
Well, I guess you’ve noticed that you sometimes experience judgement and rejection.
Society has changed a lot in my lifetime and I hope it will continue to, but it’s slow going and there is absolutely no incentive for powerful corporations to assure everyone they are fine as they are. Or that your appearance is not that important. There’s no opportunity to make money from that!
What I’m saying is, don’t wait for others to approve of you or accept you. You can choose to reject the societal ideas about beauty and appearance, but you can’t necessarily expect everyone else to do so too.
You can’t expect the corporations and media to stop haranguing you. You may still get oinks and moos and side-eyes when you walk down the street.
Whatever. You can also choose not to care. You can remind yourself to stand firm in your truth that the only beauty that matters is from loving and being loved.
You can choose to remind yourself that you are a magnificent soul of infinite value, regardless of your appearance. Anyone who has a problem with your body or appearance is selling themselves short. They are sadly not seeing the richness of the characters of those around them, so life must be pretty flat and drab for them.
That’s not your problem. You can’t control other people’s thoughts and opinions. But you can control your thoughts. And you can choose to forget all about that illusory fairyland built and sustained by advertising.
That same bullshit parallel universe in which losing weight is the answer to all your problems, and is as easy as chugging some overpriced shakes.
You can switch tracks, enter another dimension, where all that stuff is a distant muffled whine.
So what happened after I decided to stop worrying about my weight? Did I start eating everything in sight? Free from any restrictions and guilt, did I just follow every whim to eat, and take up permanent residence outside a drive-thru window? Chocolate donuts for breakfast and endless tubs of ice cream?
Well, no. Paradoxically, when I felt free to eat anything I wanted, any time, with no guilt, I no longer felt compelled to do so. Without the constant inner dialogue about food and weight, and the dangling promise of that magical time in the future when I would be acceptable, my mind was freed up to just get on with life and think about something else. When the pressure to lose weight was removed, I no longer had so much need to quell my anxiety with comfort food.
Since I was trying on the possibility that I would never lose weight and just have to be okay with that, I started making an effort to accept my body how it was.
Suddenly I my mind was a quieter, more peaceful place. I felt more comfortable being me.
After a while my body returned to a size that was more appropriate and healthy for me. This wasn’t an effortless process, it required a lot of behavioural change, but none of it would have been possible without that first step.
The step of realising that I am more than my meat suit and letting go of the struggle. Deciding to live by my own rules in my own world where I was okay by my own standards. And by putting in firm boundaries around where I place my attention.
I have discovered this:
No other person will ever come and take your hand and make everything all right. No other person will ever grant you the permission you feel you need to start feeling okay about being yourself.
You are the only one who can think in your mind. No-one can step in and do it for you.
If you are still standing, you’re still alive, still surviving, then you must value your life at least little. You can build on that, and decide to jettison every other opinion around you that doesn’t support you, encourage you or make your existence more psychologically comfortable.
It’s a harsh truth, but a liberating one, and ultimately the most empowering one.
You are the one who can make things okay for yourself. Be brave, allow yourself to be okay. It feels like losing control at first, but it is actually an act of taking back the control of how you feel about yourself, instead of giving that power to others