Monday, May 5, 2014

Fat Flash Mob at Powell and Market, San Francisco, May 3

Monday, April 21, 2014

Feminism and Size Acceptance

When I talk or write about size acceptance, I usually jump right into the topic at hand, often some kind of self-help idea for improving self-esteem and body image. Right now I'd like to give a little background on why I see things from a size acceptance perspective to begin with. I'll speak first as a feminist, then as a therapist, then as a fat woman, because each of these identities has something to do with why size acceptance is important to me. 

I came to fat liberation through women's liberation. As a feminist, I believe in human rights and respect for diversity. Therefore, I believe in equal rights for people of all sizes, and respect for diverse bodies. As obvious as that connection seems to me now, there was a time when I was so buried in anti-fat discrimiination and disinformation that I couldn't see it. Susie Orbach's classic "Fat is a Feminist Issue," although somewhat controversial in the present day world of fat politics, was an eye opener for me when it came out in 1984. The title alone was enough to revolutionize my thinking. 

In addition to a general concern for justice, feminism has a more specific connection with fat liberation. In misogynist societies, women's bodies are objectified. They are simultaneously oversexualized, and forbidden to be too sexual. A fat woman is seen as stereotypically unattractive, not fulfilling her obligation to serve as an ornament in the world run by men. At the same time, "curvy" bodies are supposed to be desirable, as long as they're not too big. One way or another, a woman's body is under scrutiny, and there is pressure to keep it thin to avoid either attracting unwanted sexual attention, or becoming asexual and invisible. 

As a feminist, I believe that when we try to shape our bodies, or any aspect of ourselves, to fit external ideals, we capitulate to the system that disempowers us. We give up the power of our diversity. I want us to reclaim and take control of our bodies and our sexuality, and to see ourselves as more than our bodies, and more than our sexuality. Accepting our bodies as they are, at whatever size they are, is a positive step in that direction. 

Health at Every Size webinar series

The Association for Size Diversity and Health announces its first webinar series, Health at Every Size 101.

Monday, April 14, 2014

May 3 Fat Flash Mobs

Fat Flash Mobs will dance to "Happy" on May 3 in cities all over the country, including San Francisco. This Oakland dance instructor is giving lessons every Sunday in April especially for the event.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

More beautiful than you think

What do you think of Dove's social experiment? Here's their ad

And here's a critique

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Loving Your Body as It Is: Starting Where You Are

Loving Your Body as It Is: Starting Where You Are

I wonder if some women are put off by the title of my article, "Love Your Body At Any Size." I imagine reactions like: “Are you kidding me? At THIS size? LOVE my body?” Or: “All right, maybe I could learn to like my body a bit more than I do now, maybe after I lose just a little weight. “Or, “I actually feel pretty okay about my body the way it is now; I just don’t think I would if I gained any more weight, or gained back those pounds I just lost.”

The more I talk with women about how they REALLY feel about their bodies, the more I realize that body love is a complicated process that happens in stages. And they’re not even predictable stages, at that. I’ve known women who tried every diet plan, miracle product, and spiritual practice that promised them weight loss, even some who developed severe eating disorders or resorted to drastic measures such as weight loss surgery, and then came out the other side with a commitment to radical self-acceptance and absolute clarity that they would never try to change their bodies again. On the other hand, I’ve met women who once were public advocates for size acceptance politics, and then later decided to attempt weight loss again, because on a very basic physical level, they just couldn’t get comfortable with being fat.

Personally, I’ve come a long way on my journey of self-acceptance as a fat woman. Politically, I tend to agree with the more radical end of the size acceptance and Health at Every Size movements. The more I look away from the diet industry ads and sensationalistic “obesity epidemic” headlines, and toward the solid research that says long-term weight loss is neither do-able nor healthful, the more committed I feel to this position. But as a psychotherapist, I’m also committed to working with my clients in a way that prioritizes their values and personal goals, not mine.

So what do I do when I meet a client who wants to work on accepting her body, but isn’t prepared to (and may never want to) take on the politically correct party line of fat acceptance politics? I guess the answer is that I do what I do with almost any client in almost any situation: I meet her where she is. While I am definitely the wrong therapist for a person who wants behavioral coaching to help her stick to a diet plan, my size accepting bias doesn’t prevent me from empathizing with, and helping, women coming from a broad spectrum of attitudes about their bodies. In fact, my experience suggests that most women move up and down that spectrum quite a bit, in the course of their lives and sometimes in the course of a single day.

Self-acceptance is fraught with ambivalence for anyone, and women’s attempts to accept their bodies could almost be the definition of ambivalence. Therapy is often about working through ambivalence. Feelings that are no longer useful will be released, or at least become less intense. Feelings that promote strength and personal growth will prevail. Or, sometimes, the resolution will not be working through ambivalence, but learning to live with it. I think the best way to start resolving internal conflicts is to look clearly at the whole truth about what your conflicting attitudes are. The next step is learning to embrace them. All of them.

If the ultimate goal is self-love, then every part of the self has to be treated with kindness. Do you long to nurture and accept your body, but feel only hate when you look in the mirror? That’s okay. That’s where we start. Do you talk a good line about radical body love, but feel waves of doubt sometimes? Fine. Do you want to let go of the thin body ideal, but hold onto hopes about becoming a little thinner than you are now? It’s all right. Start there. Even if the long-term goal is to move toward accepting your body, the first thing you have to accept is how you feel about your body right now. Because right now is all we have, really. The body you have right now is what it is, no matter how much you focus on its past or its future. And the feelings you have about your body right now are what they are. Paradoxically, you’ll have a better chance of changing and resolving those feelings if you begin by loving yourself and all your ambivalence, here and now.