While reading my Facebook newsfeed one day, I came across a blog post responding to the recent media dialogue about singer Kelly Clarkson’s weight. A fellow dietitian, Rebecca Scritchfield, left a comment on the thread that I found so insightful and spot-on, I asked if she would expand on her comment in a guest post here.
by Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM HFS
The recent body bashing of two female musicians, Pink and Kelly Clarkson, has reminded me that unfortunately, weight stigma is alive and well. As women, we’re given the message that we either need to be thin or be pursuing thinness at all costs–using “all available resources on our appearance.”
Well, I’m calling bull$*#&.
In reality, we don’t have absolute control of our weight. It’s a complicated combination of genetics, socioeconomic status, our habits, and many other potential factors that aren’t totally understood. What we know for sure is that trying to control weight through dieting is most likely to lead to weight gain, not weight loss.
The hate spewed toward Pink and Kelly Clarkson is a double whammy. There’s weight stigma, judging people based on their size. There’s also “healthism”, the pressure to follow a certain set of behaviors in order to be deemed “good”. It’s expected that these female celebrities–and all women–must be eating healthy and exercising all the time. If they don’t, then something is wrong with them.
The moral judgment of people and their habits is very ugly. “Health” has become one of a long list of categories that our culture tends to use to value an individual’s worth, along with appearance, size, weight, age, ability, gender, and race. People have a right to care about their health, but they also have a right to choose to not exercise for a day, a week, a month, or until they are ready again. (I love that Pink said “my body is taking some much-needed time off” and signed her response “Love, Cheesecake”.) They have a right to choose to not “work on” their health. They have a right to choose to define what healthy habits work for them. The truth is we have no idea what Kelly and Pink eat, how long they sleep, or what they do for movement by looking at them. We have no idea what they are doing or not doing–nor should we. It’s not our business! One thing we know (because they’ve both said it in their “defense”): They are HAPPY. What else is more important?
In my private practice, I help people change their behaviors and build realistic habits. But I actually spend most of my time listening to stories and passing tissues. I hear from women who are so tired, so confused, so frustrated. No matter what they do, it’s not enough. They can’t get in the jeans that fit before baby. They can’t shake the guilt they feel when their spoon clinks at the bottom of a bowl of ice cream. They can’t feel sexy enough to want to have sex again. This scenario plays out with women of ALL shapes and sizes. It’s pervasive. It’s oppressive. It’s our culture. I know how it feels because once upon a time, I was right there with them.
The best thing I ever did was break up with weight loss, call a truce with my body, and become the best version of me — not anyone else. That means I make choices I want about food, exercise, and wellbeing, and I’m at peace with them. I eat everything I like. I don’t count calories. I don’t identify as fat or thin. I have cellulite and a muffin top. I’m shorter than I’d like to be. But I’m done with the relentless battle to fit into a shape I am not. I’ve done my damage on the lose-gain-lose-gain roller coaster, and that ride is miserable. I’m over it. And I’ve never been happier.
My number-one value in life is to be the mom my two daughters deserve. To me, part of what that means is that I am human. I’m allowed to have “I don’t feel beautiful” moments. But I also have self-compassion, and I try my best to talk to myself the way I would talk to my daughters–and the way I would want them to talk to themselves.
Though I’ve completed 15 marathons, a couple grueling trail 50-milers, and a handful of triathlons (and had a blast doing it), these days I’m more likely to do a “walk and talk” catch up with a friend and dance with my kids as a form of exercise (still having a blast). I love to eat healthy. But I also love making cupcakes with my girls (yes, with real sugar). I take rest days when I’m not feeling exercise. I overeat at a really delicious meal–as a choice. And I’m still a healthy person. I know this because I care about my health. I trust myself. And I don’t worry about what other people think anymore.
If you can relate to the women in my office with the tissues, know that you are not alone. You are in charge. It stinks to be part of a society that values only thinness–but nothing changes until we do. You can reject weight stigma and “healthism”, no matter what your size is. You can feel better about the choices you make every day because they work for you. Here’s how:
- Decide what you want. What do you value? When it comes to health, what do you think is important? Try to speak in terms of habits.
- Set realistic goals for yourself that have nothing to do with weight or shape. Don’t just think of the “shoulds” but what would make you happy? Maybe you are always thinking about calories–and instead, you decide that you want to think more about cravings, desires, taste, and pleasure, whether you’re eating a salad with grilled shrimp or chocolate cake. Maybe your workouts have to be intense to feel “successful”, so you decide to purposefully do something gentle and joyful.
- Imagine a friend is struggling with guilt or shame over her size, or feeling like she is not doing “enough”. Write her an e-mail or a note. Read it and ask “How can I follow my own advice?”
Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM HFS is an an expert on the connection between health and happiness and believes in self-care as the foundation for a long, happy life. A registered dietitian, nutritionist, and health fitness specialist, Rebecca helps clients and others find their natural weight and shape through “feel good” habits with a focus on Food, Fitness, and Fun! Based in Washington, D.C., Rebecca is founder of Capitol Nutrition Group. Get her free tips in your inbox.