The Fantasy of Being Thin (follow-up)

So, I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading.

And having discussions about weight, weight loss, and weight gain with people. Coworkers. Family. Friends. All this has been sneaking up on me, or rather, surrounding me, giving me multiple chances to express and explore where I am with Fat Acceptance / Health At Every Size.

Ideas like this give me pause regularly:

For [Las Vegas] to thrive the way it does on the backs of gambling tourists, you need a combination of bad math and each individual’s deep-down belief that no matter what the odds are, s/he will be the special one who hits the jackpot. Which kinda reminds me of something else, come to think of it. Hmm.

As I followed along the inevitable link trail that started in that paragraph at Shapely Prose, I found more and more that this one nebulous thought drifted upwards into my conscious mind: I will never be thin again. I can never be thin again.

If I’m really honest with myself, I still want to be. I’m still buying into the great fantasy that says some combination of exercise, nutrition and willpower will somehow guarantee that I can mould my form back into the version I had when I was 16 and depressed, or 23, when I was so upset about my newly up-to-size-ten body that I bought a swimsuit with a skirt.

Today’s conversation was the same as all those posts: Diets Don’t Work.

I also realized:

During the few times I didn’t diet before gaining weight, I was either coming back out of depression or severe stress-induced not-eating.

AND:

The only times I have maintained my weight have been when I quit worrying about it.

Despite having actual experience with the concept of Diets Don’t Work, to the extent that my entire journey from skinny child to lanky teen to average-size college student to chunky woman is a textbook case, I still, somewhere in my mind, am holding onto the idea that I will, someday, because I’m taking care of myself and being healthy and getting good nutrition, someday I’ll get skinny again.

I know I’ve read them myriad times, but I don’t think the real ideas described by Fat Acceptance and Health At Every Size have truly sunk in yet. I mean, Fat Acceptance: accepting that I’m fat, that fat is okay, accepting that fat happens. Accepting the reality that my body is not supposed to be 36-24-36, size 6 or 120 lbs., which is what the images in my head look like*.

With HAES, the same thing. My focus has to be my health. I have to eat green vegetables because the vitamins and minerals are good for me, I enjoy the flavors and textures, and my body feels good once I’ve eaten them. The magical thinking has crept into my thought processes, in the form of “all those dieters don’t know the right way. I know that it’s nutrition and exercise that will make me thin!”.

It’s insideous, the way even good habits can be bent to promote the Fantasy.

I am stronger than ever. I am enjoying good health. I have a moderately active lifestyle. I have more energy than I used to.

All these things I still forget, when faced with the thought that I need to be smaller than I am. The Fantasy bullies its way to the front of my mind, and flaunts itself around gaudily, so as to outshine those drab little images of health and vitality.

So I’m not well yet. I am learning, and struggling to see, and accept, myself for how I am, with no reservations, and to finally see the Fantasy of Being Thin as what it is: a phantasm plaguing my mental, emotional and physical health, with absolutely no basis in reality. It’s the nightmare from which I’m struggling to awake.

*They look this way, because in my mind I look thin and healthy, and the idealized images we’re given to compare ourselves to portray thin, as described by arbitrary guidelines such as measurements, clothing sizes and weight, as healthy. The disconnect between my mental image of myself and the bill of goods we’re sold is where the magical thinking happens.

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13 thoughts on “The Fantasy of Being Thin (follow-up)

  1. Very well said. I’m struggling with similar issues myself, and it’s not easy. Thank you for adding another voice to the chorus that I’m hearing lately, it’s something we need to hear.

  2. Hiya – I came over from the link at the forums.

    I really relate to a lot of what you’ve written here. It’s so hard to let go of the fantasy. I know I haven’t yet. I keep thinking of accpeting my fat as the key to getting rid of it. Loving myself the way I am will lead me to take care of myself which will lead to being thin.

    It’s a sneaky thought, one that I have a hard time owning. I want to be above that, or beyond it, but I don’t know how to get there. For now, I’m just trying to take care of my health, and part of that is getting exercise. But the thought, the fantasy, pops up even when I’m doing something to take care of myself now. Like buying yoga pants in a size that fits. They are on sale, should I buy two? Well, maybe not, because maybe I won’t be wearing this size for too much longer…AARRGG!

    I’m not giving up though, and I think I’m getting better. I hope so, anyway.

    bottlecappie (beansomatic)

  3. buttercup — Thank you, in turn, for adding your voice. Confirmation that I’m not alone and I’m not crazy is absolutely invaluable to me, and, sounds like, you too. ^^ Any time someone speaks up and says, “Me too”, it diminishes The Great Lie (see also: previous post).

    Cara-he<3 back atcha.

    bottlecappie — hi there, beans! This is the kicker:

    I keep thinking of accpeting my fat as the key to getting rid of it. Loving myself the way I am will lead me to take care of myself which will lead to being thin.

    That is it, precisely. It’s like loving oneself and taking care of one’s body isn’t good enough to be an end in itself.

    This sounds suspiciously like an effect of the P. Having to have justification for one’s basic rights, because one is so crass as to deviate from the acceptable default.

    Re: sizes. I so know that, beans. I recently got rid of almost all of my too-small clothes, save one pair of pants one size down that I kept with the justification that I’d deconstruct them to make a pair that did fit. I was probably full of crap on that one, really. I also bought a dress recently (thrift store! $1!) with expressly that purpose, which is simple enough in design that it might get done. But I digress.

    I haven’t entirely let go. I’ve let go of the idea of a drastic jump down to the 10s of yesteryear, but the concept that I might, someday, shrink down into the 14s so I’d better keep a pair on hand, it could happen any day! has not gone away at all.

    I really have to watch myself buying clothes. If it doesn’t fit absolutely, in every respect, I can’t allow myself to buy it. This goes for style, too. If it doesn’t look fabulous (and too-small pants don’t trick me anymore, thank bog), it’s not worth my time or money.

    I have to keep that attitude, otherwise I’ll drown in the hope called Just A Few More Pounds And I’ll Fit These Jeans.

  4. Oh, I totally know what you mean, about letting go of the hope for drasitc weight loss, but still holding on to the hope of some weight loss.

    Like, maybe I’ll never be thin, but I could be thinner than I am right now.

    I think a lot of this letting go gets done by just acting like you’ve let go, and living like you have and then you just start to let go a bit at a time until one day you’re there.

    I hope so, anyhow.

  5. I hope so too. The only way to change a habit — and self-condemnation for not fitting someone else’s (P’s!) ideal is a lifelong habit — is to replace the habit with something new. I can’t just say “I’m not going to do this anymore”, but “I deserve better than this — what’s better? how do I do it?” and so on.

    To that end, finally finding jeans that fit has been a life saver. I’m still wearing the old ones to work, but I find I am much less comfortable in them, even in the larger pairs! We’re taking a road trip after I get off work today, so I’ll be changing into my new jeans for that. Usually when I travel, I get nice imprints along my belly from the waistline of my pants. We’ll see if the new ones do that or not.

    Wearing clothes that fit is so important. If my clothes don’t fit, they function as a constant reminder of my body, making me much more self-conscious. If the clothes fit, I forget about them, and am not reminded that my body doesn’t match that outrageously stupid standard (which boils down to You’re Not Good Enough, no matter how you look).

  6. Another excellent post, I am so glad you posted a link to your blog on the forum!

    I really feel you on the nightmare aspect of this fantasy, and I think it is something we can all relate to. Either to get back to the thinness or to keep it, I really feel the struggle within myself strongly. Having clothes that fit is such an important part of fighting this for me exactly as you described above.

    I have one pair of jeans that I’ve had forever to use as a measure of how my weight it maintaining. I decided awhile ago to use them for patching material. I haven’t done anything with them yet, but after reading this I think I should just get rid of them. No more of this nonsense, because whether they fit or not I am never happy about it. I can’t win, I never feel good enough. So, to heck with that!

    Have a lovely road trip, I hope the pants perform wonderfully. I hope 2008 will bring us all closer to being out of the nightmare! Once again, yay for your blog!

  7. Your comment about the importance of properly fitting clothing brought two things to mind:

    1 – I once read a paper on Objectification Theroy, which explores the idea that because women are objectified so often, we begin to internalize the objectification and then become constantly aware of how we look, how our clothing appears, how others are perceiving us – and that because of this constant internal awareness, it is more difficult for women to achieve what psychologists call a “flow state”, which is that trance like state that happens when you become completely absorbed by whatever you’re doing. Well, ill-fitting, uncomfortable clothing has to add to that effect, right? How can you lose yourself in the poem you’re writing when the waist-band of your jeans is cutting off the circulation to the upper half of your body?

    Seriously, I can’t even wear a fraking bra when I have to take a test.

    And it even ties back in to the idea of male objectification of women – because that’s why we are wearing clothing that doesnt fit or is uncomfortable in the first place – because we’ve so internalized the idea that we exist to be seen. Fuck.

    2. I once read this book about healing from disordered eating, it was really pretty good, I think it was called It’s Not About Food, but anyway they authors were talking about how important it is to wear comfortable clothing when you are trying to heal from an ED or even if you are an emotional eater and you are trying to get back in touch with your body’s hunger signals. Because for some of us, any discomfort is interpreted as hunger or craving, so uncomfortable clothing can just be triggering.

    This just gives me more and more reasons to back up the idea that getting myself some comfy clothing that fits my body is an important part of self-care for me right now. And it’s working. I bought 4 pairs of yoga pants so Id always have clothing available to go to yoga class, and I’ve been going, and my body is really happy about that. My brain too. Yay for yoga! And Nia, my new love.

    Ok, ramble ramble, Happy New Year!!!

  8. Pingback: My Fat. « Diary of a Quitter

  9. I have to be so careful with this. A big part of my teenage bulimia was exercise as purging. It’s a real balancing act sometimes to maintain an athletic, healthy lifestyle without tipping over that edge. I also have to make sure that my dietary restrictions don’t lead me into trouble—if I can’t eat something because it has gluten, I need to make sure I eat something else instead of just going without. With losing a lot of weight last year (not intentionally), I have to watch myself to make sure I don’t slip back into old patterns.

    For us recovered types, there’s always that little voice in the back of the head, I think, that wants us to go back to it. It’s gotten smaller, but I still hear it sometimes when I look in the mirror: “Look at those thighs! Your tummy is puffy!” I have to remind myself that my thighs are big with muscle from running, that my tummy is puffy because I am a woman over 30 and dammit, I get bloated with PMS, that I am a healthy woman and I need to leave myself the hell alone. Then I stand there until I see good things—my bright eyes, my smile, anything positive before I walk away. It helps.

  10. The thing is too that we reinforce it in each other. I finally decided that I not only dont *want* to lose weight, I *don’t* want to lose weight. And some people I told, like my mother, for instance, were horrified. The same woman who all my life has told me that I’m beautiful as is, and she spent a good hour suggesting that I might sometime change my mind “for health reasons”.
    Then I came home with dysentary, having lost a bit of weight, perhaps 20 lbs, and she couldn’t stop raving about how good I looked. I have fucking dysentary, and look like a freshly dead person. Christ.

  11. Ick! Cara-he, hope you get to feeling better. I know when I’ve been sick like that (similarly, not actual dysentery though) it’s taken me forever to get my energy back up.

    I finally decided that I not only dont *want* to lose weight, I *don’t* want to lose weight.

    Precisely. I’m comfortable in my own skin, I wear clothes that fit, I’m not suffering from any particular ailment, and I’m more physically active, and more able to be physically active, than I was when I was ZOMG skinny! ™. I feel confident, beautiful and sexy. I neither panic nor congratulate myself for weight fluctuations, which I now consider a natural phenomenon.

    Why in the world would I want to try and change that? Indeed, why would I want that to change at all?

    The same woman who all my life has told me that I’m beautiful as is, and she spent a good hour suggesting that I might sometime change my mind “for health reasons”.

    I’d probably end up having that conversation with my mom too. I can understand why my mother might worry about my health, mainly because she’s having trouble with her blood pressure, but considering that my BP has been consistently normal (@ 120/72) for the last fifteen years, during which time I’ve gained about 90 lbs., I’m not worried in the least.

    I wonder sometimes if problems like high BP and other things associated with ‘obesity’ aren’t linked to all the abuse we put our bodies through when we diet.

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