The effects of a culture focused on thinness
In this series of blog posts, we continue to work our way through Carolyn Costin & Gwen Schubert Grabb's book 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder Workbook.
In Key Three: It's Not About The Food, one of the assignments asks you to look at the effects that the cultural focus on thinness has had on you. It is a chance to explore the way in which our environment has changed and shaped the way we feel about our bodies, and our behaviours. We can't always control our environment, but being aware of the messages and how they affect us can help us in our recovery journey.
Here is what Kristie experienced...
What messages did you get earlier in life that influenced your feelings about your body?
When I look back on my life there were so many subtle messages about people's bodies that I did not consciously recognize as being the ingredients for an eating disorder at the time.
I went to a tiny primary school that was super friendly and sweet. I was about ten years old when some new students enrolled who were in larger bodies. I remember for the very first time witnessing someone being bullied. I thought to myself, 'I never want that to happen to me'.
As a teenager I competed as an elite athlete in a weight centric sport. Every few weeks I had to be a certain number on the scale in order to compete. At the time it felt like just a part of my job as an athlete. Knowing what I know now, it makes my skin crawl that any teenager is ever asked to control or manipulate their growing body. I think this happens in many many sports today.
I was never a child that cared about fashion or makeup - 'fitting in' never mattered to me, standing out was my way of not getting lost. I chose to stand out by having a muscular body and had an identity as an athlete. This was positively reinforced over and over from medical professionals, friends, teachers and peers.
What messages do you get now that influence how you feel about your body?
I don't use social media much anymore except for body positive and Health At Every Size messages. I get a lot of positive messages about being comfortable in the skin I'm in and being 'anti sizeist' and 'pro natural body' so I feel really good about the messages I see and hear. Occasionally I will catch a glimpse of a video clip on TV or similar and think 'Wow! Whoever made that clip is so out of touch with real bodies!!!'
As a woman in today's world it is impossible not to be bombarded with body messages - they are everywhere from the tag on the underwear I buy to the food I eat at a cafe but the way I interpret the messages are different now. When I see the picture of the model wearing the underwear I am buying on the tag, I remind myself that I'm 'Kristie sized'. When I go to a cafe that has calories on the menu I don't even register the numbers anymore. They are meaningless to me. That took a lot of work to untrain myself but it is absolutely do-able. I have no idea how many calories I eat in a day now and I have so much more space and freedom in my head because of it!
What was the last popular magazine you bought, and how did it make you feel about your body or affect your behaviour?
National Geographic! I felt great about my body and behaviour because it doesn't focus on those things. I learned a ton about a South African tribe - a way cooler thing to put my energy towards than what I used to do...spend the afternoon trying to manipulate my body. Go recovery!