Body Image and Living Large, No Matter What your Size

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Last night a friend and I attended a church dessert musical.  The affair had an elegant feel with candlelight, a coffee bar, and high quality music blended with a humorous script.  The show highlighted different types of music from classical to rock, beat boxing and rap.

What especially touched my heart – besides the chocolate/raspberry dessert and excellent music – was one girl’s lively spirited performance.  She sang and danced in a team with ten to twelve other teenaged girls.  This girl had the courage to perform in front of over 2,000 people over a period of four days.  Why did she have such an impact on me?  Because she is a plus-sized girl, possibly size 18-20 or so.  Despite her not fitting our culture’s sick calling to be thin if you perform, she got up and sang and danced passionately.  Not only that – but she looked as though she enjoyed herself just as much as the others.  She definitely was not waiting for her skinny ship to come in before giving herself permission to enjoy life.

Why did this strike me so deeply?  Because many people are waiting until they are “skinny” (oh, how I hate that overused word!) to embrace life.  In my counseling practice, I’ve met many people who are waiting until their “skinny ship” comes in before they sing, dance, play, buy cute clothes, etc.  They wait and wait, dreaming of all the possibilities when their skinny ships come in.  During the counseling journey they realize that life is too short to wait for their skinny ship to come in to enjoy life.  So they begin to live the life they would if they lost weight.  The irony is that often, during the counseling process, they lose the weight anyway because the weight was never about food as much as it was about their hearts and their stories.

How long will you wait to enjoy life, to embrace it as if it were your last day on earth?  Or will you continue to wait until your skinny ship comes in?  Who would you be if you tapped into your God-given talents, gifts and personality traits – regardless of your size?

 “Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

The Ferocious Foursome?Bingeing, Dieting, Purging, and Overexercising

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Women in developed nations tend to be brutally hard on themselves in regards to body image issues.  They battle a gnawing desire to be thin.   If you notice how often you hear women talking about food, fat, working out, sizes, diets, calories, and their bodies, you will begin to understand how deeply entrenched this desire to be thin is.  Make a note of each time you hear a woman talk about wanting to lose weight, or her size, or her dissatisfaction with her body.  You may not be able to get through a week – let alone a day or two – without hearing one talk of topics about food, fat, or fannies (especially in regards to how certain foods are “bad”).

This hyper-focus on thinness causes women to develop monumental amounts of shame and self-contempt for their bodies.  Usually this self-contempt starts when they experience some type of traumatic experience, such as the divorce of their parents, a breakup with a boyfriend, or moving.  This causes them to leap into the arms of their drug of choice for comfort.  Often, this is food.  This means that many children, teens, and adults go to food as their drug of choice.    This results in weight gain, which leads them to dislike their bodies at a deeper level since thin bodies are idolized in developed nations.

Many women (and more and more men) are addicted to beating themselves up with the message that they don’t measure up.  Some people are told this as children, whether it’s about school work, lack of athletic ability, looks, or other aspects of their lives.  Then it spills over to the point that if nobody expresses disdain, the thoughts and comments continue in her head.  This happens because she is so comfortable with the shame that she feels naked without it.

This shame and self-contempt leads girls and women into the contemptuous cycle I call the Ferocious Foursome.  The Ferocious Foursome includes the monsters of dieting, binging, purging, and excessive exercising.  The cycle generally starts with dieting, but can begin with any of the Ferocious Foursome.

Typically, the girl feels fat, even though she may be within the normal weight or body composition limits.  This is important because many of the girls do not actually qualify as overweight to begin with.  They have been brainwashed by the media into thinking that thinness is their ticket to a perfect life.  So they begin scrutinizing their bodies and find excess fat, or what they think is excess fat.  By the age of four or five, most girls already feel that any fat is bad.  Sadly, the media fails to mention that a certain percentage of fat is normal and will enable them to have babies much later, as well as nurse their children and carry them on their hips.  Without fat, all those activities would be impossible.  Another fact the media fails to mention is that breast tissue naturally contains a large percentage of fat.  Sometimes women express a desire to wear a tiny size and have relatively large breasts at the same time.  I explain to them that does not usually happen naturally because the breast tissue contains a great deal of fat.

The end result of the brainwashing – as well as photoshopping and airbrushing – of the media is that little girls end up feeling that all fat is bad, whether it is on their bodies or in food.  Many girls and young women fear getting fat more than almost anything else, including terrorism.  So of course they naturally fall prey to the first phase of the Ferocious Foursome, which is dieting.

Dieting has become a rite of passage for teen girls.  I challenge you to find a teenaged girl who has not tried to diet or lose weight.  It will be a difficult task, as few girls in our society have not tried to diet.  Sometimes they are successful, and other times they are not.  Either way, they tend to hurl themselves onto a path of life-long roller-coaster dieting.  Whether the first attempt ends in success or failure, it likely gives them a taste where they long for more.  If they lose weight, they become believers, and if not, they profess to try again and again until they get it “right”.

Just when they begin to feel sure-footed from the triumph of dieting, the ground shifts beneath them, bumping them onto the merry-go-round of self-contempt.   They feel completely deprived, and begin to crave what they have started to call bad foods.  This turns them into eating machines.  The hunger wells up within them like a hurricane ready to ravage everything in its path.  Suddenly they want tons of fatty foods and sweet foods and salty foods.  They cannot get enough and feel as though they must eat everything because hunger consumes them.  Food, food, food, is on their minds a great majority of their waking hours and sometimes in their dreams as well.  They have opened the floodgates of eternal hunger and will never be the same.  They crave foods that they love, as well as foods that they did not used to like before they felt deprived from dieting.

They now feel insatiably starved, which leads to the first all-out binge.  The binge fools their hearts into happiness, but only briefly.  This leads to a free-fall into the shaft of despair and depression, with waves of guilt and shame knocking them into the heart of hopelessness.  Around and around they spin on the merry-go-round of self-contempt, dizzy and depressed from a level of hopelessness they never knew possible.

Next:  Purging and Over-exercising, the other two stars of the Ferocious Foursome.