onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “beauty industry”

Let’s make normal the new normal

Let’s talk about “normalization.” It’s a buzzword right now, of course. And I understand why. For the past fifteen to twenty years, until quite recently, certain ideas about racial, religious, and gender superiority have been taboo. They were only ever uttered aloud by your crazy uncle, while drunk, at Thanksgiving, and nobody thought much about it except to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and (hopefully) send him home in a cab.

The reality of life is that people who fall on the fringes of society usually don’t feel safe, and because of that, they hide. At different periods in history it’s different groups hiding. For a long time in the United States, it was members of the LGBT community. Until about a year ago, it was the men’s rights movement, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.

I am not a fan of the movement to “stop the normalization” of hate and hate speech. I like my white supremacists to feel safe enough to show their true colors. I like my hate where I can see it. And I have a lot of room for free speech. I am not saying I will like you. I am not saying I will respect you. And if I am in a position to withhold my money from you, I will certainly not put it in your pocket. But I am saying that I believe in your right to be a repulsive, bigoted, disgusting excuse for a human being, as long as you do not harm, or infringe upon the rights of those you encounter in your travels.

But this is not a blog about politics, and this is not a political post in my eating disorder blog. I want to talk about using normalization in our own lives for our own benefit. I want to talk about the upside of normalization.

According to the article on Wikipedia entitled Normalization (sociology), Normalization refers to social processes through which ideas and actions come to be seen as ‘normal‘ and become taken-for-granted or ‘natural’ in everyday life.”

Every day, most of us see images that promote unattainable beauty goals. We are inundated with pictures of women and girls who are already thin, sometimes unhealthily so, and those images are altered to make these women look even thinner, not to mention that they are made to appear that their skin never puckers under straps, they have no hair except for their eyebrows, and a silky mane on the top of their heads, and that hair is thick, shiny, and can seemingly defy gravity. We, as a culture, have “normalized” women (and men) who do not even exist, while vilifying ourselves for being unable to meet these literally impossible standards.

The reality is, the more we see something, the more comfortable we are with it. That’s one beautiful, fascinating function of the human brain. The more ads we see of Photoshopped supermodels, the more that occurs to us as normal. But while that can be frustrating and sickening, I would like to say that we have the power to do something about it for ourselves in our daily lives. We can take control of our own ideas of normal. But we have to actually do something if we want to “do something about it.”

In October of 2010, I stopped wearing makeup. I have maybe worn it 3 times in the past 6 ½ years. Before that time, I would not, and in my own mind could not, go through my day without makeup. I had a million excuses. I had acne, or acne scars. I had dark circles. I was single and I needed to look my best in case the man of my dreams showed up next to me on the subway.

And the first few days were hard. I was particularly self-conscious. And I felt that I must certainly be missing the love of my life. How would my beauty captivate him if I was all cystic acne and eye bags?!?! The reality, however, was that I got hit on more than ever. And after that initial period of OH GOD! WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?, I got used to my own face. And I started to recognize that there was nothing wrong with it exactly as it was. I understood that it didn’t need enhancement, and that the people telling me it did were the people who wanted to sell me concealer.

Now, I actively spend time normalizing myself to myself. For all of my eating and body image disorders, I recognize that I am way more well-adjusted than the average American woman, because I embrace myself, and look at my self in my natural state all the time. I don’t necessarily mean naked, though that too, because my body is just a body, like everybody else’s. I mean I still don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my grey hair. I don’t wear shapewear. I don’t wear padded bras. I wear a bikini in public even though I have stretchmarks. I wear strapless and sleeveless tops even though I could probably glide a good distance if the hanging skin under my arms caught the wind just right. I don’t take pictures of myself, and then filter and adjust them until I look like a generic, washed-out, homogenized version of “woman.” I look at myself in natural states regularly and without judgment, and I look totally normal to me. Also, I avoid beauty and fitness industry ads with Photoshopped models as much as possible. (It’s hard. That sh*t is pervasive.)

So I recommend that we all start normalizing ourselves to ourselves. Let’s stop collectively averting our eyes from our bellies. Let’s stop putting on makeup to workout or walk the dog at 5 in the morning. Let’s stop untagging ourselves from every picture on social media that shows us with a double chin or a zit. Let’s start making normal, the new normal.

 

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If I were good at it, I wouldn’t need boundaries in the first place.

The other day I was standing next to my husband when he looked at me and said, “skinny.” It was not a judgment (good or bad) so much as a mildly interesting observation.

Before we go on, I want to say that this was particularly unusual. I was not in any way offended or upset, but my husband does not generally talk about my weight at all unless I ask him directly, and that is, I believe, as it should be. As long as my eating disorders are under control, there is nothing helpful about another person monitoring the size of my ass. It is absolutely nobody’s business but my own. And I have spent a lot of time and effort keeping my eating and body image disorders at bay, so the people I seek that kind of input from are people who, like me, have a history of compulsive eating and food addiction and who, also like me, keep boundaries around their eating.

So my husband said I looked skinny, but I have not been feeling skinny at all. In fact I have been feeling a little fat. And sometimes, very fat. I am not saying that I have been tormented by my weight. But if you asked me if I were on the higher end of my weight or the lower, I would guess higher.

But when I look at the evidence, he’s right. I may actually be the smallest that he has ever seen me. The size of the pants I wear and how they fit me indicates that I am relatively small for me.

Even at my thinnest, in fact, even when I have been underweight, I have never really been what Western Culture would call “skinny.” Even when my collarbones look like they might cut you if you get too close to me, I still have wide hips and round thighs and big calves. My thighs always rub together, no matter what my weight is. (Thank God I was a grownup with my eating disorders under control before the Internet became a place where having a thigh gap and the pictures to prove it was a thing.) You can call it curvy, or zaftig, or say I’m an endomorph, but I have never been the kind of skinny that graces runways. (I use the term “graces” loosely.)

It took a long time and hard look at reality to come to this understanding about my body, and to love it exactly as it is. As a culture, we particularly celebrate one kind of feminine beauty: that of the ectomorph. We honor the women who naturally don’t carry a lot of fat on their bodies. Perhaps you have seen the Zara ad that says “Love your curves,” and noticed that the two women in the photo did not have any to speak of. Were they beautiful? Absolutely. Are they real women (albeit young women) with real bodies? Hell yes they are! (Though I am not actually sure how real those two models happen to be. I tried to find if the image was Photoshopped, and could not find anything about it.) I am not shaming the models in the ad. Skinny women are real women, just like muscular, and chubby, and overweight, and zaftig women are real too. This is not about what each of us happens to be born. It is about what each of us are told we “should be,” without anyone ever telling us that there are things we “can’t be.” I cannot walk from Kentucky to Hawaii. It is not possible. And I cannot be “supermodel skinny.” I was not made that way.

But nobody told me that. Ever, really. I had to figure it out for myself, by having sane and functional eating practices, and doing all of the healthy things I could do, like drinking water and getting enough sleep and exercise, and then taking a serious look at the reality of my body.

The beauty, fashion, fitness, and diet industries didn’t want me to know that I don’t have it in me to be that skinny. Because if I knew, they couldn’t get me to buy their latest cream, shake, workout app subscription, prepared food service, or whatever it is they happen to be selling at the moment with the promise that if I am “good enough,” work hard enough, pay enough money, I will end up with the body of my favorite underwear model. (No. I don’t have a favorite underwear model.)

I don’t believe in vilifying skinny women. But I don’t believe they are the only incarnations of beauty in the world, as I have been told for as long as I have been alive. When my husband looked at me and said, “skinny,” he did not do so in triumph because he finally found me attractive. For him, my beauty is not about my weight. In fact, I wish I had as much love for my body at any size as he does. It was merely an observation on his part. And it served as a reminder to me that even after all of the work, and all of the commitment, and all of the times I kept my food boundaries, even though it was hard or inconvenient, my head is pretty messed up when it comes to the way I think about and view my body. And that what I see in the mirror, or think I look like, is not necessarily reality.

Even now that I have taken inventory and checked myself against the specific frame of reference of my clothes and how they fit, I still don’t feel very thin. Knowing that I am, perhaps, the thinnest I have been in 4 years doesn’t make me “feel” any thinner. It doesn’t make me “know” that I am relatively small.

The last thing I want to say about this is that even though my body image disorders are irrational, and knowing that doesn’t change the way I think and feel, knowing does help me take healthy actions. And it is in our actions that we impact ourselves, our world, and the people around us. I don’t have to feel “skinny enough” to keep my commitments to eat enough nutritious food and exercise moderately, rather than starve myself and exercise to exhaustion and injury. I don’t have to listen to my fears and my “feelings.” I just have to keep my boundaries. After all, that is literally what they are there for. If I already always made healthy decisions, boundaries would be redundant.

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