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Different choices, different places

By Linda

I read a blog by someone I really like and every time she writes about body image or fat acceptance or weight issues in general I feel defensive. I don’t know what it is, if I am totally misinterpreting things or being weirdly sensitive or zeroing in on the wrong things or what. I know I have a tendency towards taking things personally when they have absolutely nothing to do with me, so I am trying to take a mental step back and figure out why I’m reacting in the way I am . . . rather than just stopping at “I’m irritated by this”.

What I am slowly learning about the entire complicated issue of fitness and body size and health is that, well, it’s complicated. We all have different feelings and opinions and levels of interest in these subjects. We all have different situations and genetic makeups and metabolisms.

What seems most relevant to the entire issue, however, is that we all have different beliefs. Anyone can back up their opinions with facts, because there is a study that supports almost anything you want to believe healthwise. This became more apparent than ever to me during the nutrition class I just finished—as an example, I did my final paper on saturated fats and how they don’t really cause heart disease like people think. There is a TON of evidence that supports this. I could rail at you all day long about how foolish you’re being for avoiding fatty meats and how it’s actually good for you and how new research is coming out that indicates carbohydrates are actually the culprit for heart disease and how your dietary choices are WRONG, because this is a FACT.

Of course, I could also find a shitload of research that says saturated fats raise bad cholesterol levels and will kill you stone cold dead. So put down the steak, dickweed, you’re digging your own grave.

My point is that we all believe what we believe. Some of us believe our bodies were designed to be a certain size and that any effort to change that is going to consume our every waking thought and diets will always fail and that fighting a losing battle against body changes is a pursuit devoid of value.

Some of us believe that exercising discipline over our eating and workout habits—and yes, investing continual effort in this department—makes us happier, healthier people.

I fall into the second camp and that’s why I often feel defensive when I feel like my choices are being discounted. I choose for it to be a lifelong goal to maintain my weight, and it does take work and focus for me to do so. I manage to work on this stuff and also have a job and enjoy my kids and go to school and play outside and read books and watch bad TV, so I guess there seem to be enough hours in the day for me to live my life in this manner.

I don’t see this as shallow or meaningless or sending the wrong message to society or anything like that. I think it’s my choice and that if someone else chooses something different, cool. Whatever our size, our lifestyle shouldn’t be judged. There’s what’s right for me and there’s what’s right for you, and those things may be miles apart, and that should be okay.

This is my feeling, but I recognize I may be arguing against something that was never there in the first place. Since this topic is so important to me, I need to be able to listen without feeling knee-jerky and shutting down. So I plan to give it some time, and re-read with fresh eyes. And if I still disagree, I’ll chalk it up to mileage between opinions and call that good.

28 Responses to “Different choices, different places”

  1. Jennie Says:

    Possibly your best post here yet. I love this so much, Linda.

  2. Yasmin Says:

    Thank you for writing this! I share such similiar views with you and this was very helpful in helping me sort these things out.

  3. Helen Jane Says:

    You just made lovely what is usually an explosive topic – I love this too.

  4. kylydia Says:

    I try really, really hard not to judge people’s lifestyle. I get knee-jerky about different things – wasteful choices that negatively impact the environment, for instance, or lifestyles that foster judgement or hatred against other people.

    I think the key is to be respectful of people’s differing lifestyles while being an advocate of your own for yourself and willing to teach other’s about it when asked. That’s hard for me – to wait until asked!

    Working through it is important, though, and this post shows that you’re examining it in a thoughtful manner and that’s half the battle, I think!

  5. Angella Says:

    Chiming in with the love on this post, Linda. I often get the opposite – comments from friends who say I need to “eat a sammich already” which ticks me off. I’m not telling you to stop stuffing your pie-hole, because if that makes you happy then go for it. But if you’re NOT happy, then do something about it instead of knocking me for doing what makes ME happy.

  6. Jess Says:

    I guess my problem with the way this is presented here is that it’s divided into two black and white camps, and that’s not really how it works. There are a lot of other ways that people feel about their bodies. Some people are fat and they do exercise discipline to eat well and exercise regularly and invest continual effort into this issue, and they are fat anyway. Others are thin and sometimes even muscular and look fit and healthy but couldn’t even do 10 minutes on a treadmill. Some people are fat and eat poorly and live sedentary lifestyles. Some of them work to change that and others don’t. Some people are thin and fit and have worked very hard to get that way and stay there. These are just a few of the cases and mentalities and body types that pop into my mind, but there are many many others that I haven’t described as well.

    In my particular case, I do believe that my body wanted to be a particular size, and I found through years of hard work and challenging experience that it would take more effort than I consider reasonable to force it to do otherwise. But, in many ways I fall into the camp that you say you yourself are in because I still chose to do something about it by having surgery, and now I work very hard to maintain and improve my health through positive lifestyle choices. But I am still fat. And my body simply isn’t built to look like yours, ever, no matter how hard I work on it.

    I think the other problem is that there’s so much judgment wrapped up in this. You’re right that our lifestyles shouldn’t be judged–but they are. And even if you truly believe that you aren’t judging, it’s hard for most people not to look at a fat person and assume that they can tell everything about their lifestyle based on the way that they look. And that’s just wrong, flat-out wrong. Most people who don’t know me probably look at me and assume that I live an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle. That is manifestly untrue, but the way my body looks makes them think otherwise. It’s a very pervasive mindset. And even if someone thinks they aren’t judging because hey, if this person wants to be fat and sedentary, that’s their choice, just assuming that fat = sedentary contains inherent judgment.

  7. Anne Says:

    I find it to be AMAZINGLY tough sometimes to read a strong differing opinion on a few Key Issues in my world (as this appears to be one of yours). The way I help myself process it without getting all defensive and angry is to remind myself just what you said above: “I think it’s my choice and that if someone else chooses something different, cool.”
    It’s so easy to think that in the abstract (OF COURSE people can make choices different from mine! We are all UNIQUE and SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES!), but sometimes pretty hard to put it into practice when someone I like expresses the opposite view, be it in a blog post, email, or face-to-face. Good on you for taking some time to calm down and re-read to avoid, as you said, chancing arguing against something that wasn’t there in the first place.

  8. admin Says:

    Jess: sorry, I didn’t meant to make it sound like those two examples represent the entire spectrum. Not my intent at all. I tried very hard to make it clear that I understand the complexity of weight and body size and if that didn’t come across to you, I’m sorry.

    And yes, you’re right: people need to stop making guesses and judgements about other people’s lifestyles based on, you know, zero insight. I certainly never said fat = sedentary and I don’t believe that to be true.

    However, it works both ways. I don’t want my lifestyle judged either.

  9. Kaitlyn Says:

    Well said. I think that I fall somewhere in between the two views. I 100% believe it takes constant work and conscious decisions to maintain a healthy active life, but there comes a point when body size and type play a large role. One of the major road blocks with this discussion (so it seems to me), is that people don’t seem to realize that skinny does not equal healthy, and that “fit” doesn’t have a certain look. We place so much emphasis on “look” that people mask their weight loss goals in fitness or healthy lifestyle.
    Through my own personal journey, I conclude that body issues you have with yourself transcend your views on the subject. If you’re at peace with your own self, you’re not going to judge others for choosing a different route.
    Again, well said, and bravo to you for broaching this explosive subject.

  10. admin Says:

    Kaitlyn: I hear that for sure. It feels like a very personal decision, the notion of pursuing weight management/fitness, because everyone has their own goals and needs. For me it absolutely started out as a desire to be a smaller size, and over the years it’s changed to something that has a lot more to do with my mental health. At this point I wouldn’t say my choices are right for someone else any more than I would take someone else’s SSRIs, you know?

    And yes, health cannot necessarily be defined by outward physical characteristics. I get this concept a lot more than I used to.

  11. Melody Says:

    I come from a family medical history that has a tendency toward almost every lifestyle-related illness possible. One of my grandparents died in her forties, one in his fifties, and one in his sixties. I feel very strongly a burden of, “I must be healthy, or I am killing myself.” I allow myself indulgences, but I also am extremely committed to eating very well and exercising consistently.

    Image issues are undeniably a part of that. I am in a dance class with a group of young women who range in age from 15-30, and while it is a wonderfully supportive and happy and sisterhood-y, fitness-devoted environment, I can’t help but want to be slimmer than I am so I fit in better next to those 16 and 17 year olds. But more than anything, it’s the knowledge that my genes are prone to malfunction, and I have got to devote myself to fitness, or face the consequences.

    But I feel so awkward discussing this with my friends who don’t feel similarly. By saying how important this is to me (“if I don’t exercise, I’m killing myself!” is a pretty strong statement), am I implying judgment on them? And yet, it’s a big part of who I am. So, why shouldn’t I be able to talk about it?

    “Complicated” is a very good word for all this.

  12. AndreAnna Says:

    I know what post you’re talking about actually and when I read it I was actually thinking the whole time how you would be reading it, how I’m reading it, how a person who is a size 32 would be reading it. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it which is why I, too, flagged it for later.

    And sometimes things are made more complicated when the differing opinions are by people we actually and truly like and respect. Like when a friend of yours really likes someone you can’t stand, you wonder what the hell? If I like THEM but I don’t like that person, why do THEY like that person?

    I feel you did a great job elocuting (Why does spellcheck say that is not a word? is there a better word? I hate you spellcheck. And your mom. Ahem.) what I often have a hard time.

    And every day is a battle – with how I view myself, the decisions I make with regard to what I eat or how I exercise, and how I’m going to let other people make me feel.

    Growing up and being “the fat chick” makes that battle even tougher some days.

    But in my heart, because I am getting to know myself and my body better better through research, trial and error, and discipline, and because of supportive inspirational friends like you, I’m waging war.

    And I’m winning.

  13. Joanne Says:

    I guess what I find confusing in all this discussion is why someone feeling some way about themselves means they feel some way about you. Not you – Linda – but the big YOU. Why isn’t it possible that someone could feel good about themselves at one weight, or one way, and someone else would not be comfortable at that weight, or that way? I read an upsetting (to me) blog entry that said “I call bullshit” about someone’s post about how they were the way they were, or something like that. I remember thinking what the hell? Who says YOU can call bullshit on what someone else says about their own life? It’s such an overstepping of bounds, in my opinion, to say that because someone says something about THEIR life that it has anything to do with YOUR life. This is true in the badly named Mommy Wars and it is true in these Fitness Wars (or whatever they are), too.

    You are an inspiration to many, Linda, me included. I have thought of you several times when I think I am too tired, I am too worn out, too whatever to exercise. I don’t agree with everything you say, and why should I? But I do agree that you have worked hard, and found what is important to you, and I admire you for doing it.

  14. jonniker Says:

    I like writing. I am a good — nay, great — writer, a lot of the time. It makes me happy. I am a happier, better person because I write. I am a healthier person because I write. Writing is what makes me, me.

    Does that mean that people who DON’T write, who aren’t good writers, are less healthy and happy? Is writing right for all people? Of course not. Other people have other talents that make them, them.

    I think this goes back to what we talked about on an old entry of yours related to, um, breastfeeding (OH GOD). I, like you, have a tendency to get knee-jerk defensive about weird things, and sometimes assume that because someone says something positive about one thing, that they’re being negative about MY thing. Which is not true! Not at all! See the writing example above! Substitute that with exercise and eating healthy and people get NUTSO, when for some, it’s really not that different.

    Health and fitness isn’t my thing the way it is yours. I’m happy it is for you, though, and I’m good with that. But, like others have said, I’m somewhere in the middle. My barometer is this: Am I eating whole, healthy foods with lots of fresh fruit and veggies? Am I exercising regularly? Am I setting a good example for my daughter by the lifestyle I lead (that of healthy habits, body and mind)? Great. Then I’m doing the right thing, no matter what I see in the mirror. (Right now, that says size 12. I’m content with that.)

  15. shygirl Says:

    Yeah, I know what post you’re talking about too; I felt very uncomfortable when I read it. I couldn’t have imagined a better response to those feelings than this post, though. Once again, you rocked it.

    Really, why don’t we all just butt out of each other’s personal business? What other people want to do with their bodies– whether it’s about what they want to eat, what they want to wear, how they want to alter their consciousness, who they want to have sex with, etc– is straight-up none of my beeswax. Period. Have at it if it makes you happy, is my general view.

    And by the same token, leave me the hell alone as I work on doing what makes ME happy. My choices are not an indictment of yours.

    (Sometimes I think that the reason we get all up in each other’s grills so much about body issues is that we’re all fighting so hard to maintain our own standard– whatever that standard is, whatever we’ve found that we’re individually comfortable with– that we feel the need to defend that standard at all costs. Just broaching the subject at all can come off like an attack. Which really just makes me think that most people are insecure about this stuff at some level, no matter how self-righteous and holier-than-thou they act. The more strident and judgey someone is, the more I’m inclined to think they’re fighting their own demons somewhere inside themselves, and we’re really just hearing an internal dialogue that’s been externalized. Which is kind of tragic, I think. But it does make it a little easier to be compassionate when I find myself wanting to slap someone.)

  16. -R- Says:

    I think the whole point of the other post(s) is that it’s ok to focus on fitness or weight, but it’s also ok to NOT focus on fitness or weight. For some people, to get to a size 6 or 8, exercise and dieting would need to be all-consuming. And it’s ok if you want it to be all-consuming, but it’s also ok to not want that.

  17. Sundry Says:

    R – thanks for adding that. I notice the post has been edited since I last read it to clarify at least one area that had bothered me, so I am re-reading with an open mind.

  18. Carrie Says:

    I completely agree with you. I feel like because of eating disorders (I guess) people are so quick to say not to work out or try to change your body.

    Exercising and eating well are, hands down, the best things you can do for your body. But there’s this mindset of Oh you don’t need to work out, you already look good. It’s not about that.

    But I think that this is an extremely sensitive subject for most people. I read the Happiness Project blog and most of the time there are opinions and occasionally disagreements but it stays civil. Whenever she rights about eating well or exercising it always gets down right nasty in the comments. People are just really sensitive about this.

  19. jonniker Says:

    I should add (why?) that I hadn’t read the post in question before reading this. I’m behind on my reader! Admitting this makes me feel GUILTY.

  20. Melissa Says:

    I don’t even know what the post referenced is and although that’s probably not relevant AT ALL..why do I feel like there’s a secret that everyone knows but me???

    Ah well.

  21. Sundry Says:

    Melissa: gah. I really didn’t mean to make this seem like a rebuttal with required reading, I only meant to talk through my general take on the thorny issue as a whole and my desire to be able to listen to other opinions without shutting down.

  22. marilyn Says:

    I think what you said about mental health/taking someone else’s SSRI is a really astute comparision for describing how it can be really important to you and simultaneously something that you’re not going to judge someone else for not being equally devoted to themselves.

    The tricky thing for me is how quickly my mind will dart to stereotypes. I have a great run, feel a desire to do it the next night instead of going out to dinner with some friends, and suddenly I’m leaning toward being fitness-obsessed, unable to enjoy food with abandon or care about anything social or intellectual, only about burning and avoiding calories and feeling more virtuous for it. Skip a run, eat chips, watch TV with my boyfriend on the sofa and it’s just a hop, skip and jump to being a slob who lacks any discipline in life.

  23. Linda Says:

    Marilyn: I have similar challenges. Mostly I find that when I first get back on board with eating/exercise it does tend to be a top of mind commitment for a while, then recedes to something that’s just a normal part of life. The other side of the spectrum, however, definitely becomes all consuming for me. The more I eat poorly or avoid exercise, the worse I feel, and the more slacking/eating I want to do to feel better/avoid thinking about feeling bad, and on it goes. I don’t know why I can’t just keep myself in the happy zone where I feel balanced, instead of constantly putting myself through these cycles of junk-binging and re-committing. But hey, that’s a topic for another post. : )

  24. marilyn Says:

    I think the thing that I left out is that when I see myself in these extreme stereotypes, it makes it all too easy to see someone overweight and assume, “Gosh, she must just ignore that slovenly feeling I get when I skip a workout!” or to see a really thin girl out in her sports bra and short running shorts and think, “That sorority girl probably hasn’t eaten a dessert in months!” as if I can make these stupid value judgments on other people when I know *nothing* about them.

    I don’t even know what’s the best way to stop thoughts like that, when I already know they’re not rational. I have a mom who’s a bit overweight and has been my whole life and I think she’s just about the best female role model I could have had, and I certainly don’t judge her for not devoting herself enough to fitness. But I do remember feeling embarrassment as a young kid when all my friends’ moms at some function or something were skinnier, which I think is what the original post was decrying a bit. Why should I have felt that, when my mom was awesome in a million ways?

  25. JennyM Says:

    I make stereotype-based judgments, too — I think we all do, or at least that it’s a very rare individual who doesn’t. And it’s really hard for me to admit that, actually. I think the best thing we (and by “we” I mean “I”) can do is to try to recognize it for what it is. In my case, it’s my own insecurity and privilege manifesting itself in baseless, negative thoughts — and so I try to work on those underlying things in an effort to not have those thoughts and make those judgments.

    And I’m not blaming Our Awful Society, as though that’s an excuse not to take ownership of my own mental faults, but it’s so hard not to make value judgments about strangers based on outward appearances. *Should* I do it? No, of course not. Can I help it? I don’t know. I try. With people I *know* it’s an entirely different story — I have friends and family in real life and online who are across the appearance and fitness-level spectrum. And it’s so much easier with these people I know for them to be simply *who they are* to me. Their size or interests don’t affect the essential “them-ness” of them — unless “fitness-obsessed gym rat” or “jolly fat guy” are some of the particular personas they embrace and project. And even then, they are still more than the sum of their parts.

    I don’t know — I guess what I’m trying to say is that I struggle with judgment too. From both ends.

  26. Liz Says:

    I recently finished a long distance race that I was very proud of, and a coworker mentioned that he, too, would love to do something like that, but that his life was too full of important responsibilities. Implying, I guess, that mine is not? Ugh, it really rankled. But I really struggle with not trying to be judgmental in the reverse – that if his priorities DON’T encompass fitness, than that’s wrong.

    I guess no one wants to feel like the things they give importance aren’t worthy; no one wants to feel like what they value isn’t valuable. And the easiest way to avoid feeling that way is to assume our priorities are the right ones. Sigh. It’s just so easy, in life, to continually be an asshole, without even trying.

  27. Felicia Says:

    I’m chiming in late in the game, but this post immediately made me (like jonniker) think of breastfeeding, and another post I recently read: I won’t ask you why you didn’t breastfeed.

    http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/07/01/i-wont-ask-you-why-you-didnt-breastfeed/

    From the post, near the end: “I don’t want other women to give up on breastfeeding because they believe something to be true that really isn’t true…”

    I think that this is why it’s hard for me to be subjective about the body issue as well… because I, in the past, have believed that it was not possible for me to lose weight, or have time to exercise. I “knew” that to be a fact. As it turns out, erroneously. Because I did lose weight, and I did find time to exercise. It was really hard, and I had to totally shift my priorities around, but I did it. So one of my personal “hot button issues” now is when other people say that, I wonder if it is really true for them, and my knee-jerk reaction says that it is not. It is hard for me to take a step back without judging them.

    Anyway, I wanted to point out that post, because with just a little re-wording, it could easily be “I Won’t Ask You Why You Don’t Eat Healthy/Exercise” (or something like that).

  28. Almeda Veater Says:

    The most difficult thing is to find a blog with unique and fresh content but i think you offer something different. Bravo.

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