Wherein I explain why I use my before-and-after photo to a body-positive / self-love activist who, understandably, wants to smack me in the face. (Strong Coffey is a body-positive blog, I assure you.)
I’m a proud, fat, body-positivity advocate, and I’m having a really hard time deciding if I love you or hate you. On the one hand you talk about self-love and self-acceptance from what sounds like a really genuine place – your 5 Things I Miss About My 300-Pound Body piece was revolutionary. On the other hand, you attach your goddamn before and after picture to half of your blog posts and it makes me want to smack you. It also makes me question your motives. Is this a body-positive blog, or are you pushing thinness just like everybody else?
– Lisa in San Francisco
Hey there, Lisa –
First, thank you. Thank you for writing and asking, instead of just writing me off. Thanks for putting yourself out there so we can either come closer together or disregard each other based on what’s true.
I’m not pushing thinness. I’ve learned over and over again that I am just as capable of being miserable thin as I ever was when I was fat. I have felt less connected to my thin body than I ever did to my fat body. And I’m not alone on this – after that piece went viral, I got hundreds of emails from other folks who’d lost massive amounts of weight who were still waiting to feel…fixed.
Of course, many would argue that thin and miserable is better than fat and miserable, and that may be true, but in the dark, when we’re deep in our pain, what size pants we’re wearing matters about as much as the pattern on the wallpaper.
Getting thin doesn’t make us happy in any lasting, substantive way. 1 Caring for ourselves consistently does, which begins with caring about (ugh, fine….yes…loving) our bodies, or being “Body-Positive.” That there’s finally a full-blown body-positive movement is a huge step in the right direction. Shifting the focus off of thinness-at-all-costs and onto start-from-a-place-of-love can only benefit those of us who’ve become diet-obsessed, weight-focused freaking lunatics under the old regime. 2 I only wish the messaging were more substantive than the body-positive memes that usually get shared around.
Repeating affirmations like “I love my body!” do not make it so. 3 Acting like we do is what makes it so. Love – the feeling – is born of loving action, specifically meeting the body’s most basic needs: providing safety, air, water, activity, ample sleep, and nourishing food.
For those of us who don’t know where to begin, being encouraged to “Love your body!” can make us feel even more insecure, self-critical, and defeated. 4
My mission is to help people – especially overweight women – figure out where to begin, and what loving actions might look like for them. I get off on giving people like me the tools to treat themselves with love even when it feels insincere or like a waste of time (and if you, the reader, don’t understand what I’m talking about, you’re reading the wrong body positive blog). My history – my weight, my self-harming reflexes – help make me a more effective, empathetic teacher than I ever could have been if I’d had a more vanilla past. I’ve fought all the same battles. 5 I’ve crashed back and forth between ‘I-hate-my-body-so-I’m-joining-a-gym-and-going-on-a-strict-diet’ and ‘Screw-it-I’m-just-gonna-love-me-as-I-am-and-just-settle-into-my-defaults-and-wear-more-lipstick.’ Neither approach fuels love, or results in sustainable health and happiness.
When I attach my ‘Before & During’ pic to a piece of writing, it’s so the folks I’m most qualified to help can see that I’m speaking from experience. And because they see me honoring my former, larger body in posts like 5 Things I Miss, they’re less self-conscious and better-able to take take in the tools I offer. Without my before photo, it’d be easier to write me off as just another skinny blonde trainer with a potty mouth and a blog. 6 And though that’s certainly one way to describe me, it ain’t the whole story.
Thinness is great if that’s where we end up when we take loving care of our bodies. Same goes for fatness, and every size in-between. If the people who stand to benefit most don’t know what it means to “Love your body!”, then it’s up to folks like us – the ones who know what it means and why it’s important – to spell it out. Until and unless we get explicit about what it means to love our bodies, being told to “Love your body!” may continue to be as unhelpful – and maybe even as shame-inspiring – as “Eat less and exercise more!” 7
Thanks for writing. Please keep reading. And if it won’t sully your reputation too badly, do please pass me around.
- Nor does thinness necessarily mean we’re healthy, but that’s another post for another day. ↩
- I say that with all the love in my heart. ↩
- And if just saying it makes it so, we probably didn’t have that much of a problem with our bodies to being with. ↩
- We’re talking strong, healthy mother/baby-type love here folks, not something out of a Taylor Swift song. Aside: Taylor, I love that new one about the gal who’s all like I’m a nightmare dressed as a daydream and imma cut you. That’s quality stuff. Let’s be friends. ↩
- In my own head and on the playground. ↩
- I dunno if you noticed, but I’m not the only one. It’s almost like we get preferential treatment or something. Weird. ↩
- For some. Not all. The only thing all people have in common is that they’d have an easier time taking good care of themselves if they took my course. BAM. ↩