I know that many people resolve to get fit, to lose weight, to change how they look, and then to change some aspects of their lives with the New Year. I’m interested in why that is, so I had a conversation with Amy Chestnutt, coordinator of the Women’s Center Eating Disorders Education Initiative. She says we need to change our minds about this kind of change. We need to change:
1) What we expect about how we look
2) What it means to change ourselves and how we go about it.
HOW SHOULD WE LOOK?
“… I will give
out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be
inventoried, and every particle and utensil
labelled to my will: as, item, two lips,
indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to
them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth”
Olivia in Twelfth Night
I’m always reminded of Olivia’s quote above when I think about how so many women itemize and objectify their bodies and their body aims. My list would probably go something like this:
- Beyonce’s butt
- Dee from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s abs
- Anne Hathaway’s lips
- Anyone else’s eyes
- Giselle’s general body (apart from all the other changes I’ve just listed).
So… I would look like a total and utter freak, about as hot as the human equivalent of a Barbie doll. I’m not entirely sure what my ethnicity would be, but this hopeless mélange of perfection would not only render me weird-looking, it would render me not-Lingerr.
I’m struck by how other people feel this envy too. Even people who more closely match our culture’s thin beauty ideal are not walking around entirely secure and confident in their appearance. My friends are absurdly good-looking, but they do not always feel that way. It is easy for me to say, “You’re hot!” But I never believe that myself when my friends say it to me. There is almost an impatience with which we approach our friends’ physical insecurities, which is good because it shows how attractive we think our friends are, but bad because it does not really take into account their very real insecurities.
So how does this correlate with wanting to change how we look this year, with wanting to lose weight/get fit/somehow abscond with Kaitlin Olson’s abs?
CHANGING HOW TO CHANGE HOW WE LOOK
Amy and I discussed changing one’s weight versus changing one’s lifestyle. There are definitely differences. I could stop eating cheese and drinking Guinness, and swim for two hours a day and would lose weight. I would also be miserable, and even more importantly, would probably not look the way I should. What does this mean? There are a ton of factors that go into our weight: genetics, our lifestyle, and many more. Even more crucially, there are many downsides in trying to unhealthily change your weight. Serious eating disorders are among them, of course, but even an obsession with food, calorie-counting, and exercise can negatively impact your life.
Think about it this way: if we’re busy focusing on exactly how we look and what we’re eating we’re too busy to have fun. And fun is more fun than feeling bad. The firm or bootylicious bottom line really is that we should all try to lead active lifestyles. We should all eat well, healthily, AND treat ourselves. When you do all of these things, you will “look the way you look” as Amy put it. Not necessarily look thin, look big, or look muscular, but look the way we should. Note: I’m not encouraging passivity in terms of physical fitness in any means. Let’s change how we phrase them, instead of “I want to lose weight,” I’m aiming to build up enough strength to do 20 pushups (I hear my active friends laughing at how easy my goal is as I type this), then 30, then 50. It will make my body look better, without me obsessing, and probably with less misery (though pushups are the worst, matched only by the unearthly hell of pull-ups).
A good friend wonderfully described this as thinking of our bodies as tools and increasing what we can do with this tool we have been gifted with. Think about what you want to gain, not what you want to lose. I’m encouraging not-obsessing, and not making resolutions that are attainable but might not be right for you and who you are and how you look. Now let’s see if I can stick to this.
Of course I only skimmed the topic of eating issues. Please contact the EDEI for more information, and let us know if you want to contribute to Iris in any way as we continue to think about this topic!
- Lingerr Senghor