Positive Body Image, No Matter What Size


bodyimage

My previous blog about body image garnered a lot of attention and feedback. I’m grateful to CatholicMatch members for every last comment. It was a very rich discussion; so I wanted to follow up on the topic here.

First, some clarification. 

My goal as a follower of Health At Every Size is to challenge stereotypes. If I was interpreted as stereotyping all women as weight-obsessed, it was not intended. But I do wonder why the diet industry makes billions every year.

I’m willing to concede that my particular background may be a factor: I was put on my first diet at the age of 4, while being a perfectly normal weight. I was told I’d never marry if I didn’t lose weight. I challenge anyone, man or woman, not to be weight-focused and have body image issues after such an upbringing.

Second, the research I’d posted simply stated the biological reason for some men’s preference for a particular body type. Neither the research, nor I, asserted that this preference was to the exclusion of all other body types. It merely stated that hip-to-waist ratios, among other factors, may signify the level of health and intelligence offspring. 

The results pointed to physiological attractiveness, not beauty. There’s a subtle difference. Our current standards of beauty are fleeting and arbitrary, site-specific and mostly media-driven. A century ago, full figured women were the ideal. In other countries, such as Mauritania and Samoa, “overweight” signifies robust health and financial affluence: very attractive traits. The study implies that this same hip-to-waist ratio is present; and judging from paintings and photos, it seems accurate.

The matter gets personal, however, when we are searching for a mate and can’t get beyond others’ rejection of us based on our figures. On Facebook, where I shared the blog, another rich discussion ensued. One comment stood out to me about the stereotypes associated with weight in the dating scene.

Siobhan – 367630, a dear friend whose opinion I value,  said, “I get that men look for physical attraction first. I get that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I do not have poor self esteem, nor am I desperate. However, even I am tired of those men who assume that because I am a bigger girl, I am starved for attention, that I don’t deserve to be treated better, and who believe that I should be grateful for their company. Again, these things bother me and I have a good self-image. I cannot imagine the pain that this type of behavior causes to a woman who’s confidence isn’t as high as mine.”

So, if we are one of those women in search of love but have self-image issues, we must remember that old adage: we can’t love another person until we love ourselves. As Catholics, our self-love comes from receiving the unconditional, eternal, beautiful love of God. We were created to come in a variety of shapes and sizes, just as snowflakes do. In a sense, wouldn’t our self-loathing—and others’ rejection of us—show a lack of appreciation for His work? These ideas led me to the powerful Serenity Prayer, and it helped tremendously.

The other thing that helped is finding the HAES community, which asserts that good health can be found in a variety of sizes; not just what the media tells us. We shouldn’t assume every underweight person has an eating disorder or that every overweight person has low self-esteem and can’t get a date.

I would like to share something with everyone that really drives my point home. I was part of a video campaign against an ad for “The Biggest Loser: Australia” which targeted obese singles who never dated. The underlying presumption was not only that their weight was holding them back from dating, but also that others found them undesirable because of it; as such, they’ve remained single and unloved. It feeds an ugly, but lucrative, cycle involving low-self esteem, compulsive eating, public stigma and alienation from others. Frankly, I found this treatment of singles and their bodies beyond offensive.  

And so I joined others for this video montage, Love Yourself As You Are. If you watch, just be aware that there is some racy language at 1:56. And look for me at 2:47!

As singles, we shouldn’t put off looking for love simply because our body types—whatever they are—might appear unappealing to certain people. My mother always said, “There’s a lid for every pot.” Now get out there and find your lid, and good luck! 

Because October is Anti-Bullying month, I wanted to add a second video campaign I was involved with. In response to the viral video clip of newscaster Jennifer Livingston‘s retort to an insulting email about her weight, a friend of mine started a website exploring the issue. She asked us to contribute videos talking about weight-bullying and its effects. Anyone can post a video so if something there resonates with you, feel free to post one, too. Here’s the link: Better than the Bullies

The upshot of all of this is that we are all God’s creations and deserve, at the very least, respect; and at most, love. God bless.

 






15 Comments

  1. I love the sincerity and truth in this article. I often wonder if men look at my profile and then scroll down and see I’ve listed “a few extra pounds” as my body type and say “forget it”. In a way I understand because we’re all human and physical attraction is going to play a part. But in another aspect, if we see that we have things in common and really get to know that person, we come to love their soul and that is the ultimate point of marriage. To love the soul of the one God has made for us and help our spouse and children reach heaven. I have come to love my body and respect it as God’s temple and treat it thus. A healthy and active lifestyle is one that I choose and I think men have to realize their spiritual life has to reflect those aspects as well.

    • “A few extra pounds” is, at best, subjective. Of all the ladies on this site that I have met in person who list this as their body type, very few actually fit my own idea of what the description implies. In fact, there were probably as many who described themselves as having “a few extra pounds” who I considered to be of “average” build as I thought of as being “heavyset”. It’s really subjective.

  2. <3

  3. Joyce-801051 October 9, 2012

    Very true!

  4. Tommy-905087 October 10, 2012

    It’s a decent concept, but it needs some development. Beauty can be found in many forms. To the extent that our bodies have appropriate body fat, we reduce our risks of stroke, heart attack and cancer – thus adding value and beauty to the lives of our family and community.

    Body shapes are one thing. But the epidemic of obesity is a serious challenge for postindustrial societies. In the USA, we have gone from 15% Obese to 33% and 33% overweight to 66% overweight in just 40 years!

    I’m sorry, but genetics remain the same throughout the decades. The thing that has changed is our lifestyles and our eating habits. There is nothing genetic or untreatable about this epidemic. The moral components of the lifestyle choices are diligence and temperance (Php 3:19, 1 Co 6:19, Pro 23, etc.) As this is a Catholic venue, we should honor God’s commands in toto.

    About attraction? Body shape is not just a factor for female attraction, but also male attraction, irrespective of being at great health risk from obesity. There are women who prefer rail thin metrosexual looking men, and others who prefer large-chested strong men.

    But let’s do distinguish the God-given body shapes and physical structure we were born with from body fat, obesity, and serious health risks.

    This is personal to me, for a good reason. Two women in my family’s previous generation have lived their lives in obesity. No one else in the family ever had these problems. The problems were very clear to anyone who was around them for their lives – they didn’t exercise and they ate too much of the wrong things.

    My heart hurts for them, because they are nearing retirement, and are absolutely miserable dealing with the consequences of being obese for so long, There are so many health issues it is terrible! They can’t do what they’d like to do anymore. They can’t contribute what they’d like to in the lives of their loved ones. And they have spent a fortune on medicine, harming the hard-earned wealth and legacy of the family as well.

    I remember, when Atkins first came out. I was studying advanced physiology at the time, and we were absolutely disgusted by how easy it was for snake oil salesmen to take advantage of people. We knew the consequences, but real science does not break through the manipulations of marketing combined with vulnerable consumers, driven by emotion and sin.

    One of those people was my obese family member. I pleaded with her to stop. She said it was working. I told her it was a trick, and she was destroying her bones and hardening her cardiovascular system.

    Sure enough, within 5 years, she was the first woman in our family to get osteoporosis. And it was unnaturally horrible in magnitude. Her back started breaking in numerous places. I’m sure the consequences to her cardio are on the way.

    This sad outcome for my family is because of bad information in the market place, capitalizing on people’s desire to do what they want instead of face reality and change for the better.

    I find these series of articles to be along the same lines of platitudes. I don’t see the Bible in it, except for an intent to help people stay positive – which is always great! I don’t think that people should be hopeless, and I don’t think they should hate themselves for weight issues. They should see it as a medical problem like anything else. I think that there are ways to attack this epidemic of obesity and not get lost in the self-image issues.

    Men and women have an array of body shapes. I don’t expect that every woman should be attracted to my charleton heston T-shoulders and barrel chest. In fact, I know many aren’t. That’s okay to me. Attraction is a complex thing, and there’s someone out there for everyone!

    And it just so happens that brawny men are not in vogue right now, as much as voluptuous women are not in vogue either. This is a function of a corrupt and manipulative entertainment and news media, but that’s a discussion for another thread.

    The sentiment of the article is valid. We should honor different body shapes and respect them as beautiful creations in God’s order. We don’t have to prefer them for ourselves, but there should be no shame.

    But we cannot promote complacency with the obesity epidemic that is ravaging the postindustrial world. Not only do we offend God by denying his moral commands for temperance and diligence, but we also face social and economic consequences that reduce the quality of life for all!

    We must look at the problem medically, rebuke snake oil salesmen like Atkins, and show love to our neighbors to help heal their downward spiral of medical risks.

    • Cate Perry

      Hi Tommy!
      Thank you for your very thoughtful comments and your compelling personal narratives (which I am sorry for your unfortunate experience) surrounding this important issue. I see a lot of commonality in many of our ideas, which is great! I am not sure where you got the impression that the HAES movement, or I, promote complacency. I am an advocate of all people, particularly women, seeking out health in a way that does not come from the self-loathing so often encouraged by the media. Of course a ‘clean’ diet (ie, non – processed) and frequent exercise is necessary for a healthy lifestyle. The other component of a healthy lifestyle is, of course, healthy self- image. I encourage you to check out Linda Bacon’s credentials as a source of information that puts the concept of health into perspective, using scientific research and practical application. Here is the “About” section from her site: http://www.lindabacon.org/about.html. And once again, I appreciate your comments and look forward to continuing this dialogue. God bless!

  5. JoEllen-906300 October 10, 2012

    I am a bigger woman and I feel that men are not as attracted to me. I get alot of “your such a great friend” I feel like saying “I have enough friends” but I don’t want to seem like a jerk. Inside I am just screaming though, I know God didn’t give me the outward looks, but I know how beautiful I am inside, why couldn’t he make men realize that beauty inward is way more important!

    • Valerie-880801 October 10, 2012

      Hi Jo Ellen! I get the same thing. I’m always the ‘friend’ & have always been! It can be really frustrating. In the past I’ve tried to lose weight & always failed. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I really became determined to lose some weight, not for anyone else this time, but for me. I know I’ll feel better about myself when I do & I’ll be healthier. So far I’m 30 lbs. down. What some people don’t realize it that regardless of being ‘fluffy’, I’m actually really active. I feel like a lot of people have looked at my profile, scrolled through my pics & just passed me up. I don’t like being judged for my weight & it would be nice to be noticed for who I am rather than what I look like. Hang in there girl! The right one will come along for both of us! :) You’re beautiful inside & out! And you have a killer smile! :)

  6. Nnenna-651592 October 10, 2012

    I recently went on a diet and lost over 20 kilos. It worked for me because i had a good support system and now I am working towards keeping the weight off. I know how difficult it is to loose weigh and receiving letters from ones gp reminding you that you are overweight, was not helpful. I love how I look now, but I was not ashamed of how I was before.

    Anyway, if anyone needs any kind of support, contact me and we can support each other…cheers

  7. Richard-76477 October 11, 2012

    Once again, Ms Perry does her readers a dangerous disservice by focusing entirely on the aesthetics of body size while carefully and completely ignoring the far more important issue of health. The plain fact of the matter is that countless studies have shown that excess weight can result in a host of ailments, including joint problems, heart damage, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and more. To suggest that one can remain overweight and still be healthy is to ignore reality.

    • Lesley-158563 October 13, 2012

      Good points stated by both Tommy and Richard. While I am very sympathetic to what Catherine is trying to accomplish here and I very much hope that everyone is loved and respected at whatever their weight and size, does she want to address any of the compelling data/realities presented by both of these readers?

    • Cate Perry

      Hello and thank you for your comments!
      Richard: I think your first sentence clearly indicates the point of this passage, which is that society focuses on the aesthetic aspect of body size. The secondary point is about the damage self-loathing does to a person, particularly in light of this societal emphasis on the aesthetic, and even more particularly in its relationship to dating and love. As far as me “carefully and completely ignoring” the correlation to health, I did so because this is not a fitness or wellness site – it is a dating site. That said, however, I am happy to provide extensive, credible and nonbiased research that debunks the very popular weight/health issue as correlation, not causation. If you would like to know more, or continue this dialogue, let me know and I’d be glad to do so.

  8. Viyona-875118 October 13, 2012

    I agree with Catherine and Tommy both. This is a good article to keep us all positive, that whatever our shape, we should be confident with it. And it is also very true that we have to remember to keep our body healthy. God has created us good and we have to be grateful by keep ourselves healthy as one thing. I was an overweight woman, and about 9 years ago, I realize that I wanted a change. Well, frankly speaking it was because I want to have a boyfriend and unfortunately most men I knew were among those with the stereotype :) I did a diet. I think you who fight overweight may already know the tips, but I’d like to share the most important thing. Do it right and healthy with the positive motivation of your own! Do it for youself! I lost my weight and so happy about it even though I’m still a bit chubby here and there :) I’m happy because I feel more healthy. I keep my health by doing some work out, I can easily move while dancing, I can do what I want to do. Hope this can motivate people who are doing the diet. Back to the shape. My shape is short. Many people teased me about this but what can I say, it’s genetic haha. It crossed to my mind once or twice that maybe most men didnt like shorty. But I can’t control them. I can control myself by being happy with it :)

  9. Siobhán L. October 14, 2012

    You can put ten women in a room, all who wear the same size clothes, weigh them, and find out that they do not weigh the same. Some size 16 girls will be in fact very healthy, while others will be less healthy. Health is not your size. Health is your cholesterol level, your blood pressure, sugar level, etc. One should strive for good test numbers, not a certain weight or a certain clothing size. One can be fluffy and still be active. I hike, bike, etc. and am still a fluffy girl. My numbers are good. Yet some men view me – because of my size – as some sort of charity case, as if they are doing me some favor by deigning to ask me out. Not so. Ladies (and gentlemen): get your emotional health in order, get your health numbers to a good level, and screw anyone who would judge you on your size.

  10. Beth-814217 October 17, 2012

    I too, exercise and eat balanced meals but have a curvy full figure, but I love the way I look. As long as I’m healthy I have no problem with my size. If a guy can’t get over how I look, seeing me as “fat” then he isn’t meant for me. I want someone who will love me. ALL of me, inside and out. I understand that physical attraction is involved in dating but I think people get too hung up on appearance. I find that a person’s personality and how they behave can greatly change how they are viewed or seen. I “hot” person can all the sudden turn unattractive after few minutes of conversation. Like ways, someone seen as “ugly” can turn beautiful or handsome once their inner beauty shows. I think people should be more concerned with making their “insides” beautiful then their outward appearance. Like others on here have said, God made us all unique and beautiful, so love yourself exactly as you are. Make sure to treat your body as a temple for God. One that you care for by making sure you’re healthy and whole, inside and out. That’s just my two cents.

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