Women & Body Image

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for a blog reader, buddy, and former Strongman camp participant (HI KELLY!!!!!!) for a panel presentation that she was giving on body image. Beyond being incredibly flattered, I also found the questions to be very interesting and thought provoking so I thought I would share some of the questions and my answers. (Note: I’ve added or edited a few items just to make things a bit more clear).

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Approximately how much weight have you “lost?”

Over the years, this has changed, but from my heaviest weight to today, I’ve lost approximately 45lbs. Truthfully, I never weighed myself at my heaviest weight so I’m guesstimating.

 

Describe how you feel about your body now, at this moment.

At this moment, I feel content with my body. Are there things I want to change? Certainly. But that change is motivated by making my body an even greater version of what it already is rather than trying to fit a societal mold or deprive my body into submission.

When/in what contexts do you currently feel most aware of your body and its size?

I feel most aware of my body and it’s size when I’m outside of my “bubble” - I’m surrounded most of the time by fellow athletes, both male and female, most of whom I train with. Anytime I’m around a group of women outside of my usual context, I feel acutely aware of my body - I’m aware that I take up space and that I do so by choice. My shoulders and legs are often bigger than everyone else’s (some men included) in a room and I’m perfectly fine with that. For example, my training partner and I were getting pedicures one day and while we were discussing nutritional strategies for gaining muscle and squatting 200lbs, the ladies around us were talking about their desire to shrink and how much deprivation they could induce to get that “bikini body” they so desired. The general rhetoric that surrounds women’s bodies is one of struggle and warfare - women are expected to dislike their body, they are expected to view their body as bits and parts that never measure up, there is the expectation that you, as a woman, should be constantly critical of your body. Those highly gendered social scripts run deep and it’s not something I’m acutely aware of until I’m confronted with the dissonance between my own thoughts and attitudes about women and body image and conventional expectations.  My body’s size and composition aren’t something that I think about until I’m faced with a situation where I’m the biggest person in the room (ahem, like walking into any hip coffee shop).

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Describe how you felt about your body at your lightest weight.

I’m currently the lightest weight I have been in my adult life and at this point, I feel very happy with my body. Prior to this time period, I had been close to my current weight at other points in my life but wasn’t very happy with my body - I was trying to restrict and cardio myself into something that I thought I should desire to be.  Turns out, I really didn’t want that.

Describe how you felt about your body at your heaviest weight.

I was at my heaviest weight when I was deep into my relationship with my now husband - I was happy in that respect and somewhat miserable in other respects (over worked, over stressed). I was also extraordinarily sick at the time (osteopenia, ulcers, undiagnosed severe gluten intolerance, foot fracture due to my poor health) and felt like my body was a failure. I was 21 years old and could barely go to work because I was so ill - my body felt like something that was trapping me and something that was holding my life back. In addition to my poor health, I was very mad at my body for not cooperating with what I wanted it to do - why wouldn’t it lose weight? Why wouldn’t it look like the body of people I looked up to?Why did nothing ever work? It was a pretty miserable feeling.

 

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When/in what contexts did you feel most aware of your body and its size?

I felt very aware of my body’s size, at my heaviest weight, in social situations and in medical situations. Doctors would say “well lose weight” as if it would solve all of my problems - they would suggest things like “eat 800 calories a day and go jog for 3 hours” as a solution (p.s. that is not a solution - that’s a death sentence).

 

How have your friends and family responded to your weight at each of these three stages—current, lightest, and heaviest?

I’m very lucky in that I’ve been surrounded by very supportive individuals.My friends and families have always been supportive of me and my endeavours (health related and otherwise) in every context, regardless of my body size.

 

If a family member or friend has asked or were to ask you how you lost your weight, what did or would you say?

I’ve lost weight (and regained and lost again) in several different ways. If a family member or friend were to ask how I lost weight I would say that I focused on eating enough  (compared to not eating enough in the past), lifting heavy weights, and most of all, by being consistent. I’m constantly acquiring knowledge about the incredibly complicated physiological science of it all. Eating the right amount of food for whatever goal someone has important. Understanding why certain things impact your body a certain way is important.

I am not “on” or “off” the wagon. I just aim to be consistent. I also would emphasize the importance of not overly restricting food changes, not labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, and coming to the realization that you can eat some ice cream and still like yourself. Making changes to your body doesn’t mean you have to hate your body - it doesn’t mean war or fighting against it. It means being smart and making sustainable changes.

 

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If a family member or friend has asked or were to ask you why you lost your weight, what did or would you say?

This answer has changed over time and different periods of my weight loss. I initially would have said it was because I wanted to look better because society told me I had to. Then it would be because I wanted to feel better. Now it’s because I want to improve my performance and competitiveness as an athlete.

 

Describe how you have changed your body and its weight.

Systematic experimentation, observation, and adjustment. I went from a place of being either fully “on” a diet to fully “off” a diet to just having a focus on consistency. I’ve made changes to my diet, noted the effect those changes had and kept what worked and threw out what didn’t work. I’ve focused on building muscle and strength rather than shrinking myself into oblivion. I’ve learned to not stress so much about everything. I’ve found the value of moderation instead of extremes. I’ve embraced taking up space.

It’s interesting, there is this weird disconnect and discomfort between being an advocate for women taking up space while simultaneously trying to get smaller. It’s like you’re not supposed to really care about weight and scales and things like that but in reality, if you compete in a sport with weight classes (I do), it becomes important. I think the fundamental difference between my attempts to change my body years ago and now is the mentality of the effort. Instead of viewing something like losing weight as an all out battle of willpower and something that I have to white knuckle myself through, I view as just something that gets done when I implement a certain strategy. There is no feeling of “you’re a bad person” when I see a number on the scale. That number is a data point and it tells me where I’m going. I make changes or I stick with whatever I’m doing based on whatever goal I’m working towards. Being at peace with your body and not expending every molecule of mental energy towards hating it makes everything a whole lot easier. I’ve rejected the social scripts that dictate what women are supposed to look like and how they are expected to feel about their bodies. And I think THAT is pretty damn important.