As I settle down after my workout and grab my items from the lockers in the gym, I see a girl in my peripheral view stepping on and off the scale until she lets out what seems to be a sigh of disappointment.
Shortly after, another girl approaches and does the same on-and-off dance with the scale and breathes a similar sigh, but this time of relief. I have witnessed this tortuous event repeatedly and have myself experienced the painstaking but magnetic attraction to this square piece of metal. I can recall the hundreds of times I could feel my heart sink upon seeing a number I disapproved of.
I remember my younger self, as young as 8 years old, being inspired by the influx of New Year’s weight loss advertisements on television like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and gym memberships promising me that this year would be the “new me” - the happier me.
The mainstream imagery of beautiful, thin and lean women whose smiles tricked me into believing that if I followed the new fad diet, used a waist trainer, lost 40% of my body fat and diligently drank my “detox” juices, I would be just as fulfilled. Little did I know their skin was airbrushed, their waists photoshopped, and that this industry of weight loss and beauty capitalizes on the idea that keeps the glass ceiling in place: “I’m not good enough until I look like that.”
“That” in this past decade took many forms. For me, it ranged from having a thigh gap, a waist that accentuates an hour-glass figure, no double chin, no under-arm “chicken wings,” a flat stomach, minimal wrinkles and blemishes, and breasts that are not too large but not too small that I look like a prepubescent boy. The worst part is, these standards change every few years and a few years ago, I reached a point of exhaustion where I could no longer subscribe to the never-ending litany of rules. Big butts, big breasts, being “thick” and having the longest eyelash extensions are all the rage - but only for right now. Trust me, something new is on the way.
Have we ever stopped to think about who decides what is hot and what is not?
While some may find the trend of being a “thick” girl a new form of body positivity, I find myself perplexed that in the year 2020, I am still being told what my body should look like. I am tired of the hyper-focus on women’s bodies in general.
I can imagine many New Year’s resolution lists for both men and women look something like the following when it comes to health goals:
• Go to the gym, stick to an exercise regimen and make sure to hold myself up to an unreasonable standard of fitness.
• Lose x pounds and x% of my body fat so that people will compliment my body transformation instead of my humor, knowledge, passion and so on.
• Cut out carbohydrates and meat because everybody is doing it.
• Start meticulously counting calories so that shame will set in and I will feel badly for that donut I ate.
• Practice self-control around food. Who said food is supposed to be enjoyed?
• Drink a ridiculous amount of water per day and in between each bite of food so that I trick myself into feeling full.
While I exaggerate these goals, this is fairly similar to what my resolutions looked like a few years ago and very likely similar to many others who have to survive in this world that praises superficiality.
I began asking myself: What did I think would happen when or if I achieved this? What did I really want to accomplish? What was I really trying to lose?
I wanted to feel better about myself, to be admired, to be disciplined and to have an Instagram worthy lifestyle. I wanted friends and to be a part of a community, but furthermore I wanted to be accepted. But being accepted in a community was not achievable if I continued to not accept myself.
There is an entirely different world of body positivity that focuses on caring for your body nutritionally and physically, not to achieve a goal weight or size, but to practice gratitude for the things your body can do and not what it looks like.
One of these body positive activists is Kristen Lindsey-Dudley, a registered dietitian in Honolulu who has devoted her career to working with eating disordered patients. Lindsey-Dudley runs Nutrition Therapy Consultants, and while she works primarily with eating disordered patients, she sees other patients for weight control and diabetes, kids and adults with picky eating habits, and those who want to become more knowledgeable about nutrition and exercise. Eating disorder or not, she has the same message to all: There is no magic diet or exercise to achieve the perfect body simply because the perfect body does not exist.
She takes a leveled approach to nutrition and exercise to enforce balance and self-acceptance. She is the “anti-dieting dietitian” and has treated many children, teens and adults who had been hospitalized for malnutrition due to an eating disorder. Many of her weight control patients see her at the end of their ropes with dieting as they find themselves at an all-time high obsession with food including a difficult cycle of restriction and binge eating. Lindsey-Dudley says that this is a natural response to under-eating. She explains that binge eating, which is an episode of extreme hunger and large caloric intake in one sitting, is your body’s way of surviving. Our bodies are meant to be fed and depriving ourselves of the very thing that keeps us alive will result in this negative cycle of restriction, bingeing and shame. She explains that this is exactly why diets do not work.
Lindsey-Dudley says the best way to approach diet and exercise is to, “Get an exercise pattern that works for you, that is something you want to do. We know that people stick with exercise when they do it socially.”
Her response to this time of year when body dysmorphic resolutions are encouraged is that, “It is a tough time for people for body acceptance. Think about trying to do things that are good for us. Most people need more fruits and vegetables and more movement and exercise. Many people need more sleep, but with the mindset of changing your body, these resolutions will not work.”
Not all people who diet or follow fad diets have eating disorders, but we all share the same theme of “I’m not good enough.” It is a part of our culture to use the scale or the tape measure to gauge our attractiveness and worth.
I still struggle and become frustrated when I find myself criticizing my body as the reason I do not feel good enough. I sympathize with women and men, especially those in my age range, who have been subject to the same lies we have been sold by the media. However, when I take an active stance to resist these lies, I find more acceptance for my whole self, less focus on my body, and more gratitude for the small and large blessings. I begin to have space in my brain for better things, better relationships and more self-awareness.
So, instead of diet fads, body-focused goals and different forms of exercise torture I used to use to motivate myself, I am trying to make my New Year’s resolutions list look a little more like this:
• Go outside and get connected with a group of exercisers who appreciate living in Hawai‘i for all it has.
• Lose shame. I do not need to lose weight. What is really weighing me down is the tiny voice in my head that shames me for not being good enough.
• Cut out toxic relationships and unsubscribe to social media that makes me feel as though I need to change to be better.
• Start meticulously counting what I am grateful for because practicing gratitude is an action and not an automatic attitude.
• Practice self-awareness and check in with myself throughout the day to realign my physical, mental and emotional selves.
• Drink up life for all it offers because a minute I spend being negative about my body or myself is a minute I do not get back.
As a junior, amateur writer, I bravely put out a call to action: Step off the scale. And ask yourself, “What do you really gain when you lose?”