Andrea LaMarre, MSc. is a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar (CIHR) and PhD student in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. Her research focuses on eating disorder recovery, and she is involved in several research projects investigating weight stigma, body image, and gender. She is co-chair of the Wellington Waterloo Eating Disorders Coalition.
Loving your body is not so easily done. When you really stop and think about it, society is not engineered to facilitate body love. When there is a popular jeans style called “skinny” and when size 12 is considered “plus,” how can we be expected to proclaim affection for our forms? Our society is oriented around body change, rather than body acceptance. We are sold products to firm, tone, and to lighten. We are told how we might disguise, rather than celebrating our curves. On the other hand, if we don’t have many curves, we are told how to accentuate them. It sometimes feels as though there is no winning.
Body love, counter-cultural as it is, is a joint project. Sure, it begins as an individual task, but to gain traction we need to be in it together. For the past several years, the Waterloo Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition (formerly the Wellington Guelph Dufferin Eating Disorders Coalition) has been displaying positive body affirmations in store windows downtown Guelph in honour of International No Diet Day. No Diet Day falls on May 6th, and is an opportunity for each of us to reconsider our relationship with our bodies. We have found that the simple act of seeing positive messages in store windows can promote a little self-reflection around how people talk about their bodies. This year, we encourage you to join in the conversation- to drop the diet, to ditch the fat talk, and to accept your natural size. We recognize that this might feel like a monumental feat in a society designed to encourage continual work on bodies. Together, though, we might start to make change.
An important note about No Diet Day is that though our coalition is primarily focused on eating disorder prevention, body image issues are not unique to people with eating disorders. Body image is a concern that stretches far beyond clinical diagnoses. In fact, most body image issues are sub-clinical, and not necessarily associated with disordered eating. Many people diet, and only a small sub-set of dieters will develop eating disorders. But just because you don’t have an eating disorder does not mean that poor body image is innocuous. Studies indicate that fat talk has become the norm and that it can lead to negative mood, poor self-esteem- and to more fat talk. Talking negatively about your body is self-perpetuating to the extent that it can almost seem weird to not talk that way. There is also evidence, though, that language has power. Talking positively about your body (or at least not talking negatively about it) can contribute to a broader societal shift toward embracing and honouring different shapes and sizes.
How many times have you been in a change room and tried on a piece of clothing that didn’t fit quite right? How many of those times did you assume that there was something wrong with your body, rather than thinking that maybe (just maybe) the piece of clothing wasn’t right for you? What would it take to re-frame the conversation? What if I told you that maybe it isn’t your body that needs changing, but society?
I strongly believe that the conversation needs to shift. As an eating disorder and body image researcher, I am very conscious of not disparaging my body. Does this mean that I never feel negatively about my body? Of course not. I do, however, make a point to not talk negatively about it, knowing that it is the only body I will ever have, and recognizing all of the wonderful things it does for me every day.
Being body-positive does not mean being perfect; to a certain extent, that would be self-defeating. Being body-positive does mean recognizing that feelings of negativity are not permanent, that they mean nothing about who you are as a human being, and that sometimes, you just need to try on a different pair of pants.
A few strategies for shifting the conversation:
- Avoid making comments about appearance, even when they are intended to be compliments. This is especially true when talking about weight: “You look great, have you lost weight?” can be taken to mean that someone needed to lose weight or that this was their goal.
- When conversations start turning toward fat talk, shift the talk to something else: even the weather will do! Refusing to engage in fat talk can be a powerful action in and of itself.
- Ditch the diet: research evidence indicates that dieting often leads to a vicious cycle of weight loss, weight gain. If you are having trouble determining which foods work best for your body, set up an appointment with a registered dietitian. No, your neighbor who read “Wheat Belly” does not count.
- Find physical activities that you enjoy, rather than doing things you “think you should do.” Try something new, or be active with friends. Moving should be fun, not a chore.
If you are searching for resources on body positivity and stopping fat talk, you might be interested in the following links about Health at Every Size (HAES), an approach that encourages focusing on health rather than size. HAES is based on a non-dieting, body acceptance framework and its proponents encourage honouring and respecting our natural sizes.
Health at Every Size: http://www.haescommunity.org
Association for Size Acceptance and Body Diversity: https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/content.asp?id=76
Also, keep an eye out if you are downtown this week; our signs are on display in storefront windows along the Wyndham-Quebec St. corridor. Many thanks to Beth at Grey Rock Clothing for supporting our campaign!