This morning, I changed my facebook profile picture to include the tag “TDOV 2020” which stands for Trans Day of Visibility which is today: March 31, 2020. But, what does this Trans Day of Visibility have to do with Body Liberation? Everything.
One of the fundamental realities upon which Body Liberation is built is the fact of Body Diversity. Body Diversity is the concept that ALL bodies are different, and ALL bodies are equally valuable and worthy of love, respect, and dignity. Trans bodies, in all the multitudes of ways they show up in the world, are no exception to this reality.
But Diet Culture has fed us this insidious lie that only one body is valuable and worthy of love, respect, and dignity. And I’m going to go ahead and tell you what that ONE body is right now, in case it isn’t obvious to you. This ONE valuable and worthy body is cis, straight, white, thin, able-bodied, whole, disease and illness-free, and definitely rich. And, that leaves a WHOLE lot of us out of the picture. That leaves a whole lot of us, who believe Diet Culture’s lies, grasping for ways to be something different than we fundamentally are. That leaves a whole lot of us believing that there is something fundamentally wrong with our bodies.
Your Body is Not a Problem.
All Bodies Are Good Bodies.
THESE are the slogans of Body Liberation and yes, they are a rallying cry against the bullshit of Diet Culture that would tell us only one single, specific body in this world is worthy of love, respect, and dignity; that only ONE narrowly-defined body is valuable and should be protected. These phrases mean that when we experience shame around or hatred of our bodies, it is not our bodies themselves causing that issue, it is our culture and the bullshit lies it has taught us to believe about bodies. Your body is not the problem – Diet Culture is. Your body was never a problem. A “good” body, within Diet Culture is the body that complies with that one norm – Diet Culture sells so many products that promise to get you closer to being able to comply with that one norm but Body Liberation is here to tell us that this is bullshit. Not just that one body – ALL bodies are good bodies – ALL bodies deserve love, respect and dignity. All bodies are valuable.
All bodies deserve protection from harm and freedom from violence – including the deeply damaging emotional violence of being denied their own humanity. The fear trans people face every day in this world is extraordinarily harmful in many ways. The fear trans people have to face is a denial of their humanity. The way that trans people feel pressured and even mandated to comply with that one norm just to be seen as human is a horrific, and crazy-making injustice.
As Martin Luther King famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We cannot believe in Body Liberation only for some. Body Liberation, at its very core, has to be for ALL. Because if one among us does not have access to it, then none of us truly have access to it. The erasure that trans bodies face is an erasure of anyone who does not fully meet all of the criteria for that one, narrowly-defined “good” body that Diet Culture has given us. That is why Body Liberation MUST be and IS trans-positive!
Today, I want to make it very clear that Every. Body. Fitness & Yoga, because it is a Body Liberation oriented business, supports and celebrates trans people! When we say Every. Body., we MEAN EVERY. Body. Trans people deserve to be seen and acknowledged and respected, on this Trans Day of Visibility and every single day after.
Trans-beloveds: We see you. We support you. We work towards Body Liberation for you!
I have been wanting to go online with my Body Liberation Training program for some time but I never knew exactly when or exactly how. The bad news is, like so many folks, I’m not working. But the silver lining in that is that I actually have no choice now but to figure out the when and how of taking my business online. And I think I’ve figured out some of those details in the last week, as I’ve begun teaching yoga in my virtual studio and hosting some group discussions related to the Health At Every Size Movement.
Soon now, I will be launching my Real Rebel Health Podcast and my Fitness For Mortals Program. Real Rebel Health is a Body Liberation podcast I’ve been writing and planning for a little over a year. Fitness for Mortals is a Body Liberation personal training program I actually started offering bits and pieces of in 2014. Both of those projects are ready to see the light of day and I am excited to offer them.
However, as I have already mentioned on this blog, Diet Culture is shoulding hard all over social media right now. Online fitness programs are crawling out of every crack and crevice promising “weight loss,” and “toned” bodies. The pressure people feel to heed this dangerous and ridiculous call right now is too much. Taking advantage of the fact that people feel helpless AND may have time on their hands, Diet Culture is all too willing to sweep in and offer us “control.” I even saw an advertisement yesterday that said this outright: “Since there is so much beyond your control right now, why not control the one thing you can?” Manipulative. Cunning. And Irresponsible.
If you’re new to the concept of Body Liberation, you might not understand what is so wrong about telling people to “control” their weight and their bodies. Briefly, I will tell you that when we talk about “control” what we are really talking about is “restriction” and “deprivation.” Diets for weight loss – the restriction and deprivation type – do more damage than good in the long term. While almost anyone will see SOME degree of “success” short term on a restriction and deprivation diet, reputable scientific research (as well as our own lived experience) tells us that dieting for weight loss, over the long-term, actually increases your set-point weight, causes weight cycling, and leads to long-term mental health issues in the form of disordered eating, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and exercise resistance. Unfortunately for too many people steeped in Diet Culture, they have to experience the long-term devastating effects of dieting for weight loss (sometimes over and over again) before they will believe this truth. The promises of Diet Culture are that intoxicating.
I do not want the online programming I will be launching soon to be perceived as part of this devastating shitstorm of Diet Culture. I am offering fitness, yoga, and TRUE intuitive eating (NOT intuitive eating as a diet program)– programming to improve people’s relationships to movement, food and their bodies. Unfortunately, this programming sounds a lot to people like another form of Diet Culture, another wolf in sheep’s clothing (Noom, anyone?). And the fact is it is pointless for me to say, “it isn’t though!” because you’ll have to need it and want it and experience it to understand just how very different it is.
And the reality is, I have to launch now. I need to help support my family, if I can. I need to work. It is a sweet silver lining and blessing that this just so happens to be work I am extremely passionate about and love doing.
Friend, the entire world is currently in a state of acute trauma. Now is not the time to pressure yourself to be productive. We are experiencing hardship. We are experiencing unprecedented (unless we survived WWII or the Great Depression) levels of stress. Productivity and growth do not usually happen in the midst of moments like this — unless that productivity is aimed at survival.
Diet Culture, including the fitness industry it has co-opted, is in a full-blown panic right now. Turns out, It can be more challenging to get people to give a shit about whittling their waistline during a global pandemic. And Diet Culture needs your attention because it needs your money!
It needs your money so much, that it is coming at you with thousands of advertisements a day — like a grand finale at a fireworks show! — to get you to jump on the diet train NOW! You have so much time on your hands. You can’t control the virus but you CAN control your food intake. You should be ashamed if you come out of this quarantine with less than a perfect body. You have no excuse NOT to workout and eat right! You could die from the virus if you don’t workout and eat right! These are Diet Culture’s messages. You can tell because they shame you, they should you, and they make you feel like you are not doing enough.
Friends, you are doing enough. If you are staying away from other people by taking recommendations for quarantine and physically distancing yourself from others, you are doing enough right now.
It’s true, there are about a billion at-home workout subscriptions and programs to choose from. And if engaging in these activities helps relieve some of your current stress or gives you a momentary retreat from the current state of things, then by all means, engage! But while you’re deciding which at-home movement option to try, you might want to consider how steeped in Diet Culture your choice is. Because the last thing any of us need at this moment are thinness-obsessed, weight-loss-focused divas shoulding on us in the midst of global trauma.
If you find movement and nutritious food choices help you weather this storm, that’s awesome. Just remember, because we are experiencing trauma, you may find your interest in these things is erratic. You may find it’s helpful some days and not on others. You may find previously disordered behavior around movement and food cropping back up. You might find untreated eating disorder trying to takeover your life. You might also find that you WANT to move and choose nutritious foods but you just can’t. In the midst of trauma, SURVIVAL is the only thing that matters. There is no “should.” There is no “not enough.” There is survival.
Despite what Diet Culture will tell you, you do not have to use this quarantine season to “get fit.” In fact, if you try to do this, your efforts will very likely be undermined by your body-mind’s need for coping and survival. So just be gentle with yourself. Move when you need or want to move, or don’t. Eat what your body-mind tells you to eat, or don’t. Rest. Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. And keep surviving.
The following is written, specifically, to be a resource for those people living in bigger bodies who feel body-shamed, saddened, attacked, or otherwise hurt by the people who are supposed to love them but continually tell them they “should lose weight.” If you think it will help, please forward this to your personal weight police.
[Gratitude to "Joules" for the blog comment and the tweet that opened my eyes to the fact that some people would read my original post of 3/28 and understand that what I was saying is that ALL fat people are depressed or sad or feel ashamed of their weight. That was not at all my message, my underlying assumption, or anything close to being my belief. Thus, I have made the updates in bold in the hope of achieving more clarity.]
Most people living in bigger bodies have probably experienced a loved one telling them that they are “worried about” their “weight.” Unfortunately, Diet Culture has led most of us to believe that other people’s bodies – particularly how much they weigh -- are our business. Other people’s bodies are NOT our business. Not even a little bit. Nope. No.
But since the fact that other people’s bodies are NOT your business can take some time to sink in after living a lifetime steeped in Diet Culture, I’m going to give you some time with that.
I’m also going to assume that you mean well. There are plenty of malicious assholes in the world who do NOT mean well when they assume that other people’s bodies are their business. There are plenty of mean partners who body shame their own wives and husbands. There are plenty of mean colleagues, classmates, siblings, doctors, yoga and fitness instructors, strangers, etc… who, out of their own deep insecurities and secret self-hate, take their feelings out on others by commenting on those others’ bodies and weight. And, I’m going to assume you are NOT one of those.
I am ALSO going to assume that you are not "worried" about the person you are worried about simply because they live in a bigger body. That is, if your person is perfectly happy and living a fulfilling life, there would be NO reason to worry about them, right? You aren't pulling a perfectly happy and fulfilled person aside and telling them that they should start working on "their weight"? Are you? I'm going to assume you are not. I'm going to assume that not only is the person you are worried about living in a bigger body but they are also feeling upset, depressed or otherwise having a hard time because if you love someone who is fat and happy (AND PLENTY OF US ARE!), you are obviously leaving them the fuck alone and letting them stay that way, right?
Finally, I will furthermore assume that when you tell the person you love that you are “worried about” their “weight” that you genuinely, deeply LOVE them and are truly WORRIED about them. I'm going to assume that you see pain in your loved one's life BEYOND their weight. That is, that they are depressed or having a hard time in their lives AND are also, according to your perception of things, "overweight." So, you are "worried" about them but what you are worried about seems to be a combination of things and the easiest thing for YOU to see is their weight. I’m going to assume that you feel their pain and that this feeling is uncomfortable and difficult for you. Because when people we deeply love are in pain, we want nothing more than to take that pain from them. It is difficult, as humans, to feel that we have no control, that we are helpless that there is nothing we can DO to make anything better. I understand. You see someone you love struggling. You want so much – so so so much – to help them. It hurts to see them in so much pain. And you just want them to not feel that pain. That’s all you want. I know.
When we feel that helpless, that NOT in control, over something that feels so deeply difficult for us, we look for the easiest solution possible. THAT is human – looking for the easiest, most obvious answer, the easiest, most obvious thing to control.
And you – like the rest of us – have been swimming in Diet Culture your entire life. And Diet Culture enters at this moment, smoothly and without you even noticing that it has come into the room, to whisper in your ear: “if they would just lose weight, everything would be okay.”
And, because it is SO much easier to believe this simple, unquestioned-in-Diet-Culture, statement, you believe the whisper with your whole heart. So much so, that you then take it upon yourself to share that whisper with your loved one – maybe turning it into a demand, maybe turning into a scream, maybe an ultimatum. However you deliver this message to your beloved, what you are doing is pouring shame into their heart. On top of the pain they are already feeling, you are doubling, tripling that pain with shame. You are tossing large stones upon an already heavy burden -- the burden of their upset, their depression (which does not exist BECAUSE they are fat but BECAUSE they are HUMAN), the burden of living in a society that -- on top of the human sadness and difficulty they experience -- heaps body-shame, fatphobia and bullshit advice on them around every corner. You are NOT making anything better or easier for them.
But you are making it better for yourself. You have believed the Diet Culture lie that if this beloved person of yours would just lose weight, they would be “all better” because it is a huge weight off of your shoulders, a huge burden taken from YOU. Because it is SO much harder to sit and hold space for someone else’s HUMAN pain, for someone else’s difficulties than to just fix their problem for them. And when someone we love is in a very deep pain – a pain we can’t get to or fix – we CAN’T do anything about it, ALL we can do that is AT ALL helpful is to SIT and HOLD SPACE for their pain. And that is tremendously hard. It is so so so hard. And you are living your own difficult life, and sometimes the time and the space do not always appear to be there.
But, my sweet, worried, LOVING, human: you HAVE TO try. Try better. Try better than simply taking the burden off of yourself and telling your beloved person to just “lose weight.” You know better than that. You know you are not helping. And if you didn’t know it before now, I am trying to tell you as gently as possible: YOU. ARE. NOT. HELPING. You are hurting. You are causing more hurt in your beloved person’s life when you boil down the weight of their pain and suffering to the appearance of their body. STOP.
What you’re really saying when you say, “I’m worried about your weight” is one of the three following things:
1. “I think fat people are worthless and horrible and don’t deserve to live and I don’t want to be associated with people like you.” This is called Fatphobia. This is also called being an asshole – BUT, to be fair, Diet Culture has really done its best to make all of us into this kind of an asshole so if you find that you are THIS kind of an asshole, don’t worry, there’s hope. You are also probably the biggest asshole to yourself. Look into Fat Positivity and Body Liberation. Open your mind and your heart. You can stop being an asshole to yourself. You can stop being an asshole to everyone else.
2. “I don’t want you to die because I love you so much, I can’t imagine living without you.” This is totally fair because of the lies that Diet Culture and mainstream medicine has told you your entire life. THIS is the depth of your love for this person. And again, Diet Culture, has associated fatness with death so deeply in your brain that you live with a real fear that you will lose your beloved. Please look into Health At Every Size. Get the book Health At Every Size. Read it. Read the WHOLE thing. Understand the level to which the association between thinness and health is just a straight and simple lie. You can stop worrying so goddamn much about other people’s bodies which, again, are none of your business in the first place.
3. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE: “I know you are dealing with a pain that is so much deeper and harder to reach than weight loss could ever go, but I can’t handle the depth of your pain and I can’t stand seeing you in so much pain so please just lose weight so we can pretend that everything is okay with you again.” I’ve already explained above a bit about where this comes from and why this is what you really mean. You CAN stop shaming the people you love and REALLY love them. You CAN stop choosing the easy way out and take the harder, MUCH more loving road of sitting with your beloved people’s pain and holding space for the difficulties of their life.
We all have difficult lives. Being human is hard. It is hard AF. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re not doing a great job because every human that is surviving is doing a great job. The more marginalization, trauma and hardships you have experienced, the greater the job you are doing of just continuing to be alive. This is true for you. And it is true for your beloved person. Compassion allows us to see this for ourselves and our loved ones. Compassion does not exist inside statements of shame and hate and fear, however “well-meaning” they are.
You deserve loved ones who will sit and hold space for the most difficult pain in your life. If you have those people, count yourself lucky and blessed. And your loved ones deserve that same abiding compassion, love and care. Can you stop looking for the easy answer and give it to them? I believe you can.
Body Liberation is a woman’s journey, right?
True, we are the ones most generally associated with eating disorder risk, body dissatisfaction, and weight obsession. And, these are the things we work to leave behind when we enter into a body liberation journey toward body acceptance and finding our own definitions of health and beauty, outside the dominant norms that Diet Culture has been feeding us.
Still… I have a feeling we are leaving a big portion of the population out NOT because they do not suffer from and struggle with these same issues but because they are not given permission by our society, to delve deeply enough into their emotional lives to make that suffering and that struggle known – even to themselves. And if they can’t admit they’ve got a problem, they can’t begin to figure out how to fix that problem.
Men need Body Liberation too.
Every time we hear someone joke about how much weight they’ve gained or are going to gain, what that person is really FEELING is something like:
“People aren’t going to like me anymore if I gain weight.”
“People aren’t going to accept me anymore if I gain weight.”
“I’m afraid of rejection.”
“I’m afraid of losing people’s approval.”
“I’m afraid you don’t (or won’t) love me anymore.”
I used to believe this wasn’t true for men – that it was only true of women. Because, Diet Culture has led women to associate their worth with their weight. But, I maintained for a very long time, that men do not associate their worth with their weight. When you hear a man talk about his weight in an insecure way, like with fatphobic jokes, he’s merely pointing out something he wants to “work on” and the disruption to his psyche ends there – or so I thought. I no longer believe this to be true. And more than that, I believe that the fact that I thought men did not associate their worth with their weight as much as women do is sexist. I believe I was engaging in the wrong-headed and absolutely sexist social belief that men just don’t feel as deeply as women. That’s bullshit. Of COURSE they do! They are just not ALLOWED to notice, explore, or give voice to their emotional lives. This is just one way that men suffer under patriarchy as much as women do.
Body Liberation is for men as much as it is for women.
Though I am by no means an expert, when it comes to transgender men and women, I believe what I’ve written above remains true but takes on stakes that cis men and cis women can’t fully understand. That is, trans men and trans women are at greater risk in Diet Culture (just as they are in our culture, in general) because the expectation to conform to dominant norms is not just about being acceptable in their beauty but being acceptable in their basic humanity. Though cis women are often the group most associated with body liberation, trans men and trans women are in greater need of body liberation because they are actually at even greater risk.
Body Liberation is for trans women and trans men as much as it is for cis women and cis men.
The fact is humans with money to spend have been inundated by Diet Culture for at least a good century. The dominant norms Diet Culture has been feeding us exist because we don’t want to buy things if we think we are okay just the way that we are. And Every. Body. – regardless of gender – has the right to know, believe and FEEL that they are okay (and worthy and lovable) JUST THE WAY THAT THEY ARE.
If you’ve been dieting to lose weight for a period of time, this quarantine/ pandemic/ corona lockdown may be scaring you on a level that other folks – who have not been dieting to lose weight – can’t quite understand. You might be terrified of gaining weight. Because, of course, within the context of Diet Culture, gaining weight is just about the worst thing that could possibly happen to you.
If you’ve been dieting to lose weight, you have most likely been restricting your food intake in one way or another. What Diet Culture doesn’t tell you is: restricting leads to binging, particularly if that restricting is interrupted by life changes. Suddenly eating foods – or amounts of foods -- you were not allowing yourself to eat before can lead to weight gain. For someone hell bent on losing weight, this weight gain is emotionally painful. It can make you feel out of control or that you are somehow “addicted to food.” It might make you feel like you are “obsessed” with food and can’t really think about much else.
Using food as a coping mechanism for dealing with our emotions is incredibly common and even, human. So, even if you were not attempting to restrict or lose weight before all of this madness, you might find yourself eating more than usual, and yes, maybe gaining some weight, during this time.
If you have a tendency toward restriction-based disordered eating but have not dieted for a long time or consider yourself “in recovery,” you might be noticing a strong desire to control your food intake. Again, this is normal for some folks – it’s a way of feeling like you have some control over our current uncontrollable circumstances. And, just as some of us eat to deal with our emotions, some of us can forget to eat in response to strong emotions, such as stress.
Though it is not an official eating disorder just yet, “orthorexia” might be an issue for you as well. Orthorexia is an obsession with the healthy-ness of one’s food and can even lead to fear of food itself. If you struggle with orthorexia, this stressful time may cause that fear and obsession to blossom up or return full throttle. This could lead to restriction, panic, stress-induced physical responses and generally strange thoughts and behaviors around food.
And it might not just be your relationship to food that is difficult for you at this time. Your relationship to exercise, fitness and/or movement might be strained as well. Disconnection from your gym, your workout buddies, your regular fitness routine may be causing a disruption in your life that simply creates more stress. Obsession with getting your workouts in despite our strained circumstances might be an issue for you. If you are prone to over-exercising in response to concerns about the size of your body, over-exercising will likely be a go-to coping mechanism for you in this uncertain time. This is just another way of attempting to remain in control.
Whatever your reaction may be to the circumstances we all find ourselves in at the moment, now is definitely not the time to beat yourself up about your reaction or feel like you are failing in any way. Whatever your response has been, is, or will be, your response is just what your body and mind need at this moment. Be kind to yourself. These are tough times. Unless you’re hurting or endangering other humans, you must do what you need to do to get through.
Be gentle with yourself. Even if you are someone who gave up dieting years ago, has fully embraced body liberation and shuns all Diet Culture, this is an incredibly challenging time in which all the old coping mechanisms will attempt to rear their heads to give you options for survival. Whatever you need to do, do it, but try to be mindful about whether you can do that thing and still maintain your love of yourself and respect for your body. And then, if the answer is no, try to accept that this is just where you are right now and mindfully consider whether you are willing to do something different or not succumb to those behaviors, like restriction or obsessive exercise, that feel safe-hating or disrespectful to your body. Please notice: I did not say, “just stop.” Be mindful. Be willing. Be curious. At this moment, it might not be within your control to stop a body disrespecting or self-hating behavior. That’s okay. It really is. You’ve got time.
Dieting for weight loss and engaging in disordered eating and fitness behaviors due to an obsession with thinness is not healthy. It’s just not. But if that’s where you have been, you are not alone. Everywhere we look in our culture, we are told this is exactly the kind of behavior we should engage in to feel worthy and lovable. So, most of us do this at some point. Some of us never stop. The point is, a global panic like this, can rock your boat no matter where you are on your journey toward Body Liberation.
If you gain weight during this pandemic, you will be okay. If you lose weight during this pandemic (unless you become dangerously underweight), you will be okay. If your disordered thoughts around food or fitness take hold of you for a moment or a long while, you will be okay again eventually. Do not add stress to your body by stressing about what is happening to your body. Give your body permission to do what it needs to do and be what it needs to be to survive this difficult time.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.