Stop the Insanity!

1990’s Susan Powter called on all of us to “Stop the Insanity” of fad and yo-yo dieting.

My 8 year old is worried about getting fat.  Pardon?  

First of all, this is one of the healthiest  and fit-looking kids I’ve ever seen, and secondly….PARDON?? 

On Friday morning, one of the young ladies (9) in my care said, about breakfast, once again “oh, I’m not really that hungry”……

A 10 year old friend, with self-deprecation, expressed dismay that she, a soccer and gymnastic superstar, could not fit into her very small friends jeans….

It started to sound all too familiar to me.  I’ve struggled most of my life with my body image and as a result, my weight.  As a kid with a big frame and naturally muscular physique, like the 10 year old I mentioned, I got teased for being “fat” by most of the kids in my world, and the occasional adult.  I was 10 when I started to truly realize that people would judge me for my appearance and had my first demoralizing experience trying on clothes.  But I was not even 5 lbs overweight then.

Since then, I’ve yo-yoed up and down, going as high in adulthood as 328 and as low as 169.  To put this in perspective for you, I am 5’9″ (178 cm) when I stand up straight.  I have a “very” large bone structure (for a woman), which are also very dense (making my skeleton heavy), I am naturally muscular (even when heavy) and wear a size 11 women’s shoe (size 10 men’s).  Affectionately “the Amazon!”.

Ideal weight calculators vary so widely on what is “ideal” it’s  ridiculous, let alone confusing.  Some of the more intelligent ones would put  my ideal weight as high 175 lbs, while another, from Rush University Medical Center would suggest I should weigh no more than 160 lbs.  How is there a 15 pound difference?  That’s a whole dress size and then some!  And are they kidding?  160???

Let me tell you something:  at 169 lbs (my lowest adult weight), people in my life were worried about me, asking me to “stop” losing weight, saying I looked “skeletal”.   They were right.  I didn’t look healthy at all.  I was working out like crazy and eating only farm-to-table foods (though coffee has been a staple in my diet for 30 years).  Sounds like I was doing all the right things.  No.  I was what I would now call “obsessed” with how I looked and being dangerous to achieve what I thought was physical perfection!

How did this happen?  How did we come to value the cover more than the book?  How did we let young women becomes obsessed with the perfection of their physical appearance before they have even finished becoming whole?  Why are sheltered, small town 8, 9 and 10 year olds skipping meals, discussing techniques for trimming the excess fat off their waistlines, counting calories (??) in an effort to achieve an impossible ideal?  And these are just the issues around their physical shape.  I’ve been witness to far too many comments about how unacceptable their face is in their mind and all the ways they’d like to alter it…WTF??!!!!

I remember when Dove came out with their Campaign for Real Beauty and Self-Esteem Fund.  I loved their intent from the start.  I wept at their commercials:  young women and girls would be empowered to believe in their own beauty, just as they are; no need to believe you have to conform to an unrealistic expectation.  I don’t think it truly concerned me how well they were succeeding in their mission until this week.  And now, I wonder are they doing more damage than good?

I started to write this when I was hit with yet another reminder of the body image vulnerability of young girls/women.  It was a moment when the lightbulb goes on and you have an ‘aha!’ moment.  While browsing current events, I happened across an article by Katy Waldman regarding Bloomberg’s latest self-esteem project called I’m A Girl.  In it, Katy questions the positive impact of the slogan “I’m Beautiful the Way I Am”.

I had to agree with a lot of what her opinions.  

She suggests that having any reference to beauty in the campaign immediately undermines the idea of self-esteem in a world that already places too high a value on physical beauty.  Why not “I Am Awesome the Way I Am”, she asks.  Why does beauty have to enter into it at all?

Of course, the intent of these real beauty campaigns is to learn to value our inner beauty.  But they are too vague.  Sure, messages such as “I’m funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, healthy, and caring” [I’m A Girl campaign posters featured in NY subway system] focus on character traits, not physical characteristic.  But is that enough to override the subliminal bombardment of destructive beauty statements these girls are receiving? (no, I’m not providing a list because I wouldn’t know when to stop; you know what/who the perpetrators are and if you don’t, look to fashion, hollywood and the cosmetic industries just for a start)  Should we, instead, remove all reference to beauty from any Self-Esteem campaign in order to avoid the subjectivity of defining of beauty?  It’s an interesting idea.  I haven’t fully made up my mind yet.  Admittedly, I’ve only discovered my own beauty in the last 2 years.

I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to influence these campaigns, but I am fortunate to have an influence on each of these young ladies.  

To go off track a little, I’m reminded of a story I heard long ago, about a beauty pageant winner who was unjustly picked on by a prick of a reporter because she didn’t fit his ideal for poundage.  I’m sorry, I don’t know to whom it was referring, but it was how the story stuck to me that was most important and why I share it:

A reporter contacted a Miss [insert beauty pageant] winner to do an article about her win.  In the course of the interview, the reporter asked for her physical stats (that alone screams misogynist, but wait, there’s more).  This young lady happened to be 6’0″ tall.  (for those keeping track, that’s 3 inches taller than me whose maximum ideal weight according to the chauvinists at Rush U is no more than 160!) and she weighed, you guessed it:  a whopping 160 lbs!  In his article, instead of focusing on the young lady’s aspirations (for world peace, probably), he focused on her weight and called her “fat”, demanding to know where the judges heads were at for selecting such a heffer….

I heard that story when I was about 16 years old, so 1986.  Hmm!  At the time, I only focused on the number 160.  My mom’s point in telling me was to show me what a moron the reporter was, but all I took to heart for years was that 160 lbs was too high a weight for someone 3 inches taller than me.

Thank goodness perspectives evolve!



P.S.  After my daughter was born in 2004 and any pregnancy weight had been lost, I peaked at 328 and was aghast.  I started a healthy living campaign of my own right there and then.  Over the course of the next three years I lost over 110 lbs by following Canada’s Food Guide, implementing small behaviour changes one at a time, setting small goals and celebrating each milestone.  I did my first of 4 consecutive Weekends to End Breast Cancer (60km walk for Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation) at 296 lbs.   I have maintained my current comfortable weight for almost 6 years, and am happier with my appearance than I have ever been before.  I Am Beautiful the Way I Am.

check it out:

NYC Girls Project: Bloomberg’s worthwhile self-esteem campaign for girls needs a new slogan..

Stop the Insanity! Susan Powter


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