U.S. Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and I want to say a few things to my non-gender specific siblings out there in eating disorder recovery:
- It’s okay to eat. You don’t have to do anything to justify your eating. It is okay to be a person amongst people, enjoying the food.
- It’s also okay to have limits. From pushy relatives who make comments about your body, to pushy friends who goad you to eat more pumpkin pie than your stomach has room for, you can draw a line. “Here is my boundary” you can say. You can stick to your boundary with love. Anyone you disappoint by having boundaries is likely not worth keeping around.
- You don’t have to let what other people are doing, eating, and saying touch you. Draw up an emotional shield if this is a triggering time for you. You are safe, you are protected, and I know what it’s like to be afraid on a day that is supposed to be about gratitude and I know what it’s like to overcome it. You’ve got this. I am here for you.
- Exercise shan’t be punishment for what you consume on this day, or any day. Think of your food as nourishment, and fuel and on this day, acknowledgement for this stolen land we are partying on. Don’t think of it in terms of burpees and deadlifts and sprints. Exercise is for the exaltation of release. It is for the celebration of being in your body and seeing what your body can do. Don’t make exercise something you do to be a dick to yourself. Long term, you will appreciate yourself from refraining from that mindset, I promise.
It is my sincere hope, that you are with friends and family that make you feel loved and excited to be alive. It is my wish that you can find the perfect amount of full, and that guilt and shame won’t be prominent emotions around your meals. As I’ve said a million times, recovery is about progress- not perfection. Pat yourself on the back for successes and take note of the hard moments and use them as information.
I believe in you.
So U.S. Thanksgiving is around the corner, and with it comes a potential litany of worries. Some may worry there won’t be much of the kind of food they eat(vegan, gluten-free, etc.) at family celebrations. Some worry about travel, and lost sleep, and being forced to take time off of work (Everyone is stressed out about an extra day off, right? Oh- so just me? DAMN).
I feel like the unspoken thing *so many* folks (especially female bodied folks) come up against when they see people that they haven’t seen in awhile is body talk. It can be negative body talk that throws you off your awesome-mental game, but sometimes it can be positive body talk too. In this article, Nichole, (whom I truly admire!) drops a little food for thought on the damaging nature of compliment culture. I think it is perfectly timed before Holiday family gatherings, and I hope you will, too. Enjoy!
The Dangers of Compliment Culture
Written by Nichole Dinato of Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack!
In the U.S., most successful college-aged women say they’d rather be hot than smart. It’s easy to see why. We all, regardless of gender, receive messages from a young age that our looks are important and remarkable, a lesson which is reinforced throughout adulthood.
Compliments and Disordered Eating
We have a strange compulsion in our culture to constantly comment on each other’s looks, to the point where it’s considered rude if we don’t mention a friend’s recent haircut or weight loss. But at what cost? In reading eating disorder recovery stories, and in living through EDs and body image issues of my own, I’m always struck by how many people mention that compliments were the trigger for their EDs.
Lacy mentioned recently that compliments on her weightloss after a difficult breakup were a driving force behind her restrictive eating morphing from a symptom of her grieving to an eating disorder.
I started dieting in 8th grade after noticing that I seemed “bigger” than other girls. I was more developed than them, with large breasts and curvy hips, which was especially difficult to process because I was a year younger than everyone else. I remember the feeling of my self-image warping, distorting my view of myself in the world, which persists to this day.
When I began losing weight, instead of asking me how I was achieving this all my own, or why I was choosing to diet at such a young age, my mother, my teachers and other students all told me how great I looked. As a kid who preferred to be invisible but who also had been neglected for most of her life, I started to crave this external validation. No one noticed that something had changed in me, something I desperately needed help with. I started to believe if I hit my goal weight, I would achieve happiness and ultimate control. I would be worthy of love and attention. What started out as a diet became a monster that still lives under my bed.
Compliment culture shows us that people mistake how you look with how you feel, which is an extremely dangerous lesson for someone who may be self-harming. It teaches us it’s easy to hide the dysfunction by putting on makeup or nice clothes. We learn that people will only look at the surface and not see the uncomfortable truths underneath, allowing us to escape detection and get further into our dark places than we may have otherwise.
I think most of us in the Super Strength Health community understand the potential dangers of complimenting someone on their weight loss, especially if we don’t know their mindset, and of representing weight loss as the end-all-be-all achievement.
Remarks on our weight can trigger eating disorders or body image issues, but constant remarks on our appearance, even in a positive light, can also create weird fixations that we wouldn’t necessarily have had otherwise.
I’ve developed a fear of looking old because I receive so many compliments on looking younger than my age. Counterintuitive? Not when you think about it. I never cared how old I looked, until I hit my late 20s, early 30s, when (apparently) I crossed a threshhold where looking young became the ultimate goal. Now I have dreams where gray hair grows in pairs on my head overnight, and plucking them just makes them grow back stronger. It’s shameful to me that I care, but I do, because I have been taught that my youthful appearance is an asset in the public eye.
When we receive a repeated compliment on our looks, we learn our value, and we fear losing it.
For those of us who have struggled with EDs, body image issues, and body dysmorphic disorder, there is a real danger in receiving physical compliments when trying to discuss our disorders.
Obsessing over your weight, looks or a physical feature is unhealthy. Hard work has to be done to escape from that snake pit. One thing that is very hard for me, and was impossible up until recently, is talking openly about my dysmorphic demons. To my disappointment, those hard won steps have been met with well-meaning but intensely dangerous compliments about my appearance.
I’m sure I’m not alone in this. If you have an ED and you try to speak about your struggle, loved ones probably are quick to let you know that you don’t need to lose weight, that you look great, or that it “isn’t that bad.” If you have body dysmorphic disorder, you probably often hear that the physical feature you hate is distinctive, attractive or, again, not as bad as you think.
With this, everyone is reinforcing that your obsession is, in fact, every bit as important as you think it is. It implies that pain only belongs to those who don’t look good enough to opt out. It demeans the very real nightmare that these conditions can become, reducing them down to something that can be cured with a simple compliment and not something that requires courage, possible therapy and gobs of self-care to conquer. It undermines our struggles, dismisses them with the wave of a hand, instead of validating our experience and teaching us to move beyond obsession with the physical to address the underlying emotional and/or mental root cause.
Changing the Culture
As the holidays roll around and a lot of us will be seeing friends and family, keep in mind how you interact with your loved ones. Praise little ones for kind gestures, offers of help, and perseverance in problem solving. Encourage interests. Ask them questions and then thank them for talking with you. When they ask you questions, compliment them on their curiousity. Tell them that you love them, that you miss them, that you enjoy spending time with them.
Instead of telling the adults in your life that they look good, say you love their expressive sense of style, that their faces feel like home, or that they have always been a beacon of strength for you. Simply saying, “I’ve missed you” can be more than enough.
If you are on the receiving end of compliment culture woes, don’t be afraid to start having conversations with people around you. It will take a long time, but I’m hoping together we can start to change the world by creating safe spaces around us. It’s ok to let someone know you are trying a new thing, where you don’t talk about people’s looks and they don’t talk about yours. You can be honest and say comments on your body are scary and triggering, and ask them to help you feel safe by refraining.
That’s not to say we can’t ever give each other compliments on our looks, but I think we need to be much more careful about when, where and what value those compliments have.
Let people know their value in your life. Let them know that you are looking past the physical, to truly see them, and ask them to see you back.
Nichole Dinato is one-half of the Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! podcast, a show she creates with her business partner, Callie Coker.
VWPA publishes one podcast episode every week that takes an in-depth, unflinching look at difficult vegan issues, and a weekly advice column that answers questions from vegans and the veg-curious alike. Dedicated to creating a welcoming community and being as intersectional as possible, the girls tackle tough issues with love, humor, brutal honesty and an open door policy to everyone.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I have weighed many, many weights in my life. The common denominator for every single one of these weights is this: no matter where the number fell, no matter how small I got, I felt certain of one thing: my thighs were just too big.
I did not (do not, will not) have the kind of thighs that do not brush up against one another.
I did not (do not, will not) have the kind of thighs that easily fit into stiff denim. That remain demure and unobtrusive. That can be ignored.
I have spent years pissed off at my thighs, disgusted at what they were (huge) and what they would never be (invisible).
I have spent much of my life imagining what it would be like to whittle my thighs away. To cut slabs of flesh from the tops of my legs, peel the fat off, and discard them.
I have spent hours of time, hours that probably amount to days and months of time, on an elliptical machine hating my thighs, viscerally and specifically. I wished my thighs dead, ran in circles step after step trying to burn them away.
Deciding that someone else’s thick thighs were kind of amazing was my first step.
I saw these thighs in a squat rack. They were attached to a body holding a barbell with hundreds of pounds of chunky metal plates. They sunk down, supporting the brunt of the bar, and they popped back up, almost effortlessly.
These thighs were undeniably big. They were strong and I was very intrigued by the way my eyes were drawn to the thickness of them. I didn’t want to notice the thighs, but I also could not look away.
Could I actually admire these thick thighs and hate my own? Was that a parallel that I could manage to pull off?
This question haunted me, both as I fell to sleep at night and when I woke up to get back on the elliptical. Was it possible to live in a world where thick thighs were just okay? Where they were accepted as fact, embraced as a pillar of strength, or even just generally not thought about at all?
I saw the first pair of thick thighs that I admired years before I accepted my own.
Sure, the seed was planted. But it took focus to change my own mind about something. It took effort to make new thoughts stick.
“My thighs are fine” I said, until, eventually, I felt like “fine” wasn’t really good enough anymore.
“My thighs are powerful” I thought, until I realized that powerful was indeed what they were, but that that certainly wasn’t the breadth of how I wanted to feel about them.
“My thighs saved my life” I thought, almost kind of surprised.
Huh I thought.
Kind of a weird thing to think. But it was true, wasn’t it?
That my thighs walked me away from my alcoholic abusive parent as a teenager?
That they supported me when I no longer wanted to get out of bed?
That they took me, step by step, to every group therapy meeting I went to, every doctor’s appointment in the early days of recovery, even when I felt too tired to move? To the homes of every caring friend, to the gym and through every deadlift, sprint and push press?
Respecting my thighs became a conduit.
It brought me connection and intimacy because I stopped being afraid of eating, moving, and living amongst other people.
It brought me closer to my mom and my sister. Women of the same thighs, women that I wanted a relationship with more than I could even articulate or understand.
It brought me to women aside from my sister and my mom too, and to queer folks. Holy shit- I guess I am not the only person that has struggled with hating a certain aspect of my body. I guess I am not the only one who could have used a little support.
Embracing my thighs brought me to a personal nutrition practice rooted in loving the ever living shit out of every inch of my being.
It separated me from using exercise as a torture mechanism.
It took me away from the battle against myself- and it brought me right back into my life.
PS Lately, when I’m not waxing poetic about body positivity, I am spending much of my time formulating recipes for the newest Reset and Restore program, starting on November 2nd. If you’ve been looking to get a little more awesome with your mindfulness around food and body, this is totally your place.
PSS Isn’t that patch AWESOME? You can buy it here. (This is totally not an affiliate link, I just really like it and want many people to have it!)