Let’s talk about the beauty industry

Interested in some basic statistics on how much money and business the beauty industry makes? Aw yea, you are.

Why exactly are we buying all this stuff?

  • The average US resident is exposed to almost 5,000 advertising messages each day.
  • A study in 1992 (so it’s outdated and very possibly much worse now, sorry I can’t find anything more recent) found that 1 out of every 3.8 television commercials sends some kind of “attractiveness message” commenting on what is/is not attractive
  • The purpose of beauty advertisements is only to convince you to buy a product. Because of this, advertisers will often play on your emotions. They’ll use phrases like this 

oh, that’s lovely

They’ll publish an ad that they know will only make you feel bad about your body. Something like this

another keeper

You might feel bad, but that will ensure that you buy their product. They’ll emphasize looks and beauty over everything else. They’ll photoshop  unrealistic images and tell you that anyone can look like that.

Oh don’t worry, it isn’t just advertisements. Companies are selling our kids crap like this, and this, and this, and this. What a terrible childhood. Also, messages about beauty are fucking everywhere. In advertisements, in movies, in television, in books. The beautiful princess marries the beautiful prince and they live happily ever after. The evil stepmother is ugly. The unpopular girl becomes popular when she gets a makeover. Even when they don’t outright say things like that, they subtly slip it in there. The successful, happy, popular people in media always seem to fit our standards of beauty. Next time you watch television or a movie, pay attention to how the villain/annoying character/outcast is portrayed. More often than not you’ll find that they’re the ones that don’t fit standards of beauty while the “popular people” always do. And we internalize all of this shit.

 

Some things that beauty product marketers often try to tell you that probs aren’t exactly 100% true.

  • Our product WILL fix this. Lots of companies that cite research backing up their product have either sponsored the researchers or they use their own researchers. Sound biased? It probably is. They also sometimes take the studies they have done on animals and extrapolate them to humans. Because that’s how science works. Human=sad bunny. Beauty companies spend only 2-3% of their sales on research and development of products, compared to the 20-25% that they spend on advertising. 
  • Anyone can do it. We see this ALL the time with weight loss advertisements. It’s also extremely common with things such as makeover shows. And this king of advertising is a problem. It results in shaming and blaming people that don’t fit societal standards of beauty. It creates this false idea that anyone can change anything about their body if they just have enough willpower. Advertisements tell us that everyone is perfectly capable of fitting into the mold of what is considered beautiful, why aren’t they doing it? Oh, obviously it’s because they’re lazy/are a slob/don’t care about themselves/don’t care about others/etc. We question why people aren’t taking the time to fit our idea of what beautiful is, because they should be. Anyone can do it.
  • It’s not about changing how you look; it’s about changing how you feel about yourself. It’s about gaining self confidence. This one is all the rage right now, especially since so many people are promoting self-confidence. Advertisers are just disguising their products under this veil of “it’s about confidence.” Sure, you can have confidence, as long as you still buy their product. I personally really think that our problems with body image are often just symptoms of bigger problems with ourselves. We aren’t confident and self-loving so we try to have the body/car/job/insert whatever you want here that we’re “supposed to have.” If you don’t have confidence in the body you have now, you aren’t going to have real confidence in a different, more socially acceptable body. Meeting their standards of beauty isn’t the same as having confidence. Sure, you’ll feel better because you’re fitting their narrow standards, but that isn’t the same as having confidence. That “confidence” is based entirely on outside sources, rather than coming from within. And when you’re letting other people determine how confident you can be, you’re letting them be in charge of when that confidence disappears. These ads create the idea that people “earn” confidence. That you can feel good about yourself because you’re doing what they want you to do, because you earned it. People that don’t meet the narrow standard of beauty are just as deserving of experiencing confidence and self-love. Those are not privileges that we have to “earn” by changing ourselves. You have the right to love yourself no matter what. Bottom line: you can’t trust the people selling you beauty products to tell you how to gain confidence. As a side note, this is kind of like the story about the girl that was bullied because of her ears and received free plastic surgery to “fix” her flaws. She didn’t need to “fix” herself. Someone needed to tell those bullies to stop being assholes.

I have news for you. Changing whatever part of your body that doesn’t meet society’s standards doesn’t fix the problem for several reasons (I love bulleted lists!)

  • Self-acceptance doesn’t sell anything. If you love yourself just the way that you are, and don’t try to change everything, these big companies aren’t making any money off of you. And they can’t have that, can they? Companies are just going to keep making up things that are wrong with our bodies in order to get us to spend money. You could change everything about your body to meet the expectations that are given to us, and someone would just come up with something new that was wrong. And the moment you think you’re getting close to finishing up that checklist of beauty standards, the tables will turn. Pale skin will be back in right after you get that tan, curves will be in just after you lose those last few pounds. It will never end. This is about money.
  • YOU’RE just going to keep making up things that are wrong with your body. As soon as you “fix” one thing, you’ll find something else that you don’t like. There is no possible way to be satisfied in this quest for perfection because it is not realistic and it will not happen. This isn’t about not liking one part of your body, this is about a bigger issue with self confidence and self-love. Also, 33% of potential nose job patients have moderate to severe symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. I mean obviously I can’t speak for them, but I’m fairly confident that a nose job did not make their mental illness go away overnight.
  • It perpetuates the idea that there is an ideal standard of beauty and it is ok to expect everyone to meet that standard. When we mold ourselves to fit what other people want us to be, we are giving them permission to mold others into what they want them to be. We are supporting the culture of telling people what to be and how to look and how to act. We are supporting ostracizing certain people. We are supporting telling people to change themselves. And if this culture keeps on going, they’re just going to throw more and more ideals for us to meet and we’re never going to be happy with ourselves.

The bottom line is that it is not your job to change your body so that people will respect you. People should be respecting you regardless of what you look like. They should be respecting you simply because you are a being and a soul and that is enough to make you completely deserving of love and respect, just like every other being out there.

Why No One Should Diet. Ever.

What exactly is the big deal with dieting? People are just trying to be healthier right? Obesity is such a problem in this country. Most people need to lose some weight to be healthy. By dieting they’re just learning to eat healthier foods right?

I overheard a coworker the other day talking about her diet. The girl she was talking to commented “I don’t know why you’re always on a diet. You look fine.” She immediately responded with “oh, you know, I’m just trying to be healthy.” What the fuck? You do not have to be on a diet to be healthy! Those two words are not synonymous.

What the Dieting Industry Doesn’t Tell You

“But I’m not on a fad diet like a juice fast or a master cleanse. I’m on a HEALTHY diet like Weight Watchers or Atkins or Paleo or whatever the fuck they’re doing these days.”

  • Is it something that you want to keep doing for the rest of your life? Can you imagine yourself being on this diet forever and being completely content?
  • Does it label foods as “good” and “bad” or make entire categories of food “off limits” or “forbidden?” We should not be afraid of any type of food. There is no reason to be afraid of cake or carbohydrates or dairy or whatever. ALL food has a place in a healthy diet. You can’t eat only Doritos, candy, and doughnuts all the time, but you also can’t eat only grilled chicken, vegetables, and brown rice all the time. If you’re actually eating a healthy, balanced diet, you won’t feel deprived of anything. The key is moderation, nothing to extremes.
  • Are you eating REAL, nutritious food, or are you eating their food?
  • Are you responding you your hunger cues or are you following their meal plan? Are you listening to your body, eating when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full? Or are you following their menu/points/meal plan/food choices/etc.
  • If for some crazy reason this diet was suddenly taken away from you would you still know how to choose foods and feed yourself?

“But my doctor supports it”

Yea, a doctor also supported this crazy ass shitand thisand thisand this.

Get my point? I’m not saying don’t ever trust your doctor again. I’m just saying that maybe they’re not so immune to some of the crazy advertising out there. Maybe they’ve also been a little tricked by this whole dieting lie. I’ve heard horror stories about parents of anorexics begging their doctors for help and the only responses they get are along the lines of “she looks great! She should be a model” and “she still has some chub, she’s fine!” I’m not kidding. This is unfortunately uncommon.

 

And we’re just starting a cycle of it. People are learning it young and they’re just being set up to do this for the rest of their lives.

We are teaching LITTLE KIDS that they have to diet, that dieting is good, they’re learning at an early age to associate dieting with health. And that’s going to be really hard for them to unlearn later in life, especially when they’re still going to be sent all of these incorrect messages. These innocent little kids, just going around doing kid stuff, are being told that they aren’t good enough. And they grow up continuing to think that they aren’t good enough, and they accidently teach others that they aren’t good enough either. This cycle needs to stop somewhere because if those statistics don’t make you just plain sad then nothing will.

This obsession with dieting is not really about health, it’s about aesthetics. It’s about using our bodies as proof that we are good enough and worthy. It’s about making money off of the insecurities of others. All it’s doing is making people feel bad about themselves. We’re falsely associating thinness with health and that isn’t correct. Studies have shown that it is the behaviors that correlate with health, rather than weight. You can be both perfectly fat and perfectly healthy. Instead of wasting our time dieting to lose weight we need to focus on making lifestyle changes to be healthy. And we need to respect that our bodies do know what’s best for them. We need to get rid of this idea that healthy also fits the current social standard of beauty. “Healthy” and “diet” are not synonymous.

 

Also, this is really beautiful.

What Is Fat Talk And Why Does It Need To Stop?

There are so many different ways that fat talk exists and invades our lives and it is so engrained in our brains that most of the time we don’t even catch it. In her new book The Woman In The Mirror, Dr. Cynthia Bulik dedicates an entire chapter to discussing the different types of fat talk and what we can do to end them. This is definitely the most beautiful and comprehensive list of types of fat talk that I have ever seen, so I’m just going to kind of summarize what she says are the different types of fat talk and add a few of my own comments. All of the “names” for these types of fat talk are from Dr. Bulik and they’re pretty brilliant. I seriously recommend this book, it’s great.

Generic Fat Talk-This is your basic fat talk. It seriously just comes right out of our mouths without us even thinking about it.

  • Does this make me look fat?
  • I hate my hips/arms/legs/etc.
  • I need to lose weight
  • I’m fat
  • I shouldn’t be eating this cookie

Compliment-Fishing Fat Talk-The purpose of this fat talk is to get someone to compliment you. If you feel bad about your body, having someone reassure you about it is nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t last. We never seem to actually believe the compliments that we receive from compliment-fishing fat talk. It has no long lasting benefits and only perpetuates negative stereotypes about fat.

  • I look so fat in this swimsuit
  • My stomach is so huge
  • This outfit looks terrible on my figure

Comparative Fat Talk-this happens when we compare our bodies to other people’s bodies.

  • She’s so much thinner and prettier than I am
  • You think you’re fat? Look at me!
  • That outfit looks so much better on him than it does on me
  • You’re so healthy, eating just a salad, I should be doing that

Can’t-Take-a-Compliment Fat Talk-This happens when someone genuinely compliments someone and they just automatically negate their compliment. Maybe they don’t actually believe the compliment. Maybe they do kind of believe it but we’ve been taught to be humble and not accept compliments. Maybe they think that the person is just saying it to be polite.

  • Someone compliments you and you say something like
    • This outfit would look so much better if I was ten pounds lighter
    • Thank God for Spanx!
    • This outfit might look ok but my hair is a mess!

Competitive Fat Talk-this type of fat talk happens when people are sort of covertly competing with one another about their health/body size, incorrectly believing that a certain health/body type is better than another one.

  • Oh I would never eat that
  • I always exercise every single day
  • I don’t snack between meals/after dinner/whatever the fuck else you think is omg super healthy
  • Yea, I recently lost XX pounds

Silent Fat Talk-This often happens when we’re eating around other people and we want them to think highly of us.

  • Placing your order at a restaurant based on what the people around you are eating
  • Deliberately eating less/eating what you consider healthier/etc. than the people around you

Joking Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is meant to be a joke and is disguised as being harmless, but the reality is that these kinds of jokes are only perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices about size.

  • I hope he doesn’t sit next to us or else we won’t have any room
  • That scale will probably break if I step on it!
  • I hope she’ll be able to fit through that door

Stealth Fat Talk-Most people probably don’t realize that comments like these are actually hurtful. They’re super disguised comments and just kind of subtly imply that fat is bad and thin is good.

  • You look great! Have you lost weight? (Translation: you looked bad before or thinner looks better)
  • You must be spending lots of time at the gym (Translation: you looked really out of shape before)
  • This type of dress is really flattering on your figure (Translation: it makes you look thinner)
  • You’re so much healthier now! (Translation: Even though I’m completely wrong, I’m convinced that thin and healthy are interchangeable words)

Fat-Stigmatization Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is just broadly directed at fat people in general and really shows the prejudices and assumptions that we have about people based purely on their size (i.e. that they never exercise and eat too much).

  • Fat people should have to pay more for their food/clothing/etc.
  • Fat people should have to walk in a single file line so that everyone else can go around them
  • Fat people just need to exercise more
  • Why can’t they just have some self control?

Fat-Is-Ugly Fat Talk-This type of fat talk perpetuates the beauty standards that you cannot be both fat and attractive.

  • She could be so pretty
  • She has such a pretty face, it’s a shame she’s a little heavy
  • I need to lose weight so that I will look good
  • Clothes look better on skinny people
  • Please don’t ever let me leave the house if I get that big

Personalized, Disrespectful Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is targeted at specific people and is based on heir appearance

  • She does not need to be wearing that short skirt
  • Do you really need that ice cream?
  • That outfit does not look good on someone his size
  • Ew, I would never let myself go like she did
  • His new girlfriend is a complete fatass

Bullying Fat Talk-This is just what it sounds like: bullying people by insulting their size.

  • You’re a fat pig
  • I wouldn’t date someone as big as you
  • You’ll never get a job/date/make friends/be taken seriously if you look like that

I also want to add another category of fat talk that I think people really abuse and use to justify their prejudices against fat people.

But-Fat-Is-Unhealthy Fat Talk-This kind of fat talk is disguised as having good intentions based on health. It’s the kind of stuff that was used in those Georgia ads.

  • I’m just worried about your health
  • She’s not going to live past 40 at the rate she’s going
  • I’m just waiting for him to have a heart attack
  • People will think I’m a bad parent if my daughter is fat
  • I just want to look healthy

I think there are definitely a lot of people that are genuinely concerned about someone’s weight because of the impact that it may have on their health. But unfortunately the reality is that most people are pretty prejudiced in their opinions of fat people. They automatically assume that fat people are unhealthier than thinner people. If you find yourself participating in any but-fat-is-unhealthy fat talk really take a look at why you’re saying these things. Is it genuinely based off of health reasons or is there a little bit of aesthetic reasoning behind the thoughts as well? If there isn’t, then really try to focus your thoughts on the behaviors, not the actual size of the person. Make sure that you differentiate between actually being healthy and what society deems as “looking healthy.” Do you say the same thing about thinner people with the same eating and exercise habits? If you don’t point out that someone that is of “healthy” weight and isn’t exercising should be exercising more then maybe you shouldn’t point out that an “overweight” person that isn’t exercising should be exercising more.

Also, even if you aren’t actually saying these things and you’re just thinking them to yourself, it still counts. And fat talk is bullying. Whether whoever is participating in fat talk is actively bullying a fat person or subconsciously bullying themself, it all counts as bullying and it really isn’t so awesome.

In order to destigmatize weight and size variety we have GOT to stop using fat talk. Fat talk only promotes the idea that certain sizes are better than others; it is no different from racist/sexist/ageist/ whatever comments. And when we participate in fat talk we not only keep ourselves doing it, but we’re now teaching younger and younger kids to do it too.

The first step is to get yourself to stop participating in fat talk. Try to start becoming aware of every time you catch yourself participating in any kind of fat talk, write it down if that helps. Once you get better at catching fat talk, correct yourself on it. Replace every fat talk comment with a positive comment. I’ve really gotten into the habit of telling myself something along the lines of “maybe my legs do have some cellulite. But who gives a fuck, I’m a person with a brain and an opinion and a voice and I am so much more than something as petty and stupid as what my body looks like. I want to do important things and help people and have a good life. Not sit here worrying about the size of my pants.” It’s long, but it’s working. It takes practice and time but I swear that it is possible. I used to be so bad about it and I have gotten so much better.

The next step is to create a fat talk free environment around you. Avoid people that are particularly bad about fat talking. Fucking call people out on this shit. Seriously. I mean, don’t be mean about it. Remember, we’ve been TAUGHT to do this, that this is right and ok. But just because we’ve been told that it is good doesn’t mean that it really is. Racism was totally legitimized for a pretty long time, that doesn’t make it ok. And don’t reinforce fat talk. Don’t buy into it. Don’t just go along with it because other people are doing it. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it right. And if it isn’t making you happy and it isn’t providing you with any kind of real benefits, then don’t keep doing it.

So why do we fat talk?

Sometimes because we’re insecure and if we point out our flaws then other people won’t point them out. Sometimes we do it so that we feel better about ourselves because we’re thinner than someone else. Unfortunately it often serves as a sort of “bonding,” something that so many people have in common is that they hate their bodies. But it doesn’t really do us any good to be comparing our bodies to other people because all bodies are different. Sure, maybe she IS thinner than you, but that doesn’t actually make her any prettier than you. If we stand up against those archetypal beauty standards and realize them as the lies and marketing strategies and shaming that they really are then we can begin to see past them, redefine them, and change them. If you keep believing them then you are seriously only doing what those companies and people in power WANT you to do so that they can keep profiting (whether through monetary gains or personal emotional “I’m better than you because I’m thinner” gains) off of you. We are being USED by these ridiculous beauty standards and we are being pitted against each other over absolutely stupid little stuff like whether brown hair or blonde hair is prettier. No one is going to win. We are being taught to not like anything about ourselves so that we will keep spending money on products and diets, so that some people can feel better about themselves for “looking better than others”

All of these beauty standards are seriously just about creating a hierarchy and making money. Some people feel like they have to establish dominance over others, whether they justify it as because of their race, the amount of money that they have, their level of education, their gender, whatever. Beauty standards are completely just another example of this. And people have just turned this process of making people feel bad about themselves into another way to make money.

The pressure to be perfect is purely for profit.

My History with Pro Anorexia Websites

This is kind of a rough story for me to share, I guess just because I’m so embarrassed of it. I look back now and I can’t believe that I actually did some of this stuff that I’m so active about speaking against now. I guess I feel like that kind of makes me a hypocrite, but at the same time, I think this is a really important story to share because it really has the potential to help people and serve as a lesson. I also am embarrassed about this story because I feel like it can kind of serve as an example of how eating disorders are “vain disorders,” but I’ll try to explain how that isn’t true.

I’m going to start off by first saying that this is my personal story. The things that happened to me most certainly do not apply to other people. Everyone else didn’t develop an eating disorder from reading pro anorexia websites and people that read them will not necessarily develop an eating disorder. I just want to share what happened with me. Also, I want to point out that I’m NOT pinpointing pro anorexia websites as the cause of my eating disorder because eating disorders are really complex things. All I’m saying is that they contributed significantly in pushing me over the edge from disordered eating to eating disorder. I’m also not blaming anyone in particular that I mention in this post. These are just some memories that especially stick out in my mind. Like I said, I’m going to try to bring everything together and show how my eating disorder developed and that it wasn’t the cause of one particular event. I think because I’m trying to do that, I’m going to start at the very beginning, rather than just skipping to the part where I was reading pro anorexia websites.

I guess I was kind of a socially awkward kid. Not an especially bad case, but enough to be a little bit different from other people. I can remember sometime when I was in the third or fourth grade, reading an article on why knuckles crack and I just thought it was absolutely the coolest thing ever. Later that week I was riding home from school with my neighbor and her two kids. Someone cracked their knuckles and I immediately started explaining why it was happening, so excited to share this information with everyone else. Before I could even really get started, my neighbor’s son turned to me and said “Savannah. Just shut up. No one cares. Why are you so weird?” Looking back I can see that I wasn’t being weird, I was just being an interesting person concerned with the world around me.

I also went to private school for a very long time. And with a class size of 10 people, I understandably didn’t get a whole lot of socialization. On top of that, I was just a really high achieving, responsible kid. I never had to be told to do stuff and I was really self motivated to do well in school. This was a recipe for disaster when I switched back to a public school (shortly followed by a switch to a different private school) in the 8th grade. Kids in public school were quick to call me a “goody-goody” for not sharing my homework and letting people cheat off of me. I just hadn’t been taught to do things like that. I was just so innocent compared to all of them. Everyone else in public school was already drinking and talking back to adults. Not something that I was used to participating in. Not that I think that’s a bad thing, middle schoolers nowadays are honestly just terrifying. I’m glad that I came out like I did, rather than like some of them. But even after switching back to a smaller private school, I was the “new girl” and I was invading the already close-knit group that they had formed. So I began to try to be the “smartest” to prove that I was worthy of being liked. Unfortunately, we were still in middle school and that just made everyone more upset with me for being such a high achiever. It wasn’t until the end of the year when another girl transferred to the school that they finally began to accept me into their group.

So as you can imagine, by this point I had pretty low self esteem. I had received a lot of messages about how I wasn’t “good enough” and I had learned to tune out the messages that said that I was enough. And then I started high school. I switched to another school with another new group of people. And as much as I ended up loving the high school I went to, it was like a petri dish for growing low self esteem. Don’t get me wrong, I love my school, I’m SO glad that I went there and I know I wouldn’t be at the college I’m at now if I hadn’t gone there. The high school I went to was very small and very academically advanced. It took the most advanced students from all over the county and held all of our classes at the local university. I took my first college course when I was in the 9th grade. But so did everyone else at my school. Using academics to show that I was “enough” was no longer a reasonable expectation because I was taking classes with the smartest people around me. I just couldn’t compete with some of them. There was no way. But I tried. You guys, I did a shit load of work in high school. I always had homework to do. And I put all of my effort into that during the beginning of 9th grade, because I wasn’t used to having to actually work to make good grades. I guess like most other high schoolers do, I lost my sense of identity. I didn’t know how to identify myself. I wasn’t the “smart” one anymore. Everything I could do, there was someone at that school that was better.

Then I started having unexplained problems with my stomach. It started bloating after I ate anything. At first it was over a span of several days. My stomach would keep getting bigger and bigger for about three days, then it would go down in my sleep and the cycle would start over. You guys, I was never, ever even close to being a big child. I don’t think I was ever even technically a “healthy” weight. I was small. But when my clothes were suddenly not fitting and my body was doing all of this weird stuff, I didn’t know what was going on. I guess I thought I was actually gaining weight at first. I can remember listening to two teammates at volleyball practice complain about how they were having a “fat day” and it just made so much sense that I was experiencing that. My stomach felt larger some days and smaller on others. So I cut back a little bit on what I was eating. As my stomach began to bloat and go down each day, rather than over a span of several days, I realized that by skipping breakfast, I could keep the bloating away for a little bit longer. Therefore my clothes would fit and I wouldn’t look as “fat.” I wasn’t at a level of full blown eating disorder by this point, just at a level of disordered eating. But I felt good. I felt better about myself as a person. Even though I couldn’t have the highest grade or the most friends, I felt like I was doing something right by dieting.

I’m going to take a short pause here to explain the difference between disordered eating and eating disorder in case anyone doesn’t know exactly what that means. Otherwise I’ll totally forget to ever bring it up again.

Eating disorders have clinical criterion that must be met in order to be diagnosed. For someone to have an eating disorder they would fit under the category of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, ED-NOS, and soon to be (thankfully) Binge Eating Disorder.

Disordered Eating is a much more broad term that includes a wide range of abnormal eating patterns. If you have an eating disorder, you have disordered eating patterns. You can have disordered eating without having a full blown eating disorder. BUT disordered eating CAN (definitely not always) lead to eating disorders. An example would be something like chronic dieting or eating only at a particular time of the day. (on a slightly unrelated side note, I have seen magazines RECOMMEND chewing and spitting food as a way to lose weight. Society is ridiculous) Disordered eating can cause tons of emotional and physical problems and should not be messed around with (oh hey, remember this shit later because I will probably bring it up like 12 more times).

So then I started doing some research online. About how I could lose more weight and feel even better about myself. And I eventually stumbled across these pro anorexia websites. I don’t remember my initial reaction when I found them, I wish I could. But the pictures of the girls that were posted on there looked so great. They didn’t look scary like the media usually presents anorexic skeletons. They looked like models, like movie stars, like Victoria’s Secret angels, like people that people love. And the people online made it seem so ok to be doing these things to their bodies. Like it was their business what they did to their bodies and that made it perfectly acceptable. And they made it SO easy, by openly providing different “diets” to try, different exercises to do, ways to lose the most weight, how to convince people that you had already eaten. They posted pictures of “thinspiration” and participated in group fasts to see who could lose the most weight. And I became hooked. I felt like I NEEDED to look like those women, I NEEDED to be able to control myself and be good at something, otherwise no one would ever like me.

I continued reading these sites for probably about a year. In this time I just kept getting sicker and sicker. So many of the ideas/thoughts/methods that I found on those websites became engrained in my brain. Slowly I kind of tapered off of them. I didn’t need these websites to “trigger” myself anymore. I think that was when I began to realize that this had become a problem. That I couldn’t stop what I was doing like I always thought I would be able to do. I always thought that when I reached a certain weight, I would be done, I would be content. But it had gotten out of control. I didn’t really start thinking about what exactly had happened until much later. When I was still reading the sites I was very supportive of them. I thought that it was my business and I could choose to do whatever I wanted and nobody had the right to stop me or tell me what to do. But looking back, I can say that I was sick. And I’ve changed my mind. I’m so glad that I was able to move away from them so early on in my disorder, because I can only imagine that it is even more difficult to beat this when you’re less than willing to do so.

This is my problem with the pro-anorexia sites. They weren’t really a support system. I see a lot of people argue for keeping these sites because they provide people with a place to express themselves and be understood by fellow strugglers. Particularly with the new policy from Tumblr. I understand the need for that. Totally. But there is a huge difference between seeking support/understanding from people and encouraging people to become sicker by participating in group fasts, posting thinspiration, congratulating someone on weight loss when you know they have a problem, etc. Obviously I was slightly predisposed to having an eating disorder (through genetics, environment, my previous experiences) but who the hell else would be attracted to eating disorder websites other than someone predisposed to having an eating disorder? So did these websites cause my eating disorder? Absolutely not. Did they encourage it? Yes. Did they OBJECTIVELY  help me in any way? No. And while I’m at it, can I just say that you can absolutely find support sites that don’t glorify eating disorders, trivialize them into disorders of vanity, and create competition among members at the same time.

Also, I know that a lot of websites are all like “well we post resources for people if they want to recover.” And, yea, sure, but can we be serious for just a minute? Those resources become just a little bit invalidated when basically all the other posts are about needing to lose weight/eat less/exercise more/etc. Those resources are not going to really do anything. People are on pro anorexia sites for a reason, and that reason probably isn’t to recover. The thought is nice though.

This will probably sound bad and I don’t intend for it to, but from my experience a lot of the people on those sites were not actually anorexic. Let me explain. Yes, there were DEFINITELY people on there that were actually anorexic and were still really really struggling. But SO MANY of the people on there were like me. Young. Innocent. Not yet fully eating disordered. So many of them were looking for a quick fix weight loss. There was always this mention of upcoming prom, or spring break, or summer, or whatever. There was a focus on only seeing the part of anorexia where people want to be thin, not seeing all of the internal struggle and self-hate that accompanies/precedes/follows/whatever eating disorders. It was so common for people to encourage each other to “stay strong” in their eating disorders. Interestingly enough, many of my friends and I now have to remind each other to “stay strong” AGAINST our eating disorders. So many people on those websites appeared to be still in the “disordered eating” phase, like me. I have no clue where any of them are now, but it would not surprise me if many of them ended up very sick.

I don’t know. I just can’t imagine actually experiencing an eating disorder and then encouraging someone else to do the same thing. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

For a while now I’ve felt like I should have been “smarter” than that. That I should have “known better” than to read these websites because, objectively, I can say that I was a relatively smart kid. But eating disorders aren’t about being “too dumb” to lose weight the right way. I hear people all the time say that people with anorexia are “stupid, because that’s not how you lose weight.” It’s not about not understanding how the human body works. It’s about the emotional and psychological things behind the curtain of the eating disorder. I wouldn’t say that anyone viewing pro-ana sites is “dumb.” They’re struggling with their own issues, just like I was. And the appeal of pro anorexia sites can just suck vulnerable people in. It can make anorexia seem so safe and harmless and like the answer to all of my problems. I don’t know that I wouldn’t have developed an eating disorder if I had never visited those sites. They definitely weren’t the only thing that caused my eating disorder. But I might have gotten help sooner in my disorder, or maybe I wouldn’t have learned several of the “tricks” I learned. While the amount of harm that they actually caused is debatable, I know is that I can objectively say that they did not help me in any positive way.

This turned out a lot longer than I was expecting it to be. Sorry. But I felt like I really needed to share my history with pro anorexia sites and how exactly the affected me and what I think of them now. I think this is probably the final post on this for right now, but don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts come up later.

Lent Laments

In case you missed all of the facebook status updates, Lent starts today. I’m not exactly religious, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I understand about the concept of Lent, it isn’t supposed to be about dieting. Yes, I understand that Jesus went without food for 40 days, so I see where the connection between giving up a food and becoming closer to God could be made. However, I don’t feel like anyone that I know actually sees it this way.  Just from listening to people around me, I have ALWAYS associated Lent with giving up candy or soda or chocolate or something that society has labeled as a “bad” food. I understand that you’re supposed to give up something that you like, and that most people like dessert. But I legitimately enjoy broccoli, and I have never, ever heard of anyone giving up broccoli for Lent. I’m just saying.

It just is interesting to me that every single person seems to cut out foods that would be cut out of your diet if you were dieting. Like the ulterior motive is to become closer to God, BUT to lose five pounds while doing so. I just don’t feel like anyone actually thinks of Lent as being about God except for like the first few days.

I’ve seen so many status updates today about how people are “giving up junk food” for 40 days and will be “going to the gym.” Is that how Lent works? Because maybe I don’t understand this correctly, but unless you spend your gym time praying, you’re probably not a whole lot closer to God.

I had a great conversation with a friend this morning and she told me that instead of giving something up for Lent, she tries to do something to help others. I think that’s such a great idea. Or maybe instead of giving up cookies, give up some of your free time and spend an extra 15 minutes every day devoting your time to God. Again, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong because I could be misinterpreting the entire thing. But I went to a Christian school for a good while, so I don’t exactly think I’m being completely ridiculous. I could be wrong though. And I’m absolutely not telling people that they are “wrong” about their religion. I love freedom of religion. Do what you want as long as you aren’t hurting others. I just feel like the point is being missed a little bit.

And I’m not bashing on religious fasting. People do that, and that is totally their business. And I understand the purpose that it is meant to serve. But religious fasting should probably not also serve as a weight loss tool. If it’s doubling as both, I’m not going to take you seriously about your devotion to your religion. This need to diet is so engrained in our brains that it is interrupting something that people consider as important as religion.

 

 

*also, I’m just going to throw this out there because I’ve had several people mention to me that they’d love to leave comments. You can leave a comment on here even if you don’t have a blog! All you should need is your email address.

Trusting My Body

I’ve been stuck for a while now, in a place that I think a lot people can relate to-eating disorder or no eating disorder. I’m definitely moving forward with the mental aspect of my recovery, I’m slowly learning to like myself more, I’m letting myself enjoy life. But I’m still having some trouble with the physical aspect of it. And by that I mean the weight gain, the eating foods outside of my “safe list,” eating more calories than I allowed myself to in previous years, giving up “punishing” myself for eating by exercising or restricting. I haven’t worn jeans in months. Or been swimsuit shopping without having a meltdown. I’m eating a relatively normal amount of calories now, but I still feel so restricted and limited in what/when/how I am allowed to eat. And I KNOW all of these are things that people without eating disorders struggle with too.
The biggest hurdle for me to overcome is learning to trust my body. Learning to let it decide what is right for it and NOT letting my eating disorder decide that. I’m scared that if I eat what I want, I’ll just never quit eating. I’ll become enormous and society will label me with all of their derogatory labels for fat people. That I won’t be able to control myself at all. And from what I hear other people say, this is not really an “eating disorder fear” at all. So many other people are too afraid of their bodies to give them any trust. Years of having dieting, exercising just to look a certain way, plastic surgery, photoshop, wearing makeup, whatever thrown at us has taught people that we CAN’T trust our bodies. That all bodies are naturally wrong.
But I think I’m getting to a point now where I’m realizing that all these years I’ve been trusting the media, advertising, the public, etc. and they really have shown me no reason to. I’m starting to understand that I would much rather trust myself and my body than other people. And seriously, where did all those years of not trusting my body get me? Sure, I guess I technically met a lot of the beauty standards, but even then, I still thought I was ugly. So I couldn’t even see the results of all of my effort. There was always just something else to fix.
So I’m getting there. But it’s a process. And it isn’t going to happen overnight. I know I tell people all the time to just let their body do what it wants, but it really is harder than just “letting” that happen. I would love to just let myself love my body. But it takes a lot of effort. And I think it makes it even harder when it seems like the whole world is against you. I’m trying to feed my body what it wants, but at the same time I’m constantly bombarded with messages that tell me otherwise.
And a lot of the work is really actually motivating yourself. My treatment team calls it “faking it until you make it” and it is really helping me. I’ve been surrounding myself with body-positive images, reading books about self-love, bombarding my brain with the opposite messages from what it was previously bombarded with. I read this book when I was in a pretty bad place, and it pretty much did nothing for me then. I think probably because the book is targeted more at compulsive dieters than eating disordered individuals.  But I think that in the motivated mindset where I’m actually willing to try loving my body, it could be a lot more helpful.
Body love has to start with someone. Just like you won’t wake up one day and love your body, the rest of the world won’t either. It has to be taught and practiced. But at the same time, people do have to take some responsibility and actually make the effort to change their self image. But I don’t think it’s a completely lost cause. I mean, some people love their bodies right? They couldn’t have all always been that way. And maybe a year ago I would have told you that I would never, ever love my body. But now I’m at least almost apathetic towards it. I don’t sit all day thinking only about how I hate my body. I can at least only have those thoughts a few times a day now. The hatred has significantly decreased. And right now, I don’t plan to stop until it goes away. I’m determined to actually like myself.

Diet Pills of Death

I’ve taken my fair share of diet pills. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done it. I’m pretty sure that I’m now in a place where I would never go back to them, but in the moment they just seemed like the answers to all of my problems. Something about the promise of being made better simply by taking this little pill. No pain or effort required. Right?

Wrong. First of all, the health risks are ridiculous. Diet pills can lead to increased blood pressure, cardiovascular problems,  insomnia, and weird oily bowel leakage. One study showed that participants using rimonabant to suppress appetite were more likely to stop taking depression and anxiety medication and had increased suicidal thoughts. The FDA warns against weight loss supplements and states that “we have seen deaths associated with these weight-loss products.” Ephedra has been banned from the US, but it definitely still manages to find its way into the hands of diet-obsessed individuals.

This is a really nice article that sums up the millions of other statistics that I would like to point out but am too lazy to resummarize. So read this.

http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/family-money/10-things-the-weight-loss-industry-wont-tell-you-13677/#article_tab_article

And that’s just the health risks. The levels of effectiveness that diets have is even more ridiculous

95% of all dieters regain the lost weight within 1-5 years

40% of women are continually gaining and losing weight

-dieting is often associated with weight gain, due to the increased incidence of binge eating.  For real, you guys. When you stop giving your body the food it wants, suddenly all you can think about is food. I promise you.

-adolescent girls who diet are at a 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet. Read that again. Yes. It says three hundred and twenty fucking four percent.

For some reason it never really occurred to me that people actually take diet pills. I mean, I guess I obviously knew that people were buying into this whole mess since the diet industry is a $40 billion dollar industry! But for some reason it never really clicked with me. I guess because growing up, not many people around me were openly using diet pills or trying different advertised diets. I thought only my little eating disordered brain would be that willing to risk my health and happiness. Boy was I wrong. I was eating breakfast with a friend the other day and she admitted to me that both she and her boyfriend had taken hydroxycut in the past. I was horrified. I was devastated. I wanted her to know that she was healthy and beautiful and that it just isn’t worth the struggle and self-loathing (not to mention the heart attack risk). This made me really wonder just how many of my friends from high school had taken weird, freaky diet pills. Apparently 20% of them.

Seriously you guys, don’t diet. I’m not saying sit in front of the TV and eat cheetos and ding dongs all day. By all means, exercise moderately and eat in a balanced way. But don’t buy in to the idea that you aren’t good enough, that you need to be constantly perfecting yourself. Because, seriously? $40 billion dollars a year? If I had $40 billion dollars I would end poverty and save every single lemur on the face of this earth. Give your money to someone that needs it. Someone that deserves it. Not someone that is only going to use it to tell you that you STILL aren’t good enough and basically just make you feel like shit about yourself AND compete with the world around you.

10 Reasons People Shouldn’t Use Thinspo

1. Invalidates Eating Disorders. Thinspo is really just offensive to people suffering from eating disorders. Since thinspo is so closely associated with pro-ana bullshit it just further perpetuates the stereotype that eating disorders are vain, self-inflicted, and essentially just diets. This isn’t true! Eating disorders are extremely complicated and are a lot deeper than just wanting to fit into a pair of jeans. But all of the thinspo circulating around makes it look as though everything is about how you look. It’s a lot more than that, and people with eating disorders are struggling a lot more than you thing. If this really was just a “diet,” everyone with an eating disorder would be able to just snap out of it. I wish it was as easy as reaching a certain weight and being able to quit.

2. Often Unrealistic Images. The women shown in thinspo pictures are not necessarily pictures of healthy women at attainable weights. They aren’t always absolutely emaciated (although a lot of the time they ARE) and their bones aren’t always sticking out (again, a lot of the time they are). But they typically look like Victoria’s Secret models. Be honest with yourself, looking like a Victoria’s Secret model is not an attainable goal for everyone. First of all, it is the CAREER of these women to look the way they do. Second of all, need I remind anyone what exactly it requires to look like a Victoria’s Secret model?

3. Associated With the Pro-ana Movement. Of the 10 top websites that came up when you google “thinspo”, this is what I found (one of them was a definition on urban dictionary, which doesn’t really count, but in case you’re interested it says “Abbreviation for “thinsporation,” aka pictures of bone-thin women that girls with ana/mia use to remind themselves of their goals to become thin.”) 5 of the remaining 9 websites either openly admitted to being “pro ana” or had people on them that claimed to be “pro ana” 6 of the 9 encouraged unhealthy dieting tips 5 of the 9 contained unhealthy mantras encouraging people to put thinness above their health. Only ONE of the websites could make a legitimate claim to using “thinspo” as a way of promoting healthy weight loss/maintenance also-fun facts -when you search “thinspo” in wikipedia, it automatically links you to “pro-ana” -recommended related searches when I googled “thinspo” were “pro ana”

4. Makes People Feel Bad About Themselves. Thinspo makes people feel like shit. Don’t believe me? Women are more likely to participate in comparison and critiquing of their bodies after viewing thinspo. Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh grade girls that view thinspo and pro-ana sites have been found to have worse body image and be more unhappy with their body shape than those that don’t view these sites . 84% of women participitating in a study significantly lowered their caloric intake in the week after viewing a pro-ED site containing thinspo.

5. Makes it Seem as Though Eating Disorder Symptoms are Ok. A lot of thinsporation websites and pictures have absolutely unhealthy “tips” or sayings on them. But the fact that so many other people are approving of these pictures makes them seem ok. Pictures that say things like “keep calm and stop eating” or “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” are only making it socially acceptable to “stop eating” or participate in other unhealthy dieting behaviors. And although this may seem relatively harmless at first, it can spiral out of control and lead to a full blown eating disorder.

6. Creates a Sense of Unity Among Users. When people join together in groups they seem to think that anything they do is ok, as long as someone is backing them up. Creating websites for thinspo does just that. It makes it “ok” to dislike your body, mold it to fit someone else’s standards, participate in unhealthy dieting and exercise behaviors, or look down on overweight people.

7. Health Doesn’t Come in One Size Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. And they are MEANT to come in all shapes and sizes. There is no “one body type” that is the healthiest body type for everyone. Because of this, comparing your body to the body of someone else is not productive. Their natural healthy size is not equal to your natural healthy size, and you should be striving to find what your body wants, not what theirs does. If you are heating healthily and exercising moderately and your body is still a size 12, THAT’S OK. That is your body’s way of telling you that is where it wants to be. Thinspo only encourages comparisons. Again, your body is your body. Their body is their body. They are not similar, and they are not meant to be similar. Thinspo only teaches people that it is ok to compare their bodies to the bodies of other people around them, rather than accepting their body and being appreciative of the things that it can do.

8. You Don’t Know How They Got That Way. You typically can’t tell how healthy someone is from looking at their body size. Just because some thinspo picture has a thin girl in it, doesn’t mean she is any healthier than someone larger than her. She might eat junk food all day and just naturally have a fast metabolism. A person larger than her can be much healthier than her. Your size doesn’t determine your health, your eating and exercise habits do. Eating well and exercising should be about making your body healthier, not only making it skinnier. There are many unhealthy thin people and you don’t know how those people got there. They might have cancer, they might have an eating disorder, they might just naturally be that size. Yes, they might have done it through diet and exercise, but you don’t know that.

9. Makes Healthy Diet/Exercise Solely About Looking Good. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime should be about much more than looking good or making other people jealous. You should be doing this to help your body, to make it healthier and stronger. If you are in a mindset where you are only focused on how you look, you should probably get some help.

10. Introduces Other People to Thinspo. Maybe you’re in a place where you can handle looking at thinspo and it doesn’t cause any real problems for you. But everyone else in the world isn’t like that. Images of thinspo might further trigger someone with an eating disorder. It might introduce someone interested in losing weight to pro-anorexia sites (since apparently all you have to do is google thinspo to find those). If you absolutely HAVE to have your thinspo (in which case there is a problem), at least have the decency to keep it saved on your personal computer or in a journal or something. Don’t post it all over pinterest or blogs or websites or tumblr or whatever. This just leaves it out in the open for young, vulnerable children and people that might have already been experiencing eating disorder symptoms to find. No, they don’t HAVE to look at it, but when everyone else on the website is telling them that it’s perfectly fine and healthy, why wouldn’t they?

Also, reverse thinspo is just rude and offensive. Don’t get me started on that

Edit-I think it’s really important for me to make the point that being anti-thinspo does not mean that you hate thin people. It’s not about saying that everyone should be overweight and that no one should be skinny. It’s not about saying that one is better than the other. It’s not even about saying that if you look at thinspo you will develop an eating disorder. Because that most certainly isn’t true for everyone. It’s about learning to love and respect ALL body types. It’s about not comparing body types or striving to be a body type that isn’t your own. It’s about treating your body properly, giving it the actual nutrition and exercise it wants. And not doing it to look like some girl in a picture. Doing it so your body is healthy.