It’s impossible to know what kind of perception someone has of their own body image. My co-workers who complimented my extreme weight loss back when I was anorexic were really just reinforcing the disease and giving me excuses to not worry about what was happening. I think if we are to break out of our weight-obsessed culture and move towards something where people are valued for who they are and not what they weigh, one of the 1st places to start is with our own perceptions and ideas with how we perceive our fellow humans.
Is it really appropriate or even friendly to make random comments on someone’s body, regardless of how short, tall, fat, or thin they are? Without context, like my estranged ex-girlfriend excitedly telling me how healthy I now look, the only conclusion I have is No, it’s neither appropriate nor friendly, because despite how frequently and casually body image and weight get discussed, it remains a deeply personal subject for many people.
Excerpt from ‘Hey, Skinny!’, one of my favorite posts from last year. You can read the full post here.
I’ll put up a few more to keep the positivity flowing for ED Awareness Week!
For ED Awareness Week, I thought I’d circulate some old posts that I’m fond of. This was originally posted in August 2011. You can see the original post on my blog here.
Have you ever heard someone say, ‘Fat is not a feeling? ‘I can’t take credit for that phrase, but I’m really fond of it. Of course, you can feel tired or hungry, but I want to focus on the word feel as it relates to emotion. Granted, you can have the sense of being anything – compliments can make you feel attractive, insults can make you feel ugly. But just because someone said you were attractive doesn’t make you look any different than you did before someone commented on your appearance.
And, yes, certain things might make you “feel fat.” The reason I don’t buy into it, though, is that I’ve never heard anyone say “I feel thin today.” I’d like to try and distinguish between what I’ll call a ‘sense of being’ and an actual ‘feeling’ is, though. I think we can all agree that ‘fat’ isn’t an emotion. I think it’s also safe to say that most things we’d consider emotions – anger, love, hate, joy – can also be rooted in feelings.
Sometimes the words ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’ are used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. I’d also like to mention it can get more complicated when you consider the comorbidity of body dysmorphic disorder among some ED patients, where someone truly believes that the way they look is truly different than how other people see it. Someone with BDD might think their nose or their chin or whatever else is enormous or deformed and can’t be convinced otherwise, and if BDD turns into a focus on overall body perception then there’s a lot more going on that has to be dealt with. Mayo Clinic has perhaps a better definition here: “Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called “imagined ugliness.” For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to talk about feelings vs emotions here.
First, when someone feels attractive, unattractive, fat, etc, obviously they didn’t just wake up one morning and suddenly their appearance or body changed in such a drastic way that they’ve become more or less of any of those things. It doesn’t work that way. Any descriptive word, like attractive or tall or fat or thin, is based in comparisons. Think about that for a second. Because if people didn’t come in all shapes and sizes, then we’d have no concept of ‘tall’ because we’d all be the same height. If we all looked the exact same, we’d have no concept of ‘beautiful’ or ‘ugly’, at least not based on superficial, physical appearance.
You know that song, “Feel Like a Woman?” I bet a lot of ladies can relate to doing something for themselves or being treated a certain way that made them “feel” like a woman (a topic I’ve already discussed quite a bit elsewhere). But it’s not as though something about them changed biologically or intrinsically – it all relates back to your sense of identity at a given moment. By default, our entire language is set up in a way that categorizes and compares things, and then (usually) labels one of them ‘good’ or ‘bad’. No one would have a strong sense of being a woman if there wasn’t an opposite gender to compare to.
Unfortunately, the average person lacks adequate insight into their own feelings to express them clearly and thoroughly. Then we try, but often do a piss-poor job, and we get things like “I feel fat.” It would be impossible to generalize what everyone means when they say something like that. But we know that people with eating disorders, along with being preoccupied with food, often compare themselves to other people. We also know that being underweight and/or malnourished disrupts essential biological processes and brain functions, having a drastic and serious effect on emotional regulation, judgment, and self-perception. To the anorexic mind, ‘fat’ is one of the worst things a person can be, so when all that negative affect is at it’s worse, it’s no wonder it might get generalized into a sense of “feeling” fat.
So, if you find yourself thinking or saying “I feel fat,” I challenge you to try again, and express how you’re feeling without using the word ‘fat’ (or any other descriptors for body size, for that matter!) Maybe you really mean you have a ‘sense of being’ fat. But what about that is significant? What feelings and emotions are provoking that specific idea?
In his books on nonviolent communication, Marshall Rosenberg makes the recurring point that most of us have a rather paltry “feelings vocabulary.” Instead of actually discussing our feelings, we use the word “feel” to label or place judgments on someone else’s behavior. For example:
“I feel like what you did was really insensitive.”
“I feel like you never listen to me.”
“I feel like this Matt guy has no idea what he’s talking about.”
All of those statements use the word “feel” but none of them discuss feelings;instead, they place an evaluation on someone or something. In the 1st case, perhaps the person that the statement was directed to really did do something that came across as insensitive. But rather than talking about how it made the speaker feel, such a statement would evoke a defensive response: “How can you say i’m insensitive?!” You can imagine the same thing happening in each case.
Then there are some aspects of our culture which discourage emotional expression, so it’s no wonder that we have such a hard time expressing ourselves in general, let alone when in the grips of a life-threatening and debilitating disease like an eating disorder.
What do you think? Is fat a feeling? If so… does that make it an emotion?
I remember the first time I went to a support group, I heard people talking about recovery. I’d heard about it, but didn’t really have a good concept of what it consisted of. I almost thought I’d go to the support group, they’d tell me what to do, and I’d do it and get better, not unlike getting a prescription from the doctor for a cold.
I quickly realized that recovery from an eating disorder wasn’t going to be that simple. This could have been a discouraging thought, except for one thing: the people I met there had hope. They had an objectivity and peacefulness in their voices when they would talk about their struggles that was so foreign to me, and I wanted it.
That was my first moment of resuscitation – a glimpse of the life that could be if I committed to recovery with all my heart and mind.