Owning It: The Thing About Body Image

by Rachel on August 24, 2010

After my post last week about owning it, I decided to start sharing more things that I’ve owned. I think some of you might need a regular reminder to start owning the things you do, and I thought I’d lead by example.

Today, I’m owning this: I love my body. But sometimes, I still want to lose weight.

Sorry I’m not sorry.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I believe you can be healthy at any size and I do think it’s complete bullshit that our culture prioritizes thinness over everything else. If I see a person who is overweight (culturally, medically, whatever), I don’t really care. I still find her attractive. I don’t think less of her as a person. I don’t make assumptions that she’s not healthy. I don’t think she’s any less deserving of love, friendship, career success, a happy family, and a great life. And there’s not a day that I look in the mirror and don’t think the same things about myself. I really don’t think that health and happiness are a number on the scale.

But here’s the thing: I’m still kinda vain.

And why is this even a thing? Because…I’m supposed to love myself just the way I am!

Here’s what’s bothering me: it’s pretty easy — and common — to bash different media outlets for promoting an unhealthy level of thinness in women. I’ve talked before about how E! News, porn, and US Weekly all make me want to not eat. But the problem I’m having right now is that the alternative isn’t helping either. Everywhere I turn, from the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ads to the Operation Beautiful press releases spamming up my inbox, to just, well, the laws of feminism, I’m being told that I MUST LOVE MYSELF EXACTLY THE WAY I AM.

Yeah, yeah…I get it. I love myself a lot, thank you very much. But when I see an ad telling me I must love myself because I am beautiful and perfect just the way I am, I get pissed.

So instead of feeling bad about how I look, now I feel bad about feeling bad about how I look? And I don’t even feel bad about how I look; it’s just that some days, I look in the mirror and think, “Oh, well, hm, maybe you should lay off the Triscuits.”

And I’m OK with that! I don’t think “fat” is a dirty word, and yet I don’t think wanting to lose weight is a crime.

But with all these (super positive, well-intentioned) messages coming at me, I feel like I’m constantly passing signs that say, “You should really call your mother more.”

And I’m like a petulant teenager, thinking, “I’ll call when I feel like it, goddamnit.”

The thing is, I didn’t start loving my body because anyone told me to. For me, that’s about as likely as loving a guy because all my friends think he’s perfect for me. To fall in love, you simply must fall in love. You can’t be forced into it, whether it’s with a guy or with yourself. So I could read all the books and magazine articles and see all the billboards with their generic “You’re awesome!” messages making me feel like I was in the Body Image Special Olympics, but I seriously had to fall in love with my body on my own. Most of the time it came from doing things that made me feel really, really good, but I’m not going to lie — sometimes it came from feeling skinny.

And I’ve owned it. As long as you take good care of yourself, lay off the diet pills and crappy fake foods, and refuse to miss out on all the delicious, sexy possibilities that life has to offer, then I don’t see a problem with still making an effort to lose weight for vanity reasons alone. If you follow rule #1 and don’t act ridiculous, then what’s the big deal?

And I’m pretty sure there’s not a woman among us who only works out to be healthy. We all know that sometimes, being healthy sucks. I’m not saying I’d swallow a parasite in an effort to lose weight…but if I accidentally got a parasite, well…I’d be able to see the silver lining in the situation.

Like I said, I’m over feeling guilty. Have you ever looked at someone you loved and thought, “God, I love you, but right now, I don’t really like you”? That’s how I feel about my body. I love it — LOVE IT — but that doesn’t mean that I like it every minute of every day.

I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say, but it’s the truth.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paige August 25, 2010 at 8:15 am

So true. I love the honesty of this post.

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2 RunToTheFinish August 25, 2010 at 8:16 am

I wrote about this recently too! I do love my body and so I’ve stopped with criticizing myself or thinking about my flabby abby…so yes I do love my body. And I love continuing to challenge myself to be better, loving something doesn’t mean it can’t ever change or get even better!

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3 Ashley August 25, 2010 at 8:21 am

“I’m not saying I’d swallow a parasite in an effort to lose weight…but if I accidentally got a parasite, well…I’d be able to see the silver lining in the situation.”

Hahahahahaha … right there with you. ;)

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4 Suzanne August 25, 2010 at 8:23 am

I freakin’ love your blog. Thank you for constantly articulating the thoughts that have been swimming around in my head. I know I’m healthy and “in shape”… but I’m getting married, and what’s wrong with wanting to look my best on my wedding day? I’ve been refraining from talking about how I’ve been counting calories lately on my blog. There’s a certain group think mentality in the blog world that if you “eat intuitively” then you’ll naturally lose weight and be a size 2 and run super speedy marathons. Well… I don’t eat so intuitively when I have a pint of ice cream in my hands. Not everyone gets obsessive and self-deprecating when they’re on a diet, and I think that as long as I’m getting enough calories and nutrients, there’s nothing wrong with it. I know I’m not over-weight, but maybe my best body is about 5 lbs less than what it’s currently at. As long as I don’t associate self-worth with a number on the scale, I don’t think there’s anything wrong wanting to look super hot in my bikini on my honeymoon, dammit!

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5 Elisabeth August 25, 2010 at 8:26 am

I love this post, and it’s true.

Things like Operation Beautiful are an obnoxious “in your face” way to remind everyone of something that we already know: to truly be happy, you MUST love yourself. We know it. The problem is the figuring out HOW to love yourself.

It’s all fine to preach “love yourself, you’re beautiful just the way you are!”, but just as you said, you don’t always have to like everything about yourself. I know that I’m beautiful “just the way I am”, but nobody else looking at the photos will know how beautiful I FELT I was on my wedding day.

The reality is that I can’t do anything to forever improve my body image if I’m not coming from a place of love, but I love myself enough to recognize when I’ve eaten too many cinnamon bears.

Thank you for this, because I’ve been feeling really guilty lately (see my blog post yesterday…oy!) about the fact that I’ve been keeping track of what I’m eating.

But…I’m using this for the first time…Sorry I’m not sorry.

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6 Gracie August 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

“Things like Operation Beautiful are an obnoxious “in your face” way to remind everyone of something that we already know: to truly be happy, you MUST love yourself. We know it.”

Gotta disagree with you on that one. First of all, I don’t think that everyone knows the importance of self love/acceptance. More and more the messages our society sends us is to seek to impress others – whether it’s through or looks, our salary, or our education. So in that sense, I think that body/self acceptance movements are quite necessary.

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7 Elisabeth August 25, 2010 at 11:01 pm

It’s OK, we can disagree. =)

We’ve all heard (and probably used) the saying “if you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else.” We innately are born loving ourselves (if you’ve ever seen a small child in front of a mirror, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about). The problem is that as we grow, and we’re exposed to negative outside influences, we allow the messages to influence our own self image.

I would venture to say that the majority of people know deep down that they have to love and accept themselves in order to get to a happy place. Whether they know how to get there or not is the real question.

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8 Cindy August 25, 2010 at 8:34 am

GREAT post! This is something that I feel like people just do. not. get. about me. I don’t hate myself! I know I work out a lot, don’t eat terribly and look just fine … BUT … that doesn’t mean I can’t have moments where I’m like, “um, not so much” today.

Thanks! I love your blog and have been trying to turn as many of my friends on to it as I can … it should be mandatory reading for all of us.

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9 Rachel August 25, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Cindy — seriously, that’s the best compliment ever! Thank you!

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10 Summer August 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

I don’t necessarily think Operation Beautiful is obnoxious. I think there are times where I love my body, and times where I hate it. (One severely outweighs the other.) But even when I love my body, I still think, “Well, this is nice and all…but I still want to lose weight.” Even if it’s for vanity for MYSELF, I don’t see that as me not liking my body. In fact, I see that as me wanting the best for my body. Am I supposed to just give up on myself and say, “Oh well, I love myself. No use in trying.”

Agreed Rachel—sorry I’m not sorry for being SO in love with myself that I want to look good…for myself.

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11 Rachel August 25, 2010 at 8:49 am

Summer, I think you totally get it! It’s vanity, but it’s OURS, and it’s OK. I just feel like a lot of women are getting the message that improvement is a bad thing, unless it’s for health reasons. But it’s definitely about not giving up on yourself just because you love yourself!!

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12 Lindsey August 25, 2010 at 8:47 am

Rachel!
THANK YOU! I read all of your posts religiously and they always make me smile and laugh. This one made me want to stand up and yell “YES!! EXACTLY!!” I sometimes just want to be left along about body image and just do my own thing without anyone or thing telling me I’m fat or not. I’m tired of talking about image and womenhood and all that. Let’s just be.

Thank you thank you thank you for always being honest and owning it.

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13 Rachel August 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Lindsey — thank YOU for this comment! “Let’s just be.” SERIOUSLY.

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14 Caroline August 25, 2010 at 8:48 am

Wow! I think this is one of your best posts I have read. There are definitely days I feel the same way. The only caveat I have about people trying to lose vanity pounds is that that’s how eating disorders can start…just five pounds…and then five becomes five more. When does it stop?

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15 Libby August 25, 2010 at 8:49 am

Rachel, this is brilliant.

I’m so excited so many other people feel the same way. I get exhausted/burnt-out with worry about living my values and trying to be 100% “good” all the time. This validates so many of my mixed-up feminist feelings. I feel humbled that I inspired even a little part of this post.

You are amazing, lady!

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16 Eunice August 25, 2010 at 8:49 am

I think there’s a lot to be said about loving your body the way it is, especially when we’re talking about younger girls who tend to take things to the extreme.

At the same time, sometimes I wish my butt was bigger! So, yeah, I hear what you’re saying. Nothing wrong with trying to improve yourself, physically and beyond.

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17 Laura August 25, 2010 at 8:54 am

I really agree with this. I feel like it’s taboo to think this way and it shouldn’t be. It’s like when shows like “More to Love” and “Huge” exist and everyone applauds them because they’re showcasing less-than-ideal bodies but um… they’re way less-than-ideal bodies. I’m all about loving oneself, but the fact of the matter is these people are still overweight. I always feel bad when I have these thoughts, but I think it shouldn’t be so wrong to think that we shouldn’t be just applauding them for being comfortable with themselves (when, of course, we should be) but we should also be thinking about how they are still at an unhealthy point and should be working on themselves for their health’s sake. I feel like Jennifer Hudson is a good example of this… she owns (and owned) it, but recognized that she was at an unhealthy point and needed to change something.

Oops, tangents… but this reminded me of it :)

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18 Bonnie B August 25, 2010 at 9:27 am

http://is.gd/eCYGG – Today is the 15th anniversary of my daughter Kim’s death from alcoholism and bulimia. So I wrote an article about whether we could save her today. Do not conflate thin with fit – they don’t always fit together in either direction (thin people can be unhealthy and overweight folks can be fit).

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19 Missy August 25, 2010 at 10:31 am

I love this post! I also have some days where I love myself and others where I just want to throw something and break my mirror. A note telling me I should love myself just the way I am is just not realistic to me. I can read these messages every day but I am always going to have my days where I get upset that my pants are tight.

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20 Gracie August 25, 2010 at 10:33 am

I was planning on writing a similar post, but there is no need. You put it perfectly. PERFECTLY!

The contradiction of messages out there about weight has made it difficult as a healthy living blogger. I want to promote having a positive body image, but at the same time I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to lose weight….even if it is those last five pounds that aren’t necessarily “unhealthy.”

Bookmarking this!

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21 ZenLizzie August 25, 2010 at 10:54 am

I love this. So many times in my life, I’ve tried to lose weight because I hated my body and myself. Now, I’m losing weight because I love myself and I love my body and I want it to be healthy and comfortable for as long as possible.
My body still kind of hates me, though, so things aren’t going quite as smoothly as I had hoped. However, I’m not going to give up. I can love my body, but still think I work hard enough that I deserve to be able to find clothes that are a normal size and look good on me. I work hard enough to want to look as good as I feel.
I can love a friend even though I want better for them and want them to achieve more, and that is how I feel about my body too.

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22 ZenLizzie August 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

Oh, and I would like to tell everyone who has lost weight/gained weight/achieved their ideal who is now preaching about strict body acceptance … please, back off. Of course it is easy to someone who is at their optimal weight/size/health to tell everyone else to stop trying to change.

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23 Keri @ Iron Mountain Movement August 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

Great post. You have owned it, I have owned it, many others have owned it too, but there are a great many out there who are nowhere near owning it. I don’t think that campaigns like Operation Beautiful are obnoxious, I think that for those that have not yet owned it, it gives them a kick in the pants to get them to start owning it and for those that have, it is just a reminder of what they already know.

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24 Summer August 25, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Yes!

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25 skinny latte August 25, 2010 at 10:57 am

Rach, as always, you seem to sum up perfectly exactly how I feel. I have no words really, except to say that you’re one amazing lady! xx

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26 Heather August 25, 2010 at 11:16 am

OK, you know I’m all about body image and loving yourself the way you are right now, but I completely agree with this post. As much as I say we need to give ourselves a little love before we can change anything, I think it’s pretty obvious that by ‘change’ I mean lose weight — or at least that’s what it is in my case. And I do believe that. If I go bashing myself everyday, I’m not going to want to do anything good for myself. But I also agree that sometimes the ‘love your body’ ad campaigns and shows and books just get exhausting and make navigating the body image minefield very confusing. No, I know I don’t want to be scary skinny like certain celebs and like I was at one point in my life, but I also don’t think that I should feel bad about wanting to be smaller than the average American woman. Sometimes it’s almost paralyzing, and I feel stuck in the middle. So thank you for this post. I think we can all love ourselves without thinking that we are perfect or not in need of some change.

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27 Michelle @ Give Me the Almond Butter August 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

It’s so great that you aren’t judgemental like so many people. I’m pretty guilty of analyzing a heavy person’s eating habits more than a thin person’s. It’s horrible. I hate it. I just keep it inside my head though.

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28 Tanya August 25, 2010 at 11:54 am

Wow you had the courage to say what I think – if I elaborated, I would write a book chapter here.

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29 Dannielle August 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I have been DYING to read a post like this, and honestly thought about starting a blog just to write my opinion on this topic. Wanting to lose 5 pounds isn’t a crime, doesn’t mean you hate yourself and doesn’t give you an eating disorder. Its absolutely ridiculous that losing weight is taboo in the blog world. Every single major blogger started their “journey” by losing weight, but now they’ve done it, no one else can? People only get snarky because it makes them reflect on themselves and makes them realize that maybe they’re not as secure as they say. If you are 5 pounds more than you would ideally be, but truly font mind, then it wouldn’t bother you if someone else wanted to lose vanity pounds. And usually the people who get uppity are the ones who say “weight and self worth are separate! “…well, yeah, so why can’t I lose 5 pounds without it meaning I’m hating myself?

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30 Jennifer August 25, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I am so glad that you wrote this post, Rachel! I have been writing more and more about how I’m trying to eat healthy, exercise more, and lose weight and deep down there’s always been this sense of guilt that says “You should just be proud of who you are, skinny or not.” But you know what? I want to be healthier, I want to walk into any store out there and fit in their clothes. If that makes me vain, so be it. I do love my body because it allows me to do so many wonderful things, like run or, um, get freaky with my bf! But I still want to lose weight. And you’re right: I’m sorry I’m not sorry.

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31 Hayley August 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I agree!! Really well put. Lately I’ve decided that I really love to strength train, and if I’m being honest here, it’s because it makes me look better. Although, YES, I see how lifting weights can make someone FEEL strong and confident and really great, I wouldn’t do it just for the feeling. Seriously, would anyone?

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32 Kendra August 25, 2010 at 3:39 pm

This is one of those posts that is worthy of being bookmarked and read a few more times.

I’m just getting to the point where I like myself but I still don’t like my body. Yes, what’s inside is amazing (is that narcissistic or what?) but the outside… not so much.

Frankly, I don’t think that I’m going to love my body while it’s still a lard ass and I think that at this point weight loss is an act of love. That’s as far as I am right now and I’m glad that someone is acknowledging that we don’t have to like our bodies and be perfectly content 24/7.

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33 erin m.@well-in-la August 25, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Word.

When you get to a place you’re happy with your body, feel no shame in being proud of the work, sweat and probably a few tears it took to get there. When people ask how you got that body – don’t gloss it over. I work hard and there are days when I would love to have an easy fix/magic pill/whatever – over working out and eating well. But it’s more about keeping the long range perspective and as you stated with your #1 rule – don’t be ridiculous. Strive for balance and wellness in whatever you do, including dropping a few if that’s what you want!

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34 Bree August 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm

It’s also amazing how judgy people get if you are at a healthy weight and are trying to lose a few pounds. It’s like, whoa, she’s on the one way train to become a circa 2008 Olson twin.

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35 Rachel August 25, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Bree — It’s SO TRUE. Like, enough with the coke rumors already, right?

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36 MelissaNibbles August 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Amazing post. I wrote about this a while back, but I don’t understand why weight loss is taboo in the blog world, but exercising 2 hours a day, running 40 miles a week is applauded and considered the norm.
I think Operation Beautiful is fine for young girls, but I’m 30 and a sticky note isn’t going to make my day turn around. It reminds me of those annoying people who go up to at work and say, “SMILE!!” because you don’t walk around with a smile plastered on your face. It also assumes that I don’t already think I’m beautiful. I know I’m hot, don’t try to make me feel bad because I want to lose 5 pounds for summer.

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37 Becky August 25, 2010 at 4:54 pm

New reader and I love this post! I am in good shape and training for a marathon. It makes me feel pretty good, but there are still days when I feel crappy. We all have crappy days and that’s OK. I encourage everyone to love themselves, but every relationship has it’s rocky patches, including the one with yourself.

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38 Christie {Honoring Health} August 25, 2010 at 6:55 pm

You know, I am one of those love yourself just the way you are bloggers but I also agree with some of the points in your post. I was having a skype session with one of my bloggie friends today and we were talking about a very similar thing.

As you know, my blog is about intuitive eating, a concept that is the anti- diet approach to being healthy and changing they way you feel about yourself. And honestly, when it comes to disordered eating, I don’t think that intuitive eating can be a successful venture if weight loss is the primary goal. I don’t think that one should try intuitive eating as a way to lose weight, because, well, some people don’t lose weight. Now, if you really tune into your bodies and do all the emotional work necessary, will the weight come off, yes, most likely.

But, on the flip side of that, I don’t think you have to like being fat, either. When I tell my readers and clients to love themselves just the way they are, that doesn’t mean that they will never lose weight or shouldn’t be happy about changes that take place in their bodies. I have dropped about 30lbs most recently and if I told you I wasn’t happy about it, I would be a bold faced liar. But, what I can also tell you is that I was just as happy 30lbs ago. I loved and accepted my body for what it was and had faith that my body knows best.

Will I be happy if I lose another 15 or 20lbs? Probably so. Because for me, that just serves as validation that my body is wise and that I really can trust it to do the right thing.

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39 emily August 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Love. Just freaking awesome.

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40 shelby @ eatdrinkrun August 25, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I could. Not. Agree. More.

I have always had a hard time reconciling two of the major recurring themes in the health blogging world: the “love yourself JUST THE WAY YOU ARE!” mentality and the notion that obesity and poor health are a major problem in our country. There is nothing wrong with loving yourself but admitting that you could or should improve yourself. Because, really? If I ever become unhealthy, out-of-shape, obese, whatever? I don’t want to accept myself JUST THE WAY I AM. I can do better than that. And I “love” myself enough to admit it.

Anyway, I heart you, Rachel. Very well-written post. :)

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41 Di August 26, 2010 at 7:46 am

I love this post. This is fantastic. You’re right on. I’d like to lose the weight I gained over the summer. That just makes me someone who would like my clothes to fit better. That shouldn’t be a bad thing. I love myself. I just love when myself fits in my jeans a little bit more.

(There are parts of my body that I love love love all the time. There are parts of my body that I occasionally hate after I’ve eaten a few too many triscuits. And some days I do think ridiculous things about how I look, but I know they’re ridiculous, and I get over it and move on. Sorry I’m not sorry. I’m just human.)

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42 Andrea@Thin Thighs & Sweet Potato Fries August 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Rachel Wilkerson, where have you been all my life!?!?!! :D I just found your blog TODAY and have been sitting here reading for hours. 100 times over AMEN to this post (and your post about “seriously and officially owning it!”). I’ve been struggling with guilt so much lately and have been less than candid about the fact that even though I’ve reached my original “goal weight,” I secretly still really want to lose about 5 more lbs. I have so many influences around me telling me since about 10 lbs ago that I need to stop losing weight, and when I didn’t listen, I find it interesting that 10 lbs later, they’re all telling me how fabulous I look…but I digress. Lately, I’ve been internalizing what they say and eating more calories (to stop weight loss and simply maintain) and trying to stop counting calories even though I know in my heart of hearts I’m not really ready yet because I want to lose more weight. I’ve been going against what I want and halting weight loss simply b/c people in my life have been making me feel like that’s what I should do and if I show any signs of feeling otherwise, making me feel like I have an eating disorder, which is SO not the case. My boyfriend has been “jokingly” threatening to break up with me if I lose any more weight and a coworker even had the nerve to try and have an intervention of sorts with me. I’m 123 lbs, not 80 lbs! I’m not 100% happy with my body just yet (still have some stomach to lose) and I want to lose just a few more lbs for me… and well…sorry, I’m not sorry, damnit! Thanks for the honesty and the inspiration! :)

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43 Lesley August 29, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Hi Rachel,

I’ve never read your blog before, but I followed the link from Missy’s awesome post about Owning It, and now I’ve been blown away by another amazing post. This one really hit home for me. My truth is that I have so many days where I don’t like my body. I wish I was a lot thinner. I wish I had muscle tone. I wish my breasts didn’t sag so much. I wish I didn’t have so much cellulite. I could keep going. But I’m always hesitant to bring these things into conversation, because none of those thoughts make me feel bad about being me. I don’t say them to hear myself be contradicted. They are just things I want to change like I wish I had more money. Displeasure and a low sense of self worth are not the same thing. I have a lot of insecurities, but I don’t see myself as an insecure person. So, I’m sorry that I’m not sorry that I actually love my body even though I will never stop wanting it to be better. Thanks for helping me to figure out how to put it into words!!!!!!

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44 Jenn of PersonalFitCoach.com September 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Found your site via Boston Sports Woman. This is a GREAT POST. Perhaps I’ll post on my site with a link back if that is OK.

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