How to make peace with the body you have.
Because I work in the area of body image, eating, weight, I often listen (eavesdrop) on women’s conversations with intense curiosity. And they ain’t pretty.
“I hate my arms.”
“I wish I could afford liposuction.”
“I love when my stomach is concave.”
“You got the flu, you are so lucky—you look fabulous.”
“My 15-year-old and I can share clothes.”
Women held hostage with body image propaganda. However, these conversations led me to reflect on my own trips to the gym. When I haul myself to the gym, it has dawned on me, that what I, and many other women in there may be doing, is trying to push back on our genetic destiny.
I have round hips, round everything. Fashion does not look fashionable on me. Workouts will never trim those round parts, they are still round, just a bit firmer and stronger. I have the body of my round Indian mother and grandmothers. My weight once bottomed out quite low because stressors in my life culminated in my losing the final 10 pounds of an 85-pound weight loss. And the skinny girl clothes fit me for the first time. It felt nice for a minute.
That lowest weight wasn’t “my weight”. It was significantly lower than my “set point”—or a genetically-influenced threshold where your body prefers to sit (all things being equal). To maintain a weight below your set-point usually requires significant long-term caloric restriction (sadly, most women don’t like their set point). Set point challenges are one of the greatest hurdles in weight loss. Any fool can starve herself, but starving to maintain that “below set point” weight is dangerous and untenable in the long term. And “set-point frustration” can lead people to spend decades futilely yo-yo dieting, which brings a host of other complications along with it.
To maintain that artificially low weight, I had to all but starve myself. And as my daughters got older, and noticed how little I was eating, I realized hungry mommy wasn’t on her game. So I ate like a normal person again.
The hips came back, along with those 10 pounds. The size 0 became a 4, 6 or 8.
So what happens when you don’t like your genetically determined body type?
There is a model of “body types”—genetically-influenced models of body fat distribution, muscle mass and metabolism. In this simplistic system we have ectomorphs who tend to be long and lean, burn calories very efficiently, and are “naturally skinny”. On the other end, endomorphs tend to be naturally curvy, hold onto fat, and are challenged by weight loss.
Ectomorphs are in style right now, which is tough if you are not one. We have created a society in which it is possible to engage in endless bodily modification to fight our bodily destiny—breast augmentation, fat freezing, tummy tucking, and if all else fails—Photoshopping. All of us can literally create the body that we think we want, that we think the world wants, with little thought as to what it psychologically means.
It is a tall order to make peace with our bodies. I try to encourage women to see their bodies as a manifestation of the generations before them, and for us to celebrate the beauty of each and every body type. Just like we wouldn’t want to lose the dimples we got from grandma, or the brown eyes we got from dad, why do we try to eliminate the hips we got from mom?
Instead of those visits to the gym being about pushing back on genetic destiny, perhaps they can be about vitality, and strength, and confidence. A healthy tomorrow starts with acceptance today—ectomorph, endomorph or anywhere in between.