“When I was little, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and I said, ‘Small.’
By the time I was 16, I had already experienced being clinically overweight, underweight, and obese. As a child, fat was the first word people used to describe me, which didn’t offend me until I found out it was supposed to” says Blythe Baird in her spoken word poem video When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny which has received over 4 million views.
She describes a teenaged life filled with eating “skinny-pop,” complimenting each other’s thigh gaps, trying diets she and her friends found on the internet, “Googling the calories in the glue of a US stamp” and “hunching naked over a bathroom scale, trying; crying into an empty bowl of Cocoa Puffs because I only feel pretty when I’m hungry.”
When Baird lost weight, her dad was so proud that he carried her before and after photo in his wallet, relieved that he could stop worrying about her getting diabetes and finally see her taking care of herself.
“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story” says Baird.
“So when I evaporated, of course everyone congratulated me on getting healthy. Girls at school who never spoke to me before stopped me in the hallway to ask how I did it. I say, “I am sick.” They say, “No, you’re an inspiration.
How could I not fall in love with my illness? With becoming the kind of silhouette people are supposed to fall in love with? Why would I ever want to stop being hungry when anorexia was the most interesting thing about me?”
I share Baird’s story with you with urgency, before the new year, to stress the harms of continually reinforcing the societal norms that we’ve been socialized to accept such as dieting before any major life event, “swimsuit season,” beginning every January or actually just dieting in general.
Think of someone you know whose time, energy, money, physical and emotional health and self-worth – whose life is being stolen by the constant pursuit of maintaining or attaining an “ideal” body shape or size, that is, according to diet culture.
Maybe this person is your best friend, your mother, or you.
Nobody diets for fun
Like Baird, we try to control our bodies to belong, to be accepted as “healthy.” We believe we must “look good to feel good” about ourselves, the diet industry marketing messages promise.
Diet culture equates thinness, muscularity, and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue, according to author of Anti-Diet, Christy Harrison. You can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like this ‘ideal” she says.
And even if you have a small body, you may live with fear of weight gain.
I want you to know that you have a choice. Your only option for love and a content life isn’t to be a slave to the scale and other people’s opinions.
Ditch diet culture
You can choose to opt-out of harmful dieting and diet culture.
Dieting is disordered eating and is one of the strongest predictors for the development of an eating disorder, which can occur across the weight spectrum according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
And you don’t have to be actively “on a diet” to be swept up by the culture of dieting.
Disordered eating habits also include preoccupation with food and your weight, feeling stressed about food and whether you’re eating the “right” or “wrong” foods and rigid food rules. It’s fasting, cleansing, detoxing, skipping meals to save calories, avoiding a type of food or food group, drinking laxative teas.
We can take “healthy” eating too far. There’s a term for this, orthorexia, also disordered eating, which is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods.
The risks associated with disordered eating and dieting include developing a clinical eating disorder, osteoporosis or osteopenia, fatigue and poor sleep quality, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, muscle cramps, feelings of shame, guilt, low self-esteem, depressive or anxious symptoms and behaviors, and nutritional and metabolic problems according to National Eating Disorder Collaboration.
And because diet culture is deeply embedded in Western culture masquerading as health, wellness and fitness, disordered eating habits have become an alarmingly “normal” way to “take care of ourselves.”
Nearly 75% of women reported engaging in disordered eating behaviors in a 2008 survey of over 4,000 women done by UNC and SELF magazine.
“Ideal” weight as myth
But you have another option. You can separate “taking care of yourself” and your “health” from some “ideal” number on the scale.
Think about how we determine a “healthy” weight. It’s measured by BMI (body mass index) – just your height to weight ratio. That’s it. It doesn’t consider your eating or movement habits, muscle mass. It doesn’t factor in a long list of behaviors that impact your health such as smoking. It doesn’t consider your genetics, nor the complexities of health. BMI is a poor determinant of health.
Furthermore, ingrained beliefs that fat poses significant mortality risk are not fact.
Research reported in Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift shows that except at statistical extremes, BMI only weakly predicts longevity. People who are “overweight” or “obese” live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer.
You can’t determine somebody’s health status just by looking at their body size. A small body may be healthy or not and the same is true for a larger body.
Honor Body Differences
With this knowledge, you can choose to honor that your body, other bodies may want to be different than what you and our culture think they should be.
Baird lamented that her “small’ body was the “most interesting about her,” but now as part of her healing “how lucky it is now to be boring,” says Baird.
“My story may not be as exciting as it used to but at least there is nothing left to count. The calculator in my head finally stopped. Now, I am proud I have stopped seeking revenge on this body.”
As the new year approaches and yet another wave of dieting madness tries to steal your self-worth, I want you to know that you have another option: you can ditch the false belief that there’s only one size that’s “healthy,” worthy of love and belonging and make peace with food and your body.
To your happiness and health,
♡ Ready to transform your relationship to food and your body? Get started!
P.S. (You can watch Blythe Baird deliver her powerful poem, here).
(This article was originally published in the December 8, 2021 issue of Jackson Hole News and Guide.)