I wrote this article originally for an online magazine for Jewish women, called The Layers Project. These photos were taken by the talented photographer (fellow social worker too!) and founder of Layers Project- Shira Lankin Sheps. I thought I’d share this today, in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week because I believe our toxic diet culture and preoccupation with thinness contributes to the skyrocketing rate of eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex biologically based illnesses (more on that Wednesday) but our culture creates the perfect storm for those predisposed.
There are a million interesting things I can share about myself but let’s start with the fact that I lost weight recently. Isn’t that what’s really most important? Never mind that I have my master’s degree from NYU, run a successful style blog, work as a psychotherapist in a field I love, and have a great personality. None of that matters as much as the size of my body.
Why do I assume that my weight and body size is the most important and interesting thing to share? Because after bumping into friends I haven’t seen in years, the first thing always comment on is how much weight I’ve lost. I’m not asked what I’ve been up to or how I’ve been. Instead, the most pressing question seems to be what I’ve done to lose weight.
When a matchmaker offers to set me up, one of the first questions she asks is my size. When I attend a wedding or social event, the conversation always revolves around who’s lost weight and, of course, I can count on an in depth discussion of the latest diet. Today it’s paleo, tomorrow it might be keto. How exciting!
How can I not infer from the constant messages that the size of my body matters above all else?
I see successful and powerful women dismiss all their accomplishments because their bodies are not the size they want them to be. And it makes me really, really sad. Our focus on weight and the pursuit of thinness keeps us down. I am proud to know some incredible women; accomplished lawyers, artists, scientists, amazing mothers… and somehow, diet and weight talk continue to be the #1 constant topic of conversation. I want to hear about the interesting things my friends are up to, but instead I get to hear them bashing their bodies and discussing the diet they’re going to start yet again.
I once counted how many conversations about diet were started on a popular women’s Facebook group in one week. It was 74. 74 conversations about diet and weight loss and in my opinion it was 74 too many. Imagine all the interesting things we could be talking about instead.
Ironically, dieting doesn’t make people thinner or healthier. In fact, studies show that at the 5-year mark, 95 percent of dieters are heavier than they were before the start of their diet. Research shows that dieting, independent of genetics, is responsible for an increase in weight.
Of course we need to take care of our bodies. Weight just shouldn’t be the focus in doing so. It’s important to nourish ourselves properly and exercise. But specifically focusing on a number on the scale or a clothing size instead of trying to incorporate healthier habits into our lives often skews our priorities. Everything about our society is focused on thinness and the “perfect” body — it doesn’t help our self image and incredibly high rate of disordered eating. It’s completely incongruent to the values we try to live by and instill in our children.
I have friends that are holding off on having more children because they haven’t reached their goal weight yet. I know a doctor who was asked to speak at a conference but turned down that incredible opportunity because she said she felt too fat to get up on stage. My good friend refused to date until she lost weight. On a smaller scale, I know that I’ve refused to buy myself nice clothing when I was at a higher weight; as a result, I felt even worse about myself because my presentation to the world wasn’t an accurate reflection of who I really was. I think it’s time we stop putting our lives on hold because our bodies are not exactly where we want them to be.
My friend told me something simple but powerful the other day: she refuses to wait on weight. She may not be completely comfortable in her body right now, but she is living her life to the fullest and not letting the size of her body stop her from achieving her goals. I realized that I’ve spent so much of my life waiting on weight and I don’t want to waste another second letting my body size dictate how I live my life.
The way I do that is by continuing to put myself out there on my blog, even on the days when my body image is so bad that I feel like crawling out of my skin. I do it because I strongly believe that we all deserve to feel beautiful and confident whether we’re a size 2 or 32. I want to continue spreading the message that we deserve to feel good now, to live our lives to its fullest potential now, and dress in a way that makes us feel confident now.
My coworker recently asked a huge group of women to fill in the blank: “I wish there was a pill that would make me_______.”
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the responses all revolved around being thin or maintaining a certain weight. The responses show where our priorities lie and it highlights how much energy and focus we put on weight, at the expense of everything else. Imagine the things we could use this hypothetical magical pill for! From curing diseases to bringing world peace, the opportunities are endless. But instead, so many of us are focused on how to become thin.
So I think it’s time to introduce myself again. My name is Shira and I’m a loyal friend, passionate blogger, loving sister, and compassionate therapist. I am outgoing and loud but I also value my space and alone time. I love expressing myself through style and enjoy helping the people around me discover their voice through fashion and style as well. I can be pretty sarcastic but in a humorous way- at least I like to think so. But I am not going to mention my body size because it is completely irrelevant to who I am. My hope is that one day, I can be among more women who value their individuality, uniqueness, and strengths as opposed to the size they wear.