Your weight is not the problem. The system is.
When I started my health and life coaching practice 12 years ago almost all my clients wanted to lose weight. Some wanted to lose just a few "pesky" pounds. Others wanted a complete body overhaul. Together we'd start with the basics: how they were eating, exercising, sleeping, hydrating. We'd then dig into how they were feeling about their bodies, what they learned from their family about bodies and weight and the impact their negative inner dialogue had on their wellbeing.
What we didn't talk about 12 years ago was the larger, oppressive system of body and fat shaming. We rarely touch upon the patriarchal history of a woman's worth and survival being dependent on her non-threatening, attractiveness to men and we certainly didn't talk about how these ubiquitous systems kept us feeling small, stuck and never good enough.
My practice has evolved since then and I'm now diligent in bringing the larger systemic lens to my clients' struggles. Yes, it's important to take personal responsibly for the change we want to experience in our lives AND it's imperative to see how deeply influenced we are by the cultural and societal systems that are structured to keep us silent by making us feel terrible about ourselves.
With all that in mind, just last week a client of mine sent me the following email:
Jamie. I have an interview on Friday, so I stopped at Nordstrom Rack this evening to see if I could find a cute dress to wear for the occasion. I tried on countless outfits, and having been a medium all my life, most pieces I tried today were size large. Nothing fit, and I left the store feeling discouraged and sad. I know my body is not my enemy, and on a daily basis I try to treat myself with love and respect... but after moments like the one I had at the store today.. it’s just so hard.
Being unable to fit into a size large really messed with my head and amplified the feeling that I have been feeling a lot in the last couple of years since gaining weight: feeling SOO uncomfortable in my own skin. Since we started working together I’ve made a big effort to push the thought that I’m “too big” away because that’s patriarchal/dieting mentality bullshit... but it still troubles me. Do you have any advice about how I can overcome this?
My reply was this:
Oh honey. I know this is hard and painful and you've been doing a wonderful job at trusting the process.
What I have to say about clothing size and lack of accessibility for every BODY is this:
When we're confronted with clothing sizes and/or lack of clothing options that make us feel like shit about ourselves, we must dig deep into the knowledge that clothes are simply pieces of cloth sewn together into an arbitrary width and length and then given a size name based on the brand's preference. (Often we are different sizes in different brands.) Your ability to fit into these clothes says nothing about you and everything about the bullshit nature of how clothes are sized and how they are rarely inclusive for all bodies.
As for feeling uncomfortable in your skin, my question is this:
Do you feel physically uncomfortable in your skin or mentally/emotionally uncomfortable with how you think you look? Often how we feel IN and ABOUT our bodies is convoluted, intertwined and multi-layered. In your journal I'd love you to ask yourself the following questions:
How do I feel IN my body?
How do I feel physically when I wake up? During your day? Before bed?
How do I feel ABOUT my body?
Do I notice any connections between how I feel about my body and how I feel IN my body?
My advice is this.
When it comes to breaking out of the negative thoughts/beliefs that we have absorbed about weight, size and our bodies it's simply (though not easily) about practice. When we are overcome with shame, guilt, fear, frustration, etc our only job is to BREATHE, ACKNOWLEDGE, RECONNECT and ACT.
Breathe through the feeling.
Acknowledge with self compassion how you're feeling without making it bad, wrong or like you're backsliding.
Reconnect to yourself and your joy. This can be through loving touch, kind talk, talking a walk, playing with your cat, etc. What does your body (and you) need to feel cared for?
Act. Take a single action that invites you to move away from diet mentality and fat shaming. This can look like reading Intuitive Eating, following people like Anna Guest-Jelley and Jessamyn Stanley, The Fat Sex Therapist, The Militant Baker, etc.
All this to say, you are exactly where you need to be, your body is doing an amazing job and if this world and Nordstrom rack had good body politics, they would have a plethora of fashion for all shapes and sizes. All my love coming your way!
During our session a few days later she told me how helpful it was to remember that her body is not the problem, the system is.
As writer and feminist marketing consultant Kelly Diels writes, "We internalize messages about individual defects but often, when we zoom out and look at the bigger picture -- the system, our social structures- we see things entirely differently. And, importantly: unnecessary shame dissolves on contact with the bigger picture."
A large part of my work is helping clients recognize the bigger picture (whether that's about weight, career, relationships, family dynamics) and, as Diels explains, "to see the oppressive systemic forces shaping our lives and distorting our 'choices'." When we do so, she continues, "we realize that we are not the problem or wrong. Instead, everything we've been made to feel ashamed of as personal defects is usually evidence that our social structures and norms are what's wrong and need to change." (If you are looking for brilliant writing on the topics of feminism, feminist marketing, race and justice, be sure to check Kelly out.)
With that, I invite you to zoom out and ponder: What if your weight wasn't the problem but rather our weight-obsessed society? What if your people-pleasing wasn't the problem but rather the patriarchal system that makes it unsafe for a woman to be anything BUT people-pleasing? What if your exhaustion wasn't the problem but rather the hustle culture that upholds exhaustion as a status symbol?As you begin to see and challenge the systems around you, notice how you feel. What shifts do you recognize that may change your feelings about yourself, your life and the world around you? This is BIG, LIFE-ALTERING STUFF and I'd love to hear how it lands with you. Simply shoot me an email and tell me all about it.Remember, it's only when we're brave enough to look at the system that we find the courage to challenge and change it. You got this and know I'm right there with you.
Take care of you,