I’ve read a lot of things about how evil the diet industry is and how fat shaming affects my life, but I’m having a hard time getting started with actually changing the way I think about myself. How did you get to this point in your life? Can you give me a concrete tool to jumpstart this process?
Ummm … yes. Yes, I can!
To begin with, though, I want to tell you something. I have come a long way in my process of learning how to manage the messages I receive daily about my body, but there are still many deeply challenging moments I deal with every day. Hello, I live in a fatphobic patriarchy! If I wasn’t dealing with spiritual crises on the regular, I would be a straight white man working in finance, and you and I wouldn’t be talking.
I say this because I think sometimes people set up this ideal story when it comes to their body politics: the “one day I will wake up and be surrounded by chirping birds and truffle-fry trees and I will realize that I am 100 percent perfect just the way I am and I will live happily ever after” story.
I mean, sometimes I do wake up and that’s my story, but culturally we are waaaaay too obsessed with that fairy tale shit.
We don’t need a fairy tale, girl! We need justice, access to the shit that matters to us and people who support us. We create fairy tales because we are deeply dissatisfied – and can’t imagine a reality beyond that dissatisfaction — and these narratives become our vacations into escape.
Anyway, right now I take care of myself by managing the kind of media I’m exposed to and the people I choose to have in my life. There is no one in my life currently who encourages me to lose weight. All my friends are feminists. And even with all those boundaries and supports in my life, I still get told at least a handful of times a day through some channel or another that my body doesn’t measure up. And it still hurts, even though I know that cultural bigotry is wrong and even though I know that this cultural bigotry is not my fault.
All this to say: I have tools for you, but it’s important to stay grounded and be patient with yourself. Don’t torture yourself with another – albeit political – ideal as you’re healing from messed up body ideals, ok?
So, on to the advice.
This is one of my favorite tools and it’s actually the first assignment I give in my Babecamp program. I call it the Body Image Audit. Yes, I have absolutely talked about this before, but it still remains one of the most powerful tools I’ve ever used.
The Body Image Audit allows us to figure out what parts of our lives need some changes when it comes to how we think of our bodies. Here’s how you do it:
- It’s best if you can commit to doing the audit for one week, but if the thought of that makes you feel all sweaty then just do it for two or three days.
- For the duration of the audit, you’ll need to write some things down on a few pieces of paper, a few pages from your journal or even just some space on your phone. However you do it, you need some method of record-keeping so you can look at it when you’re done.
- Each day you will note two things: 1. Whenever you have a negative thought about your body, write down a short description of the thought, and 2. The event that triggered the thought.
- When you’re done with the audit, read it over. Look for patterns. Are there particular people or media that consistently trigger negativity toward your body? Go through each thing on your list and ask yourself: how can I change this story? How can I honor myself and what I bring to this world?
The Body Image Audit can look like this:
|Negative thought||Event that triggered thought||(How can I change this story? Fill this in after you’ve filled in columns 1 & 2)|
If there are things on the list that you can get rid of immediately, do it. Especially if one of your triggers is something like a magazine you read often or a TV show you watch all the time.
If one (or more) of your triggers is a person, then begin to manage the amount of time you spend on that person. Begin to see your time as a valuable and limited resource. Because, girl, it is. I recommend cutting the time you spend with people who trigger you in half. Fifty percent of whatever you were giving them before is gonna be gone. Do it for six months and, if you’re feeling better, cut that time in half again. You don’t have to explain this decision to people unless you’re ready. If that person cares about your relationship they will be ready to hear you. And if they don’t, then it’s not your job to make them.
Start with the Body Image Audit. Almost all emotional shifts take at least 6 months. Be open to what it can teach you.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.