Honey, I've Shrunk Myself! - Body Changes and Self-Image

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I'm usually a body positivity cheerleader. I subscribe very heavily to the health at every size movement and the idea that one should eat what makes them feel good. However, being in Bangladesh has really shaken me up.

Simply put, I've lost a lot of weight here, and not because I'm not eating well. In fact, more than ever I'm subscribing to the "eat what you want, when you want, and how you want" ideas that I generally espouse (and it's obviously easier because I'm not the one doing the cooking - thanks, Amma!). But adjusting to my these body changes and having people around me comment on those changes has made me feel very strange.

First, I lapsed back into my old "diet diet diet" mentality - where when I lost a few pounds, I was greedy to lose more and more. When I started losing weight here, my first inclination was to search for the reason so that I could carry it around in my pocket and make it happen all the time. However, that is just an affirmation of a belief I normally reject: that skinny means beautiful and healthy.

Ultimately, I have friends who are thin and have high cholesterol or who don't eat very well or who have a multitude of other health issues that cannot be explained by weight (as much as doctors might like to pin it on that). So the healthy part is abruptly out the window. As for the beautiful part, I have come to terms with loving my body the way it was, so it shook me up to suddenly feel like that was "not good enough."

This was compounded with the second weirdness factor: a double standard in comments from my family/others about weight. Now, an aside about language - in Bangladesh, the word "fat" doesn't necessarily have bad connotations. When used as an insult, obviously it does, but sometimes it can be used to describe someone who looks baby-ish and/or sweet. However, even used in these ways, it still makes the person have less power than they would if they weren't described as fat.

Even so, it was really a struggle to be encouraged by my family to eat and eat and eat (as part of a well-intentioned desire to make me feel welcome and pleased) and then to be called fat. To be told that I was losing weight and needed to "eat more," while still being laughed at and called fat on a regular basis. What a contradiction! Needless to say, the confusion got me back into my old head games about body image and self-worth.

I don't know if these experiences have given me a thicker skin, but I certainly believe that they've tested my philosophies. Loving the skin you're in has prevailed over all with me, however it's not an easy task to shift your vision of yourself and still feel in love with that person you see in the mirror.

Body changes, whether intentional or not, can create some anxiety - it's if we use that feeling to re-double our efforts in loving ourselves that matters. In the end, I think I'm just as pretty now as I was then. My shape is different, but my essence is still the same.