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Body acceptance and my distaste for the word “skinny”

In my last blog post I hinted I had some deeper, more controversial topics I wanted to touch on and body acceptance and size-shaming is one of those. I hope I can get my thoughts into words clearly as this is a difficult topic to explore. The gist of it is I’m affected by this issue and feel like talking about it.

Like most women I have inner struggles with my outward appearance.  Even though I’ve been a relatively healthy weight my whole life, I struggled with body image acceptance. My highest weight was when I was 30 years old and my lowest was when I hit the stage in July at the Naturally Fit Super Show. Right now I’m the most muscular I have ever been and the largest in size.

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Most of you know the journey I am on to transform my body. It has been a relief to stop chasing skinny (coined by my friend JL and her blog Stop Chasing Skinny), to not worry about dieting or feel like I have to do crazy amounts of cardio to stay thin. Thin and skinny are words that carry a lot of emotion. Just like the word fat. Even the word strong carries meaning. It really bothers me when people call me skinny or thin. Why is that? There’s nothing wrong with being thin. But I’ve got curves. I’m petite and a pear shape. Now I have big muscles. Surprisingly it takes work for me to be “thin”. I strived year after year to be thin because that is what the media told me was acceptable, but what I realized this past week after seeing another vegan chef boast about her skinniness that I’m sick and tired of trying to live up to this image of what a vegan should look like!! Take a look at many of the respected women in the vegan/plant-based/raw movement. I wonder if they struggle to stay thin.

Many people are naturally and genetically thin. Those who aren’t but are thin-obsessed will most likely work really hard to get there by restricting calories and exercising a lot (or acquire serious eating disorders). You might even do things that aren’t safe like eat too few calories for your activity level, take fat burners or excessive caffeine to make it through the day (because of lack of energy from not eating enough), or possibly even binge and purge. I continue to witness these actions with clients and with women I connect with online in fitness forums. Why do some women have such a strong obsession with being thin that they will do anything to get there? Is this a product of our society to be so obsessed with size? Or is it partly the fault of those in the vegan/plant-based/raw communities that encourage restricted eating, pronounce a vegan diet as a get thin quick diet, shame those who are overweight, and praise only those who have had weight loss transformations?

I’m realizing that one of the main reasons I got into bodybuilding is I’m tired of being put in a box. I want to be free to eat what I want and gain some sexy muscles. Many people will say I look “manly” or “don’t get too big”, just like many people said “omg eat something” “you look sick” when I got down to my lowest weight before my bikini competition. Some will even say that this new obsession of gaining muscle and getting stronger is not any better than an obsession with being thin. I actually see it as a new form of activism for veganism that’s healthy.

Know this; I am happier with my outward appearance now than I ever have in my life. At a heavier weight. At a bigger clothing size. Eating 2000+ calories a day. Go figure.

Many in the vegan/plant-based world boast that once you eat the “right way” your body will gravitate towards it’s natural size (thin) and you won’t have to worry about how much you are eating (or exercise). It’s a miracle!! What is your “natural” size? Many believe we are all naturally thin but years of overeating (and lack of exercise) has caused our obesity crisis (and lack of even knowing what is our natural size). Could there possibly be an ideal size for every man and woman? I think not. The human population is way too diverse for us to be carbon copies of each other.

Some would even argue that you can be healthy at any size. The Health At Every Size movement was created out of the obesity crisis as a way for women (and men) to be more loving and accepting of their bodies. It sort of gives the middle finger to the notion that BMI’s, numbers on a scale, and your pant size can be determining factors for your health. It’s a pretty large movement that shows that people can be healthy even if they aren’t an “ideal” weight picked off a chart or what is suppose to be their natural size.

I recently started following and reading blogs from some of the people in the HAES movement. It’s a whole other world from what I have seen in the vegan, plant-based, and raw communities. Size-shaming has become the norm in our very own backyard. Plant-based gurus tout their diet as being the answer to all your problems including obesity. You don’t have to worry a bit about counting calories and the weight will just fall right off you. If you continue to stay overweight then you are doing it wrong and are eating too much fat (or salt, sugar, processed food or whatever food villain we have this week). The fat you eat is the fat you wear they will say. Oh really? I’m not a low-fat vegan and I’m not fat. If you need to lose weight for your health than it is totally possible through a whole foods vegan diet. It’s possible to maintain too. And it’s possible to be healthy at whatever weight you are at!

Many women are standing up to these notions that you have to be thin to be healthy (though the blogs I’ve started to follow aren’t vegan-based. Is anyone in the vegan movement talking about these issues??). They are showing that you can have a high BMI, still be healthy (by any doctor’s terms or blood tests will prove), be active and enjoy exercise even though a chart may call you “obese”. So what if you fall in this category? Is it ok to be overweight if by all standards you are healthy? Do you set a bad example to those who want to be vegan by not striving to be thin(ner)?

Expressing an unwarranted opinion on someone’s body is becoming the norm with the internet, but size-shaming is not a new thing. Magazines (and now websites) have been bashing the way celebrities look for decades. We have made it acceptable by buying those magazines and participating in the online discussions. I’m not sure who made up the rules on what body shape and size is acceptable for celebrities but young girls and women (and men) look at these images and the hateful words said and in turn feel that their bodies are not acceptable. It’s horrible really. Many women with eating disorders start following a plant-based diet because it’s touted as being the healthiest, but then they continue to calorie restrict and flaunt their “thigh gap” to the rest of the world like being vegan makes it ok to be obsessive about food. And it’s not.

You can be healthy and happy not obsessing over every single calorie you put in your mouth. You can be healthy using moderation. Moderation does work for healthy people.

I guess the take home message is = Health is not determined by your size. Don’t judge others. Worry about your own health. Don’t perpetuate myths about health and weight because a guru said it was true. Love your body.

Would love to hear your thoughts on these issues in the comments! Thanks for reading as always!    

Posted in Fitness, Nutrition, Vegan Community on 12/06/2013 04:47 pm
 

27 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been vegan for 4 years and I still struggle with the concept of what I “should” look like as a vegan. At the same time I continue to cattle disordered eating habits (too much sugar, ranitidine butter, trail mix, bread). I have what I think would be considered an “average body”, not fat, not thin (5″7 140-145 pounds). I’ve been thinner, through a great deal of effort, but then I always rebel and wind up vack at the same place. I struggle with understanding the reasons why being thinner is do important to me and I loathe the society that makes me feel unhappy with the body I have. I don’t want to be a part if it, yet I am. Every day I tell myself I’m going to finally get disciplined and lose 20 pounds, and most every day I fail. And if somehow I gather everything I’ve hit and pull it it together for a month or 6 weeks, I always counter with a food frenzy just long enough to put it back on. I don’t want to care, but I do. I want to proudly boast “this is what veganism looks like”, but I never feel good enough to do that. Just because of a few extra pounds on my body. How sad is that?

  2. Christy, when I’ve seen you recently at events (I do approach you to say hello), you look great and you seem confident. I think it’s awesome to have people with muscular bodies in our movement, it shows that anything is possible. All fad diets promise skinny/thin results, but few are focused on getting buff! I also loooove your approach to eat real food and move, instead of blaming nuts/gluten/oil/avocado for making people fat. For other vegans talking about being healthy at your size and loving your body, I can only think of JL and Angela at OhSheGlows. We should use some of our compassion on ourselves!

    • Christine,

      Gena at Choosing Raw (www.choosingraw.com) also has some discussion around body image issues and veganism — and very intelligent, thoughtful, well-articulated discussion at that. I’d certainly recommend her blog for this if you’re not familiar with her already. :)

  3. I also believe people should not stress over their shape or a few pounds/ounces here and there. And certainly people should not judge their own or anyone else’s worth by dress size. I do still believe though that being significantly overweight for a long period of time is inherently unhealthy. Any lifespan chart will prove this out. You can’t look at it one month or one year or maybe even one decade at a time. You must look at the whole.

    A number on a scale should not be the determining factor in whether or not we love ourselves or each other. But those who truly love themselves will take steps improve their health.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by ‘significantly overweight’? Do you mean a BMI between 25 and 30? If so, I might point out the obesity paradox. Things just simply aren’t as obvious as they seem as suggested in this article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090623133523.htm

      • Linda,

        I try not to get too hung up in the numbers. “Healthy” can be a little different for different people. But if pushed I would say I when I stated “significantly overweight” I was thinking of BMI greater than 30. It’s all too easy to find papers online that support our own points of view, as this one, which supports mine with what is believed to be the largest study of the relationship between weight and longevity ever performed (over 1 million people instead of just a few hundred): http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090319224823.htm

        That said, I don’t think someone who carries a few extra pounds is going to drop dead tomorrow. But even your article states it’s not just about length of life, it’s about quality of life. Even carrying that extra 20 pounds can cause joint issues, back pain, limit physical activity like playing with kids or grandkids or going for a hike in a national park.

        Additionally, a people who gain weight don’t always stop in that “slightly overweight” phase. The problem becomes a vicious cycle — the less fit someone becomes, the more weight they gain…and the more weight they gain, the less fit they become. Rinse and repeat. Next thing you know, that “overweight” category is behind them and they’ve entered the realm of “obese.”

        I guess we just each have to find our own path.

  4. Thank you, Christy! I only have a minute to comment, but I am so disturbed by the obsession on body size, the rampant misogyny, the false promises and basically the hijacking with a movement built on convictions about compassion and justice turning into a get thin quick scheme led by so many “wellness experts” and MDs with dollar signs in their eyes. I have absolutely ZERO problem with people turning to veganism for their health, don’t get me wrong. It is the dubious and predatory promises, preying upon insecurities and those vulnerable to social pressures, that really strikes me as cynical and greedy.

  5. Absolutely! So much here that needs to be discussed openly in the vegan blog community. I’d point out that in addition to stop chasing skinny, this discussion is also happening on the Choosing Raw series called Green Recovery (about recovery from eating disorders, but much that is also about accepting ourselves/sizes).

    • I love the Green Recovery series on Choosing Raw! It’s definitely worth checking out!

  6. Christy, this hits home for me in many ways. As a vegan healthy lifestyle blogger, I struggle with the desire to be transparent and share my own struggle with my body and what makes me feel healthy and fit while stressing to my readers that they really need to listen to their own bodies and feel comfortable in their own skins. I am conscious of every message I put out there and try to focus on balance without censoring myself too much. It is often a challenge. You have inspired me to include a more HAES focus in my own writing. Btw, I also feel I have the best relationship with my own body since I started building muscle and lifting a few years back. Keep sharing! Your posts here and in Wellness Reboot and the Facebook group keep inspiring me! Adria

  7. I for one am tired for being judged for trying to be healthy and eating healthy. I was vegetarian for 15 years, vegan for 7, I didn’t eat a healthy diet, I ended up with Type 2 diabetes and a heart problem. I went to Dr. McDougalls program and was able to reverse my diabetes and my heart disease. But in the vegan world I feel so harshly judged for not being able to eat junk food or oil. Trust me, I wish I could but for me it’s a matter of life or death. It’s not all that black and white and it’s not bad if someone has to eat healthy. I can’t have a little of anything because I’m very addicted to food, and I hate when people don’t take that seriously. Some of us can’t indulge, and it is so insenstive when people just don’t get that. I am very thankful for the doctors who have helped me and have saved my life, I hope you can see that one day. I was 380 pounds, while I did love myself I wasn’t doing anything to show myself love through what I ate, I don’t think we should put anyone down but I do hope if you had a client who was a diabetic and obese you’d help them not encourage them and tell them they can eat whatever they want, for some of us it’s not that simple. I find that everyone complaining about size acceptance is actually pretty close to a normal size. Try being morbidly obese, and having horrible pain every single day or trying to fit into an airplane seat, or just walk a few blocks, you might see it differently and you might see the importance of following a healthy diet. I’m glad for everyone who can eat whatever they want, but some of us are not that fortunate, and I wish that people would accept me and the way I need to eat rather than calling me extreme or saying I have a disorder, the disorder was binging and getting really sick, not eating healthy.

    • I’m proud of you for speaking up Shiela! No one should ever feel judged for eating healthy, especially with your health problems. You are brave for admitting you have a problem. As an alcoholic who has been sober for 9 years now I faced the same judgements from my friends who thought I was being extreme for not drinking. Now I see the same thing in the vegan world, and it saddens me. I am someone who doesn’t have to worry like you have had to, and I consider myself fortunate. I am very thankful for the “guru’s” who are saving lives of very sick people. Christy I hope you can see one day that those advocating eating a healthy plant-based diet that happen to be doctors are doing so out of love and kindness and care for those who are not well. Not everyone can eat the way you do or workout the way you do. I’m assuming you are bashing the likes of Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Furhman, Dr. McDougall and Dr. Neal Barnard all who advocate a very healthy vegan diet. I don’t see them as shaming anyone, but instead helping those who need help, like the brave and beautiful Shiela. Let’s all focus on the good and lovely in this world and not put down others who are trying to help, and certainly not put down people who are trying to become healthy, even if it is not the way YOU would go about it. To each their own.

      • In no way is this post judging people who eat healthy or putting anyone down. It’s the exact opposite. I’m all for eating healthfully and have always been. See comment below for more details. The work that those doctors do is nothing short of amazing in helping people reach their health goals. But many organizations do use fat-shaming and scare tactics that I don’t view as helpful. And I’m not the only one. You can advocate for healthy eating without those tactics and without demonizing food. People with food issues need more than just being told this is “bad” and this is “good”.

    • In no way is this post judging those who eat healthy or who have transformed their health in wonderful ways. I’m an advocate for eating healthfully and healing any health issue through food. I’ve helped many people heal themselves of cancer through diet. Everyone that knows me and has followed my work for the last 10 years knows that I’m an advocate for eating healthfully, I believe there are many paths to health. There isn’t one way that will work for everyone to meet their health and fitness goals.

      This blog doesn’t say anywhere that I think people shouldn’t eat healthy. I just don’t demonize food in the same way that some people do. And in no way is this post judging people. The whole point of this post is to to help others not judge people for their diet, size, or anything for that matter.

      • I’ve been a big fan of yours for a while, I LOVE your cookbook! I’ve been lurking for a while though, but wanted to speak up, hope that is ok with you to the above comments. I think what Christy is speaking out against is the fat shaming and push to be skinny by people like PETA or the horrible “Skinny Bitch” books there are some others like that that use sex and thinness to push their agenda and it’s wrong! The doctos you mention above are all wonderful, people like them, Happy Herbivore, Engine 2 Diet, the nutritionist Jeff Novick, Julieanna Hever are all doing great things to teach a message of health, I don’t think theirs at all is a message that Christy is railing against. So I think there is a big difference. You’ve got people that wrote Skinny Bitch which puts down women and shames them and PETA which uses sex, and then you’ve got people who are actually teaching messages of health! I see you (Christy) in that same group, teaching health, of course you never want people eating junk food, that’s not living a blissful life!

        Keep up the great work! And keep speaking out against people who do harm!

        • Hi Dani! Thanks for stopping by and sharing! Yes, I’m definitely talking about those instances with PETA but I also see many of the groups you list use similar tactics in a different way. Sometimes it’s just not as obvious. And now that I’m in the fitness movement I see this sort of thing all the time there! It’s getting out of hand!

      • Christy,

        This is a really great post and you have given me a lot to think about. Unfortunately, this issue is incredibly complicated and each person is different, with different histories and life circumstances. I could write a book about the subject, but I won’t. I just wanted to tell you that I found your post very thought provoking and for that I thank you.

        Best,

        Wendy

  8. I loved this post Christy! As a former vegan I am so tired of being judged and being told what is “good” and “bad” to eat. You are spot on, no one should be made to feel bad for what they eat or how they look! It was just too hard to be completely vegan, and it was driving me nuts. Thanks for posting this article more people need to think like this and not judge people who aren’t vegan. My goal is to also live a blissful life!

  9. Christy, this is a fantastic blog post, and good for you for sharing your thoughts about this difficult and, apparently quite controversial topic. For what it’s worth I did not read an ounce of judgement in what you wrote, and I certainly didn’t perceive any bashing. I think this is such an important topic of conversation for our community. As veganism grows, the makeup of our movement will grow and diversify as well. I want to see a vegan community that embraces and supports plant eaters who are here far all reasons (personal health, animals/ethics, sustainability and environmentalism, etc) and who come in all shapes and sizes. But in order to get there, we need to communicate, to have these difficult dialogues, and to challenge our own beliefs and opinions. So I say again, good for you for sparking a much-needed debate! I hope we can all remain calm and considerate as the conversation continues.

    <3 <3 <3

    • Thank for your comment Sayward and your beautiful energy and understanding of this complicated issue. I’m glad people like you are out there!

  10. Thanks for sharing this! I recently found about the Health at Every Size movement and I love its message! Went I went vegan I was entranced by the “If you go vegan you will lose weight and become your ‘natural’ (meaning thin) size.” When this didn’t happen I felt like a failure as a vegan and that I wasn’t representing veganism correctly. Sometimes I would even be worried about telling people I’m vegan because I don’t have the “right” body type.

    I am still vegan and feel the healthiest I ever have. I am certainly still affected by all the pressure in our society to lose weight, be a certain BMI, or a certain size, but I am also the happiest I have ever been with my body and furthermore I know that my veganism isn’t about me, it’s about the animals — anything else is just a bonus.

  11. This is an amazing post…. I struggle SOOO much with my weight… and ate my way up to over 300 pounds TWICE on a vegan diet… I am still struggling big time due to being inactive due to a foot injury/surgery… I have so many thoughts about diet/body image/fat shaming… omg.. thanks for writing this… I shared it with my facebook page..

    • Just to clarify, I don’t blame the vegan diet for my weight gain.. I just know that people were always SOOO shocked when they found out I was vegan because I was soooo heavy.

  12. FormerVegan

    I partially agree with you and I’m glad you don’t judge people like me for choosing to eat animals, and you are ok with it, that is cool. Where I don’t agree with you is that for some people food is an addiction, like drugs or alcohol, it was for me, I couldn’t just eat a donut or whatever you think is ok to eat, even once in a while, because it was a drug. You probably don’t understand addiction to food, that is ok, but don’t knock people for having to do things all the way because that might be their only choice. Maybe it’s ok for some people to drink poison (alcohol) but for most like me I can’t do that either, would you judge me for that as well? Maybe go to some OA meetings to help you understand this very hard subject before making assumptions about people though.

    • I’m not going to judge anyone for their eating habits (or anything they do in life for that matter), but as an ethical vegan I wouldn’t say that I’m “ok” that people eat animals. I wish they didn’t and I will help anyone who would like to transition away from them. But it’s really important that people be more conscious of their food choices in general. And I have many friends and clients with various addictions. I come from alcoholic parents, so I am sensitive to that. My blog is not talking to people who have serious health issues or disorders. Everyone needs to get help for that and will have a different diet. Some people say that there is a one-size-fits-all diet for everyone and I don’t agree with that. That is what I’ve been saying all along! There can’t be a one-size-fits-all diet because we all have different histories, genetics, lifestyles, and goals.

  13. It’s amazing how much words can hurt. When I hit my teens, I was bullied for being “fat”. I lost weight without trying after going vegetarian and my weight crept up before I started lifting. I lost 30 pounds and have started putting on muscle. This Christmas was rough. I was called “skinny”, “Skinny Minnie” and was told that maybe if my boyfriend and I stood together, we’d make a person. Even though this was said by relatives who grew up in a different time and mean well, it still hurts. I’d rather have people call me out on my personality traits rather than my body shape. I’m dedicated, a hard-worker, health-conscious and an activist… not “skinny” or “small”.

    Anyway, I love you Christy! Keep on bringing these issues to life.

    You look great and are doing an awesome job :D

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