This post is going to be hard and long. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and it is probably going to make a lot of people who love and support me feel guilty. I want to say up front that is not my intent. My intent is not to hurt those people who love me most because I know their actions and words came from a place of love, but just because it was well-intentioned doesn’t mean it wasn’t harmful.
We already covered the fact that I was a big child. When I was old enough to understand about being overweight, my mom told me some of the medicines I took for bladder issues made me gain weight faster than I would’ve otherwise. I remember her telling me when I was probably 11 or 12 that I would have to work extra hard to offset the effects of the medicine. As a 12-year-old, I was being told I needed to watch what I eat and be more active, even though I played sports and was constantly dancing with my sisters. I was in eighth grade when she arranged a meeting with a personal trainer for me. I was so excited! Let that sink in for a minute. My 14-year-old self was unbelievably excited to meet with a personal trainer and finally be able to lose weight. While all my friends were at volleyball camp, I went and met with this trainer. She taught me how to do pelvic tilts and told me if I needed a treat, I could eat Tootsie Pops and Fig Newtons. That is about all I remember about that experience, but I do know it was the first in a long line of attempts my mom made to “help” me lose weight.
Later, she bought me all the ingredients and helped me make cabbage soup for my five-day cabbage soup diet and bought me a weird exercise program that involved a resistance band with a bar hooked to it and strange breathing exercises. One year, sometime after I graduated from college, she gave me a new workout program for my birthday. Before you think my mom is some kind of monster, she isn’t, I promise. She didn’t do any of those things maliciously, she didn’t ever call me fat (like I know some parents do), she was simply supporting me in my desire to lose weight and helping me the only way she knew how. She is my biggest supporter and the best mom I could have asked for, and she certainly isn’t the only one I was getting those messages from. My dad, grandma, P.E. teacher, and many others it would take too long to name all reinforced the same idea: I, an otherwise healthy teenager, NEEDED to lose weight.
But you see, that is the problem. When the people we love the most—the ones who have our best interests at heart—tell us something, we believe them. And all these things done and said over years and years of my life led me to believe one thing: I needed to change my body because there was something wrong with it. It was a message I received loud and clear, and because it came from the people who loved me most, I believed it. I couldn’t tell you what my mom’s motivations were, but I choose to believe she wanted me to be healthy, not that she thought I was fat. But the thing is, I got the wrong message. I didn’t get the message that I should eat well and move my body because that is what is healthy and will make me feel good. I got the message there was something wrong with my body and I needed to change it.
If this story resonates with any of you please, please listen when I tell you THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR BODY. It is beautiful just the way it is right now. Cellulite on your thighs? Me too. Stretch marks on your belly? Me too. Parts that jiggle when you walk or dance? Yup, I’ve got that too. But that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me, and it doesn’t mean people who don’t have these things are any better or more healthy than I am.
I’m not saying health and fitness and wellness are things we shouldn’t be teaching and encouraging in our children, family, and friends, but I am saying there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Teach your children that they should move their bodies and be active because it feels good, because it will make their muscles and bones stronger, because their heart and lungs need exercise to thrive. Teach them to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins because those are things that fuel our bodies and help us function at our best. Teach them exercise and movement are things that should be enjoyed; it’s not punishment because they ate too many Oreos. And while we’re talking about Oreos, teach them that sweets and treats are perfectly fine! That they don’t have to be a reward for doing their workout; they’re meant to be enjoyed as a part of life.
I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise for the majority of my life because I got the wrong messages as a young, impressionable child. Exercise was a punishment, food was a reward, and the main goal was to change my body. Health, wellness, and happiness should be the focus. Not weight loss. Not changing the beautiful body we have been given. There is a growing body of evidence that being overweight in and of itself is not a health risk. We have been doing biometric screenings at my work for the past four years, and with the exception of the screening that was done when I was eight months pregnant, every single one of my numbers has been within range. I have a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose. But I digress. Being healthy at any size or not is a post for another day.
This post is for letting those people who think they are doing their loved ones a favor by bullying them into healthy habits know they are dead wrong. You aren’t doing anyone a favor. In fact, you are likely causing damage that is going to take a lifetime to heal. This post is for letting those of you who are being bullied by the people who love you the most know you are perfect and beautiful and worth it just the way you are. Some of you may think bullying is a harsh word to use in this instance, but it’s not. It feels harsh because no one wants to think they’ve been bullying their own children, but in too many instances that is exactly what is happening.
If you are reading this message and crying or feeling guilty because you are the one who has been teaching your daughter, son, niece, nephew, spouse, sister, friend that they need to eat less and move more to change their body, it’s not too late to make a change to the message you are sending. It’s not going to be easy to let go of a lifetime of sending and receiving the wrong messages. It’s not easy to overcome the idea that fat is a bad thing. It’s not easy to start teaching the people we love to be healthy but that healthy doesn’t have to mean losing weight when for so long we’ve been bombarded with messages that weight loss equals health.
Start giving compliments that have nothing to do with appearance, stop making snide comments about food and exercise and what someone is eating or any comments at all for that matter, stop trying to encourage change in people’s bodies in the name of health, and start loving and accepting your family members just the way they are. You might be surprised by how much they flourish and thrive when they are finally able to embrace their body and love themselves.