Women and Hunger
Recently I listened to a podcast episode called Trust Your Body on one of my favorite podcasts, Dear Sugars. In the episode, the hosts, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed, and guests, Hilary Kinavey, M.S., L.P.C., and Dana Sturtevant, M.S., R.D., discussed the never-ending cycles of dieting that affect so many women. One of the women who wrote to the Sugars talked about how tired she feels about "being on the roller coaster" of weight loss and self-esteem. I can relate to her struggles as I have been on the roller coaster myself for most of my adolescent and adult life.
The struggle with our bodies is so pervasive, oppressive, and multi-generational, as Cheryl Strayed asked, is it possible to ever be free of it? How can we dismantle the connection between morality, worthiness, and femininity with women's body image? The hosts discuss how women's appetite and desire are controlled by a male-dominated society. They talk about Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth that links women's appetite for love, sex, money, food, care, etc. to women's rights and equality in the home, in bed, in the workplace, and in the world. Women are hungry for so much more.
The Culture of Restriction
Yet, we starve ourselves. We starve ourselves of our needs and wants, our power, our potential, our worth, our rightful place in this world. This starvation is manifested in physical form by the way we starve our bodies. When we are chronically starving and unsatisfied, it is no wonder that we struggle with other mental health and physical health concerns as well. Dana Sturtevant is a dietitian and talked about how the healthcare system promotes the diet culture by focusing on women's weight rather than healthy behaviors or social determinants of health and weight (e.g., socioeconomic status, access to healthy foods, access to spaces to exercise, stigma against larger bodies, etc.). Despite what the advertisement for weight loss products and programs say, losing weight is never the answer to unhappiness and low self-worth. Plus, 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will gain it all back if not more. The good news is, there is a different way.
Honoring Hunger and Desire
What if we honored women's appetite and desire as what they are, as a hunger that deserves to be satisfied? What if we allowed ourselves to challenges society's control of women and dictation of what women can be, should be, and want? What if we freed ourselves from the concepts of what is "good" vs. "bad," what is "healthy" vs. "unhealthy?" What if we freed ourselves rather than waiting for someone else to free us? What if we trusted ourselves, our bodies, our intuition, our power? What kind of world would that be? A world that I want to live in.
Are you tired of the roller coaster of dieting and hating your body? Tell me more in the comment section below.
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Recently, I noticed some small but significant changes in my body. Looking into the mirror one day, I discovered a few moles that were not there before. My partner found a baby grey hair that was starting grow on my head. I I noticed that my clothes don't fit the way that they used to; I am gaining weight around my belly and my thighs. These cellulite, stretch marks, and wrinkles are here to stay. Given my past struggles in my relationship with my body, I was surprised to find that I did not react to these changes with criticism, disappointment, or panic. Instead, I found myself observing these changes with a sense of calm curiosity. I realized that I liked what I saw.
I fought a long battle with my body in my teens and twenties. I fell for the media's unrealistic expectations for women's bodies at a young age. Since puberty, I tried to conform to the society's beauty ideals because the ideals promised happiness and success. As an Asian woman living in the U.S., I also equated being beautiful with being White. Over time, I learned that chasing after these beauty ideals was a fruitless and hopeless task. I could not be more thin or more White than the body I was born into.
Realizing that I am starting to accept and embrace my body as I aged was a welcoming change. Perhaps part of this acceptance comes with the third decade, as I hear that we generally feel more grounded, happy, and care less about what people think at this time in our lives. I also think this new found body acceptance is the result of talking about my relationship with my body, being honest about my body shame, seeking out sources of information to challenge the beauty ideals (such as the TEDx Talk by Jean Kilbourne on "The Dangerous Ways Ads See Women"), and finding validating voices that help me feel normal in my struggle.
“I wrote ‘Bootylicious’ because, at the time, I’d gained some weight and the pressure that people put you under, the pressure to be thin, is unbelievable. I was just 18 and you shouldn’t be thinking about that. You should be thinking about building up your character and having fun, and the song was just telling everyone to forget what people are saying, you’re bootylicious. That’s all. It’s a celebration of curves and a celebration of women’s bodies.”
There are still times when the body shame comes back and I feel 14 years old again. In those moments, I look down on my belly and I tell myself, "I love you, no matter what."
Do you struggle with body image concerns? Have you found ways to love your body? Share your story with me in the comment section below.
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