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Delighting in Fatness

By Michelle Lehnardt

Sobs muffled my voice as I phoned my husband from the doctor’s office, “Is everything OK?” he worried,”Is the baby all right?”

“Yes. Yes. It’s just that I’ve exercised every day, I’ve been following the stupid diabetic diet and I’ve still gained 10 lbs. this month! I’m getting so FAT. What is wrong with my body?”

Silence.

And then my husband’s patient voice crackled over the phone, “You are pregnant. You are supposed to gain weight. There’s nothing wrong with you.” He took a deep breath and in his sweet but firm way continued, “Listen, if you want to see someone whose body has turned on them, stop by LDS Hospital on the way home and visit your friend Anne in the cancer ward. She would be happy to have those 10 pounds.”

His words startled and stopped my tears, but I was in a pique and sulked home to my sons and the everpresent laundry.

*****

Anne died of a malignant tumor the next day. She was 28 years old and left behind a loving husband and beautiful, heartbroken 3 year old daughter.

Shifting on the hard metal chairs at her funeral a few days later, my hands rested on my moonlike belly as my 3rd son flexed and shifted inside me. I promised myself that I would never complain about my healthy, fertile, marathon-running body again; that I would happily grow old and fat and gray in exchange for the exquisite pleasure of raising my children.

I lied. I haven’t kept my promise.

In the dozen years since Anne’s death I’ve scarcely gone a day without fretting and worrying over my waistline. Oh, I know I look fine, but I want to look better.

Clearly, I’m not alone. A few minutes in the grocery line reveals who in Hollywood has gained or lost a few pounds, diet books crowd the bestseller list and miracle pills are touted on every website(Acai Berry, anyone?). Utah women seem even more susceptible to the allure of vanity, claiming the highest percentage of plastic surgeries in the nation.

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Body Image by Melissa Young describes a toddler admiring herself in the mirror. The mother’s plea is that her daughter will always see her own beauty

and never wish for



wasting over health



flatness over curves



bones over flesh

My mother raised me in a time before eating disorders had entered the public awareness. I know now that her constant monitoring of my food and lectures on dieting were to shield me from the obesity that plagued her life. But sadly, I came to believe the numbers on the scale measured my worth, that losing 10 more pounds would finally make me successful in my mother’s eyes.

Exercise and diet ARE important– but they need to be balanced with a profound gratitude for our miraculous bodies.  Tragically, I know that my obsession with weight is the greatest obstacle in my relationship with God.

How can we teach our daughters(and sons) a healthy body image? Why is the quest for beauty so rampant among LDS women? And how can I(as a nearly 40 year old mother of six) come to terms with my own curves?

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

56 thoughts on “Delighting in Fatness”

  1. Leaving aside your question for a moment… can you tell me where you get the statistic that "Mormon women… claim the highest percentage of plastic surgeries in the nation"?

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  2. I have struggled with body image issues my whole life, due in part to my mother's eating disorder and obsession with her own weight. I am fit and at a healthy weight, but there is always that little voice in the back of my head that says, "You would be happier if you lost 10 lbs." (Which is what my mother would often say to me as a teenager). One of my sisters developed an eating disorder as a teenager and was praised for her "skinniness."

    I have read that mothers have the biggest influence over their daughters' body images because they teach with their own examples — eating habits, dieting, body acceptance etc. I have young children and I often worry that my own insecurities will be transmitted to them as well. I think that being cognizant of the problem is a big step. I know that I have a less than perfect body image, but I can teach them healthy eating habits and exercise rather than focusing on being "skinny."

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  3. You need to get right with yourself NOW because you will affect your kids. I have a relative who has always had eating issues (could be anorexic)–she is painfully thin. And guess what? Her grown daughters (who are my age) all have eating issues. They hate the way they look even though they are beautiful. It is so sad.

    Obsession with weight is, plain and simple, vanity. But when we call it "health concern" we foster it as a healthy thing. Eat well, be strong, but throw out the scale.

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  4. Great post, Michelle. And I love Melissa's poem.

    Yes, weight is a national obsession, born, ironically, of our material abundance.

    With my children (one girl, four boys), I've tried to emphasize HEALTH. ("It's not about weight, it's about health." I'd like a dollar for every time I've said that.) Still, it sometimes feels like a losing battle against the constant barrage of media messages. If I talk to my teenage boys about limiting their sugar intake and up-ing their consumption of fruits and vegetables, they'll often say something like: "Why? I'm not fat." BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT! I want to shriek.

    I think it's of vital importance that parents model a healthy, balanced, active lifestyle–moderate daily exercise, healthy eating, joy in living.

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  5. I was always one of those disgusting people who was underweight no matter how hard i tried – until 45. Then oops!
    Now I will be 50 this year and weigh more than I ever have! I gained about 20 – 25 pds between recouping from surgery and getting married!
    My husband and I have both gained since we got married.I heard it is a sign of happiness – ok i'll go with that. hehehehe –
    but a trip to the dr yesterday – all the dieting and exercise and i lost 1 pd – 1 – 1 – i was not happy!
    Hard to figure, since I can, for the 1st time since last spring fit in my jeans again.
    dr said i am building muscle – that is just lovely.

    My family is extremely wt conscious and so is my husband. Nothing I had to think about till the last 5 years. Hardest part – i absolutely love bread! greatest food temptation, add gravy it is all over.
    I try to look at the health side, but is still hard not to obcess about!

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  6. I know seeking to be ever thinner can be an emotional issue, so I do have compassion, but I wonder if the "thin" women who complain about being sooo fat ever wonder how it makes women who actually are large feel? It always bugs me when women at church (or activities/girls nights) complain about being so huge. They complain (obviously to hear compliments): "I'm grossed out I'm so fat! I'm gi-normous!" And I think…right. So if you're disgustingly fat, and I'm double your size, what does that make me? Are there adjectives for my ample portions? Oh I forgot, "big-boned." Skinny girls with a little fluff never claim that one.

    I'm really not as bitter as I'm sounding. I guess it's just that I was recently disturbed by the demographics of the YSA branch in our area. My husband and I went to the birthday party of a guy-friend who is single. Almost the entire singles branch was in attendance. Guess what I noticed about the female portion of guests? 90% of them were overweight. A few of them I know personally. Awesome women. Some are becoming bitter because it seems the guys in the ward are only after the young and petite. If such a dainty woman enters the ward, it's only a matter of time before she's dated half the guys that lined-up and then marries. I understand their bitterness.

    Even in our family ward, the YW who wear stilettos and have "trendy" figures are given much more attention by the YM (and sometimes everyone else too).

    I'm going to be watching the comments to get some suggestions. I really want to teach my children to value people for who they are instead of how they look.

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  7. I'm so grateful that I was raised with a healthy body image. I am lucky that I had a very high metabolism so weight was never an issue growing up but I don't recall my mom ever mentioning my weight or criticizing my food choices (and I ate a lot). My parents pretty much made us all do sports, dance, etc but it was more to keep us involved than to keep us skinny. I just never remember any real mention of weight growing up but then again my siblings and I were all thin growing up. As I've gotten older and my weight has fluctuated, I've sometimes wished I was thinner but I've never been overly concerned about it.

    I know other families who have the daughters drinking slim fasts from a young age. Maybe they do it because it is quick and full of vitamins but I think it still sends a message. I had another friend whose mother told them the caliber of men they would attract if they lost 10 lbs was much higher than what they could get at their current weight. These things all impact body image.

    I wish I knew what my parents' secret was for helping us have positive body images because now I am faced with triplet daughters with different body types. I already know comparisons are inevitible as they get older. I especially worry if I will be able to handle it right if one of them is overwieght. I frequently think about what I can do to help them and what I have come up with is to continue with my own positive body image and to stay healthy. I am also trying not to put too much emphasis either positive or negative on my kids' bodies. My mil used to go on and on about how cute her youngest daughter's figure was and I know it was very hurtful to an older daugher who struggled with weight and body image.

    As for the plastic surgery aspect, I lived in an area with a large number of women who had been surgically enhanced and spent many, many hours working out. I somtime wondered if it was hard for their teenage daughters to have a mom with a hotter body then them.

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  8. You know what I wonder? What did women's bodies look like before mass media? I've seen a few pictures of pioneer women that don't exactly look like Angelina Jolie. And these women worked HARD and didn't have a Dunkin Donuts on every corner to tempt them.

    I think the natural state of health for many people just isn't today's concept of thin. But even though I'm sure this is true, it's still hard to accept. I am built like my dad – "stocky" is what I'd be called if I were male. My sisters are built like my mom and could be fashion models if they were a little taller. I've wanted a different body my whole life, even though I try not to want that.

    Why, even though I know my genetics will never allow me to be healthy and fashion model thin at the same time, do I still have such a hard time accepting it? It reminds me of a book I read by Elisabeth Bumiller called "Mother of a thousand sons" where Indian women know full well that sperm determine the sex of a baby but still blame themselves for not having sons. My attitude about weight is not so different.

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  9. I've been slightly overweight my entire life. I run every day and we live a pretty active family lifestyle. I really love my body, to be totally honest. I would probably change a few things if I had my druthers, but I feel strong and healthy. After all the miles I've logged, I've come to terms that my body doesn't want to be a different weight than this. Either that or I still eat too much chocolate.

    I have no idea how to teach my girls to love their bodies. I just try to not obsess about it myself and hope they pick that up! Or maybe I'll get some great pearls of wisdom here!

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  10. Oohh, and the Mormon woman and plastic surgery statistic was actually a statistic about Utah and plastic surgery rates. There are more plastic surgeons here in Utah per ca pita than anywhere else in the country, and the surgery rates are higher than other states. I read it in the SL Trib a year or so ago. That's probably what Michelle was referencing.

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  11. My mom was always obsessing about her weight and I think I got a bit of body dysmorphia from her. I am 5'10 and usually weigh around 150. I always think I am about 5lbs away from perfection. I never say anything to my girls. I do have to watch my weight because I have only one kidney and weight issues are the best way to kill it. I talk to my girls about how no one food is bad and I go to the Y so that I can catch them when I run. I am determined that they will feel great about themselves. We talk about getting healthy and not skinny. My 7 year old went rounds on steroids to fight her Lymphoma and she still talks about the weight…I hope we can work through that with her.

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  12. So many interesting comments–

    Ginger, the statistic is actually Utah women, I'll go change it to that.

    Courtney- it sounds like you were raised with a mother like Sharlee! Parents who model healthy eating and an active lifestyle but who don't focus on weight.

    Anonymous– I know it's obnoxious for "thin" women to complain, I know it. I try to remain quiet about weight in public because I would never judge someone on their weight(so why do I judge myself?), in fact I often envy heavier women who are comfortable in their own skin.

    And your point about the singles group just shows how much society values thinness. Sad, but true.

    Emily U– that's such an interesting point. Did the pioneers accept a wide variety of body types "that's just how she's built" rather than trying to conform to a single body type?

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  13. I think that like a lot of people have said, it comes down to family environment in a lot of cases. I don't know what else we can do about media imagery, except talk openly about it with our kids as they get older. I also feel very blessed to grow up with a mom without body issues. She isn't exactly skinny, but she loves to eat and we grew up loving food and not fearing it. I feel bad for so many people I know who spend so much time and energy worrying about their bodies. Also, my mom grew up on a farm and spent her childhood working hard. First of all, she couldn't limit what she ate, and second of all she learned that her body could be strong and do work. I don't know if I can recreate that experience for my kids, but I want them to know about being healthy and to value their bodies. Right now they are little and I don't know what will happen as they get older and more exposed to the world.

    I think we also need to be careful about how we talk about ourselves around other women. Comparing and complaining can really hurt those around us. My sister is naturally very skinny, and she's often been hurt by other women who are viciously jealous of her body. It's not like she tries to be that skinny, and there is no reason to be mean about how other people look because we all have different body types.

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  14. I didn't read all the comments, so if mine is being repeated, I apologize.

    Our family doesn't struggle with wanting to be too thin –our family has always struggled with obesity and not realizing how devestating it is to our health.

    My mother and her two sisters once had a picture taken of the three of them. They were on vacation in British Columbia and it had been a Sunday. They were standing on a walk-way in the forest in their dresses –my aunt was in a size 26, my other aunt was in something like a 32, and my mother was in a 24. They took this picture and when the three of them saw it, they realized it was horrific. Not because they didn't like what they saw, but because they realized they were in their 40's and they were going to die young.
    All three of them got to it.
    Two years later, they took another picture (in dresses) at a nephew's wedding in SLC. This time, my aunt was a size 12, my other aunt was a 16, and my mom a 12. And they are in their 50's, and they will live much, much longer.

    This whole situation is what pushed my obese body to lose 40 pounds a year ago.

    So, yes, with body image, we need to be careful –we truly need to make sure we see ourselves as God sees us. But we also need to be healthy! Does that mean only being a size 8 will equate health? No way! But it does mean that we will do our best to take care of the bodies God has entrusted us with. I know when I eat right and get exercise my Spirit is happier because it is being housed in a body that is loved.

    I guess my point is that the pendulum can swing both ways –obsession to be thinner and then to apathy about being obese. We need to find a middle ground where we don't feel the need to obsess, but we aren't apathetic, either, you know?

    Great post, Michelle! (and your husband is a wise man!) 🙂

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  15. do you think women would have these body image issues if we weren't constantly told by the media that we need to be attractive, sexy, beautiful in order to get and keep a man?

    i see so many single women obsessing over their bodies — obsessing in ways that you could not imagine. it seems that many of us think that the only reason the Lord is holding back marriage is that we're too fat, too flabby, and there isn't a man out there who doesn't demand perfection from his eternal companion.

    and why shouldn't men think this way? women have been taught that they need to be all things to all men. men like blonds? ok, i'll bleach my hair. big boobs? done, i'll get implants. wait, you like the small waif look? ok, i'll live off diet coke and popcorn. the media, society, whoever, has paraded around a menu of physical possibilities for men to choose from, and too many women have sadly accepted the fact that we should adhere to these stupid, stupid ideals.

    i can't imagine it gets better once you've married if your dated and wed under this cloud.

    why don't we ever see the men who like regular women? why don't we ever see the regular women? do you want to be a regular woman? if you had the choice, how much would you change your physical appearance? or, are you really ok with your own set of blueprints?

    do you ever wonder why there are pictures of scantily clad women on women's magazines? why half of the headlines are touting new and exciting ways to please a man, attract a man, make a man happy?

    i sing the praises of the regular man and the regular woman.

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  16. I see your points and sympathize. I just want to point out that media images of men's bodies are very particular and narrow, too, and that some men have eating disorders. I'm always telling my husband to forget about the body hair and just have fun in a swim suit, but he's too embarrassed to do so.

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  17. So perhaps a question we should be asking is how to teach our boys to appreciate women beyond their body shape. How are those of you with boys doing this?

    Boys themselves are being hit with negative messages more than ever as well. If you compare a 1980s GI Joe figure with the current one, the difference is startling.

    I think that childlike love of ourselves is perhaps one of the aspects of becoming "like a little child" that we would do well to embrace. How do we do it?

    I love the ideas of focusing on strength and health–the things our amazing bodies are capable of. Even our capacity to feel physical pain is enviable from the perspective of disembodied Adversary. We learn so much through our bodies–so much that draws us to Christ because of our understanding that He experienced it as well.

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  18. Melissa- you bring up some fantastic points. The super-buff GI Joe of today is unattainable for most men. Thankfully, I've been able to teach my boys about exercise and healthy eating w/o my own neuroses entering the equation. I pray I can do the same for my little girl.

    This took my breath away– "Even our capacity to feel physical pain is enviable from the perspective of disembodied Adversary." Body hatred is SATAN's plan– not God's.

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  19. I think one of the problems is that there are so few "size 12" or "size 14" celebrities on television. They're either size 2 or quite overweight–which is funny since I heard once that size 12 or size 14 is the most common size for adult women in America.

    Did anyone see Kelly Clarkson on American Idol this week? She has an "average" woman's body. And do you think the music industry would have ever let her in the gate if America hadn't voted her there? Probably not. And one of the reasons I watch the TV show "Medium" is because Patricia Arquette also has a real woman's body. She looks like a mom, you know? She's beautiful–and her arms are a little chubby, and she has hips and a waist that's thicker than a 16 year old's.

    I've decided for myself that, although I would love to be 20 pounds thinner than I am, that the lifestyle changes I'd have to employ to get there wouldn't be worth it in the end. Instead of enhancing the quality of my life, maintaining that weight would take so much exercise and such an obsessive degree of food monitoring that it would deplete me. So I exercise 3-4 times a week, I try to eat moderately (and sometimes fail–but I do love food!) . . . and I'm not the hottest mom on the block. That doesn't mean I don't have my own hangups. (Heaven knows I do, and body image is still a factor in my life, I can't deny it.) But I'm trying.

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  20. "So perhaps a question we should be asking is how to teach our boys to appreciate women beyond their body shape. How are those of you with boys doing this?"

    Great question, Melissa! And vice versa: how do we teach our girls to appreciate boys beyond their body shape? As the mother of four boys, I've seen that it can go both ways.

    My husband has done a great job of consciously teaching our boys to see females as human beings, not objects. He talks very openly with them about the difference and about the damaging effects of viewing girls/women as objects or possessions.

    It really all comes down to talking with our kids, openly and often, and modeling for them appropriate behavior and attitudes.

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  21. I'm the mom of 4 boys.

    I'm not judging…(much),
    but with the statistics as high as they are (esp. in the Mormon population) for plastic surgery, and the trends I see in wards for moms & daughters getting "enhanced" together,

    I can't help but wonder what percentage of my sons will marry women with "real" bodies.

    This is a hard topic to broach with sons, because I really don't want to sit in judgment of those who have chosen to enhance. I have dear friends and relatives who have done so, for many different reasons and with many different outcomes and post surgery opinions.

    I do blame the media for making our sons (and husbands for that matter) turn their preferences to sometimes unnaturally sculpted bodies. But we as women who chase it, have a hand in it too. It is a vicious cycle with many victims.

    [Calling all wise mothers of boys: help! how and what are you teaching your boys?]

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  22. My parents are not good role models for health and fitness, but I never had any "body image" issues, per se, while growing up. Probably I didn't have enough confidence to appreciate what I had. (Actually, I know that's true. Do women ever appreciate how gorgeous their bodies are before they stretch and smoosh from pregnancy and age?)

    I'm one of those who has always had a good figure. I'm tall, I'm fairly thin. After two kids and hitting 30, I'm having a harder time getting rid of that "prego belt" that hovers around my waist.

    In response to Anonymous above, it really grates me when women who are fatter than me (like 40+ pounds more and 5 inches shorter) act annoyed that I want to lose 10 pounds and 3 inches around my waist. If I mention how I usually go to the gym 5 days a week, they say, "You don't need to lose any weight! You're skinny!" They're always suprised when I tell them I'm actually a size 10/12, not a 6. I'm a big woman. 5'10", broad shoulders, long and big everything. And being tall with hips and big boobs really hides the extra inches around my waist.

    My point is, it works both ways. Don't critisize me for actually working at and being successful at improving and maintaining my body. I eat well, I exercise regularly, I fight to get enough sleep. I'm happy with my body. I've learned to appreciate what I have now before another 30 years pass. Don't get annoyed at me for wanting to actually achieve that goal that I'm working so hard toward.

    Even though my waist is smooshy and squishy like most moms out there, I take the time to appreciate and show off my figure. Taking the time for fitness and telling myself I look good do worlds of good for my confidence and my attitude. I know I'll never, never be smaller than a size 10. That's okay with me.

    That's how I appreciate my curves.

    My two daughters love to "ekersize" with me, and between the two totally different bodies that they have (tall and skinny 4yo, short and average 2yo) I think that they'll both be confident, happy and healthy. I emphasize being strong and healthy — not thinner. (Bragging point: I beat my husband in pushups last week. It was enough encouragement for him to hit the strength training too.)

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  23. I am 5'6" and 122 lbs and for some reason I am always trying to get down under 120. It sucks always obsessing about weight, but so far, I haven't been able to figure out how to love me as me and not beat myself up every time I have a cookie or a piece of chocolate. I look at my 11 yr old daughter and wonder if I'm passing on my neurosis. Most likely, although I try hard not to.

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  24. I read somewhere this week that something like 5% of people are even genetically capable of having bodies that look like the models in 90% of magazine pages. It can be difficult to remind ourselves that what we see around us is not normal, average or even physically possible for the vast majority of us.

    I have the misfortune of having a mother who is tall, thin and never had a weight problem of any kind until she hit menopause and now she has a nagging 10 lb or so she can't get rid of so she's learning to exercise meaningfully for the first time in her life. I, on the other hand, have the genes of my father, who comes from sturdy Danish stock and I am the shortest in my family at 5'4". I struggle between pregnancies (somewhat unsuccessfully) to reach a healthy BMI.

    Because weight was never a source of struggle for my mother, she could never (until recently) understand why I didn't just "take care of it". From the time the "Freshman 15" found me until menopause found her, I had to suffer through some of the most awful comments (my favorite being "if you keep gaining weight at this rate you're going to roll right out of law school". I'd gained 10 lb from my entry weight based on a missionary lifestyle of lots of walking, not so much eating and probably an undiagnosed parasite or two (3rd world)–a lifestyle that I could not duplicate in a classroom or in a library studying for 16-18 hours a day.) I found myself honestly believing that in my fatness I didn't merit male attention, dates, love or a husband and in that mental state it is a wonder that my DH found me–but he likes curves so I am blessed that way.

    I have tried to teach my children better eating, that dessert doesn't need to accompany every meal, but that fruits and veggies should. I have tried to be active and help them to be active as well. It's a battle; I love chocolate, my children HATE veggies and are generally picky like many kids. My oldest daughter is heading into the tween years where she's going to get hips and things will change and I worry whether my attempts at teaching good body image and healthy eating will be washed away by what the world teaches.

    I once sat in this same daughter's kindergarten class with 6-8 of her classmates and for some reason they were talking about diets. One child said "diets are bad, my mom says so." Another said, "my mom is always on a diet; she never eats anything." Yet another said, "my mom is always on a diet too, but she eats whatever she wants." I don't remember any of these moms being anything other than "normal size-ish" for all their divergent habits and mindsets. But I can bet money that they had no idea how internalized their food messages were in their 5 year old sons and daughters. It made me want to be even more careful for the messages I don't even realize I'm sending out.

    I want to be happy with my body. I want it to be healthy and strong. I'm working toward that, but most importantly I want to teach my children that bodies are miraculous wonderful gifts from their Father in Heaven, that they come in all different shapes and sizes and that this gift above all others needs to be cared for lovingly or it will not be able to do the things we want it to and that the Lord wants us to do with it.

    As far as teaching boys to value what neither society nor we ourselves value, I haven't figured that out yet. My boys are still small. I hope I can teach them to value a woman's mind, her personality, how much fun she is to be around and above all to value a woman's relationship with the Lord. I'm hoping if they learn to value these really important things, the visual stuff will sort itself out. Is that unrealistic?

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  25. This is an area that I've been working on with girls and parents for many years so it's near and dear to my heart. In fact, I just did 2 video blogs for my parenting blog on instilling confidence in girls this week. Part 1 is http://tinyurl.com/b839g3 and part 2 is http://tinyurl.com/cylhvw In addition, it's a very popular topic on my body image resource blog such as my article on 6 Tips to help your child cope with feeling fat in a thin is in world http://tinyurl.com/b9olnq

    One of the most important things about helping girls to gain a healthy body image is to be aware of the struggle– understand that their perspective is different due to the global and powerful nature of the influences around them. My research for my current book tells me over and over that as adults, we're missing something. I receive stories from parents of girls as well as the girls themselves ( http://www.AskDrRobynSilverman.com )that are heartbreaking. Our girls need us– and we can't treat their frustrations over bodies as a phase.

    Thank you for bringing this question to light on your blog.

    Dr. Robyn

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  26. Erin, I don't think Anonymous was criticizing anyone for working out and trying to maintain a healthy weight. She was just saying she wishes thinner women would be a little more sensitive and tactful around larger women and not make comments about hating their bodies or needing to lose weight.

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  27. Difficult and emotional, that's this issue in a nutshell.

    I admire the folks that get out there and exercise even though it may not result in the figure they want. I admire the folks that manage to change their food choices after years of bad habits. You inspire the rest of us to keep trying.

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  28. Sharlee,

    This is a difficult thing to get across in text, I think. Let me give it a shot.

    I think that our culture has gone too much into the "love your body the way it is!" hype. Yes, we do need to boost our confidence levels and self-acceptance, but too often that breeds complacency with being overweight. I know that most women aren't really happy with being 30-60 pounds heavier than they were at age 20.

    However, most of my girlfriends who are overweight AND have a negative body image aren't doing much about it. They eat poorly and don't do any kind of exercise.

    Yes, it's wrong for thin-ish women to use those "I'm ginormous" and "I'm huge" comments, because it's simply not true. My experience, though, is that women like me who have "good" figures get glared at for just wanting to lose those 10 pounds — as if we don't have a right. Do we applaud the woman who wants to lose 50 and loses 40? Yes. Why not keep cheering her on the rest of the way?

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  29. I've been on both ends of this. I was that overweight girl hearing grating comments about how "fat" thinner women were. At the time I thought it was super insensitive. Then i lost about 30 lbs. and found that my body image hasn't changed as drastically as my weight did. I think the obvious message from all of these posts is that no matter what your size is, most women deal with feeling inadequate about their body. That size 6 woman might actually feel equally or more bad about her body than someone much bigger.

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  30. I have three wonderful sons. The are great people. They love their chubby mom, too…which makes what I have to say even harder to understand.

    One is already married, to a beautiful (inside and out) young woman who works hard to maintain a healthy weight after three children. She prefers to address weight control with exercise (running) rather than food deprivation, which I think is a healthy choice. (Food deprivation from my many diets only served to served to decrease my ability to control portions when I finally did allow myself to eat a so-called "forbidden" food.)

    My other two sons only date "thin" girls. I have heard them refer to very normally-sized young women as "thick." It's not that they don't appreciate these girls, by the way, they "hang out" with them as friends and obviously appreciate their wonderful qualities…but they do not date them. They say that they are not "attracted" to them. Ergo, they are just friends.

    I cannot begin to tell you how many animated discussions we have had about this issue. I could understand a little more if the girls were overweight, and it truly affected their appearance to a degree that was a deal-breaker, but hello! Women were not made to be stick figures. The funny thing is, these same two sons then complain when they take out a young woman and she doesn't eat anything. They want to be with someone who is willing to eat and enjoy food with them. When I explain that you can't have it both ways…that most girls have to deprive themselves of food in order to meet today's expectations of the ideal, they just don't get it.

    Lately, I am a little more encouraged because one of them is dating a girl he describes as "short and stocky." (She is indeed short, but she is just curvy instead of that size 0 petite type of girl. I bet she still wears a 6.) Pretty stocky, right? Anyway, the good news is that he actually doesn't seem to care. He loves her humor, intelligence, and personality. Wonder of wonders!

    I guess there is always hope.

    "/

    Ps. One more thing. I could not believe how Kelly Clarkson was ripped up one side and down the other on the internet the day after her appearance for her "weight gain." You would have thought she'd put on 100 pounds. Sheesh.

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  31. I did a study abroad where I spent a lot of time in museums. I was amazed that classical and Renaissance paintings/sculptures always had full-figured women with hips, often a little pudge in the midsection, and breasts that are realistic in size. I realized that my perception of beauty had been distorted by current media when I wondered why they had such large models. I look a lot more like those models than the ones I see in Vogue.

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  32. My mother has struggled with weight her whole life, but somehow managed NOT to pass that on to me. So, there is hope. In an effort to help those who are struggling with their own body issues and want to avoid passing them on, here are my theories about how that happened.

    First, my mother never ever said anything to me about my weight. Not positive or negative: it just wasn't a subject. Never. Ever.

    My mother also never made weight comments about anyone but herself. She didn't even make comments about herself very often, although from the way she went from diet to diet and how happy she was when she did lose a few pounds it was obvious it was something she struggled with.

    Seeing the way others sometime treated my mom because she was overweight, and knowing myself she didn't deserve such treatment, helped me resolve to be more forgiving of people who also struggled with body issues, including myself.

    Seeing how my mom would go from fad diet to fad diet gave me an example of what NOT to do. Seeing that not one fad diet made a lasting difference helped me resolve to have life-long healthy eating habits.

    I have to admit that I inherited my body shape from Dad's side of the family, which means I am naturally thinner than my mom. Pretty much all of the women in my mom's family are very overweight. I am not super skinny at all! (size 14 right now) but I am small enough to be able to shop for "normal" clothes. Seeing my mom's struggle has helped me really appreciate that I don't have to go to a plus size section to buy clothing, even if I am up on the upper edge of "normal clothes".

    Although I go through periods where I am not happy with my body, usually these do not last too long and motivate me to exercise more and eat healthier. I do exercise regulary and eat very healthy 90% of the time. I could certainly be skinnier, but only if I went into extreme dieting and exercise, which just isn't worth it to me at this point. I mean, I would really love to be thinner, but I know that I am doing the right things so I don't obsess over it. For the most part I have a very healthy body image.

    To this day my mother continues to struggle with body image issues, but I do not. So there is hope!

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  33. Katie! Thanks for sharing your story– it gives us all hope.

    Angie F.– I understand. I completely understand.

    with my five sons we've banned all and any sort of "fat" jokes from the house. I hope they can see the beauty in many different body types.

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  34. Thanks for all the comments. I've struggled with weight all my life. My mother sent all the wrong signals to me. Looking back at photos I was an average sized child, but I think she received the wrong messages and passed them on to me. Luckily my husband received all the right messages about body images. With each weight fluctuation he has told me, I love YOU – size doesn't matter. It has taken nearly 30 years to erase the weight related messages from my childhood. I have worked hard to help my children learn about being "health" not "skinny". I still struggle to keep a manageable weight – but not to be skinny – to stay off the cholestral medication.

    I have often reflected with friends that we might all be surprised after we are resurrected that our perfect bodies are not a size 2. God's perfection is not influenced by the media.

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  35. I was lucky to be raised in a home where we were valued for what we did not how we looked- it wasn't until college that I realized this wasn't the case for everyone. I never curbed my eating or went on wild exercise rampages, took crazy suppliments, as i later watched many people do. I never cared what size my clothes were. I always tried to teach my YW being a size 2 vs a size 12 won't make you change the world, be a better friend, receive more revelation. At the end of the day what we do is what matters.

    I love this poem- it reminds me of my son (who is 3) and inherited my slightly dumbo-esque ears- but they are so soft. SO his nickname is "velvet ears", he often says "mom do you want to touch my velevety soft ears?" and he asks me to make up stories in the Chronicles of Velvet Ears. I want him to kept that body sense he has now.

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  36. I think one of the most important things happened to me when I was 13. I had been sent home from school early as it had started to snow. I lived in Wa state at the time and there when it snowed, nothing functioned:) We had just moved into a new home so I didn't know anyone in the neighbor and I had just discovered that I had forgotten to bring my key with me. So, here I was cold, alone, outside without a key to get into my house.

    So, I prayed hoping for a miracle…some door to unlock miraculously:) It didn't happen, but a miracle did happen that day. As I was sitting there waiting for my mom to get home, I was filled with a great peace and love as I prayed. At that time I was learning that God did love me. And that has been a pivotal knowledge in my life. If God loves me, that was what mattered.

    As daughters, moms, wifes, that is what we need to know and teach and understand when we are looking for ways to get past these worldly images. That God loves us. I know that doesn't always create an easy out for getting past these problems, but I feel like it is a life line to hold onto.

    Sometimes that's all we can do at times is hang on, but at least it's not letting go and we can move forward.

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  37. My idea of myself has fluctated over the years. It is not just about weight.

    I used to be amazingly skinny until I had children. I was the one that could eat anything and not put on an ounce. Since having 3 children I have gained about 15 pounds. Compared to a lot people I know that really I still look thin, therefore o.k. in most peoples eyes. My husband is still happy with my body, in fact he prefers me with a bigger bust. However I just don't feel right. I watch what I eat and I walk a lot, but my body seems to be set at this level, my fat has got friendly with my body and doesn't wish to leave.

    I weighed a 100 pounds when I married, and didn't marry until I was 31. So much for thin girls being asked out!!!!!!!!!!! My weight isn't my big issue though. Mine is that I never feel attractive. I was thin but still didn't have any dates. My real thing is 'looks' in general, I still feel ugly, always have and always will. It's not just bodies that we obsess over is it?

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  38. I checked it for mistakes and still have ridiculous errors! One sentance should read:

    Compared to a lot of people I know I still look thin, therefore o.k.in their eyes.

    Hope this makes better sense.

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  39. it's hard to erase those messages from our childhood– isn't it anon? It makes me think carefully about what I say to my children.

    Leslie– it's always been apparent to me that you came from warm, loving parents!

    Ah Kay, if it's not one thing it's another isn't it? Don't feel ugly, please don't feel ugly.

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  40. Reading this post and these comments, I just had a small epiphany. The feeling of chronic dissatisfaction so many of us—no matter if we're thick, thin, or even (at least in other people's eyes) juuuust right—experience about our bodies is an actual addiction, something we do to escape, hide from, forget, or numb out something else that's giving us pain, feelings that come from negative beliefs. And it can be understood and healed in the way that other addictions are, and not by beating yourself up or trying to simply reason yourself out of it. For me this rings true. It's like I just pulled an old book from a library shelf, and a dusty secret passageway opened up. I have to go exploring now. Might be scary, but so is my addiction. I am already anticipating some of the bogeys waiting for me. Why not? They've been my invisible companions for years.

    Another thing that strikes me is how important it is to fully rid ourselves of such addiction, not only for ourselves, but also for others, our children included. I'm a great believer in the communication that takes place between people without words. Thoughts and beliefs have their own existence and make their presence known. I have struggled a lot in my life with an ongoing resentment that was expressed toward me by someone very, very close, though that person never in my remembrance spoke of it directly to me. There were other things too that rang loudly in my ears, which were never verbalized. They didn't need to be. Isn't this the way it is for everyone? If we don't want to pass along or validate others' existing body image problems, if helps to keeps our mouths shut while we're learning, true, but the safest and surest way to pass on what's best is to find healing. Am I a good example of this? Not yet. But I'm looking with more interest than fear down that dusty corridor of self-knowledge.

    Thanks, ladies, for helping to steer my thoughts.

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  41. Geo, I love this idea of it being addictive.
    My mom was always on some crazy diet–cabbage soup, that sort of thing. But she rarely exercised.
    I'm 5'3 and a size 12. I would prefer to be an 8, but nobody would want to be around me along the way to getting there. So, I bounce between a 10 and a 14.
    I exercise about 4-5 times a week. (I also fall off the wagon with infrequent regularity.) I'm 40 and I have low blood pressure and cholesterol.
    I have two daughters and I work very hard to not give them the messages my mom gave me (boys don't like chubby girls, etc.). But, I do think these things. I want them to have healthy bodies first and foremost. A few months ago one of them asked me why I hadn't worn a certain skirt lately. And I had to say that I wasn't paying good attention to eating healthily and exercising with sufficient frequency.
    Neither of them is particularly sports-minded, so several times a week when they're watching pbs after school, I get a couple of my steps out and they step to an episode of cyberchase or something. I feel like if I can make exercise just part of their routine at young ages, they won't have to learn how to exercise when they're older, like I did.

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  42. Rachel Leavitt and Geo reflected what I have felt and experienced on this score.

    – That obsession with body, weight, appearance, is very often an addiction. And as such, it cannot be changed or removed by discipline alone. I would add one thing to what she said…it's important to do one's best to overcome this kind of weakness — with God's help — but you can't necessarily put a time limit on it. I think someone who struggles with it could teach/help children by talking about it. "Mom struggles with this, but let me teach you truth about your body."

    As Pres. Packer has said, "True doctrine, understood, changes behavior, quicker than talking about behavior changes behavior." I believe we can help our children avoid problems, either with themselves, or with dating, etc. by teaching them truth. Even if we haven't figured out how to apply it all yet.

    So, I would take Geo's comment that "but the safest and surest way to pass on what’s best is to find healing" and alter it just a bit and say that the "safest and surest way to pass on what's best is to teach truth." And to be honest about what one hasn't figured out yet. (I think the pressure to "be healed so I don't hurt someone else" can sometimes make things worse. Teaching truth, imo, can provide a buffer while we seek for healing. Truth surpasses us, and can bring the Spirit that can help our children and others in spite of our failings.)

    I would recommend taking a look at the Church's 12-step book. I think this book is helpful for any and all of us. Whether what we struggle with is a textbook addiction, or just our mortal weakness, it is a powerful program (I bought a book a few months ago because I wanted to see what the program was like. It's powerful. I just replace 'addiction' with 'weakness.' But then again, I think if we were all honest, we would see that we can become addicted to emotional or thought patterns or behaviors, even subtle ones, just like someone can get addicted to a substance.)

    –Secondly, I think for all of the real influence of family culture, genetics, our society and whatever else may affect us, imo, Rachel hit on something key. A true love of self and body is not about discipline and diet alone — it's a gift of the Spirit, from God. That foundation is critical. Like Rachel said, we should teach:

    "That God loves us. I know that doesn’t always create an easy out for getting past these problems, but I feel like it is a life line to hold onto."

    I also believe that once we understand the doctrine, we are more apt to WANT to take care of our bodies. But we will also be more able to accept the process of overcoming weakness that is part of mortality (including the influence of family culture, genetics, societal pressures, etc.) The more we beat ourselves up over what we haven't overcome yet, the worse it all gets. (That's the shame cycle that feeds addiction, ya know? I see it in myself with my weakness all. the. time.)

    The Lord healed me from this body image burden in my late 20s. Now I have other weaknesses to overcome. I have hope from my experience with body image issues that as I persist, as I am gentle with myself, and as I especially trust God, He can help me in His time and way.

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  43. Another thought…for those who get frustrated with people who express concerns about their weight…try considering that they may not be deliberately vain, but struggling with something real and more deep-seated that they may not know how to fix. I know that was the case for me. I was never very heavy, and I'm sure people couldn't understand why I obsessed so much. But it wasn't something I could just *stop* either. It was constantly with me. It was an illness, something wrong in my brain, and I couldn't fix it alone. I wish I had understood that more about myself, because I really hated myself for it.

    That's not to justify this stuff, but just to say that sometimes things are not as they appear, and sometimes what we think would be an easy fix might not be for someone.

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  44. The phoney "statistic" about plastic surgery was not for the whole of Utah, but only for the Wasatch Front. There was no attempt to correlate it to Mormons, or even to women. There was no subtlety in the measurement, merely a simple count of plastic surgeons and population.

    Those who rushed to claim it meant Mormon women were vain ignored the fact that the Wasatch Front has a relatively small population, yet is home to some of the finest children's surgical hospitals in the world. Primary Children's Medical Center and the Shriners' Hospital perform tens of thousands of cosmetic surgeries a year … not on women who want plump lips and firmer breasts, but on burn victims, separated conjoined twins, and children with cleft palates. Those surgeons rebuild missing noses and ears, and put eye sockets back where they belong, and make it possible for babies to suck and for trauma victims to breathe again and for burned fingers to hold a hairbrush.

    Please don't perpetuate the Mormon-women-are vain, or Utah-women-get-more-boob-jobs myths unless you have something more than a half-remembered misinterpreted "statistic" from last year's Tribune to go by. Thank you.

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  45. Anon this time– I'm sorry but I believe that statistic(which I did indeed skew for my own purposes) is just the tip of the iceberg. It only takes a jaunt through Southtowne Mall or a visit to a Jazz game to see hundreds of beautiful women. EVERY visitor I've talked to in Salt Lake has commented on this phenomenon. Yes, we have an incredible gene pool and beauty through clean living, but there is no escaping the fact that many LDS women feel that physical perfection is one of their many tasks in life.

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  46. (this is the first "anon this time" with the four boys, not the above "Anon this time".)

    In defense of Michelle L. and her statistic:
    I have been in enough different wards and have enough LDS (if I could make that any bolder, I would) friends and relatives opting for plastic surgery enhancements that I have no other choice than to, at the very least, make the logical leap that that statistic evokes commentary on Mormon women and their plastic surgery trends.

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  47. This comment was deleted due to violation of the commenting guidelines
    2. No insults. Please critique the argument, not the person.

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  48. I too will defend the statistic when my utah-raised friends tell me 8 out of 10 friends have had implants- I want to cry and scream. I think the statistic can be extended to our population.

    You can read the original article put out by forbes and here is a link to it's vanity rank not only due to plastic surgeons per capita, but also $ spent on hair coloring, skin care and makeup– (the arguement there are more there because they do more reconstruction doesn't really hold water. They have approximately the same per capita reconstruction needs as anywhere else. I certainly appreciate the reconstructive work of plastic surgeons- I have witnessed over 1000 such procedures firsthand worldwide)

    http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/plastic-health-surgery-forbeslife-cx_rr_1129health_slide_2.html

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  49. Beautifully written, and an issue that strikes home for so many of us.
    I have thought about this a lot recently. Our bodies are temples, we know. The idea that beauty means thin and tan is just a cultural belief. During the Rennaissance, women who were thin and tan would be considered lower-class, poor and unhealthy. Beauty and prosperity was portrayed as plump and white. I wish I had lived then! 🙂
    For now, though, I am working to understand what it means to take care of my body as a temple. To believe it is beautiful simply because I am God's daughter, and my body is His creation. It already deserves respect because of that. And to respect it is to take care of it to the best of my knowledge. I think He delights in the softness of mothers. He knows their physical sacrifice to give mortal bodies to His children. How unnatural it would be for a pregnant woman to be bony, or to have a six-pack within a few weeks after giving birth! (or ever, for that matter!)
    Our physical softness makes us more cozy for our children. 🙂
    Anyway, those are some of my ramblings. I never read any celebrity stuff–it makes me forget that I already am beautiful, 15 "extra" pounds and all.

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  50. As to the plastic surgery thing, I recently heard someone talk about the plastic surgeons in the area who were suggesting that girls need to start AT AGE 12 to get plastic surgery done.

    There is no question that plastic surgery has its place, but I am socked-in-the-gut sickened to hear things like that. I think there is a lot of sick-and-twisted thinking with our culture.

    Elder Holland didn't talk about this kind of thing for nothing. While I'm grateful to have a bunch of ladies around me who are not caught up in this game, I think it's more of a problem than we sometimes want to think.

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  51. Here is a statistic…my husband does anesthesia on 2-4 women (every time he works) who are getting boob jobs done. This is in Utah County.
    Here's another…
    My neighborhood has approximately 40 houses, 15 women have had boob jobs done.
    My next-door neighbor went to lunch with eight friends (all Mormon girls) and in the middle of lunch realized she was the only one with real boobs.
    What does this tell you????? It is an epidemic.
    I guess I don't care if a woman makes that choice, what I care about is what it means behind the decision. What brings the daughters of God to change the bodies that God gave them?
    and Erin, I don't get women like you.. I'm 5'10" and have a great figure..I exercise every day, etc. etc." "Yes, we do need to boost our confidence levels and self-acceptance, but too often that breeds complacency with being overweight. I know that most women aren’t really happy with being 30-60 pounds heavier than they were at age 20." What does a woman like you know about being 50 pounds overweight and thinking that overweight women's self-acceptance is breeding complacency???? That is extremely judgmental, in my opinion.. The shoe doesn't fit you, girl, so don't try to say what it is like to have it on.

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  52. "Please critique the argument, not the person"
    Ok then.

    The rest of us hate hearing about how fat someone feels.
    If someone is fat/obese just do your best to diet and exercise and for the love of donuts, get professional help if that's where you put all your worth.
    Thinking that people around you are on a quest for beauty has more to do with yourself than them.

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