"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Body Acceptance

As mentioned in my last few posts, one of the things I want most out of my life is to help people.  Almost a month ago, I started working at an amazing company where I get to do just that-- I get to help make attorneys' experiences better, and I absolutely love that my company values helping people so much.  I couldn't have asked for a better place to be post-Penn.  (And speaking of which, one of my incredible colleagues suggested that this blog be renamed Paleo Post-Penn.  That's definitely the best suggestion thus far!)

I've been meaning to write today's post for awhile, but what finally pushed me to sit down and write it is Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, a book recently recommended to me by my colleagues.  In it, the Facebook COO discusses women in the workforce, gender stereotypes, and what we can do to make our lives better in general.  So much of it really hit home for me, so I finally said to myself, "Okay, go write that post."

This post is actually about body acceptance and self-image.  Over the last few years, I've read countless stories from people who turned to the ancestral lifestyle and learned to love themselves after years of self-loathing.  With each story, I've thought that it'd be so awesome to love my body, because I really never have.  Due to struggling with my weight for my entire life (and I wish I could say that it's no longer a struggle, but it is and always will be), I'm just not at that "love my body" stage yet, and I honestly don't know if I ever will be.

However, I've finally reached the "accept my body" stage, which is a massive improvement for me.  I don't know what it was exactly that got me there, but it's something that happened within the last few months-- it could've been graduating and realizing how far I've come, or it could've been a few really deep conversations with people, or it could've been a number of things.  I don't know, but I'm glad that as I start my life as a real person, I've learned to accept that I'm probably never going to be a size 2.

When I first started this lifestyle (before I knew it was a lifestyle) 3.5 years ago, all I wanted was to be skinny.  And I lost a ton of weight because that was my goal, and I thought that being XYZ weight and X size would be the key to everything.  I was so, so wrong.  That initial massive weight loss was impressive, sure, but it wasn't sustainable because I was depriving myself of things that I love, like nuts, fruit, dark chocolate, and wine.  So what happened?  I woke up at some point soon after really joining the ancestral community (about a year after the start of my post-SAD life) and reassessed my goals.  While being thin was always something that I wanted too, I really just wanted to be healthy.  So I added in all of those things that I love (while staying true to the ancestral lifestyle), and I put on some weight again; while that was definitely upsetting, it wasn't the end of the world, because I actually got to enjoy some old foods that I stayed away from for a year.  I love food.

So much of society is focused on looks.  We have to be thin and beautiful to be accepted; if we're not, we get criticized.  Actually, we get criticized no matter what-- go into a grocery store and walk by the tabloids at the check-out counters, and all of the headlines are "So-and-so gained 25 pounds!" or "So-and-so: too skinny?".  It's ridiculous, and it shouldn't matter!  Who the hell cares?  Why are we so focused on people's looks instead of their accomplishments?

In the aforementioned Lean In, Sandberg writes, "Gymboree once sold onesies proclaiming 'Smart like Daddy' for boys and 'Pretty Like Mommy' for girls.  The same year, J.C. Penney marked at T-shirt to teenage girls that bragged, 'I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.'  These things did not happen in 1951.  They happened in 2011."  That was the quote that kicked me into finally writing this post, because it upset me and reminded me how all I wanted initially was to feel attractive-- and in this society, that's synonymous with skinny.  It sickens me that girls are being told from such a young age that they have to be pretty.  Why can't there be shirts that say "Smart Like Mommy" instead?  Or "Strong Like Mommy"?  Or insert any other adjective: funny, talented, musical, witty, athletic, etc. etc.

Or take the recent case of Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli.  She won Wimbledon.  That is such an amazing accomplishment, but what did commentator John Inverdale say instead of praising this incredible woman?  "I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, 'Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker.'" Seriously?!  But the Wimbledon winner fired back later with, "It doesn't matter, honestly.  I am not blonde, yes.  That is a fact.  Have I dreamt about having a model contract?  No.  I'm sorry.  But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon?  Absolutely, yes."  Rock on!  In a world where top-tier athletes are criticized for not being pretty enough (um, since when were sports about looking pretty?), it's no wonder that nearly everyone has body image issues and that so many of us just constantly put ourselves down and hate ourselves because we're never going to be attractive enough for the superficial societal standards.

It also upsets me when thin women aren't considered "real" women.  If you're a woman, you're a real woman; simple as that.  I love that advertising campaigns are now featuring different body types, but by calling those women "real," they're totally degrading models.  And that's not okay either.  Body-shaming of any sort is not okay-- skinny-shaming, fat-shaming, other-size-shaming should not happen.  One size does not make you more "real" than some other size.  This is why we live in such a screwed up society, where everyone on the size spectrum has serious body image issues.

Within the last few months, I've come to accept the fact that unless I deprive myself of ancestral-approved foods that might be a little higher in carbs or sugar, this is my body's homeostasis.  Could I exercise more?  Absolutely.  But even two summers ago (right after I put on some weight after reintroducing sensible vices), when I was working out every day, I was still pretty much this size.  And so I spent the last two years comparing myself to everyone, always thinking that I was the heaviest person in the room and being disgusted with myself that A) maybe I was, and B) that I was even having those thoughts.  But then I started telling myself that yeah, okay, I'm a size or three bigger than a lot of my friends, but I'm always healthier than 90% of people I know.  I've gotten sick twice (both only for a few days) in the last 3.5 years-- my immune system is ridiculously strong, and I've been able to not get sick when everyone around me is suffering from colds/flu/etc.  Isn't that an accomplishment?  So why have I just been so focused on being thin instead?

In my last post, I put in a before/after college picture, and maybe that was the catalyst to my body acceptance.  I have come so, so far from where I was the summer after high school, and that's something to be proud of.  And not even just weight-wise-- I'm so much healthier and stronger, I'm so much more well-educated (and I don't mean just in the sense of now having a college degree), and I care so much more than I did then about both myself and others.  Instead of focusing on all of the things I dislike about myself, I need to start focusing on how far I've come and how much I've accomplished.  I graduated from one of the best schools in the world; I traveled the world; I'm at a job that I love; I've learned so much and grown so much as a person.  Can't those matter more than the fact that I'm not-- and may not ever be-- society's definition of attractive?

I look up to so many people in the ancestral health community, and I'm so inspired by those who love themselves regardless of size.  I'm still working on that, but moving from hating my body to accepting it is a huge step in the right direction.  I know that a lot of us come from messed up body image backgrounds due to years of being overweight, so I know that there's hope for me-- maybe one day, I'll move from accepting my body to loving my body.  Whether that's in a few months or a few years or a few decades, it's a possibility; I just need to stop comparing myself to other people and focus on all of the good things about myself instead of constantly beating myself up for not being a few sizes smaller.  Here's to accepting my body, and may I one day love it as well.

Quote of the Day:
"It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always."  -Henry David Thoreau


  1. Hi Leigh,
    congrats on your first real job !
    I was just checking if google is picking up my own new paleo blog (paleopa.com)when I came across you site. It's great to see that the Paleo movement is also reaching college students. You have the chance to show people how to live a healthier better live from an early age on. My wife and I are trying to raise our 4 year old daughter in a mostly primal way...definitely not easy. Chicken nuggets, cupcakes and chairs are everywhere!
    Good luck with everything,

  2. Hi Leigh!
    I came across your blog looking for "paleo friendly restaurants" and read some more posts, and landed on this one. Your words really hit home with me, I sat here with teary eyes as I read this post. For over a year now I've been documenting my journey towards a healthier me (at threefwords.blogspot.com) and I believe that all of my experiences last year led me to start Paleo this month. Today is only my third day. But what hit home with me was that I think what you're saying here - to learn to accept your body - is really what I've been striving towards. But you're right, it shouldn't be just about the way we look. I've accomplished a lot too and I don't put nearly enough weight on that. Thank you so much for this eye-opening post. I hope you continue to blog, even though you're in NYC; we make it up there quite a bit and could use the dining advice. :)
    Best wishes to you. Please keep writing, you have a knack for it, and it's definitely a way for you to help others.

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