If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, I mentioned last week that I was to take part in a panel of guests on Twin Cities Live who would be discussing body image. The TCL producer pulled together three of us with very different backgrounds and passions around girls body image: Jenny Hanlon, a parenting coach; Cammy Nelson who is a media expert as it pertains to messaging and marketing toward girls; and myself - the plus size representative.
I'll be honest and admit to you guys that this was one of the more difficult segments I've taken part in because, instead of talking about beauty products and fun stuff like that, I was asked to talk about myself. Not my favorite subject, necessarily! I don't really give a lot of thought, day to day, about being plus size. It just is one of the things that I am. So I was nervous about not representing myself accurately, under the pressure of live television.
The main point I wanted to make, especially relative to younger girls and their body image, is that I believe the labels that were put on me as a child who was taller and weighed more than her peers lead to me being an obese adult. Which is why it's important not to label or define girls as pretty or ugly, overweight or underweight, this way or that way. Let them grow and mature and become whatever they're going to - without any shame attached to it.
My mom always used to say that if you're told something often enough, it'll become true. That was definitely the case with my weight. I look back, now, at photos of a tall 6 year old who became a pudgy 8 year old, who went through various growth spurts. At some points of my young life, I was legitimately overweight. At other points in my teen and young adult life, I was overweight but not obese. But because my self perception was based on others' perceptions of me - fat, big, plus size - what I was told often enough became true.
My highest weight was 320 pounds. I wore a size 26 from Lane Bryant. It was hard to take baths because getting into and out of the tub was tricky. Bending over to pick up something I'd dropped was uncomfortable. Giving myself a pedicure was hard. Life in general was harder because of the extra weight I was carrying.
It was also great, though. I've never bought into the idea that being plus size means your life has to be on hold until you lose weight. At 300 pounds, I had a lot of great adventures, fun experiences, a terrific love life and an advancing career. But my weight had become a serious health issue. So I decided to have gastric bypass surgery. That was the right decision for me. It isn't for everyone. Once I had surgery and lost 100 pounds, I realized just how much a part of my identity being plus size was. And I decided to reclaim what that meant. I talk about that a little bit in the clip below.
Thanks to the group of people sitting around the table with me, the conversation was diverse and open and hopefully kicked off a few conversations around dinner tables in viewers homes last night. I put the question out there on my Facebook page, "What would you tell an 11 year old about body image?" and the answers were fantastic. There was a recurring theme among all the answers I received, and it was, "Don't compare yourself to anyone else." One friend included a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that really resonated with me: "Comparison is the thief of joy."
And isn't that just the truth? If not for someone to compare myself to, I wouldn't know I was plus size. Or that there was a societal (and fashion!) stigma attached to that. I can't change how society is going to view me. All I can do it live my life the best way I know, in the body I have, and enjoy myself. Maybe that will contribute, in some small way, to changing perceptions of plus size people. But that's not what I'm thinking every day that I get up and go about my life. That's why I really loved what Jenny said about praising girls not for being pretty, but for being a good problem solver or being smart. Praise girls for who they are, not what they look like.
You can watch the entire segment here, and let me know what you think.