The following post is by one of my absolute most beloved health professionals in the paleo scene, Summer Innanen. You can read all about Summer in her bio at the end of the post. Suffice it to say for a brief introduction now, however: I loved this list she drew up. It helped me. Forgive her Canadian spelling. She’s smart. Listen.
One of the most important components of cultivating self-love is changing your self-talk. We do this by censoring the negative criticisms that we so often slander ourselves with, both consciously and subconsciously. However, these negative criticisms can manifest in ways that you may not be aware of.
In our culture, it’s perfectly acceptable to defame yourself in front of others. In fact, it seems totally normal to say something like, “I’m so fat”. However, if you say something like, “I look sexy in this swimsuit”, you are considered conceited or a bitch. [Stefani comment: yikes!] It’s no wonder we are so quick to put ourselves down.
The first step to changing your self-talk is by being aware of when you say these things and eliminating negative statements from your internal and external dialogue. Statements such as “I’m so stupid” or “I look so gross in this outfit” are harsh words of self-hate. When you stop saying them, you begin to stop thinking them and can more easily reprogram the feelings about yourself. We have the power to change our beliefs and thoughts, which is a powerful mechanism when it comes to feeling sexy and confident as the woman you are today.
The second part of this equation is to censor negative judgments and criticisms of others. As a culture, we seem to tolerate and even find humor in shaming other women about their appearance, their habits and the way that they do things (ranging from criticizing a woman’s driving to the way she raises her children). The areas that we are quick to criticize and judge others are usually areas where we feel vulnerable ourselves. We use this as a way to make ourselves feel better, however doing so only feeds our insecurities and feelings of unworthiness.
The judgments we make of ourselves and others can manifest in less obvious ways that you may not be aware of. It’s important to recognize the various things we do that feed our insecurities in order to deconstruct our core issues and foster self-love, while promoting a culture that no longer considers it acceptable to put other women down.
Here are 5 less obvious habits that we have, which prevent us from cultivating self-love:
#1 – Deflecting Compliments
How many times have you deflected a compliment from someone? A friend tells you that you are beautiful or talented and you reply by negating it or blowing it off. We do this because we feel that it conflicts with the way we feel about ourselves or that the person didn’t really mean it because you don’t believe it.
Rather than deflecting a compliment, simply say “thank you”. Then use this as an opportunity to reflect on why your initial urge was to react by denying it. As long as you continue to deflect or deny compliments, you will perpetuate negative feelings about yourself.
#2 – Changing Your Actions
We often change our actions in response to our fear of being judged. We order a different item on the menu when we are out on a date. We set up our yoga mat in the back corner so no one can see us. We put on makeup before going grocery shopping because we want to appear more put together. We put three layers of self-defense over our bathing suit so people can’t see our ‘flaws’.
The reality is that you cannot change or control other people’s perceptions. You also don’t need anyone else’s approval or acceptance in order to love yourself or feel worthy. In fact, if you rely on gaining approval to feel worthy, you will never actually love yourself.
It’s important to practice being more real and owning your uncool self. Be willing to fall over in yoga class, eat a burger and fries with your hands on a date (if that’s what you want to eat) or show up with your hair out of place. Make every effort to show up as yourself and never change your actions based on your fear of being judged.
If you feel yourself resisting this task, then ask yourself why. It’s important to use these moments as a cue to dig deep and think about why you feel this way. Also, know that you are not alone and women feel this way all the time!
#3 – Seeking Validation
Many of us are perfectionists who seek out approval and validation from others in order to feel worthy. However, this prevents us from feeling worthy because we cannot control the way other people view us. We need to love ourselves first before we can receive love from others.
Pay attention to whether your words or actions are the result of a need for validation. Do you put yourself down in order to receive compliments? Do you rely on social media ‘likes’ to feel better about yourself? It’s OK to enjoy being validated and receive compliments, however this should not be used as a primary vehicle for self-love.
#4 – Comparing Down
We look for people who we perceive as ‘worse’ than us in order to feel better about ourselves. For example, we feel better at the beach because we are not the ‘fattest’. We feel better at the gym because we didn’t ‘finish last’. We feel like we have more self-control because we didn’t eat dessert. This is ridiculous!
This only feeds a cultural standard where judgments are acceptable and promotes our reliance on what other people may think in order to grow our self-worth. Work towards eliminating your desire to compare down in order to feel better about yourself.
In addition, practice being more vulnerable and willing to be the person who ‘finishes last’. Celebrate your imperfections and own the person that you are today.
#5 – Creating Excuses And Apologizing For Your Actions
How many times have you apologized for something that you actually could not control? Our apologies act as a buffer that prevents us from thinking that the other person may be judging us negatively. We apologize before they can think something negative about us (which they usually never are).
Stop apologizing for things that you could not control. Unless you legitimately did something wrong (like knock over a kid’s juice box), there is no need to apologize.
We also tend to make excuses before we do something to protect us from other people’s judgments. For example, before we are about to do a presentation at work we say, “I haven’t prepared for this at all” or “I didn’t sleep last night, so I’m not sure how well this is going to go”. We set the bar low to protect us from other people’s scrutiny or to seek validation. Both of these things imply that we are not good enough, which fertilizes the negative feelings we have about ourselves.
As you practice self-love in your everyday life, it is imperative that you begin to bring awareness to the various ways that you continue to hold yourself back.
I challenge you to commit to 7 days of censoring these habits. Bring awareness to your negative self-talk (in all of the aforementioned ways that it can manifest) for one week and you will start to realize how much this permeates in your life. From there, you can start to deconstruct the rationale behind your negative self-talk in order to move forward.
Not only do we need to do this for ourselves, but we also need to shift these types of behaviors and conversations amongst our peers. The reality is that we cannot control other people’s actions or perceptions, but we can make every effort to change our culture by leading by example.
Awesome, right? Let Summer know in the comments!
I’m Summer Innanen, Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Body Image Coach, specializing in emotional eating. More importantly, I’m a diet rebel and food lover on a mission to help you feel hot-damn fearless in your body. I roll with straight-talk, tough love and wicked humour to help women all over the world with my one-on-one and group programs. I empower women to ditch their diet demons, rock their bodies, and start caring about things that actually matter (like grabbing your dreams, spoiling yourself silly, and remembering how holy-powerful sex makes you feel). Check out my podcast Fearless Rebelle Radio and connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. If you’re ready to break the rules, grab your sledgehammer and get my free guide here.
The featured image is a photo of Summer, thanks to SarahRamsden.com.Read More
I recently became a bit obsessed with gut flora research via a long story:
I began getting migraines again this winter after eating a lower-potassium diet to help with my electrolyte problem. Low potassium is associated with migraines. It didn’t help that I was visiting my father, who likes to cook with MSG. To help with the migraines, I took Aspirin, which is an NSAID. It worked, so I began taking Aspirin for my regular headaches, and that helped, too. However: NSAID’s are notoriously bad for your gut flora. My skin began breaking out a little bit. This could have been caused by anything (I thought: weight loss, fiber in my diet, increased progesterone, poor sleep, dirty towels… skin is complicated!), but I thought “maybe it’s the NSAIDs depleting my gut flora.”
I went to Whole Foods post haste and got kombucha on tap.
(My favorite brand available both in stores and online is THIS one)
I’m drinking a couple of jars a week.
My skin looks great – I’m not sure if its from the kombucha.
Something I did most definitely notice, however, is that my cravings for food, and particularly sweet food, have somewhat dramatically decreased. After just my first few gulps, I felt a difference. These days I walk around during the day, not even thinking about food, and I stop eating meals without needing willpower, and I wonder: is this how ‘normal’ people feel?
So I asked myself if there was a connection. Could my increased freedom from cravings be a result of kombucha’s notorius bifidobacterium?
Turns out, it most certainly can.
How it works: your gut flora
Gut flora–which are the bacteria that live in your gut and that number in the trillions–are responsible for a whole host of functions in the body. They play a role in digestive comfort, in being constipated or having diarrhea, in immune system health, in depression and anxiety, in insulin resistance, in obesity, and in inflammation. Because these critters are so significant for these issues, they are significant for just about every noncommunicable disease you can imagine.
Why are gut bugs so important? Because your gut is the barrier between you and the outside world. Good gut flora help you process nutrients and protect yourself from toxins. When good gut flora populations decrease (as mine may have with my aspirin use), and/or when bad gut flora infiltrate the gut and outnumber the good guys, health problems ensue.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #1
One theory for how gut flora influence your gut – and there seems to be reasonable evidence for this – is that your gut flora condition you to continue to feed their own specific populations. Carrot-loving gut bugs beget carrot-loving gut bugs, for example (if a fair bit oversimplified.)
So gut flora from particular foods may make you continue to crave those particular foods. This is great if you eat a lot of natural, healthy foods. This is less good news if you eat a lot of processed foods. The more processed foods you eat, the more bad bacteria will reproduce. They will hijack your cravings, and you’ll crave even more of the same old bad food.
If you are a processed food / sugar junkie, it may be hard to switch your diet, but being sure to include good, natural, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, animal products and fermented may help you crave those more and more.
How it works: gut flora and cravings theory #2
The second theory, which is not exclusive but complementary to the first, is that good gut bacteria like bifidobacterium (these are the famous good guys) cause the body to produce satiation hormones.
Glucuagon-like-peptide-1 is one such satiation hormone. It increases in the “colonal mucus” (sexy, right?) of rats fed oligofructose, a laboratory carbohydrate that resembles the carbohydrates found in many fruits and vegetables. PYY and ghrelin, two other satiation hormones, may also increase in response to oligofructose. Rats that consume oligofructose spontaneously eat less, cease creating fat cells, increase insulin sensitivity, and improved glucose tolerance.
As for humans…we already know that probiotics help with obesity. This happens via biochemical modulation of fat metabolism. Yet it also appears to probably happen via increased satiation and spontaneously reduced food intake.
The more bifidobacteria and other good gut flora you have, the more satiation hormones they will create in response to a meal.
Moral of the story
There are a lot of different physical and psychological components of food cravings.
For one – you need to eat food. I talk way too much to women who want to reduce food cravings but are eating 1200 calories a day. So be sure you eat when you are hungry all of the time, probably at least 1800 calories a day (though this varies widely), before you address any other issues.
Second, emotional issues should be dealt with. Is food your mother? Your addiction? Your stress-relief? Your boredom? Your celebration? Or do you eat because you spend so much willpower trying not to eat that you end up overeating in the end? Psychological issues with food are also supremely important.
Third, you may consider physiological approaches. Sometimes the issue cannot be resolved psychologically because there’s an underlying problem. Amino acid therapy — boosting serotonin and dopamine levels by consuming precursors 5HTP and tyrosine — can help regulate appetite if your serotonin and dopamine levels are low.
Gut bugs can also help, as we’ve seen. (They can also boost your serotonin levels! Two birds with one stone!)
Consume fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, or grass-fed yogurt or kefir. If those are not available to you, consider a probiotic supplement that contains at least bifidobacterium, as well as other varieties.
You can also try a probiotic supplement. I prefer whole foods since they provide they provide a high degree of variability of bacterial species. Nonetheless probiotics have been shown to reduce weight loss and support mental health in studies, so if you go this route (like this option or this one) you can also benefit.
You can also support your gut flora population not only by eating the bugs themselves – which is what you do with the fermented foods – but by consuming their preferred foods. Gut flora love to eat fibrous fruits and veggies, particularly those which contain inulin. These are greens, summer squash, onions, garlic, leeks… and jerusalem artichokes are also a particularly good source. This article demonstrates just how effective this strategy is.
Kombucha (linked to my favorite brand on Amazon) is really helping me. I can’t say if it will help you. Really, I cannot. We all have different bodies and we all have our own unique cures. But I love how much more stable my blood sugar feels and my meals are. I no longer feel so much like I must eat a sweet with every meal. I love my gut bugs very, very much. For this reason, as well as for so many others.
Loving your body is one of those things you are supposed to do. You are supposed to cherish it. You are supposed to appreciate it. You are supposed to enjoy looking at it in the mirror. We are all supposed to do these things. Hell, I’ve written a whole book on them.
Right? I’ve worked on body love so much I even know how to help you do it.
From all of that experience, I know that there are good ways to do it, and there are bad.
I (obviously!) do it all the good ways. I love my body because of what it does, and because of gratitude for what it provides to me — like the abilities to breathe, and to laugh, and to be happy. I love my body because it is my home. I love my body because it does its best to make me healthy. I love my body because the number of things it does right far outweigh the number of things it does wrong. I do not love my body based on shallow, transient characteristics like the circumference of my abdomen or the semi-linearity of my almost-white teeth. (I do, admittedly, really enjoy having orange hair.)
I love my body in all the right ways and for all the right reasons.
(there’s got to be a “yet,” right?)
Sometimes I do not love my body.
Sometimes, in fact, I hate it.
Sometimes I fear it.
Sometimes I resent its limitations so fiercely I dig my nails into my mattress and sob until I run out of breath.
Here is why:
My body works, but not the way it is supposed to.
My body sleeps, but never for more than four hours at a time and sometimes not at all.
My kidneys process potassium, but at a much lower rate than other peoples’ do.
My heart beats, but faster and harder than a healthy heart beats.
My skin protects me from the outer world. It looks pretty good these days. But one sweaty workout, one bite of vegetables fried in butter, one handful of nuts, one small period of fasting, one ten-minute exposure to UV rays, and I will most certainly have acne the following morning.
My eyes work, but are photophobic, which means that I get migraines from any lights brighter than a desk lamp. I always wear sunglasses outside, and sometimes I even have to wear them inside. This is not a whole lot of fun in ballet class.
My metabolism burns, but slowly. Just one “off” day and my pants are noticeably tighter. If not careful, I’ll put on five pounds in a week.
My ovaries now work better, thanks to serious efforts and healing on my part, but I also experience weight gain and quite depressing PMS like clockwork every 27 days.
My muscles contract, but those in my back more than other people’s, which means I get headaches if I have poor posture or sit down for too long.
My eardrums are great at detecting quiet sounds. Their sensitivity can be helpful. It can also be opporessive, since loud sounds and pressure from the wind give me headaches. I always have a pair of ear plugs on me in case I need them.
My body works, but is limiting.
My body works, but I cannot necessarily fix it.
My body, in fact, often stops me from being able to visit friends and relatives. It prevents me from enjoying meals that my friends make. It forces me to leave all rooms with fluorescent lights. It doesn’t let me sleep. It makes my heart beat too fast. It gives me anxiety. It makes me chronically exhausted. It erodes my faith in my ability to ever be able to have a stable health and happiness.
In these moments, do I love my body?
Well, deep down, yes. I know that it is my only home. It is my shelter, and my partner. It does many good things. I do know this.
But sometimes its just f*cking impossible to feel it.
It is my firm and loving opinion that it is unrealistic to demand of ourselves that we always feel positively about our bodies. My solution is to stop doing that.
I don’t put any pressure on. I do my best. Life is hard. Health is hard. I no longer need to be perfect, in this as much as in other things. I simply cannot do it. As much as I do genuinely love and appreciate my body, I am a human being who struggles. I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I am so unhappy with my body it physically aches.
And to be honest, since I have accepted the pain and frustrations and patience required for living in my body…
it has all gotten easier. Permitting my negativite feelings space has allowed me to heal. I’ve got at least three degrees of acceptance here working in my favor. I enjoy thinking of myself as intelligent, so let’s call it Meta-Acceptance. It’s 1) okay that my body is so delicate, 2) also okay that I don’t like that my body is so delicate, amd 3) also also okay that I don’t like that I don’t like that my body is so delicate.
These days when I’m scared or pissed off about my body, I let myself be angry. My mom will call me and I’ll say – hang on, I’ve got a big cry to let out, I’ll call you right back. And I do it, and I’m unhappy, but I’m fine, it’s actually all fine. I go back to the tasks and rhythm of my Monday. The more I have accepted these moments and feelings, the easier they flow through me and out of my life.
It’s kind of nice.
…Even though (!) the point of this post has NOT been to teach you a lesson on how to heal.
Sure – yes – acceptance has been powerful. Woooo. Go acceptance!
What I really want to do here more than anything is to “come out” – so to speak. It is to be a blogger who cares about body love, who has literally written the book (one of them) on it – and to still be someone who isn’t always overbrimming with joy and love.
More and more acceptance all the time, sure. Stuff is what it is, and that’s that. But life as a human animal is hard and imperfect, and here I am saying, do your best to be loyal to and embrace your body, but – well. Whatever. If you don’t always feel it, more power to you. You need more than just the easy stuff to make life worth living anyway.
It’s all okay. Good day, bad day, how much you are capable of accepting limitations. Whatever.
Sometimes I don’t feel love for my body.
No big deal.
First, let me say: thank you, community. After just 24 hours on Amazon shelves, Sexy by Nature was already #1 in one of it’s listed categories, “whole foods.” I couldn’t do this without you. Your love and support is incredible, and as I drove east from Detroit to Boston yesterday all I could think about was how much I wanted to hug all of you all of the time.
If you’ve got a copy, I hope you love it, and I hope you’ll let me know what you think. I’m watching all the relevant review sites like a hawk, ready for your honest stars (I don’t even need five, I promise. Just honest ones.) (No, give me five, okay?)
So it gives me even more joy to bring to you one of the best, practical, empowering, and did I say best? posts that I think I’ve ever written. It’s up at George Bryant’s (the civilized caveman of giveaway and incredible recipes and big time LOVE fame) blog.
The 9 steps?
1. Surround Yourself with the Love You Deserve
2. Deconstruct Negative Thoughts About Yourself
4. Get on your Body’s Side
8. Go to the Mattresses!
and (of course – because you know me well enough by now) 9. Strut!
(except George likes to use more exclamation points, as you’ll see in the post )
So check it out! This list is NOT in Sexy by Nature - much as I wish it were. Nor is it anywhere else, really. You might want to check out the “10 Reasons to Love Your Body” VLOG, which is similar, but that’s as close as I get anywhere on the internet to telling you how to have a good relationship with your body.
Read. Here. It’s awesome.
Then make George’s banana bread. Even more awesome.
Today, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror of Barnes and Noble for an embarrassingly long amount of time. Three minutes. Five. Ten. Why? Yesterday I finally “caved” – I went to the thrift store and bought a whole new set of pants, having barely managed to squeeze myself into my last pair of “fat” pants no longer.
I needed to up my size. I learned in the dressing room the need was even more drastic than I thought.
This was a bit of a shock – to go from a zero to a six – (holy I’ve been squeezing Batman) and so I found myself poking and prodding for days afterward.
How different do I now look?
Honestly I have no idea.
And am I any more or less attractive than I was before?
Well. That’s subjective, but I am feeling damn adamant that it’s about the same.
To assert in the title of this post that you lack objectivity is, I know, offensive. I apologize. Nonetheless I am certain the statement is true – it is literally impossible for me to see myself (and for you to see yourself) outside of my own current situation and time. As human beings, just as it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to other people, it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to a way we have been in the past or how we anticipate we might be in the future.
We have no objective standards. It is beyond important for us to realize this fact.
To help demonstrate to you just how powerful this phenomenon can be, I have compiled a wide variety of comparisons of different photos of myself taken at various points in time. Below are two photos posted with comments on them: one set from the context in which the photo was taken — the then – (so if the photo was taken in 2011, I share my thoughts from 2011), and then one set from today, the now.
Today I look back on photos in which I had thought I was egregiously overweight, bloated, jiggly, or poorly shaped and I think either ‘healthy wow’ or ”skinny wow” – two sets of thoughts that were completely beyond my my current, unobjective, fearful mind.
Will I do the same thing in the future with my current self? Will I, over time, come to view the body I am in in this moment in 2014 as even more worthy of admiration and love and beauty than I do now? Will I look back and think all of my “bad” days were so unbelievably uncalled for?
I am not objective.
I do not pretend to be.
First up are photos from my pre-weight loss days.
Fall of 2009, right before I shed thirty pounds in three months, so I weighed approximately 135-7 pounds. Here, I am participating in a (unorthodox) wilderness evacuation group, having the time of my life, and in extraordinarily good health and fitness, as I lifted heavy things and climbed mountains all day every day:
Spring of 2008:
Fall of 2007: Hiking the Great Wall – after a whole summer of living and doing trailwork in the Colorado wilderness.
In retrospect, I looked good, and happy, and healthy.
Then come the post-weight loss double-zero, lean years, in which I maintain my attitude of being hyper critical and fearful:
This photo is from the Spring of 2011, from my go-go dancing days:
The fall of 2010:
This photo is from the winter of 2011, in which I thought I was having a “fat month” intermission during the lean years:
Spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:
Okay, the fact that I was worried about being “fat” in these photos is scary.
Also the spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:
This photo is from the summer of 2013, right before my recent complete fertility and regular menstruation-gaining weight gain:
Then are the photos I have taken of myself since the weight gain. Since they are so recent I do not have “then” and “now” selections, but I do have “bad brain” and “good brain.”
From the thrift store when I was trying on new pants – checking in on how far apart my feet now need to be for the gap:
This photo is from last weekend, taken at 4am in the hallway of a Latin dance conference in Chicago, at which, of course, I was so happy:
So there you have it. What are some takeaways?
-You probably saw a woman much healthier and lovelier than I ever did/do – then, now, good brain, bad brain. Though I think I’m getting the hang of it now.
-Thighs are a big deal for me. We all have that one “big deal” flaw or what-have-you that is the most important to us.
In fact, this point is worth delving into a bit, since a study I participated in in college demonstrated that we seek in and judge other people the things that we are so attentive to as flaws in our own selves. So I immediately look at people’s skin and their thighs when I “judge” them – or at least these are the characteristics that stand out – because I focus so intently on my own.
-When I was 137 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs, though I guess that’s not apparent in these photos – and every time I looked at these photos on facebook I winced, thinking other people would find me unattractive.
-When I was 105 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs – and every time I looked at these photos I felt bad about myself, like I wasn’t winning the skinny game.
-When I returned to 130+ pounds in 2013 I still had bad days, but the good days significantly outnumber them. “Bad brain” tries to pick apart my body and put it into these tiny, scrutinizable, dissectable pieces, but “good brain” says “hell no, woman, you are healthy and whole, inclusive of every piece of you.”
-Fear robs us of love and objectivity. In my current body, I am so afraid of being judged and rejected as substandard. But in hindsight – having already lived the time – I look back on it knowing that everything was perfectly fine and healthy.
-Even in a case in which I/we look back and find myself in less good health, I can still see how my fear made me feel unacceptable, but I needn’t have felt that way, since everything was just plain okay. And I am on a continuously evolving, surprising journey.
-Life is not neat. It is messy. This fact can be scary, but it can also be quite lovely and liberating. Looking at photos of like this demonstrates how much our bodies change even while our reactions to and fear about our bodies stays the same. I have the same fears and anxiety at 130 pounds as I did at 105, and at 137. Of course there are differences, but my anxiety about it all has always been present. Knowing this fact teaches me a bit more each day to let go of control and embrace each day as it is.
Okay! Whoopah. What do you think?
Mannequins do not menstruate, and this is not just because they are made out of plastic.
Here are some images of mannequins in clothes and fully nude. I think this difference is important to pay attention to because seeing mannequins in clothes the majority of the time impairs our ability to process just how specifically manufactured they are to drape clothing just so and to go beyond all reasonable body size aspirations. We don’t regularly see what’s underneath. But what’s underneath is nothing but angles and Barbies.
Note, for example, how hip bones often jut out, which is a way to cause skirts and pants to taper and hang low and stereotypically sexy. Note also how waists are tiny. Note also how legs are longer than the list of activity on my credit card accounts. Which is to say - Long. Disproportionately so.
To which I can only say, holy crap thigh gap.
Mannequins are problematic for a lot of reasons. One of the worst is that this is a subconscious problem. We are well aware of the damage magazines and celebrities and runways and the like do to our self-love, but how often do we consciously acknowledge the power mannequins have over us?
Not very often.
Which is unfortunate – because it has been at least somewhat scientifically proven that mannequins do not have a high enough body fat percentage in order to menstruate.
Two Finnish researchers, Minna Rintala and Pertti Mustajoki, tested standard accepted body fat percentages for women against measurements they made on mannequins (of arm, thigh, waist, and hip circumference are all standard means by which to measure body fat percentage) they found in Finnish museums that were from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, and 90s.
Women need, on average, at least 17% body fat to begin menstruating. The researchers also use the data point of 22 % body fat for regular cycles – though I would argue that this is a statistic biased from the sample being drawn from the super industrialized nations of Western Europe and the United States. For the purposes of our investigation, however, their standards hold since we are largely of industrialized nations such as the US. Our mannequins, we should also note, are typically about 5’10 — the same size as the “fit” models on runways.
In this study, the pre-WWII mannequins had levels of body fat that were consistent with those seen in a healthy, young female of reproductive age population: up to 23 percent, at least. All the way up to 23 percent! That feels incredible – though it makes me sad to write that sentence. Women are known to be quite healthy up to and around 30 percent.
Starting in the 1950s, the estimated body fat on the mannequins decreased significantly. By the 1990s, a significant number of mannequins would not have sufficient body fat to menstruate if they were, you know, actual people. Check out the graph below. The bars detail body fat percentages for hypothetical women of “healthy” body mass indexes of 20-25. In the early decades the mannequin measurements come close, but in later decades fall far below a healthy BMI (note also that the WHO standard for “healthy” BMI goes down to 18.6..though this is contested, as in all things).
The one thing that we talk about most in this community is how to be in hormone balance. How to be fertile. How to enjoy being a woman instead of constantly fighting the basic facts of natural womanhood. Every day I send emails to women making recommendations regarding food choices, lab tests, and self-love and body image issues. I thought it perhaps best, then, to share with you the differences I have experienced at different points in my life regarding my hormone balance.
Pre-weight loss; pre-exercise-binger; pre-paleo
As an adolescent and very young adult, I had some but not extreme acne. I weighed 137 pounds at my “heaviest,” which at 5’2 is approximately a size 7, and on my larger days a 9. I was also quite stressed out so did not menstruate super regularly, but still menstruated on a fairly regular basis. My periods were not always, though sometimes, incredibly painful, and lasted approximately 6-8 days. I do not have any good photos from the time (and I deleted off of my facebook any of the ones that actually showed my body fatness… choosing to leave tagged only those photos that were most flattered). But here is what I looked like, more or less:
(College “I’m drunk meditating on the side of the road in Beijing” phase)
(College “I’m dressed as a fairy holding the ‘make out’ hat” and “this photo is actually super flattering” phase)
Yet I dug up one from another angle in which I appear a bit less flat:
(Yes, I’m kissing someone, not a phase.)
(College ”I’m a crunchy hippy” phase)
In the fall of 2009 I finally achieved the momentum I needed on my low fat, low calorie, vegetarian diet, 90-minute-sprint-workouts-every-day regimen to shrink down to, at my lowest, I think I was probably around 105 pounds. I bounced back up to 115 for the next few years but I still wore size zero, 25 inch waist pants.
In this time period, I experienced:
-the complete cessation and continued absence of anything resembling a sex drive
-an vagina that was, all of the time, as dry as Oscar Wilde (if not more so-if such a thing is possible)
-a completely absent menstrual cycle
-constant hunger (though I did not know it at the time since I had yet to experience the real cycle of intuitive eating yet)
These five bullet points might not look like much – but when you’re a woman who prided herself on her voracious sex drive and then it completely vanished, and you became infertile, and had acne… the thing was, I always suspected that my weight was to blame for my acne, at least in part, but I always thought it still worth the trade off. I’d rather have acne and be thin than be fat with clear skin.
This is what I looked like in this time period:
(“I cover my face because the sun burns my acne” phase)
(“I have eight pack abs, so what, b*tches?” phase)
(“Thigh gap!” phase)
(“Holy crap I’m so comfortable in this tiny body please don’t take it away” phase)
Lots of women probably menstruate at the size I was in the photos above. They probably had sex drives. I did not. All I had managed was to salvage my skin, mostly by reducing the fiber and protein contents of my diet, as well as by adding a topical probiotic to my daily regimen and ceasing to use conventional soaps and such. I had also managed to ovulate a few times, mostly by radically reducing stress or by having a particularly potent sexual encounter, but I did not have a true menstrual cycle, not by a long shot.
I also ate paleo the whole time, so anyone who says all you need to be healthy is a paleo diet is woefully uninformed.
Then came a time in which I prioritized my work and energy over everything else, and was extraordinarily stressed out. I gained weight. fast. And surprise of surprises, I menstruated. (Literally, it smacked me right out of the blue.) My sex drive had steadily increased up until that day, and has remained not just “oh thank god sex doesn’t disgust me anymore” or “well sure I’ll kiss you I guess” but “holy crap I want to do it now” since then. I have continued to cycle since. And my skin has cleared, almost entirely (to be fair: my stress has also been radically reduced), and I have, to my mingled dismay/resignation/fear/acceptance, continued to gain weight.
This is what a Stefani that can menstruate looks like:
(“I’m such a big deal I do photoshoots and holy crap I’ve got hips” phase)
(“Holy crap back fat stomach fat” phase)
(“Bear in mind that the camera on my phone elongates and I’m not nearly this tall or slim” phase)
If you want to see a video of me partner dancing in a body that menstruates (which is, still, a size or two smaller than I am now, I am more than happy to invite you to do so, here).
Looking at these photos, you might hardly see a difference. So what, you say. ”She’s not overweight.”
No, of course not. I agree. I mean — there is definitely a difference, and just about everybody in my life has remarked upon it. My thighs are about 3 inches thicker, each. My face “fuller.” My abs, gone. My periods, pain free, and quite short (thanks to paleo!). I used to be a size 26 jean, and last night I wore a 30. I can no longer wear any outfit with carefree abandon — I now have to worry about placement and what the most flattering cut is and how to handle the parts of my that jiggle.
Some people say I look better. I don’t know. Can I compare? I don’t know. I know I look different, and that’s all that has mattered, and all that made this, while on one hand the best thing in my life, also, on the other hand, one of the harder things I have done (at least in 2014 ).
It’s been a small difference, but I had to read my own writing, and reach out to others for reassurance, and make a deliberate effort to arm myself against the tides of psychological baggage that tells me putting on weight makes me a failure, marks me as lazy, and renders me unfit for love. I believe so strongly in allegiance to our natural bodies, but that does not mean that I still did/do not have to fight for it on my “bad” days. Only because the gains I have had have been so great – I’m never giving up sex again — and because I have such loving, supportive people in my life, and because I’m currently finishing editing a book all about self-love, was I able to fall asleep peacefully at night rather than in a fit of frustrated, frightened tears.
Our society makes it hard. Even at my own relatively small weight gain and size. It makes it hard to “lose ground.” It makes it hard to “backslide.” But that doesn’t mean we give up. We remind ourselves of our own inherent worth, and we push through, and we change the face of womanhood one woman at a time.
I am no longer a fitness champion. I can no longer compare myself to Victoria’s Secret models. But I am different. I’m a new kind of sexy (more about which in coming days). I am me. And I am happy, and fertile, and healthy, and alive.
Hell. Yes.Read More