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I'm an early riser and as someone who has written on this topic, feel almost obligated to comment. First of all, for people who are trying to leave this mindset behind, I encourage you to seek out critiques of fat phobia and diet culture. Maintenance Phase and Burnt Toast have been helpful to me, but there are many, many more people writing about this issue. I had already given up dieting when I found these sources, but the more we understand the actual science about weight and bodies, and the more we think about this in the context of a societal bigotry -- well, it's like a support group. It also helps to think about how the "ideal" female form is an ever changing target and one that becomes harder to attain as women gain power in society. Finally, I encourage everyone to embrace the idea that loving ourselves as we are now, in this very moment, is a radical, defiant, subversive act, a bracing "fuck you" to the voices in and out of our head. Much like Dorothy in Oz, you've always had the power to get what you want, all you have to do ('all you have to do," it's actually so hard) is to ask yourself, "What if I decide to love myself as I am, right now, in this moment? What happens next?" And I'm not saying there won't be backsliding. You'll have to take it day by day. Chances are, if you're a lifetime dieter (as I was) you and your body have to reconcile. Your body is like a partner you have spent years ignoring. It's been telling you what it wants, what it needs, and you've been chastising it for not being something else. Can you imagine being the partner in such a relationship, how dispiriting and soul-crushing it is? But the best thing is, you can start right now, right this minute. Seriously.

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Amen, Laura. PS I am also a fan of Maintenance Phase and Burnt Toast.

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deletedSep 14, 2022Liked by Sari Botton
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OMG, no. I was talking about Virginia Sole-Smith's newsletter by that name: https://virginiasolesmith.substack.com/

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Hi Laura and thank you for sharing your thoughts and these great resources, which are new to me. I agree it takes a lot of effort to be kind to yourself, but we must keep trying.

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Last week blew my ideas about my body out of the water. I am 60 years old, weigh 180 lbs., wear a size 16+, and have been “overweight” by at least 40-50 lbs. for as long as I can remember. I’ve accepted, tolerated, and even loved this body of mine. Life is good, and that allows me to indulge more than is necessary.

Fifty years ago, my father was the first to tell me I needed to lose weight in order to be attractive and that was when rebellion kicked in. I was damned if anyone was going to shame me for my size.

During the Covid years of 2020 and 2021, I skipped my annual physical exams, so last week was the first time I’ve been to see my doctor in a while. She informed me I now have full-blown diabetes. A healthy A1C should be less than 5.7% mine is 10.4. A healthy blood glucose reading is under 140 mg/dl; mine is over 300 This is serious business. Diabetes can wreck my body if I do not manage it properly.

I want to continue being kind to myself, understanding and loving, but I know I also need to take better care of me. I have been playing the game that says “Don’t let society dictate how you see yourself; life is short - - enjoy every moment!”

Here’s the thing – it’s good to appreciate ourselves, but we have an obligation to take care of ourselves as well. Modern medicine can only go so far in resolving our health issues, and Americans are self-righteous about our needs. How dare an overwhelmed medical system that hasn’t caught up with modern demands tell me that I am not perfect!

The rate of obesity and diabetes and related conditions in our country has been rising for years and we are the only ones who can manage this for ourselves. Being shamed is not acceptable, but neither is being unhealthy when we have so much control over it. No one is going to “fix” my diabetic diagnosis but me! We need to each take charge of our health in more proactive ways. It should be welcome news that we have the knowledge and tools to manage something this important.

Now, I'm off to learn how to manage the diabetes.

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Here's to managing health, but not for the sake of reshaping our bodies according to ridiculous beauty standards.

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Your comment resonates with me, Pamela. I was lost in the worst of a binge eating disorder for many years when I was younger, and was also a large young woman who faced the worst of early-aughts kids would do and say to fat girls in their midst. I took a great many years to figure out how to begin to love myself or at least accept myself. Everyone from my fellow students to my family members urged me to lose weight at every turn for most of my life.

I had a physical when I was around 20, and was told I was pre-diabetic, pre-hypertensive, and had very high cholesterol. I was binge eating myself into real sickness. With therapy and an exploration into managing stress and anxiety via exercise (especially weight lifting, which I'm obsessed with now) I was able to manage my disorder and totally change the course of those health-related numbers. I agree with you that we need to appreciate and love ourselves in all forms, but that might include changing things about ourselves/our habits--which doesn't mean we don't still love the selves we are.

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Thanks for this, Mikala. It's interesting the way diet culture often back-fires, deprivation paving the way for a different kind of self-harm, binge over-eating. Actually, that works out perfectly for the capitalistic structures that profit when we have multiple problems to "solve."

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Mikala, thank your for sharing this. I hear you as well. So glad we can discuss this together; it really helps.

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Thanks Pamela, for sharing this. I'm going to share on the main thread but thank you. Shaming is wrong, I've been through it all... but wow -- we've got to be able to not get away from health.

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Sep 14, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

When I was ten, I told Joanna P. that my cut-off shorts from last season felt tight, and she called me a "fatty." That was the first moment I ever thought about weight.

The summer between seventh and eighth grade, Jen M. lost 15 pounds by skipping breakfast and lunch and only eating dinner. It seemed ludicrous to me. I was hungry all the time.

At fourteen, Liz C. and I read in a teen magazine that we should replace all of our unhealthy snacks with baby food. We walked to the IGA market and used our paltry cash to buy several jars of Gerber, which we ate sitting at the edge of her swimming pool.

In our early 20s, Julie K. lost 60 pounds by eating only 1,200 calories a day. On many days, these calories were comprised of low-fat rice crispy treats from Whole Foods and several Miller Lights. I followed her lead, but filled my 1,200 with veggie burgers and apples and these healthy cheese puffs called "Cheddairs." I dropped to a size four and looked at myself in the mirror constantly, not in vanity but in disbelief, as though I needed to continuously reconfirm it were true.

I felt great but also felt like I had cheated the system. Losing weight, for me, came down to math, and I understood math. I did not understand how to like yourself, which seemed entirely abstract.

Twenty years and one child later, I am still fit, but my body is changing, inevitably. I can see the way gravity is tugging at my belly and my triceps, the way my thigh fat looks like hilly terrain. I feel torn between the impulse to push harder and the desire to stop giving a fuck, both of which seem equally enticing. Each incredibly powerful in its own right.

I think: if we all stopped giving a fuck, we could all be free.

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This is so familiar. Here's to no longer giving a fuck and being free!

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I have been recovered from my bulimia for two years. I’m 42. I’ll always be in recovery, but I spent more than half my life harming my body and soul- keeping my sickness a secret, even after I had shared it in my thirties. I started purging when I was 12- but it was way before that. And it wasn’t diet culture- or rather, it was, but really like Gina my self-hatred was ignited by my mother, who didn’t accidentally pass anything down but outright called me fat and ugly. It was part of the way I was abused. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t hate my body, except for moments within the past ten years, or tiny, fleeting moments when I was the object of praise and approval because I’d lost weight. But is that really loving a body? Anyways, I do love my body now. And I live in a fat body now. I have an autoimmune disorder now. Yet I feel safer and happier in my fat, sick body than I ever have before. It is mine and we’ve been through a lot. It’s kept me alive despite how much I hated it.

This inspires me to write more about my body and that history. As a nonbinary person that feels more fraught now, in the “woman and diet culture” narrative. But whether I like it or not, when I move through the world I am labeled a woman, yet coming out as non-binary has also helped me reject the narratives that confined me when I felt I had to live inside the role of “woman” and the body of a woman.

I echo what several others have said already- you’re not alone if you’re struggling. Undoing diet culture and patriarchal notions of beauty is an ongoing process that cannot and must not be abandoned. I don’t have children but I want all kids growing up to be free from what kept me sick for so long. Everyone deserves that freedom.

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Jan, keep writing about this. We need to hear the non-binary perspective on it. I'm sorry for what you've been through, and glad to know you love your body now.

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Sep 14, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

To the contrary…I was 18 in 1966. I was 5’7” and had not broken 100lbs. My friend Delrayne and I went to the Sonic after school every day and got tater tot’s and a coke and then to the local bakery for a cream puff! We were desperate for boobs. I was humiliated by a guy who pushed his finger into my padded bra and said to a crowd “she wears falsies”. I almost died that day.

I hated the swimming pool because I was too skinny! The role model was still Marilyn Monroe. I went to college and started drinking beer and that was the magic (so to speak)… 25 lbs in one year. Then 3 years later the role model was Twiggy and I hated my body because my hips were too big.

I had 4 babies and my body was a factory. I loved the freedom of pregnancy believe it or not because every thing is forgiven.

At 50 after the kids were grown I got divorced and I had liposuction…remember the hips! We’ll I took care of that!

I could go on and on… I’m 74 now still getting over not feeling perfect. I tell my daughters to love themselves and especially their bodies but I see the pattern carry on.

Age does give some release- not because you quit caring- but because some wisdom and hindsight gives the gift of real substance and it is weightless!!! Thanks for the space here…Connie

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It really does cut both ways—or every single way possible. Capitalism will never stop telling us there are problems with our bodies so that it can sell us "solutions." Thanks for sharing your experience here.

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Sep 15, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

I’m 49. When I was 48, I had a ‘feeling fat’ moment and I was sighing at myself in my bedroom mirror, “I feel so fat!”, I exclaimed. My incredibly wise and non-patriarchy subscribing daughter (13) heard me and came to me. She cradled my pouting face in her hands and said, “we don’t talk to ourselves like that anymore, 𝙼𝚞𝚖. You have a cute nose with beautiful freckles, nice eyes and a gorgeous loving body.” You could have pushed me over with a smoothie. She walked out leaving me there with so much wonder. For years I watched my mum, then myself and my sister struggle with our bodies. A lifetime of legacy, and I had the pictures to stare at thinking, ‘I wasn’t even that big.’ And along with all the rage, pure rage, at the systems that have messed me up so much about this beautiful thing, my beautiful big body. The one thing I didn’t want for either of my kids (son and daughter) was this. And even tho I was still at the mirror, my kids aren’t. That feels like a victory. Also, possibility: maybe I can get past it. Over the past year, I have worked hard at this and also stay healthy. Regain movement and keep going in these insane times. Happily I have mostly found a way but it was my daughter who showed me that. Love to you all. Thank you for sharing these stories. I feel seen and also like we can get somewhere with this bs.

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Thank you for sharing this! Thank goodness for the younger generations and their wisdom! (Another reason I like to include younger people on here.)

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Sep 14, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

Weight and body image was never part of my consciousness growing up as a child because I was naturally thin. If anything, I was the flat chested skinny girl - I didn't get a lot of attention from the boys. I was always ok with that, because I saw how my more developed and curvy friends were treated by the opposite sex - with disrespect and abuse. In my twenties I turned to drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes to 'treat' my extreme social anxiety. This party lifestyle kept me thin, and not in a healthy way. In my early thirties I had my first child, my body bounced back quickly. Then my son was born the year I turned 39, and my body changed drastically. I had a hard time losing the baby weight. My body image issues are just now popping up in my forties. It's hard not to compare my body now to what it was in my twenties and thirties. I look in the mirror analyzing and judging my body daily. But here's the kicker - I now have a 15-year-old daughter. I'm terrified that she will have body issues, I watch for signs - is she picking at her food, does she complain about how her clothes fit? She, as was I, is naturally thin and I don't see any signs of obsession or dysmorphia. Meanwhile, her mom is obsessing over her own weight. Perimenopause is knocking at my door. I'm watching the belly rolls grow. I've purged my closet of clothing that no longer fit, especially my size 6/8 pants, but how do I dress this body? I'm trying desperately to accept myself as it is. Aging is a painful process for women. The combination of weight gain, deeper etched wrinkles, greying hair - some days it's too much to endure. I'm supposed to be mature enough at the age of 47 to rise above the pressures of society to be thin and fit. This is when women take control of their lives, leaving the old patriarchal rules behind, forge new paths of strength and acceptance, step into our power. But I'm just not there yet.

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Here’s to getting there in your own time. 💕

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Is there anything more crippling and devastating than the classroom weigh-in? Neat lines of boys and girls organized by height and weight, providing the perfect bullying fodder for the playground ten minutes later? I have vivid memories (nightmares) of second grade and the nurse arriving to complete our charts. My self-esteem already hovered at an all-time low courtesy of my absurd height (males not bothering to catch up for another ten years). But then the scale did a ridiculous TILT between the tiny twig-like limbs of the other girls and my solid frame. All I could hear were giggles and whispers. My years on swim team and developing musculature meant nothing. My HEIGHT meant nothing. Someone in the back of the room shouted, "Andi weighs the same as a panda!" (A cub, but facts don't matter to mean children) And from that moment forward, all I saw was a round, misshapen body - shoved to the back of the line where I belonged.

I'd love to say I've figured out how to distance myself from that imagery since then. But looking at pictures from my childhood conjures the same fluffy perception. And I still struggle to identify a person when I stare in the mirror. "Panda" whispers in the back of my mind when I debate what to eat.

Kids are jerks.

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And the sadistic adults who called everyone's weight out. I will never understand how, in the name of "Health" schools, sports teams (I don't mean elite) continue this cruel practice. My eldest (now 23) was naturally thin, so they didn't get any crap through school. I was extremely grateful, and just kept my mouth shut. Proud moment, though, when they came home in grade 1 with a note that they had "refused" to climb a rope in gym. "We're first graders! That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard!" Led a mini revolution. I can't tell you how much I would have appreciated that when I was that age, whether I could have climbed it (doubtful) or not. Because a thin kid refusing is very different than a differently shaped kid refusing.

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Yes! I remember hanging on the bottom of that rope as the gym teacher equated my failure to my eventual failure at life. As if poor upper body strength was MY fault! Your child deserves an award.

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IKR? Phoebe (23) remains a force of nature.

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Good for your eldest!

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I've struggled with this for my entire life. I recently took possession of thousands of photos from my 20-30s (I'm in my early 50s), many of which I remember hating because of the way I looked. I was shocked. I looked great -- fit, strong and healthy. Why did I think that? Where did this come from? I know my mother hates every photo taken of her (my mother looks great but was a constant dieter and still has a very unhealthy relationship with food, so that's probably where). Unfortunately, being aware of this hasn't made it any easier -- I hate photos of me to this day. Hacking my brain is exhausting.

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Yes, at a certain point fighting ourselves for fighting ourselves becomes circuitous and pointless. Being accepting and gentle with ourselves seems to be the only way forward.

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With all due, I am weary of this narrative about weight and limited definition of disordered eating.

I was a fat teenager and adult well into my 40s. I look back and see a fat person with plenty of extra padding. I paid the price for it in many ways.

My disordered eating was overeating. I ate to fill my heart and soul and didn't throw it back up. The food stayed in and on my body. I didn't diet or exercise to fit society's vision of what I should be.

Rightly, everyone has sympathy and compassion for girls and women with bulimia and anorexia.

No one has sympathy for the fat girls. The bingers who don't have the decency to purge.

We are left out of the narrative that is positioned as a universal women's experience and it is as painful and othering as being fat and the emotional turmoil that turns us against our bodies.

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I think you have been left out of the narrative, but that's changing. I also was a disordered eater who binged and never purged, although most people would not consider me fat. (Thank God for Internet trolls and my mom, who were willing to do that head fuckery.) Anyone who has eaten in a compulsive, unhappy way has experienced an eating disorder. I am really, really sorry that you were left out, but I am here to tell you that you will not longer be left out, that a big part of this essential societal change is learning not to judge anyone's body or anyone's eating. That's why the science matters -- so much of what we've been told about bodies and weight and health is not supported by rigorous scientific study.

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Sep 14, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

Gina's piece resonated with me as well. In fact many of her experiences, I shared. My mother taking me to Weight Watchers when I was in 6th grade. Talking too much about the weights of her three daughters but in the same breath telling us to clean our plates or we could not leave the table. Sweets were rewards and she would often have a bag of mint milano's or Brach's bridge mix hidden in her bedside drawer. Looking back, I was curvy but not fat. I wore a bikini once in 7th grade, borrowed from a friend. I felt exposed and vulnerable but no one seemed to care but me. I have thick legs.. My dad once said "Too bad you aren't a boy because you have great lacrosse legs." For the record, he also called me "Butterball" growing up. I know my parents had no malicious intent when they expressed concerns about my weight but it stuck. In college, I was still curvy with amble boobs and a butt that some would kill for today. As I danced at parties, I would see fraternity guys blowing out their cheeks and making fat faces when they though I could not see. I was a size 12-14. I could still wear junior's sizes. It may have been an effort to improve my self image or just because I liked men but I slept around but was never anyone's girlfriend. I was a great lover and they'd see me after hours but not for official dates. I wasn't girlfriend material lookswise. After college, I lost 40 lbs by exercising, being poor and carrying cameras around for my job as a photojournalist. You can bet your life I bought a tight black dress and went to a fraternity party as an alum. At the time the attention was rewarding but looking back it pisses me off. I am 57 now. I am heavier than I'd like to be. I walk almost everyday, workout with a trainer once a week and eat moderately healthy. My blood pressure is low, all other numbers are in the ideal range except my waist circumference. I've lost weight with Weight Watchers (before my wedding), Quick Weight Loss (to please my husband I got down to a size 8) and other programs over the years but never seemed to recover after my son was born 18 years ago. I am now divorced. I still worry about how I look in front of others, especially in a swimsuit. I didn't go tubing on the river or to the beach for years because I feared being laughed at. When I did go, I saw there were others like me except they didn't care how they looked, at least outwardly.

I am encouraged by the younger generations who seem more accepting and proud of how they look no matter their shape. I need to take a page from their playbook. I am creative, funny, outdoorsy, financially secure and have my shit together but I am still fat. Self love is hard. I read that you won't find someone to love you unless you love yourself, your whole self. It is easy for thin people to say, "So change! Lose the weight. Be the person you want to be!" For me that would mean therapy to undo the conditioning that happened growing up, finding a job that is not stressful and achieving financial security so I could afford a personal trainer three days a week. Baby steps, I guess.

In the meantime, I am now looking up "Maintenance Phase and Burnt Toast."

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Thanks for sharing this, Nell. This is the Maintenance Phase podcast: https://www.maintenancephase.com/ And this is the Burnt Toast newsletter by Virginia Sole-Smith: https://virginiasolesmith.substack.com/

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Sep 15, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

Thin people are echoing diet culture. Thin does not mean health. I think you’ll love maintenance phase and burnt toast

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Sep 15, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

LOVING Maintenance Phase. They make me laugh.

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"The photograph is a lie. It's been tampered with, crumpled, like someone tried to tear the head off and substitute a new face. " This is my reaction to a photo of me at the age of twelve. I'm skinny in the picture. Impossible. I have no memory of ever being thin. I call the photograph a lie. I must have tried to tear it up at some time in my life. Pretty telling and sad.

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<3

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I'm not sure I know exactly when I began to resent the extent of my own flesh. I know from an early age my relative size compared to my peers (why is it that tall for your age in girls seems so often to translate to "fat"?) got wrapped up in all the ways I was "too much"-- too smart, too loud, too awkward, too White-- and got translated by me into "too big". Certainly, when I hit puberty much earlier than my classmates I got derisive comments from my older brother about getting chubby. My other brother had been sexually and physically abusive to me for years as well, so the early development of curves felt like heightened danger to me rather than any kind of exciting blossoming. Better to smoke cigarettes and eat as little as possible in the vain hopes of disappearing myself.

Both of my parents were also obese, which terrified and comforted me at the same time. I remember being enveloped in my mother's hugs and feeling so contained, so warmly surrounded. But I also remember watching my father, after his Type 2 diabetes diagnosis when I was in high school, refuse to take responsibility for his weight and bingeing food defiantly and me just feeling disgusted and abandoned and completely terrified that I would become him. Both my older brothers were adopted and family lived far away, so my parents were my only template for what it was to live in a body like mine. Obesity and disassociation seemed almost fated, as if I would be sucked into it like a black hole no matter what I did.

I do look back at pictures of myself at nearly every age and think, God! What a gorgeous, juicy peach of a girl! But at the time, inside, I just felt spoiled, rotten. Which translated into all the ways I obsessively managed my food intake, my exercise, and my tendency to take up what I always felt like was too much space.

When my marriage ended my anxiety peaked and I began spontaneously vomiting. After years of trying to vomit on purpose unsuccessfully I became unable to stop and quickly dropped down to what was, for me, absolutely skinny. And I got so many compliments. I would run into people in public and they would tell me how great I looked and my response would be, "I guess death becomes me?" That was when the insanity of the whole thing started to really intrude. That it took the greatest crisis of my life, loosing nearly everything I owned and was, in order to fit into the tiny box I'd been trying to climb in for so long. I didn't want to be in there. It wasn't worth it.

Then, two years later my father died because of his obesity (fell out of bed and gave himself a heart attack just trying to get up). My weight had started to yo-yo back up and then kept going and I panicked. I knew being thin was no longer a box I could fit in sanely, but I was still terrified to be fat like my dad. The honest truth is that I sought medical help from an endocrinologist, got on some simple drugs to help with evening out my blood sugar, and was finally able to settle into a sustainable weight. But it's only been in the last 6 months or so that I've come to some peace with it and dropped the fear.

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I am sending love and a hug to that "gorgeous, juicy peach of a girl." <3

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For me Gina’s story had a broader theme. It spoke to the struggles of daughters with maternal expectations. My Polish mother immigrated to Canada from the wreckage of post-war Europe. She wanted me to have the opportunities and education she was denied. Mine was a complicated mother-daughter dance that I struggled to understand for most of my life. I loved Gina’s story.

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Yes, of course. That was an important and primary theme of Gina's story. But there was also the thread of fatphobia.

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I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t feel that I wasn’t “normal” because I was bigger than all the other girls with their skinny legs and an elephant in comparison to my petite and beautiful mother. At 5 or 6 I overheard a conversation—probably my mother and an aunt—discussing my weight. It was only “baby fat” and would probably melt away with age, they said. It didn’t. My weight yo-yo’ed through the years, with diets, an eating disorder, therapy, etc., but the self-consciousness about weight, though it lessened with age, has never gone away. I’m married to a photographer, so unfortunately have graphic records of the dramatic weight swings over the years. I run away from cameras and, though more accepting of myself as I am now (about time after seven-plus decades!), I don’t think I will ever feel “beautiful” because I will never conform to society’s norms of thinness—which, sadly, I have internalized. All the therapy and diets in the world can’t make such feelings go away entirely. These days, I try to focus on health, not numbers, and strive to maintain a stable weight, some 20 lbs. above what Weight Watchers says is “normal” for people of my height. As I love food and even blog about it, it’s a lot more practical.

Thanks for a provocative thread and an excellent magazine.

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Thanks for this, and for your kind words, Ruth! In the chapter I mention, I talk about how all the therapy and rational thinking are hardly a match for the deeply ingrained conditioning. Like you, I've found that my focus on weight and body image has lessened, but it's hard to undo all the damage our culture has inflicted. <3

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Sep 14, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

I'm the mother of three young adults. I spent my entire life hating my perfectly normal, slightly soft body. I was determined not to pass this sick obsession along to my kids, so I assiduously refrained from EVER commenting on body shape or size. I focused on "healthy eating." I gently recommended we all take walks or bicycle. We joined gyms. We did yoga. We cooked. Etc. Last year, one of my 20-ish sons announced, "I hate fat people." OMG, kill me. Just kill me. I realized, it's our sick culture. It's everywhere. It's social media and print media, it's television and film, it's Hollywood and the music scene. Despite every single thing I had done for 20+ years to ensure a healthy mindset, I could not break through. I just felt despair.

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I hear you, Bette. I try to remember that this is much bigger than any of us, or any of the people who came before us. <3

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