I notice women’s bodies, and I suspect that you do too.
We can’t help it. We’re a product of western culture and its emphasis on physical appearance. When someone loses weight, we notice and compliment her efforts. In our own way without even realizing it, we’re perpetuating and encouraging the idea that being thin deserves praise.
I am guilty of doing this too. Over Christmas, I saw one of my sisters who I hadn’t seen in a few months. She was thinner, and I asked if she had lost weight. “Yes, I lost 10 pounds during a program at my gym,” she said. “That’s good, but don’t lose another pound,” I said. “You don’t want to become too thin because it will show in your face.”
I shared this little conversation with Intuitive Eating coach Elizabeth Hall, and was met with prolonged silence. I knew I had blown it, but I wasn’t really sure why.
“Why are you commenting on someone’s else’s body?” Hall asked. “Weight should really be left out of the conversation.”
This, of course, is easier said than done in our weight obsessed culture, where losing weight tops the list of New Year’s resolutions, and triple zero is a clothing size. It’s particularly hard for women who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s in the ultra-thin days of Twiggy and Cher. Raised on the notion that you must be thin to be attractive, many women double up their weight loss efforts in their ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.
The result: an increase in rail thin older women who are so skinny you cringe and suspect they might suffer from an eating disorder. Though often associated with adolescent girls, post menopausal women are also prone to eating disorders. Like puberty, menopause brings with it changes in mood, hormones and fat distribution. As women age, they tend to put on weight in their mid-section – the last place they want it.
Faced with the prospect of getting older and heavier, some women step up their dieting and exercising regimes during menopause, intensifying a hostile relationship with food and weight that has dominated their lives.
“Women in their 40s and 50s are dieting more than younger women because they grew up in the diet culture in their 20s and 30s,” Hall says. “I know of women in their 70s who are still counting calories and dieting. Life is short, and food is pleasurable. People shouldn’t be afraid to eat and enjoy food because they’re afraid of getting fat.”
Hall is on a mission to help women break the diet cycle, helping them make peace with food and their bodies. She gently guides women away from dieting, teaching them ways to trust their bodies – and food cravings – and engage in life more fully. She’s also working to end size discrimination, which she claims is the most prevalent and accepted form of bias in the United States.
Hall hopes the documentary Fattitude will help her get her message out. She’s bringing Fattitude to the AMC Plainville 20, 220 New Britain Ave. Plainville, on April 19th at 7:30 pm. The event features a one-night screening of the 90-minute documentary aiming to change biases and stereotypes about fat. A brief question and answer session will follow.
Hall is excited to bring Fattitude to Plainville, but notes she needs to sell at least 100 tickets for the film to run. If you’re interested, you can buy tickets at www.tugg.com/events/fattitude-iudf.
Hall’s road to intuitive eating is based on her own lifelong battle with food. A chronic dieter from about age 13, Hall got the message early and often that small is better than large. Hall tried desperately to conform to what she believed her family and society expected from her. It wasn’t until she reached age 40 that she realized that her relationship with food had to change. Her website, https://www.elizabethhallcoaching.com/, features her motto: “Live free or diet.”
Hall became an intuitive eating coach about two years ago, counseling most of her clients by phone. Her initial 20-minute phone consultation is free. A minimum three-month commitment is required from clients.
“I always struggled with my weight,” says Hall, 47, a mother of three from West Hartford. “I was a larger size person from a young age and got the message that I should weigh less. A lot of us don’t even realize that we’re getting this message because it’s completely internalized. It’s just been ingrained in us from a very young age.”
Though women have been judged on their appearance throughout history, Hall claims pressure to be thin began in earnest in the 1920s with insurance companies’ weight charts and influence from the fashion industry. Television, movies and magazines featuring thin – and ultimately gaunt – models helped perpetuate the movement throughout the 20th century.
Hall claims that intuitive eating works where diets fail because it focuses on each person’s body and nutritional needs. People learn to listen to their bodies instead of eating foods prescribed on a diet. Hall says her approach works better than diets because 95 percent of people who go on diets gain weight back within five years.
Hall said television – and now social media – has a major impact on women’s body image. Countries like Fiji had never seen a case of anorexia until western TV came to their country, exposing them to women’s bodies in the United States. Anorexia’s emergence in Fiji demonstrates the power that media has in holding women to certain standards, Hall says.
“There’s an over-emphasis on size and weight in this country,” Hall said. “I think weight should just be left out of the conversation. I want people to realize that all bodies are good.”
Tomorrow: A closer look at “Fattitude.”
Carolyn Milazzo Murphy is blog editor.