I’m sure that many of you have already read or heard about Jess Weiner’s article in Glamour magazine entitled “Jess Weiner’s Weight Struggle: ‘Loving My Body Almost Killed Me.’”
(By the way, before you think that horrific headline was concocted by some attention-hungry editor at the publication, let me be the bearer of bad news: It was inspired by an entry from Weiner’s diary, which she explains in this week’s Today Show segment. So she was the one who suggested it. )
If you’d like to, you can read the piece here. But in a nutshell, here’s the scoop: Jess Weiner is a body image activist who wrote the book Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds From Now. (I’ve never read it.) When she went to the doctor, Weiner learned that her bad cholesterol and triglycerides were borderline high and her blood sugar was almost in the prediabetic range.
After hearing these results, she decided to start leading a healthier lifestyle. And she came to the conclusion that loving her body had somehow led her down the slippery slope to potential health problems – except she puts it more strongly than that.
In the article she writes:
It didn’t matter in that moment, sitting half dressed in a paper gown, how many books I had written or speeches I had given about loving your body and accepting yourself as you are. The cold, hard truth was that accepting myself as I was was putting my life in danger. But could I really call a public time-out and say, “I’m going to focus on losing some weight now”?
Let me just say that whether a person decides to lose weight (or not) is their personal choice – and no one’s business (unless they’re struggling with disordered eating or eating disorders and then loved ones should intervene).
What I take issue with is that somehow Weiner equates self-acceptance and body love with treating yourself like crap. That somehow loving your body excludes being healthy.
What also bothers me (a lot) is that movements such as Health At Every Size (HAES) are essentially portrayed as “let’s eat Twinkies all day long and never go to the doctor and ignore our health.” Umm, that’s NOT at all what this movement is about.
HAES prioritizes health. That’s the whole point. For instance, in addition to body acceptance, it advocates listening to your body’s hunger and satiety cues and participating in physical activities.
Another thing we talk a lot about here on Weightless is that weight isn’t synonymous with health. People who truly know what HAES and the body-acceptance movements mean know this. And yet Weiner equates the two in her article. In her piece, she writes:
What about all my fans and readers? I had been so worried about their reaction to my new healthy-weight message. Indeed, when I first talked about it in a keynote speech at a Binge Eating Disorder Association convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, this past spring, a woman approached me afterward. “So now you’re saying that my life will begin when I lose weight?” she chided. But I didn’t feel the same hurt and embarrassment as that night so long ago in the bookstore. “Not at all,” I said. “There is no shame in carrying extra weight, but there’s also no shame in wanting to be healthy. The more we support one another in that thinking, the better off we’ll be.”
And guess what? Women were more supportive than I’d ever expected, and many of them even admitted that they too wanted to lose weight to improve their health but had, like me, felt trapped by the stigma that confident, heavy women weren’t supposed to think about weight at all. Like me, they felt liberated by the idea that it wouldn’t betray their ideals to value their physical health.
Psychologist and eating disorders specialist Deb Burgard, Ph.D, discusses the confusing connection that Weiner makes between weight and health in her thoughtful post (and clarifies what HAES means):
I think this is a massively confusing article because Jess is setting up an equation between “caring about your health” and pursuing weight loss – and yet much of what she is actually doing is solidly within the Health at Every Size® model – i.e., finding out what food proves to be great fuel for your particular body and how to listen to its cues, giving yourself pleasurable exercise, figuring out what else you need when it isn’t food, getting help for disordered eating symptoms if you have them, and so on. I honestly don’t know why Jess thought engaging in these practices would be somehow betraying the body she was trying to love.
HAES is weight neutral. Let’s say that again: Weight. Neutral. The model addresses both the big societal concerns like weight stigma and social justice, and the choices that individual people have a chance to make for themselves. As far as that goes, the focus is on the practices that help you care for your precious body, and whatever your weight is when you do them, fine. Some people find they lose weight doing those practices. Fine. Some people stabilize or gain weight, especially if they were just coming off a weight loss diet. Fine. Until someone has 2-5 year follow-up data that contradicts what study after study has shown for the last century, the Health at Every Size® model takes the empirical data on pursuing weight loss and reports it honestly – it is a bad experience for most people. But pursuing weight loss is different from trusting your body to find its balance and change its weight if necessary while you try to figure out what practices suit you, make you feel good, and are sustainable in your unique life.
Plus, when Weiner equates the body-acceptance movement with ill health, it isn’t only ludicrous but also perpetuates the cycle of weight shame and stigma. It’s yet another message – part of an already heaping pile in our society – that says the only way you can be healthy is if you hate your body (or don’t like it very much) and shame yourself into losing weight (because, if you recall, that’s the best path to health).
This part from the piece, in particular, makes me want to scream:
I’d been a proud leader and a strong voice within that movement. I’d written books and magazine columns, appeared countless times on Oprah and other TV shows, and given hundreds of speeches telling women to love themselves no matter what their size. But now it was time to consider not just my self-esteem but also my well-being. After all, says Dr. Katz, “Women should be able to feel confident in their body image. But there’s a danger in the ‘OK at any size’ message. The fact is that obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, for cancer, for diabetes. It’s not OK to say ‘OK at any size’ if your size has implications for your health.”
It’s so disappointing, maddening and sad that someone like Weiner, a seasoned self-esteem and body image expert, would make such an obvious and erroneous assumption.
Thinking that body love equals bad health or that weight is synonymous with health are myths that people outside the body-acceptance community might believe. The fact that an insider like Weiner, who has so much experience, does is odd really.
(Who says that well-being has nothing to do with loving and appreciating your body? Just curious.)
And that’s what’s also problematic and disconcerting: Weiner has a whole lot of influence.
According to her Huffington Post bio, she’s “this generation’s ‘go-to girl’ for self-esteem,” hosts seminars “for mothers and daughters on today’s pressure to be beautiful,” writes “monthly columns for Seventeen Magazine” and “motivates women and girls around the globe to develop the tools for living a more confident life!”
So while Weiner’s Glamour article is a personal piece, she’s clearly a prominent public figure who’s spreading a specific message – and unfortunately, it’s a very negative and inaccurate one.
Loving your body means that you nourish it with nutrient-rich foods and foods that help you feel great, that you choose fun physical activities that boost both your physical and mental health and, again, that you prioritize your health.
I’m not criticizing Weiner’s choice to lose weight or look a certain way. I am criticizing her promotion of false and convoluted messages, messages which TONS of readers and viewers pick up on, messages that really hurt.
Dr. Katja Rowell, one of my favorite bloggers, at Family Feeding Dynamics, writes in her insightful response:
Had she said something like, “I accept my body (I don’t have to love it, but I do have to not hate it to treat it well,) but I don’t feel very good right now. My eating still isn’t where I’d like it to be, my energy is low, I’m not able to do the things I’d like to do, like go for a bike-ride around the local lake. I’m going to make some changes, try to feel better and see if I can improve some of my borderline lab levels.” That would have had me cheering. And, if she lost weight? Fine. If not? Fine.
Oh, and, interestingly, it wasn’t weight loss that helped Weiner decrease her numbers. It was the behavior changes she made, which included becoming more active, learning about nutrition (and eating veggies and other nutritious foods) and seeing a therapist to work on her emotional eating issues — all the things you do when you truly love and appreciate your body and yourself.
How many people when they hate or dislike their bodies actually want to take good care of themselves?
More often than not, these people diet and exercise to punish themselves for the supposed sin of being bigger. They may engage in harmful behaviors like excessive exercise or severe restriction. Which can lead to other risky behaviors like yo-yo dieting, bingeing and using diet pills.
Also, doesn’t hating your body make you terribly unhappy and thereby negatively affect your mental health? That can’t be good.
Loving your body won’t kill you. But hating it might.
What do you guys think? Am I overreacting to this article? Do you feel the same way? Whatever your opinion, please feel free to share it below!
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Last reviewed: 12 Aug 2011