One woman’s journey into body-positivity. Exploring her life through stories, Gibbons discusses the ins and outs of being a larger woman in our society, and how she came to the forefront of the battle for body acceptance.
Real women are those who defend and empower all women, no matter what size their ass is.
Y’all? Brittany Gibbons is my spirit animal. I say that in the most awed and respectful way possible. She has catapulted to the top of my People I Admire and Aspire to Be Like list. She is funny, she is smart, and she is helping to lead the charge of a movement that both inspires and intimidates me (under the weight of my own body insecurity). And she does it all without ever claiming that to be body-positive means you’ll never doubt yourself, or think yourself fat/ugly/whatever, or that nasty comments you receive in person or in real life won’t hurt. She’s honest and real. And that is exactly what I needed right now.
I don’t imagine that I, or anyone else reading this book, will instantly shuck off all body-image issues and become immune to the things society drills into us. That’s just not terribly realistic. But it’s a start toward that aim, the aim of embracing oneself no matter one’s size, and a much needed one, for many of us. Including me.
Note: You should watch Gibbons’ TED talk. It’s phenomenal. If nothing else gets you to read this book, this talk should.
Performance: The audio was read by Lauren Fortgang, who did an amazing job. Actually, I spent a big chunk of the audiobook thinking that Gibbons was reading it herself, because Fortgang sounded so comfortable with all the inflections and stresses and rhythms. Excellent job!
Now, for something different, inspired by this book: I’m not even going to pretend that this isn’t an extremely personal subject for me and something I’ve struggled with for my entire life. It is, and I’m going to (over)share my own body-image journey below. Not interested? No problem! This review is over, and you can feel free to comment or click away or whatever. If you are interested, however, proceed at your own risk:
Amanda’s Body-Image Journey
1. When I was around five years old, I proudly told my mom that I’d noticed I got fat then skinny, fat then skinny. The phenomenon I was talking about had nothing to do with yo-yo dieting, but a typical child’s growth spurts: gaining weight, then suddenly getting taller to fill out that weight. Fat, skinny. My mom, thinking of yo-yo dieting and her own body-image issues, responded to my proud announcement with, “Oh Mandy, that’s not good.”
2. My mom wasn’t a bad person. I love her dearly. But she clearly had (has) body image issues. She was one of those bird-build people who wasn’t even to triple-digit weights by college. When she gained far less than the typical Freshman 15, she came home to have her father tease her: “You went to school looking like Olive Oyl, and came back as Aunt Jemima.” Yeah… So I spent my childhood doing Jane Fonda and FIRM videos alongside my mom, with cans of tomato paste as “weights,” and listening to her talk about how fat she was. (Hint: She was NOT FAT AT ALL.)
3. I became a competitive swimmer in adolescence, after an early puberty. At 5’6 and 120 lbs, I thought I was a whale. It did not help that my three younger siblings were all built along the bird-lines of my mother, and I was built more football-player-with-massive-shoulders like my dad. I entered college at 125 lbs and with major body-image issues. (Note: I was WAY too thin. I should never be under about 140 lbs with my frame.)
4. I got sick my sophomore year of college, and Sick lasted 11 years, through marriage and three children and two cross-country moves. Sick could not be identified by doctors or tests, nor did Sick respond to the dozens of medications thrown at me. This left me suffering from a myriad of symptoms, as well as absolute helplessness as my weight rapidly jumped up and down outside of my control. When Sick was finally identified and cured (thank you chiropractors and endodontists!!), the total sum gain over 11 years equaled 130 lbs, and I was now a morbidly obese 255 lbs. And miserable.
5. I began a weight loss journey that failed for a year, until I found a motivation that worked: shame. That’s right. After waking up from a dream that I was writing a memoir about the four things fat women can’t do without being mocked – eat, exercise, think, or enjoy themselves – shame took over. I spent nine months setting aside everything in my life to lose weight, and lost, in total, 65 lbs. Then I started to let other things (you know, like family and writing and cleaning my house) back into my life, and it took a further 18 months to lose the next 40 lbs, taking me to a healthy weight for the first time in over a decade.
6. My body image issues were still rampant. Despite losing 105 lbs, I was frustrated that I couldn’t lose the last 10 that would take me to my goal, and I hated my body for the ripped up, folded over mess of a stomach that I’d gotten during my three back-to-back pregnancies. After maintaining my weight for a year (SO much easier than losing, btw!), I underwent belly surgery, and for the first time in a very long time – if ever – I actually started to like my body. I’d made huge strides to accept my scars and stretchmarks and sagging skin. I wore a bikini out despite stretchmarks on my belly and extra fat/creases in my back, and posted it publicly on social media. I was doing well.
7. Then a massive period of stress hit my life, tied to body image issues, about 18 months into maintenance, and all those issues came roaring to life. Then I was eating to punish myself, to hurt myself, to force myself to gain because I felt ugly and gross. This is why shame, no matter how effective, does not actually help us in losing weight. Sure, I lost, but I didn’t GAIN anything in terms of loving my body or body acceptance. I’d wanted to be less fat, not more of anything, and I got exactly that: less fat, and more of nothing. And that was not a good place to be in when my life went pear-shaped. I regained about 40 lbs over the last year, leading me to where I am today.
8. I’ve been in therapy since last November, focused mainly on ongoing, longterm PTSD issues, but also somewhat on body image issues. All summer, I’ve been working on building a healthier relationship with food and my body. I do not want to use food as a weapon against myself anymore, and I do not want to hate my body. I want to be, as the title of this book says, comfortable in my skin. No matter my size or shape. Do I want to be thinner than I am now? Yes. I do. I’m not afraid to admit this. I feel much more comfortable with myself at a smaller size, particularly because at my current size, my feet, knees, hips, and back hurt a lot. At the same time, I don’t want to shove everything else to the sidelines the way I did before in order to lose weight. Instead, I want to focus on loving myself just the way I am, no matter how I am. That takes top priority.
9. I made myself a new vision board this summer. My old vision board had a bunch of pictures of teenage-me at thin sizes. My new board has no pictures of me, but instead, it has the things that inspire me and are what I want to become, physically and mentally: strong, kind, flexible, healthy, and confident.
10. I don’t know where #10 will go. I am in the middle of this journey, and have miles to go before I sleep, so to speak. The next phase of my journey is just beginning, with an emphasis on the five attributes I mentioned above. I have yet to decide exactly how I’ll be documenting this journey – on this blog? a new blog? instagram? tumblr? facebook? – though I will be documenting it, for anyone who might be interested. And with that, I’ll end my (over)sharing here.