Break up with the Thin Ideal

Teaching theory for college students WHILE you are going to therapy and figuring out your own life’s shit is wild. In the middle of a lecture, internally, I’ll be in the middle of a sentence and just, “AH HA… wow I get it,” not about the lecture, but typically about something I will say to a student who is working on an art piece about the body ideal. As I hear myself say my knowledge or advice outloud, I get it, I understand, I learn about myself, while still being extremely disconnected from myself and that theory I just spewed out of my mouth.

It’s a super hard thing to explain, but it makes sense in my head. So in a nutshell, sometimes the lectures we give hit us [professors] at home too, we just have to hide it more.

Now, I am pretty open with my students. They know I have had an eating disorder, they know I have OCD, they know I used to body build, they know a lot. Why? Well, my work is about that, and I usually like to give them an ‘in’ to who I am as an artist, because it matters. I can speak a lot about technical processes and theory, mechanism, digital representation, hyper realism, the lack of truth in all art and photography, but I have studied and studied and read so many things on the body ideal, the presentation of women, the link between the dairy industry and the abuse of women, and so many feminist beliefs. So.. when I get to this point in the semester I admittedly have much more to say and many more books to reference than any other topic.

Because of these discussions of the body ideal, and because of myself going through therapy, I feel like I am currently treading water. As someone who was consumed by the fitness industry since the day they could walk, I never started thinking about the profit that went into it. The diet, fitness, supplement, plastic surgery, equipment industries all have something to gain on the backs of women hating themselves; a shit ton of money. The weight loss industry itself is a 72 billion dollar industry [increased since my last reference of the Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf], the fitness industry alone is projected to hit 31.2 billion this year, and cosmetics is around 15 billion. For comparison, the pornographic industry is a 12-13 billion dollar industry, and that alone in the United States is a MASSIVE industry [don’t get me started on the porn industry though because seriously how are we the only ones with illegal and unregulated prostitution but it can be legal if it’s recorded and posted online…pft..capitalism]. Now, I know these numbers, and even when I learned about them I had a “huh..” moment, but it never really clicked.

Recently I started to think about the idea of perfection. Honestly, this started for me from a few TikTok videos I had watched discussing how a 30-40 year old body, esp one that had undertaken child birth, could not have soft baby skin, no hips, a tight waist, and perfect thighs. I hadn’t thought about the fixation of the pre-adolescent body being placed on a pedestal as perfect… but that’s exactly what it is. Actually with coming to terms to this conclusion… it helped me overcome this mentality of perfection and skewed definition I had of perfection in general. I am almost 30 – I cannot and will not be able to look like how I was when I was 20, before my body peaced out because of my constant starvation of it, before my hypothyroidism became a problem, before I had organs removed from my body that helped me digest and break down fat. That’s just not attainable. Before it was attainable but definitely not sustainable, and now it’s just kind of out of reach all together.

With that, this is where I am going to say, I am breaking up with the thin ideal. I am letting go that thin means worth, that thin is pretty, that thin is better. Easier said than done. But this is what I see online:

Girls I know, losing weight. Posting about their confidence, and their ‘health.’ Discussing that they are the most confident they have ever been, promoting self-care and confidence to ‘do whatever you want!’ Promoting a ‘sturdy diet’ with ‘macro based’ nutrients and meal plan, promoting their before and after of sad and happy. I lived this life for 10 years so let me shit on it for a minute [honestly longer than that but def the macro counting and gym obsession since I was 19]. We think we are discussing our self worth, our confidence, we think that we are helping others by ‘bEinG aN inSpiRaTiOn,” we think we are talking about our dedication, discipline, self-help ideology and growth, and in a small aspect, we were, but what we are really discussing; is our weight.

With all of that extra weight gone: look how happy I am, look how much self-doubt I’ve let go, look how I can do these things freely and on a whim, but I couldn’t before. No, we could before, too, but society told us we had to carry shame if we tried to do the thin girl routine, with the thin girl clothes [crop tops and leggings]. If you think I’m lying just think about when a thin girl posts a tiktok wearing a crop top and showing how much food she eats in a day [junk food], and then have an average or bigger gal do the same thing and watch the comments. Double standards.

Now this has taken me a long time to get to this spot specifically to write in this way, because I, yes, believe in healthy eating and working out. I do not promote this glamourized version of being overweight as people set out to do. I DO think there is a line between body positivity and overweight – I think that people shouldn’t strive to be a size 0 but also should monitor to a point what they place in their body for their own health and function, because eating disorders are NOT just starvation. They are also over-eating, binge eating, eating for comfort due to trauma, SO many ways, and the kicker here is: people will still shame over-eating and those disorders more than anorexia, dysmorphia or bulimia. That is the truth. And being someone who had all 3 of those things in their life, I want to tell you that no one ever told me no, no one told me I was too thin [except my mom], and no one ever shamed me for not eating ever, but I have been told that I was eating too much or going too crazy when I was masking. Also, the truth.

There is a fine line between discipline, dedication, and self obsession. There is a difference between dedication and self harm presented as discipline.

When I say that I mean:

When people have a 5-6 day workout week, eat strict, and are true to these values, yes it is discipline, yes it is hard work, but I think that obsession can easily be confused with self harm, denial, obsession, addiction [physically to watching yourself disappear], and can lead to worse things; eating disorders, unhappiness, depression, and a lack of self worth.

When you lose so much weight and then gain some of it or more back, and when you tied that weightloss to your self worth, when the weight does come back – you have literally lost your entire self worth – this is what I went and am going through. This is why I am having a hard time with the fitness industry currently. Up until last month I was working out 7 days a week. Prior to COVID I was going to the gym 6 days a week, macro dieting, counting calories, feeling all guilt for a rest day. From 2014-2016 I ate 800 calories a day [sometimes 600], I felt PRIDEFUL when I didn’t reach 900 calories for the day. I ate mostly 3 protein shakes and a salad M-F, and then tofu, sweet potatoes, protein shakes and some wine on the weekends. From 2016-2018 I body built and ate about 1000 calories a day under the supervision of a male trainer. Macro based, def more protein, and restricted any way I could. I lost a ton of fat, got a ton of muscle. I remember compliments CONSTANTLY when I showed a before and after and became addicted to the positive reinforcement. My self-worth went up and up because of these physical changes. People were iNsPiReD by my DeDiCaTiOn to myself and self growth. So yes, it wasn’t easy. Yes I said no to many things. But Yes I said no to many things. I’d eat before I went out with josh so I didn’t eat at the places we went. I’d study menus to see what fit into my caloric plan. Idk how many times I’ve heard Josh say to me “we can go out,. you may have to choose because I don’t know what you are eating right now.”

I had some severe depression in 2017-2018. Some linked to birth control, most linked to self worth, lack of serotonin [90 percent released in the gut], and some linked to identity crisis. When I started to gain weight in 2019/2020 – oooh boy lol. This is where I crashed and now am in therapy.

Going through therapy, wanting to still work out, wanting to still lose the fat I’ve gained this year, but ridding the mentality of definition of perfect and questioning WHY do I want to lose my fat I’ve gained has been incredibly hard.

I downloaded an app called insight and have been doing live yoga on there almost every night. I hated yoga, but the breathing aspect of it has definitely helped me calm my OCD and has helped my anxiety a lot more than I thought I would. I still am working out and weight training in my basement 3-4 days a week, but have tried to retrain my brain not to shame myself if I haven’t done it. But I haven’t gone to the gym in almost a month. I had to cut out running anyways due to my dietician telling me it was harming me because my insulin levels any ways… so there is less desire to go to the gym at all now. I am trying to really retrain what working out means to me. I don’t have to pant and be out of breath, I can do it for health, my heart, and my mind; most importantly.

I’d be lying if I said I didnt think about weightloss at least 20 times a day. I’d be lying if I said I overcame all of the things I just wrote, but the truth is I haven’t. My eating disorder is still very much alive, but for the first time in years, the other day I caught myself in the mirror and thought.. you know, you aren’t bad… and if people don’t like you in a swim suit, it isn’t your problem, it’s theirs. And to be honest my body isn’t really up for social critique.

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