Fits and Starts
Think about it…how could one itty bitty word elicit such a broad spectrum of feelings, images, and associations?
Throwing a fit
If the shoe fits
The perfect fit
Fit for life
Fit to stand trial
When I worked in an inpatient psychiatric hospital for adolescents, one of the Expressive Arts Therapy activities I led was to have my patients free associate on the word fit and then choose one event from their list to explore. Without fail, the material generated from this directive was deep, rich, and expansive.
In the scenarios that emerged few, if any, were neutral in nature. There is no middle ground about throwing a fit or not fitting in. We are either fit or unfit for duty, a 1A or a 4F. From the time we are aware of others around us we are praised for fitting in and criticized for not fitting in. Redheads don’t fit in, tomboys don’t fit in, boys that cry or are too short don’t fit in. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has had:
- Dressing room fits while on a quest for the perfect outfit
- Worked with her child to find a perfect fit college
- Became fit to be tied by the enormity of my to do list
But nowhere is the doctrine of having to fit in more oligarchic than in the context of women’s bodies.
I received an email this week from a patient I worked with years ago that made an enormous impact on me. (She found me via Facebook, which brings up a topic for another time about how social networking effects patient therapist closure etc.). I’m not sure if she was in one of the groups where we did the “fit” activity, but her letter got me thinking about the whole “fit thing” once again. I asked her if I could share a portion of her email in my blog assuring that her identity would remain anonymous and she said, “Yes.”
“…It’s been many years since I worked with you as my therapist in the hospital and the work we did helped me alot. I changed alot of my bad attitude about my body and don’t get depressed as much. The recreation activities we did helped me like my body more and I like doing more active things now than I used to. I even think my eating is more normal I know I don’t binge like I used to and I am much thinner than I was when you knew me. I lost 45 pounds! But the problem is that other people still see me as fat. They don’t know that for me this is thin or thinner. It makes me want to diet so they will like the way I look more. I found your web page on Facebook and it made me feel better to know that I can be healthy at this weight. (I am 5’4 and weigh 150 pounds) But I still feel like I don’t fit in. It’s hard for me to like myself when everyone around me thinks I’m too fat.”
Let’s be clear. I read mountains of material on fatness and fitness and feelings. I am used to reading endless disparaging comments about fat people by people who hate fat people or are truly worried about a loved ones’ health that they believe is jeopardized by their weight. In fact, I recently received a comment that kindly informed me that,
“You are doing a disservice to fat people by giving them the excuse to stay fat which comes with the tacit approval of being unhealthy. How can you say you really care about someone’s health if you don’t encourage them to lose weight?”
Those kind of comments usually elicit a weary sigh and a response that I call “D3 on the juke box,” as I explain the Health at Every Size® perspective and that the war on obesity is causing more harm than good. But the personal perspective of my former patient’s note struck a different chord in me. I felt angry and sad on her behalf and it elicited a flurry of questions.
- How do we hold on to the benefits of adopting a HAES approach if loving yourself continues to be undermined everywhere you go?
- How do we strengthen our commitment to finding our healthy weight when the criticism we receive about how we look activates the urge to sign up for a diet program offering pre-packaged foods not fit for human consumption.
- Why do people keep insisting that even if we are healthy we still need to “just lose the weight” because we don’t fit the image of a healthy thin person?
- And why the hell does everyone on the planet all of a sudden seem to care about my weight anyway? (Sorry, had a little s*#t fit there)
It saddens me that fitting in is so important in our culture that we often adopt self-destructive behaviors to feel included. Pressure from peers, parents, and the media starts at an early age and continues relentlessly as we get older and often results in habits that become increasingly challenging to change. Negative thoughts and self-loathing are perhaps the most difficult habits to break because the standards of beauty and health that we are expected to attain are so extreme it makes it impossible for many of us to appreciate our strengths. Think about it…we get perpetual positive reinforcement for NOT LOVING ourselves!
I realize that answering the questions I raised, is an ongoing, complex process for all of us and the writings of one zaftig, redheaded blogger isn’t going to change the world. BUT, one thing I am certain of is Virgie Tovar was correct
We have more of a hate problem than a weight problem in this culture.
We need to spend some time focusing on what is working not on what isn’t and find new ways to look at health and wellness goals, standards, and measurements. Lets find ways to help people understand the concept of body diversity and that some of us can be fit as a fiddle and can’t fit into a size 6 dress. I love this quote by Rollo May,
“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice it is conformity.”
I agree. I am hoping my former patient can be Very Very Brave.