These words don’t make sense

In this post I’m going to talk about three phrases that are a little bit silly. They are ‘to lose weight’, ‘to be fat’, and ‘to be skinny’. Let’s start with losing weight.

Now, it’s true, I do see a fair few people around me that could benefit from shedding a few kilos, and most people seem to be happy when they see the number on the scales go down. But it’s not like “Oh my God, I’ve put my weight down somewhere and I can’t find it!” Technically, you don’t ‘lose’ anything, you burn off some of your body fat as a result of eating less junk food, moving more, eating healthier food, stopping comfort eating, lifting weights, balancing out your hormones, or any other of a host of reasons. Usually, you make a diet or lifestyle change for the better, you shed some excess body fat, and you feel better for it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve lost weight. Muscle is a lot denser than fat, so one kilogram of muscle takes up a lot less space than one kilogram of fat.

Say you cut some sugary junk food out of your diet which will stop you gaining more fat, and then you do some resistance training which will stimulate your body to grow muscle, as well as mobilising some of your fat stores and using them as energy, but the number on the scale goes up. You look different: you have less wobbly bits and more firm bits, you feel different – you’re noticeably stronger and everyday chores are so much easier, you feel better because you have more energy and you love the way your body looks and feels. Your silhouette is more shapely and you’re actually occupying less space, yet you haven’t lost any weight – you’ve actually gained some because you have more muscle now than you did before. Wonderful muscle that looks lovely and makes you feel strong and capable and needs to be fuelled with food even when it’s not working which means that you can eat more good food without worrying about it turning into fat. But you haven’t lost weight. Can you see how ridiculous this is? If you’re still not convinced, read this article and take a good look at the pictures.

Now, let’s move on to ‘being fat’. Technically, this doesn’t even make sense. It’s not like being an astronaut, or being an introvert, or being awake or being asleep. Nobody can be fat. We’re all human beings with a greater or lesser amount of fat on our bodies, but we’re people first – our percentages of adipose tissue should be way down the list of what makes each of us unique. And we all have some fat on us; whether it’s subcutaneous fat that lies between our muscle and our skin or visceral fat that sits around our organs, we all have it, and we can’t control where our bodies put it.

What we can control, however, is how much or how little of it we have. Now, I think it’s important to mention here that you can have a generous amount of fat on your body and still be healthy; if you eat well, move your body, feel good and are able to do all the things you want to do then what does it matter? Who am I to say that there’s anything wrong with that? There’s not. But if you’ve got a generous amount of fat on your body because you live on junk food and spend most of your day sitting, and you don’t feel good and can’t do half the things you’d like to be able to do… Well that’s a problem. And if you fit into that category it’s up to you to change. Your health is your own responsibility and it’s never too late make a change for the better. And if you’re raising children it’s absolutely your responsibility to teach them about good food.

Okay, on to ‘being skinny’. If someone says you’re healthy you probably have a good level of health, if someone says you’re wealthy you probably have a lot of money or other valuable assets, if someone says you’re skinny you probably have a lot of… skin? Is it because you’re just skin and bones? Even the Oxford Dictionary defines skinny as being “unattractively thin”, yet for so many women being skinny is their number one goal in life.

When I talk about goals with my clients I ask them what they’d like to be able to see or feel or do that tells them that their goal has been achieved, and more often than not feeling better or doing more is a more meaningful affirmation than simply seeing a change.

So yes, you can have a slim body but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be healthy, or happy. You could even have a slim body with a generous amount of fat on top and a stingy amount of muscle underneath. Or you could stop worrying about whether you’re too fat or too skinny and just be yourself.

For me, I want to feel good and healthy and strong and have all the energy I need each day to be able to do the things I want to do. And so I eat accordingly, so that I have the energy to do these things. And I move my body in a way that makes me feel alive and strong without exhausting me. And it’s a work in progress. And it probably always will be.

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Let’s talk about the thigh gap

I have a confession to make. On a good day, I have a thigh gap. By definition, this is when there’s a gap between one’s thighs when they’re standing up straight with their feet together. Sometimes my thigh gap is there in the morning but gone by afternoon, only to return again the next day. And guess what? The world doesn’t stop turning when my thigh gap disappears. I don’t feel like I’ve suddenly failed at life, nor do I feel like I’m a better person when I have one and a worse person when I don’t. Essentially I’m still the same person, thigh gap or no.

It makes me sad that something as trivial as the girth of a woman’s thighs is the focus of so much attention, when more important qualities aren’t given much attention at all; qualities such as honesty, kindness, humility, compassion, and empathy. Who cares about that? Apparently, as long as you’ve got a thigh gap you don’t need to worry about being a good person.

You may have seen Target’s butchered images recently, where the poor girl had her labia and half her vagina removed to enhance an already-existent thigh gap, as well as having other parts of her hacked away or stretched out. You may have also seen       this short clip, which shows how Photoshop can transform a healthy looking woman into some kind of a human Barbie doll. There’s even a website and accompanying book instructing you how to eliminate that “chub rub” once and for all. I don’t know about you, but I would never want to “lose bulky overdeveloped muscles” in pursuit of a thigh gap.

These are the messages that girls and women are bombarded with every day, from all directions, it’s hardly any wonder we suffer from physique anxiety as much as we do. It’s a tricky issue; on the one hand, I know how good it feels to truly be comfortable with the size and shape of my body, and how much confidence this can bring, yet, on the other hand, striving to look like something that is literally impossible (like a heavily Photoshopped image) will only bring heartache and disappointment.

The only person you should ever compare yourself to is you. You will always and only ever be you, so to try to be somebody else is a waste of time. And your version of being comfortable in your own skin is probably going to be different from the next person’s – it’s an individual thing – the size and shape where you feel most comfortable in nobody’s business but your own.

Have you ever seen a woman walking through a crowded room, head held high, shoulders back, confident and completely happy with who she is? She is beautiful, regardless of her hair colour, skin colour, age, height, or the girth of her thighs. Does she have a thigh gap? Who bloody cares! She certainly doesn’t. Compare that with another woman walking across the same room, shoulders stooped, gaze cast down at her feet, tugging at her clothes self-consciously. It’s easy to see that this woman doesn’t love herself. Technically, she may be a beautiful woman, but she doesn’t see it or believe it, and that makes it very hard for other people to do so.

I think it’s about time the media started focusing more on the meaningful stuff, like why it’s important to be beautiful on the inside, and less on the superficial crap, like thigh gaps. Because, let’s face it, sooner or later we’re all going to lose our looks, and if there’s nothing else to us what will we be left with?