When I was 15 years old, I went to ”fat camp”. It was the mid 80’s and after several failed attempts to lose weight via kids’ Weight Watchers’ meetings and ”the grapefruit diet”, I begged my mom to send me to this diet camp I had seen advertised in a teen fashion magazine.
The camp, named Camp Camelot, promised weight loss via a 1200 calorie a day meal plan and daily Jane Fonda workouts.
In a 1986 NY Times article about weight loss camps, Thelma Hurwitz, the owner of Camp Camelot was quoted as saying,
”We don’t want them (kids) to get skinny, skinny. Just to feel comfortable with themselves so they’re not ashamed to go shopping with their friends and buy shorts”.
Thanks for that, Thelma.
I was just 5-10 pounds above the ”average” weight of girls my age & height when I left for diet camp. But, I wanted a body that was stick thin like my friends’ bodies and also one that could do everything their bodies could do. Disability and self-confidence are difficult, especially when you are young. Due to an inherited neuromuscular condition, I couldn’t run or jump, and tripped a lot. The disease, called Charcot Marie Tooth, is slowly progressive. You can read more about this in my blog, Skinny Jeans & Leg Braces. Of course, it didn’t help, that my closest relatives had body image issues & questionable eating disorders of their own.
My dad weighed himself 10x a day (still does) and constantly talked about his weight. His mom, my Grandma Edith, walked 5+ miles a day well into her eighties because she wanted to remain thin. My mom and her mom, my Grandma Esther, were also constantly dieting. My Grandma ate ½ of a tiny ”diet muffin” for breakfast every day of her adult life. After breakfast, she’d stand on a large electronic contraption (we nicknamed it ”The Monster” ) that vibrated and supposedly rolled away the fat. The patriarch of the family, my Grandpa Nate, gave mixed messages. Two of his many unwritten rules:
- Don’t ever take a 3rd helping of fried matzah.
- Fill up your plate at the country club’s buffet brunch so he gets his money worth.
Ironically, even though everyone was always ”watching” their weight, most conversations were centered around food and the newest must-try restaurants.
In one of my camp letters home, I even bragged about being the skinniest girl at camp and winning the title of ”Ms. Camelot”. My sister recently found that letter in #15 of my (now deceased) mom’s meticulously labeled scrapbooks.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist. Like so many other young girls of my generation, I didn’t have ”body positive” role models. I was raised to believe that physical appearance was everything and If you worked at it, being thin and pretty might even compensate for other imperfections (like having a disability).
I’m not gonna tell you to ”love your body” when I know firsthand that it’s easier said than done. Even though I’ve come a long way since those Camp Camelot days, I can’t undo 47 years of body shaming. I don’t love a body that wakes me up at night with nerve pain and requires me to wear leg braces to walk. I’m not gonna lie & say that fitting into my jeans isn’t important to me or that I like the wrinkles forming near my eyes.
So, instead of forcing a fake, unrequited love with my body, I’m working towards body indifference; Accepting the things I cannot change and becoming less interested in the things I can. I’m focusing less on my body (both the perceived good & bad parts) and putting more energy towards activities that bring joy.
Do you want to join me in becoming body indifferent? Here are some tips:
- Find fulfilling activities – Do you have any hobbies? Do they involve looking a certain way? Unless your answer is modeling, chances are, that you don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size to participate in most activities. Do more things that excite you and help you to feel good about yourself.
- Learn your triggers – Do you get an icky feeling about yourself whenever you’re around certain people? Or, does flipping through fashion magazines cause you to judge your body harshly? For me, Facebook (not the Trend-able page of course) brings me little joy and is sometimes a catalyst for bad self-image days
- Don’t compare – There’s a 20 something woman who always takes the machine next to me in pilates class. She has no cellulite and a butt you could rest a glass on. It’s tempting to look in the mirror and mentally compare my 47-year-old body to hers, but doing so would be masochistic and I’m no longer into that.
- Focus on what you can do – There’s a lot my body can do despite having physical challenges. I am grateful for my ears that can hear, my eyes that can see and my legs that can walk.
- Hide the scale – I still weigh myself, but not more than a few times a month. When the scales not in plain view, I think about it a lot less. I rely more on how I feel in my clothes and how much energy I have.
- Have a weight range – I used to focus on a specific number with no allowance for fluid retention or weekend fun. Now, I try to aim for a healthy weight range instead.
- Take pride in non-appearance related attributes – I like getting compliments about my appearance; Who doesn’t? But, I equally love hearing someone say I made them laugh or that I’m a good writer.
What do you think? Do you have any to add to this list? Let us know in the comments section below.
For more on self-confidence and being body indifferent, check out my blog post How to Photoshop Your Self Image When You Have a Disability.