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Betsy's Story: Changing our Thinking to Reclaim our Power

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"Some people see the glass as half full; others see it as half empty. I see the glass as too big."
– George Carlin

Nothing less than an entire paradigm shift is required to reclaim our power; that's why I love this George Carlin quote so much.

The paradigm I grew up in prescribed one overriding rule for girls: Be thin. If we were not thin, we could not expect to have satisfying relationships, fulfilling jobs, or any of the other good things in life. We couldn't even be girls, really; femininity was defined by a specific shape and size, an allowance of fat on breasts only, with a teeny little bit on the hips, just to emphasize the negative space at the waist.

If we were not thin, it wasn't because there was a natural diversity at work in the world—it was because we were lazy, stupid, greedy, and childish. ALL IT TOOK was eating less and exercising more. All it took was denial of our needs, our selves, our individuality. As girls and then women, denying ourselves was the currency we were trained to trade in. What was the problem?

I was a heavy child. I was also painfully bright and aware. I started early to try and find some new perspective on the world of weight loss which threatened to become my sole identity. I remember writing a poem that began:

Remove the "t" from diet
and you're left with just plain "die"
which is what I'd surely rather do
than trim a hip or thigh!

I also wrote what I'm certain was the first (and last) size-acceptance editorial ever printed in my high school newspaper.

In high school in the early 1970's, I was alone in my beliefs. Nothing is more painful than loneliness, so I found a best friend who explored all the fad diets of the day with me. Once we ate grapefruit and eggs for weeks. When the Stillman's diet came out, for months we existed on huge steaks and tiny salads with Tab soft drinks at the local Sizzler restaurant. Days or weeks of dizzying "success" were always followed by the predictable return to fatness.

Something started happening when I became a young adult. More and more women were developing eating disorders—anorexia (which crystallized the cultural edict of female self-denial) and bulimia (which alternated a desire to conform with a wild and powerful drive to rebel). I myself "chose" the latter. It's probably that very rebellious component which ultimately saved my life.

God bless Geneen Roth. Reading her first book, an anthology of stories about what it means to grow up fat and more still about the shattered heart that beats inside every woman trying to stuff her soul into a one-size-fits-all world, I got my first glimpse of the possibility of turning my back on the obsession. It would be years before this glimpse became a vision, but in the meantime I started learning more about who I was, what I wanted, and how I was using a focus on my body and on food to avoid the more intangible tasks of adulthood—like being responsible for my own life and getting what I wanted and needed.

By the time I discovered Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, I was already a confirmed convert to the anti-diet movement. It was something I learned from 12-step friends: Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If this were true, then dieting was the ultimate insanity. I immediately added Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter to my ever-growing list of literary wise women and teachers.

Food and body obsession rob women of their power. If we are so focused on what we look like, our attention can't be invested in more important endeavors: contributing in meaningful ways to the healing of ourselves, our communities, our world. Conversely, moving away from food and body obsession provides the perfect training ground for learning the skills we need to take back our lives and develop our power in the world.

Furthermore, when "You're fat!" no longer inflicts a wound because it cannot touch WHO I AM, I can't be controlled by a diet and weight loss industry whose concern for me begins and ends at my pocketbook.

I am downright glorying in the ever expanding (pun fully intended) size-acceptance movement. Right now, I'm reading Dee Hakala's Thin Is Just a Four-Letter Word, and every few pages I stop and look at her photo on the cover—a gorgeous woman, 5 feet tall, somewhere around 200 pounds, and a certified kick-ass fitness instructor who founded "The New Face of Fitness" as a safe place for women to re-learn the joy of moving their bodies, no matter what their size and shape. No born-again anorexiform Susan Powter is she, but rather one of US—boldly illustrating that it's what's inside that matters and teaching that bringing our unique inside into the outside world is what we're here for. The goal—and a more revolutionary one I cannot imagine—is to excavate our depths and let what we discover there shape our outside as it will.

Betsy C.
Los Angeles, CA
5/24/97

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