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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Category: Current Events

03 Feb

A Biggest Loser Contestant Reveals What We All Already Knew

Advocacy, Current Events 6 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

…that the show is degrading, demoralizing, and damaging.

Okay, so I’m being snarky with my tongue-in-cheek post title and I want to be clear how freaking brave I think Kai Hubbard truly is. The fact that she took a stand against what has become an (ironically) mammoth enterprise to share the gory details of her experience on the show is incredible.

What gets me is just how long it can take the world to catch on to things right before our eyes. And don’t worry – I 100% include myself in “the word.”

The Biggest Loser has been airing for over ten years, and in that time has produced not only an insanely popular television show, but a multi-million dollar brand selling the world the myth of speedy weight loss.

I’ll go right ahead and share that I watched the show with avid interest for it’s first two or three seasons. I had a weekly ritual of sitting down with a large bowl of ice cream to watch these contestants sweat it out. I wish I could tell you that I was analyzing the show for a media critique I was doing, but I was purely just fascinated at the time. The same fascination clearly shared by millions of viewers around the world.

Naive and intrigued, I believed that this show was changing these people’s lives for the better. The show pulled on my heartstrings and I shed tears multiple times each season. I felt for the contestants and was pulling for them every step of the way on their journey to a “healthier” lifestyle.

Ugh. I hate even writing that sentence now.

Even without the behind the scenes details that Kai and a few other contestants have revealed, there is plenty blatantly wrong with the show. There’s the fat-shaming “games,” the absurd amount of weight lost in a given week, and the idea of making one’s personal quest of health a contest in the first place. And then, of course, bringing kids into the mix.

And then we have what Kai shared. The New York Post reported that she told them, “The whole f- -king show is a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in.” She dished on the trainers’ ruthless demands, exercise and malnutrition-related injuries, dangerous calorie restriction, and even hospitalizations.

So why has it taken the world so long to figure out what a train-wreck this show really is?

Perhaps it’s because it so neatly conforms to our the dream of our culture. The majority of our nation share concerns about weight and so relate in some way to the contestants. We watch as their pursue — and apparently achieve — the “ultimate” ideal: lose weight, renew health, and achieve happiness.

We get caught up in the fantasy and selectively ignore the red flags (and the tacky product placement) screaming at us.

Kai actually gave an intimate and ground-breaking interview to Golda Poretsky on the show’s failings almost five years ago. And yet here we are in 2015 “shocked” at the same details being shared.

And so the “Biggest” question becomes: When will we get it?

Hopefully before someone gets even more seriously injured or worse as a result of the show.

25 Jan

How to Celebrate Love Your Body Month When You Don’t

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

loveyourbody

{image via @yourbeautifullife}

For most of us, the thought of spending an entire month in a love-fest for our bodies is a little daunting. Heck, an hour of doing so might be a little daunting. Both research and talking to anybodyanywhere confirms that the majority of us are pretty uncomfortable in our own skin, and going from that to loving our bodies feels like quite a stretch. And who wants to spend an entire month stretching? Besides yoga teachers and gymnasts, of course…

I’ll be honest: when I first heard about February’s Love Your Body Month, I cringed a bit. I’m a believer that you don’t have to love your body to treat it well. And I believe that, for some, trying to love your body can actually detract from the process of treating it well.

Sound strange?

It’s because so many people get frustrated with what feels like an impossible goal — loving a body they’ve been conditioned to hate — that they throw in the towel altogether. Love my <insert derogatory remarks about said body> body? Pffsh… never. I might as well <insert self-destructive or unkind behavior> forever.

[Hear me out in more detail on why you don’t need to love your body in this post.]

 So I was ready to ignore Love Your Body Month when I realized… maybe there’s another way of thinking about this.

Hear me out.

Rather than thinking of the month like a command of your feelings (“You must feel love toward your body in February!”), think of it like a suggestion of action (“Hey, how about trying to treat your body as if you loved it?” or, “Let’s practice showing loving kindness toward our bodies, no matter how we actually feel about them.”).

Does it feel any different?

To me, there’s a huge difference. You can probably come up with a few people in your life that you didn’t necessarily love, or perhaps even like all that much, but you treated them with respect and dignity. You would never talk disrespectfully to them or take actions that would harm them in any way. You didn’t love them, but you could co-exist peacefully and treat them kindly.

So maybe you can’t get on board with the idea of loving your body just yet – or maybe you never will (that’s actually okay!) – but I do urge you to participate in Love Your Body Month anyway. And if you choose to do so, here are five ways that you can act lovingly towards your body (no matter what emotions about it you may have):

1.      Watch your language. Notice how you’re talking about your body to both others and  yourself. If you tend to complain to your girlfriends about your flabby arms or your ears that stick out, try dropping it this month. This doesn’t mean you won’t think about how upset you are about certain traits, but fight the urge to vocalize them. Fat and other body shaming talk is cyclical. Stopping the negative noise can really alter the environment and, ultimately, lead to healthier perspectives on our bodies.

2.      Challenge your body to try one new thing. I’m not talking about P90X (that’s still a thing, right? No?) or anything that pushes you beyond your limits. It could be taking on a new yoga pose, allowing your body to try a food you always assumed you’d hate, or getting a massage for the first time.

3.      Develop a self-care ritual. I know things are too chaotic in my life when I start to skip parts of my morning or evening routine. Taking care of our bodies – even through “simple” things like rubbing lotion on each morning or flossing each night – can be the first things to go when we’re feeling stressed. But that’s when we need to be treating our bodies the best – if we expect them to operate well for us. Creating a routine or ritual is a great way of combating the urge to put everything else before you and your body.

4.      Sit with your body (and no one or nothing else) for three minutes every day. Meditation and mindfulness are good for your brain, but they’re also great for your body. It can decrease cortisol levels (a hormone that’s basically toxic for your body when in excess), improves sleep and eating, and even reduce cold symptoms!

5.      Write a letter to your body. Okay, I know. It sounds cheesy, but give it a try. Take ten minutes and share with your body anything you feel grateful for, what your hopes and dreams are, and, maybe, how sorry you are for talking such trash about it all the time. Only write what feels genuine in the moment. The idea isn’t a love letter to your body (you can imagine how I feel about those), but rather to open up a dialogue between your mind and your body. You’d be amazed – once you start writing to your body as another being, it becomes much harder to be cruel. It might take a while, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you’re participating in Love Your Body Month in some way, I’d love to hear about it.

28 Oct

Walmart Used the “F” Word and I Didn’t Care

Current Events 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

Story

Social and traditional media has been abuzz for the past day or two as Walmart got lambasted for listing larger-sized female Halloween costumes under the label “Fat Girl Costumes.” When Jezebel “exposed” the story, Twitter lit up with comments slamming the retail giant for their apparent insensitivity and shameful decision-making.

I’m going to admit something, and I’m expecting, based on the backlash I’ve seen against Walmart, that this may not go over particularly well. But when I first saw the news story on CNN (right after an Ebola update and before an ISIS segment…), my first thought was, “Wow, Walmart’s more progressive than I thought.”

I’ve asked readers here before what they thought of the word “fat” and the responses were varied and enlightening. Still, at that point, the majority of readers felt that the word was not particularly helpful or appropriate.

Meanwhile, a movement continues to grow in which the idea and reality of fatness is embraced. That includes not just accepting size diversity, but accepting — and honoring — the word “fat.” The idea is that, much like other traditionally stigmatizing words, there’s an opportunity to reclaim the word and thus diminish the negativity and critical power associated with it. Personally, I love the idea of beating the haters at their own game. If I call myself fat — and not in a self-deprecating way, but in descriptive, neutral way — than I’ve taken away your power to insult and harm me with that word. Try again, jerk.

That said, it might be hard for some of us to imagine using the word fat for ourselves or someone else in a neutral way. That’s because so many other words have become embedded with the word fat deep in our brains — words like: lazy, self-indulgent, bad, wrong… It’s important to note the should-be obvious here, which is that none of those things are naturally or inherently tied to the idea of fatness, but our cultural and linguistic traditions are pretty powerful.

So I get the fact that some hear the word “fat” and immediately get defensive. That’s not because there is something inherently wrong with the word; it’s because in their minds they immediately hear all the other words associated with it and feel that Walmart is hurting its customers. If Walmart had said “Selfish, Ugly, Lazy Girl Costumes,” I’d support us being up in arms. But they didn’t. They just said a three letter word that could be argued to neutrally describe a portion of their consumer base.

Now, it’s equally important to consider that words don’t exist in a vacuum. Was Walmart supporting the fat-acceptance movement and promoting a progressive wave of feminism with it’s webpage? I’m not naive enough to totally buy that. But I also can’t say what the intention of the site was. The fact that they’ve now apologized profusely and pulled down the page seems to indicate that they are not exactly trying to make a political statement (or at least not one they were prepared to defend).

Alright, lay it on me… What do you think of Walmart’s “Fat Girl Costumes” page? What do you think of the word “fat”?

p.s. I actually feel a little more offended by the term “girl” in that phrase… You don’t see Walmart referring to adult men as “boys.” But that’s for another day…

 

17 Apr

Could a patch make you feel more beautiful? Does it matter?

Current Events No Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

“I’ve been spending so much time thinking that if I could just get myself to like the outside, to feel satisfied with the external, then I would feel peace on the inside. But I realize that hasn’t work,” she said, shaking her head slightly and as her eyes shifted down. “Maybe it’s really about finding peace on the inside first, and the outside will follow. Maybe that’s the key to feeling beautiful.”

Her peer looked at her earnestly, her shoulders lifting into a shrug, and replied, “Or maybe when you feel peace on the inside, you just don’t care about beauty so much.”

I smiled at the reply, noting that I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s exactly right, I thought. When you feel peace, there are more important things that how I look today.

And I think that sort of sums up my feelings about the latest Dove project. If you haven’t seen the video, under-cover Doves give unsuspecting women a “beauty patch” that they tell them will make them more beautiful. After a few days, the women report not noticing any changes. But soon they say that they are feeling different, more beautiful. They even notice how their own behavior changes as a result of this sudden “beauty.”

(Watch it here.)

Of course, the patch is a sham and the moral of the story is that there is nothing external that can make you more beautiful. Beauty comes from within. La de da.

Okay, okay — when I first saw the spot, I got a little choked up. I think seeing any woman start to feel better about herself gets me a bit emotional. Seeing the women’s reactions to hearing that they didn’t need a patch to help them feel more confident? There were truly touching moments.

But something about the whole thing still leaves me feeling… conflicted… Maybe it’s the fact that these women believed themselves to be putting on a patch — assumably of medication — and didn’t question at the outset what “chemicals” were seeping into their bodies. I realize this happens every day with things like diet pills and special creams that are purchased with similar intent. But it still weirds me out.

Then there’s the fact that the project was created by Dove, a company, like any other hygeine and beauty company, who profits from women feeling that they need their products to feel beautiful and better. I’m not dissing Dove here, specifically. I think they make good products, and I like their soap. But my cynicism, usually buried deep, starts to emerge when I watch this. So you’re telling me that women don’t need anything external to feel good? Well then your sales just dropped… Oh, you want us to still buy your sixteen products though to feel good? I see.

And last, I think I’m a little tired of the message that if we feel good on the inside, we’ll be beautiful on the outside, for the reasons stated above. I think if we feel truly good on the inside, we give importance to things other than how we look on the outside. That’s not to say that anything is wrong with wanting to look and feel beautiful. It’s just what I notice when I think about the truly happy and content people that I know. They aren’t slobs, but they don’t pay a whole lot of heed to their appearance either. It’s not scientific fact, just an observation.

But I’m curious what you think… Do you like the Dove ad? Did you tear up at first like me? What do you make of it?

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