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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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Tag: body distortion

10 May

Do fat memories ever fade?

Ideas to Consider 21 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul
4229899128_02d1c12a44_z {Image Credit :: wolvesandrabbits}

She’s only half the woman that she once was, but don’t tell her that.

At 28, my friend Laura has long lost almost half of what was once her highest weight. She hasn’t been to that point in almost ten years, dropping the pounds in desperate attempt to forestall what she perceived to be inevitable rejection come move-in day of her freshman year of college. Her self-proclaimed fat clothes are not shoved in the back of her bulging closet; they are long discarded – adorning Goodwill-goers and those with bodies far larger than Laura herself.

But Laura doesn’t see herself as the size six with killer triceps. When she looks in mirror, she is flooded with memories of sitting alone at the community center, drinking her diet coke and feeling hot and uncomfortable in the black tafetta dress her mom finally found on sale in the Women’s department. “Black is so slimming!” she was told. “Right,” she thought. “And so are vertical stripes. But I refuse to go there.”

She recalls watching the other girls dance with bright, carefree smiles adorning their perfectly made-up faces. And Laura is angry – though she’s not sure if it’s at the girls for fitting into the strapless sequined dresses that she’d been eyeing for months or at herself for letting Dunkin Donuts distract her from her low-carb, low-fat, high-anxiety diet once again.

But Laura is no longer that girl, though her mental image of herself retreats to that dark place whenever her anxiety starts to build. She can’t understand why, years after she has shed the weight and has built what she considers a healthy lifestyle, she remains stuck in a 16-year-old’s mind.

Speaking with may individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight, the disconnect between their new bodies and their old minds becomes strikingly apparent. Despite years upon years passing, many still describe themselves as feeling, at their core, like a fat pig.

Do memories of being overweight ever fade?

According to NPR’s Peter Sagal, the answer is no. Even physically fit as a 3:27 marathoner, he grapples with the concept of not being fat. “Mirrors are not to be believed,” he said in a Runner’s World piece. “You stand in front of them, knowing that you can’t trust yourself as an arbiter of truth, so you turn from side to side, thinking that maybe, if you snap your head around quickly enough, you can actually see yourself as others see you.”

Like Sagal, those who have become thin through regular and intense exercise often continue to feel that they are the mercy of their athletics. Sure I’m skinny, you’ll hear. But that’s because I run thirty miles a week. The implication of course is that if by some horrible stoke of luck  they weren’t able to exercise, they would return to the large life as quick as you can say tendonitis. They are, they believe, fat people in thin disguises.

Why is it so hard to adopt a new mental image of yourself? One reason might be that our brains are actually wired for distortion when it comes body image, as recent research suggests.

Another reason is that often the feelings associated with our body size are visceral – the transcend all reason and are rooted in a place far more powerful than intellect. Those who have found themselves struggling with weight, particularly as children, often form an identity around this. If not given other messages, we often learn, in part due to the weight discrimination rampant in our society, to approach others from a place of disempowerment and of shame.

At the heart of the matter is not fear of simply having an arbitrary numerical value on a scale rise again – it’s a fear of a loss of human connection, of feeling powerful and capable and strong, of rejection. And in an ironic twist of fate, fear and stress are connected to weight gain.

Learning to let go of a restrictive view of ourselves is a task for all of us – whether we have lost, gained, or maintained our weight throughout out lives. When the stories that have defined are lives are no longer working for us, it’s time to write new ones.

Have you ever found yourself caught in memories of a body you no longer have?


02 Mar

When your partner hates his or her body

Ideas to Consider 17 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul


{Image Credit :: Gabi + Jeremy Photography}

You walk into the darkened bedroom and quietly slip under the cool sheets to lie next to her. You figure that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo can be finished tomorrow, so you gently reach across her to put the book on the nightstand and wrap your arm around her quiet body. Her arms feel smooth and she smells, well, a lot better than you do. You reach your hand down to feel the softness of her belly, feeling excited and blessed to be touching this woman – your partner.

And then she jerkily shifts her body, removing your hand and placing it firmly and unquestionably back on your own. The look that traverses the space between you is a mixture of annoyance and anger.

For a moment, your heart aches, feeling rejected, hurt, confused. But the feeling fades quickly – you’re used to this. You say nothing, retreat to your own valley of the bed and gently flip the switch to total darkness.

Assuming you haven’t forgotten her parents’ anniversary or erased last week’s Modern Family from the DVR, your partner’s reaction could have very little to do with you. Her uneasiness, her swift retraction from your touch, her anger… they could all be a heart-wrenching result of years of negative body image.

[They could also be signs of previous sexual abuse or other trauma.]

When an individual hates his or her own body, the partner suffers as well. This suffering isn’t relegated to bedroom hanky-panky (that’s what we call a euphemism) but also flows into one’s day to day experience – the fabric of the relationship.

When we believe that our bodies are unattractive, we begin to feel that they are unworthy of attention, of care, of appreciation – ours or our partners. We treat ourselves as deserving contempt and any action that suggests otherwise can feel untrue and uncomfortable. It can even elicit feelings of rage, underneath which is unspoken pain.

How dare you touch this ugly body? You can’t honestly be attracted to me.

What are you after? How can I trust someone who obviously doesn’t even see how I really look and am?

Don’t come close to me. I might become aware of my body and that’s terrifying.

Even when an individual with profoundly negative body image does allow himself to get close to his partner, he may not allow himself to truly experience the release and safety of true intimacy. As humans, we are extraordinarily capable of detaching from our own experience. We eat. We work long hours. We exercise too much. And we might let others get physically close, but only with the barrier of mental distance between us. Most of us can have sex without feeling.

So where does that leave our partners? The ones who think we’re beautiful – truly and without reservation.

If you are the partner, you need to know that body image issues are not about you. They are about a million things – culture, biology, abuse, control, perfectionism, and more – but not about you. You can help the person you love by:

Have you ever found body image to be a barrier in a relationship?


29 Dec

Bridalplasty: For Real?

Current Events, Media Literacy 15 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

When my brother-in-law sent me this link to the new E! series, Bridalplasty, my jaw literally dropped. (Side Note: Thanks to all of my lovely friends and family for being self-appointed Nourishing the Soul media watchdogs!)

In case I ever begin to be deluded that society is waking up to the harm caused by popularizing unrealistic versions of beauty, someone please just remind me to turn on the E! network. Or actually, don’t.

In the latest display of stomach-turning “Who came up with this horrific idea?” idiocy, E! has created a show that single-handedly represents all that I hate about reality television: portraying women as back-stabbing bimbos, promoting body-shame, and glamorizing unhealthy ideals and means of achieving them. Throw in the “celebrity” wedding and you’ve got Bridalplasty, the show that pushes the feminist movement back at least sixty years.

If you haven’t seen a trailer for the show, here’s the premise: Engaged women come together in what E! calls the first competition of it’s kind. As the women progress through wedding-themed challenges, they have the opportunity to weekly win one of the surgeries on their “wish list.” The show’s ultimate winner receives the whole she-bang: a total plastic surgery-induced makeover before her big day. In case you wondering about who is performing these procedures, don’t worry – it’s Dr. Terry Dubrow – a surgeon all too familiar with taking a knife to unhappy people’s bodies from his days on Fox’s The Swan.

Consider one of the show’s early challenges. The women are asked to compete in “Puzzle Play,” a game in which they each cover a picture of their old, unsightly selves with puzzle pieces to create an image of how they will appear on their big day – liposuctioned, Botoxed and chopped. If that’s not bad enough, once the puzzle is complete, the ladies are to run over, grab a syringe (no, seriously) and head downstairs for an in-house “injectibles party.” I’m wondering why someone didn’t call the police. Here’s a clip:

The ethical, medical, and psychological implications are simply staggering.

Bridalplasty explicitly places the emphasis of a wedding (which last time I checked involved the celebration of two people’s love, not lipo) on physical appearance – as if the 40 billion dollar per year wedding industry didn’t have enough revenue streams. I have to wonder about the future spouses of the women on this show and their reactions to their bride’s desire to transform themselves for the big day. Will they even recognize their soon-to-be-wife as she walks down the aisle? Will she recognize herself?

The show also promotes plastic surgery as the answer to body dissatisfaction. Call me crazy, but I can think of quite a few less expensive and less medically invasive ways to love your body. No nipping or tucking involved. Just like dieting, plastic surgery is not the key to a rocking body and often ends up leaving people feeling disappointed and dissatisfied. I’ll tell you the key to a rocking body. Confidence.

And I can’t forget to rant a bit about the way in which these types of shows play on women’s insecurities and body shame to rev up feelings of competition. Oh so cleverly, the producers turn all of that self-hate from being directed inward to being directed toward the girl in the next room. Suddenly we have a house full of screaming, angry women flailing at each other, when the issue is really that these women don’t know where to go with all of the shame and anger they feel for their bodies.

Okay, I think I can breathe again. I’d love to hear your thoughts, though. Share your reactions in the comments!


31 Oct

Do eating disorders excuse rude?

Current Events, Media Literacy 18 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

The firestorm brought on by the now infamous fat-hater Maura Kelly of Marie Claire has now, a week later, begun to simmer. If you missed it, Kelly opined on the recently launched sitcom, Mike & Molly, suggesting that the show explicitly promotes obesity, a condition she finds both abhorrent and completely within the control of the individual (I’m biting my typing tongue right now, just for full disclosure).

In one of the most horrifically discriminatory pieces I have ever read, Kelly writes,

So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

Unfortunately, this was only a small segment of a post that seemed to only get more offensive as it progressed. Kelly goes on to try to absolve her vitriolic diatribe by noting that she has “a few friends who could be called plump,” and offering some unsolicited and overly simplistic advice to those who are overweight: “…do everything you can to stand up more.”


An apology

As you can tell, I had a strong reaction the piece, one that was apparently shared by over 3,000 commenters on the post and 28,000 more who emailed Marie Claire for publishing such a politically incorrect and offensive article. (As an aside, MC Editor-in-Chief, Joanna Coles stood by the article, calling Kelly, “provocative.”)

Then Kelly apologized.

In her apology, Kelly noted that she has a history of anorexia and several friends and commenters suggested to her that this might be the root of her “extreme reaction [to Mike & Molly].” Her editor, Cole, told,  “She was an anorexic herself and this is a subject she feels very strongly about.” (I don’t know about you, but I don’t really think Cole’s response even makes sense…)

However, this begs the question: Does having – or having a history of – an eating disorder explain being anti-fat?

My initial reaction to Kelly’s apology and her pointing to her history was something along the lines of… Anorexia does not excuse rude, mean, hurtful, and inaccurate (Newsflash: Not all of those who are overweight are able to achieve a normal weight by eating unprocessed sugar and lean meat).

However, I tried to keep my anger and sadness (for those whom I know the article hurt very deeply) in check in order to really examine this issue. I also decided to put aside my personal experiences working with individuals with eating disorders aside, as anecdotal evidence (while valuable) is not always the most useful in such situations. Thus, per usual, I turned to the research.


Anti-fat bias

What we know is not all that heartening, unfortunately. In fact, one study suggested that people of all weights have an anti-fat bias, with 46% of participants being willing to give up one year of their lives to avoid being obese. The authors did find, however, that thinner individuals were more likely to associate negative attributes (e.g. bad, lazy) with fat people, to rate obese people as less motivated than thin people, and to prefer thin people to fat people. This does not completely answer our question of how individuals with eating disorders necessarily relate to people who are overweight (because, Newsflash 2: Not everyone who is thin has an eating disorder AND not everyone who has an eating disorder is thin.), but it certainly tells us that Kelly’s sentiment, while disturbing, is not unique.


Distorted perceptions

Looking to research on how people with diagnosed eating disorders perceive others turns up very little. Much of the research focuses rather on the way that these individuals see themselves. In that realm, we know that people with EDs tend to have significantly distorted perceptions of their own body size and an intense fear of fat. In another study, patients with eating disorders were asked to assess body size of themselves, physical objects, and other people. The authors found that those with eating disorders showed the most distorted assessments when it came to themselves and were more accurate when it came to others and objects. Thus, when it comes to physical judgments, people with EDs tend to be their own harshest critics. However, this does not tell us anything about these individuals’ feelings toward others with weight issues.


Impact of weight-bias

One thing that we can clearly determine is that hateful messages such as Kelly’s do have a significant impact on the health and well-being of the obese. Overweight individuals report experiencing this type of discrimination in many areas of their lives and do internalize these messages of weight-bias. Not only do these messages impact our self-esteem, but they impact our health status as well. (In fact, ironically, many of these messages come from healthcare providers). Those who internalize these anti-fat messages report more frequent binge eating and failed diets.


So, do eating disorders excuse rude?

Per usual, the research doesn’t give us a clear-cut answer. What we can surmise, however, is that individuals with eating disorders are suffering from a brain disorder that does cause them to have distorted perceptions and impaired thinking and reasoning. We also know, fortunately, that these symptoms decrease with weight restoration.

Does that mean that those in the midst of an eating disorder should not be held accountable for making injurious statements against others – whether the others are the obese, gay and lesbian people, or people with disabilities? In my opinion, no.

Individuals with eating disorders, while requiring compassion and understanding, do not have a right to hurt other people. And publishing cruel and careless ramblings about hating fat people does hurt people. In fact, it hurts all of us by creating a community in which we are all not valued equally and treated with respect.

We all have a right to our own opinions, even opinions that are based in distorted thinking, but when those opinions create pain and heartache, please don’t publish them via a national magazine.


What do you think?


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