I’ve always been hungry. Ever since I remember, that is, since I was 13, I have been permanently hungry. I was eating and although I didn’t even finish, I was already longing for another meal. I kept eating and I kept being hungry, so I ate more and then I was dying of guilt and lack of self-discipline. But at the same time I was dying of hunger. Because even when I was full, I was hungry anyway.
I was hungry because I knew that I shouldn’t eat. And that it would be best if I ate nothing at all. Or at least avoided carbs and sugars after 6 PM. Or anything that has any calories in it. Because I’m pear-shaped and I put on weight when I think about food. And I don’t look good in super-skinny trousers. So, the fact is that I shouldn’t eat. And the more I shouldn’t eat, the more dramatically hungry I was.
For my whole life I was either already on a diet, just before it or just after it. I was like the thousands of women in Poland that we interviewed in Izmalkowa Consulting – always not happy with their body. Like millions of women living in Europe. And like hundreds of millions of women living around the world. As Wolf’s studies have discovered, women in USA would rather lose 10-15 pounds than achieve any other objective. No other objective was as good as the expected joy at seeing one’s thinner reflection in the mirror. However, that joy never comes because there is always something to lose. Or it comes like a butterfly – only for a moment. Anyway, in my case the price for it was always a permanent feeling of hunger and guilt.
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
― Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
There were a couple of things that enabled me to take control over that obsession of mine:
1. HEARING what people tell me
Like many women, I have a tendency to hear mostly the negative things while being deaf to positive things. You can hear 100 compliments and then comes a single criticism, a single opinion that you keep fixating on for several years or until the end of your life. So at a certain point I decided that I’m going to work on hearing and internalizing also the good information. This was related to making a very important decision on adopting a certain principle for life:
“Listen only to what gives you wing. Separate yourself from everything that undercuts you.”
For me that principle is quite difficult to apply because I’m constantly asking myself questions, such as “and what if the person who told me something negative was right?” Well, of course they are right. At least according to their perception. Thus, I had to learn (and I’m still learning) to ask myself some other questions:
- Is that opinion of any use to me?
- Does it enable me to change something for the better?
- Does it allow me to feel better about myself?
- Does it allow me to understand myself better?
- Does it enable me to introduce something better into my life?
If not – it’s just an opinion. I cannot let it into my brain where it could spread.
At first, I learned how to do it at work, because when you run a company that is small and non-standard it is natural that lots of people tell you that something is wrong and should be changed. Then there is personal life – it’s a more difficult field, but I’m doing my best. To my surprise, I have it the hardest with those opinions that regard my body. Here the opinion is often left silent, unsaid – and therefore it is much more difficult to argue with it. Jeans being too small. Skinny trousers trend. Super ultra skinny trousers trend. And so on…
One of my friends told me something that I use as my mantra when I look like elephant in something: bad tailored!
If it doesn’t fit, it’s too tight, it’s uncomfortable or you look like a battered hen in it – it’s not your fault. It’s just poorly designed. Bad tailored.
2. EXPERIENCING that there are various standards that aren’t an objective truth
When traveling around the world I learned that the body is a matter of perception, not truth. You see what you want to see. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder http://www.myflirtwithreality.com/beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/and not any objective truth. Obviously prior to that I read anthropology books and watched National Geographic, so I knew that there are various standards. But what helped me was experiencing that – I started adopting different standards depending on how long I stayed at some place.
In Japan, I was considered a giant and what was considered the most beautiful was tiny: tiny breasts, tiny feet, small stature, etc. I love tall women with big breasts, but in that place I truly felt that tiny things are the most beautiful.
You know what to expect in Brazil – the Latino pear shape is the only acceptable figure. However, Brazilian women are perfect – so I didn’t feel that perfect with them. But the places that made me enraptured with feminine shapes were Columbia and Venezuela. It was there that they started calling me Shakira and kept being puzzled how it was possible that someone having curves like that dances so terribly (well, I’m actually not as bad a dancer as they think, but I was definitely far from Shakira’s level).
In the Caribbean the sizes go up even more. Here the definition of beauty has less to do with the size and more to do with self-confidence. All the women who have a straight back, proud look and confident moves are considered goddesses. And it doesn’t matter whether they are small, big or very big. And when I was there even I though that the size doesn’t matter.
Ironically, in Tobago, where women are really big and the diet is horribly rich in fat, I lost the most weight. Directing more attention towards self-confidence as a value resulted in a reduction of my obsession related to food.
Mariam, a friend of mine who’s half-African, is the slimmest woman I know. She doesn’t exercise and she eats what she likes and however much she likes. And she keeps being a skinny minnie. I used to envy her all the time so she told me a story how she went to Mali experienced there some genuine human compassion caused by…. her lack of attractiveness. “Dear God, Mariam, how are you going to handle things in life? Who’d take you as a wife? They pay from twenty to thirty cows for a girl. But for you one could charge two and some would even give one at most. And how are you supposed to carry water with these scrawny arms? How many children could you bear? There is no use of you.” Mariam told me that she was always very amused at the fact that she is considered ugly there and worth only a single cow: “Luckily for me, I don’t need that cow, so I guess I’ll manage somehow,” she always answered.
“As you can see, Julia, what for you and other European girls is an advantage, my African family perceives as an intolerable defect. You just have to like yourself and surround yourself with people who like you. The rest is a cultural truth, not the objective truth.”
3. ACCEPTING reality
Sasha, my kickboxing trainer, told me once: “Hey! Stop comparing yourself to me. I’ve been training SINCE I WAS 5. You’ll never have the kind of shoulders or belly that I have – simply because you haven’t been training six hours a day for several years. And even if we were training together six hours a day you’d never get hips like mine because you have a different body type. Plus, you can’t be starving all the time because then you don’t have enough strength for kicking. And to make it worse, you come sad and annoyed. Eat what you like, just less of it. But eat. If you eat a bit more on some day, we’ll just exercise a bit longer. We can burn as much energy as you want. But what I can’t do is pulling you out of a bad mood that you got into because you haven’t eaten bread, pasta or chocolate for a week. We exercise to make you strong – both physically and mentally. And your attitude makes it difficult. You need to think about what you want to be like, not about what you cannot be like.”
Sasha helped me adopt a more viable approach. Thanks to her I noticed that:
I starve myself when I’m weak.
I’m weak when I keep flagellating myself mentally.
I flagellate myself when I compare myself to others.
And I compare myself to my expectations, dreams and people who I like.
When I realized that it is my thinking and not my stomach that causes an error here, I started looking more closely at what sentences, thoughts and images it starts.
And if you think that now I’m going to tell you something along the lines of: “And thanks to that I managed to achieve my best weight and I never went on diet again” – no, I won’t say anything like that, because that’d be a lie.
But thanks to that I learned that a healthy relationship with my body is a part of a healthy relationship with my own self. It helped me differentiate cause from effect.