Guest Blogger Dani: Treehorn Syndrome

Some people might be surprised to know how many of our readers are not fat, and yet benefit from and espouse the principles of fat acceptance. There are valuable lessons about body acceptance that can come from being thin — and even from getting thinner. Shapeling Dani recently endured a medical mystery that we called “Treehorn Syndrome” because it made her shrink so precipitously. A few days ago she made a comment in another thread about how shooting past a size zero made her understand how vital acceptance really is. I asked her to expand on the comment and I’m really grateful that she was willing to do so — I think her story is a great illustration of how truly ingrained our body hatred is, and how anyone can benefit from rejecting it. -FJ

by Dani

Annoying Truth of the Day: If you hate your body, you will hate it no matter what size it is. If you like your body (or at least respect it), you will like (or respect) it no matter what size it is.

I learned this by shrinking.

(“Nobody shrinks,” said Treehorn’s father.

“Well, I’m shrinking,” said Treehorn. “Look at me.”)

As most of you who have checked out the Illustrated BMI Project know, I’m supposedly “normal” and visually effing tiny. What most of you don’t know is that during high school and college, I’d have given anything to have been two sizes smaller and fifteen pounds lighter.

Yes, this would have made me “underweight” and caused serious health problems. Yes, I’d have lost so much muscle mass that figure skating, around which my life revolved, would have been impossible. Yes, hating my body for sticking to its genetically determined setpoint weight made me pessimistic and cranky.

But I wanted to be a size two anyway. It’d make me able to wear pretty clothes, instead of hiding my shameful hips under giant sweaters. I’d be more popular. I’d be eminently dateable. (That I was never without some guy’s attention in high school escaped my notice at the time – wait till they saw how really squishy and fat and ugly I was, they’d run like hell.) I’d stop getting those nasty nervous shakes right before a performance. In fact, I’d stop being shy and nervous altogether, because no one would be able to find anything bad to say about my appearance. I’d have scads of friends as a result. OMG I would be so pretty and popular and sexy if I could only lose fifteen pounds! Right?

Last October, I did what I had been trying to hate my body into doing for years: I shrank four full dress sizes. Thanks to horrible drug side effects colliding badly with my already screwy pancreas, I half starved to death in six weeks – and reached that size two (and well below) I’d been coveting since age twelve.

And my life was a living hell. I could count my ribs and see where they joined my spine. My skin turned a grey ordinarily only seen on cadavers. My hair fell out in handfuls. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I walked with a cane; my skating was a thing of the past. My friends asked if I was “really okay”; my mother begged me to call the doctor; my husband announced that I was “way too thin.”

Yet I stared at myself in the mirror and, under the grossed-out fascination of seeing things I’d never actually seen outside concentration camp photos, I actually wished that my hips had shrunk just a bit more.

Now, I’ve never had an eating disorder. When I look in the mirror I know I’m seeing a woman on the small end of the scale. Even as a figure skater, I was raised on the notion that performance trumps appearance. But why let that stop me from hating my body, even to the point of believing that being halfway starved to death wasn’t thin enough?

And so I had to face today’s Annoying Truth: there is no magic weight, no magic dress size, at which life becomes nothing but sunshine and puppies. The Fantasy of Being Thin remained a fantasy, no matter how small I got. I got small enough to wear things I haven’t worn since fifth grade, and it wasn’t enough.

At some level, we all know that no magic number will solve all our problems – otherwise, we’d have broken out a Sharpie, written our magic number on all our clothing tags, and been done with it. We also know that our bodies function just fine even as they are, and even if they don’t, that making them disappear is no rational way to improve them.

(“Nobody disappears,” said Treehorn’s father positively.

“That’s right, they don’t,” said Treehorn’s mother more cheerfully. “But no one shrinks, either,” she said after a moment.)

Perhaps the oddest thing about shrinking so rapidly is that, while it alarmed my family and close friends, my acquaintances expressed nothing but envy. “I wish I could lose weight like that,” I heard over and over again. “Like what?” I wondered. “Like, seventeen percent of your body weight? Like, irrespective of whether it’s fat, muscle, or bone? Like, enough to ruin your life?” I never asked – I suspect none of them knew the answer.

If I could insert here some wonderfully inspiring and uplifting message about how Treehorn Syndrome banished all my nasty self-hatred and taught me to love my body exactly as it is, and also I thank God for every day because I almost disappeared myself even unto death and it was Teh Life-Affirming Scariez…I still wouldn’t. Because I’m not a Hallmark special.

Reaching my “goal weight” did make me realize that this is the body I’ve been given, and like it or not I’d better damn well work with it or I’m never going to accomplish anything. I realized that a society that teaches us a woman’s highest accomplishment is to disappear is fucked up at best. I realized that I will not start liking my body until I start liking my body. I also realized that it’s completely stupid to beat myself up over not achieving an utterly impossible fantasy. Hell, I also fantasize about winning Olympic gold medals or dating George Clooney, but I don’t beat myself up over never actually having done them.

Which of course doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped beating myself up completely. Like everything HAES-related, self-acceptance is a process. Just like intuitive eating or finding the right amount of exercise, telling my self-hating thoughts to find a toasty abode is an everyday activity. On the bright side, giving my inner critic a boot in the ass is more fun and more fulfilling than hating myself for not being a “magic” size.

(“Look,” said Treehorn. “I’m my own size now. My own regular size.”

“That’s nice, dear,” said Treehorn’s mother. “It’s a very nice size, I’m sure, and if I were you I wouldn’t shrink anymore.”)

73 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Dani: Treehorn Syndrome

  1. Thanks for this incredible post. It really hit home for me.

    And I hear you on the comments… when I had to start a gluten-free diet after a year of pain and sickness, I had to give up pretty much everything I liked to eat. I had to tell myself it was poison, and it was a horrible experience. And then one of my coworkers said, “Wow! I wish I had celiac disease, that would make it SO much easier to diet!”

    I said, “I wish you did too!” and walked away. Argh.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better… I hope everything works out with your health, and that it helps to know you’re helping others by writing about it.

  2. This bit really hit home:

    “I also realized that it’s completely stupid to beat myself up over not achieving an utterly impossible fantasy. Hell, I also fantasize about winning Olympic gold medals or dating George Clooney, but I don’t beat myself up over never actually having done them.”

    I do. I actually beat myself up because I never became a rock star. Because I don’t have my doctorate. Because I never traveled to Europe. And it never occurred to me that that was messed up. But it really is, isn’t it?

  3. At some level, we all know that no magic number will solve all our problems – otherwise, we’d have broken out a Sharpie, written our magic number on all our clothing tags, and been done with it.

    I love this line. So friggin’ true, but I sure never thought of that when I just KNEW that the number 4 would make everything different (until it didn’t).

    Awesome, awesome post, Dani.

  4. At some level, we all know that no magic number will solve all our problems

    I always think the magic number “one million” (as in dollars) might come close. ;)

    Seriously, though, great post.

  5. “I never asked – I suspect none of them knew the answer.”

    I suspect so too, mostly because they’re still firmly locked in to the Fantasy Of Being Thin where weight loss is A Good Thing Period because it is the magic potion that will make your life perfect. There’s so much brainwashing going on that many people can’t even conceive that weight loss might not be a good thing (although they’ll make allowances for anorexia).

    Thanks for this post – it explains eloquently why I’m firmly in support of size acceptance across the board. We are who we are and we’re tired of being shamed for it.

  6. Dani, I can really relate to this post. I lost 40 lbs in less than a year because of hyperthyroidism and even those who know I’m sick can’t stop raving about the weight loss.

    In my recovery, I’ve gained almost 10 lbs back now. I get a lot of comments from those I’ve mentioned it to that “It’s not noticable.” and “You still look great.” But what they don’t understand is that the weight gain is a sign of recovery, so I’m really happy about it. Most of the people in my life have no idea how to how to relate to weight gain as a happy thing so all they can do is try to reassure me. Any attempt to explain that I’m fine with whatever weight I am and I’ll be healthy and fit no matter what elicits a response that strongly suggests that they don’t believe me, and if on some level they do, they’re not okay with me getting bigger and wish I wasn’t either.

    Thanks for sharing this. I hope you get better and I hope that no matter what, you keep working on feeling good about your body no matter what size it is.

  7. I hope you’re feeling better now.

    And actually, if you had asked them if they meant losing 17% of their body weight, and all the attendant problems, they would probably have said YES.

    When I strength train, I frequently have women ask me if I’m not afraid I’ll get too big. Too big for what? I’m already a size 20. At least when it’s all muscle, or at least backed up by muscle i can bench press those who piss me off.

  8. Being underweight positively sucked for me. My pelvis (which stuck out prominently) rubbed up against my jeans in painful ways. My tailbone rubbed up against the hard plastic chairs in school the same way. It hurt to lean up against anything without a little padding. Hurt to lay on my stomach because of the pressure on my ribs. I felt like my bones were constantly on verge of breaking.

    I don’t know what my body is “naturally” — after all, I didn’t gain this weight until I got on medication. Apparently my natural setpoint is rather wrong for me. Whatever I would have been, I am where I’m supposed to be. For the last couple years I’ve hovered consistently at 150 (give or take a couple pounds) every visit to the doctor’s office. I’m 5’8″. That makes me positively “normal.”

    Of course it also means I’m a size 12, borderline “plus size.” It’s those hips! … those hips I love, and my husband has always loved.

    I went through a bit of a shock recently when I went out bra shopping for the first time since just after I started that medicine. I had bought 34As then, when I was still 120 at most. And, um. Just this month, I bought C cups. C! It took birth control to fill these tatas out to a full A! I still look down at these things in wonder. I never imagined myself this way. But I’m so much more comfortable this way.

    Dani. You are a beautiful woman. I’m glad you made it through. Thank you for writing this.

  9. Fwiw, I always thought: “I’d be incredibly happy to change nothing, but to have just a B cup.” Here I am, further than that. And I still look at myself and think, in a word, “awful.”

    We raise our daughters to hate themselves, no matter what they are. It’s devastating.

  10. Dani, this is a beautiful post. I know we’ve commiserated about acquaintances (and sometimes family and friends) cheering on drastic weight loss before, so I’ll just say a big fat WORD to your post and to Rose’s and therealpotato’s comment. And I’m so glad you have stopped shrinking (and I’m shrinking much, much more slowly than I was a few months ago!).

    I said, “I wish you did too!” and walked away. Argh.

    AWESOME.

    Alas, I still think of Jackie Treehorn when I hear the word “Treehorn,” but this post will help fix that for me. ;-)

  11. When I lost about 45 pounds 2 years ago only ONE person asked me if i was OK and had lost weight on purpose. ONE person out of the scores of people i know and interact with. And I lost 45 pounds (yes on purpose) in 6 months.

    As I’m learning more and changing my perceptions this fact scares me. A lot. And it says a lot to me about the one friend who asked.

    Thank you for this powerful post about something most people outside of this movement never even consider.

  12. When I shrank and tried to disappear, it was on purpose, but it was also what made me realize it wasn’t worth being very thin if I had to be miserable and cold and in pain. Dieting fucks you up whether you started out fat or not.

    Thank you so much for this.

  13. This is an amazing heart ripping post for me. I lost 180 pounds in a little over a year, this past year. And it’s still not enough. I dropped down from a size 32 to a size 22 and it’s not enough. I want to be a 16-18.

    The problem, of course, is that it wasn’t done on anything approaching a healthy level. I got separated and became a single mother, I also got a bleeding ulcer and a raging case of depression. Between all of the stress and angst in my life I just disappeared. I shrank away.

    And it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for me, it wasn’t enough for my parents, it wasn’t enough for society, it wasn’t enough for anyone it seemed.

    It took coming to this blog, reading this size acceptance stuff for a long time before I finally looked at my newly re-united husband and said ‘why do you keep telling me how proud you are of me for loosing the weight? What did I do that was an accomplishment? I didn’t work on it..I got sick.”

    Thankfully, he was shocked and horrified by the realization of what was going on, but still..everyone tells me how proud they are of me for loosing all the weight. Isn’t that funny? they’re proud of you for looking like a corpse and proud of me for getting a bleeding ulcer and wanting to commit suicide.

    I wonder what they will do when I really accomplish something. I wonder what kind of admiration I will get when I work hard and meet a worthy goal. I wonder if it will ever compare to the effortless weight loss and the worst year of my life.

  14. Rose:
    I can totally relate to the reaction to the weight gain on a skinny person, only I wasn’t recovering from illness, I’m pregnant. When I joyously announce that I’m up two lbs and still in my first trimester, people constantly reassure me that “Its nothing to worry about, your pregnant, not fat.” Seriously. How messed up is the world when, no matter how happy you appear about something, people treat it like its a bad thing that is only marginally acceptable because of your “condition?”

    Dani:
    Fantastic article! Thank you so much.

  15. That was a brilliant post. And it’s so true that there’s no magic size at which you become happy with your body – I’ve been underweight as well (not according to BMI, but I definately looked and felt underweight) and I remember looking at my body and thinking my whole body was too thin except for my boobs which were too saggy and my thighs which were too fat. And then I gained weight, and just thought I was too fat. The perfect body doesn’t exist. Society will always find something wrong with our bodies, so the only thing to do is to say fuck society and accept ourselves the way we are. (Easier said than done, of course).

  16. Wow, Dani. This is an amazing and beautiful post. Thank you for this look into your experiences.

    It terrifies me that people are so quick to praise the sort of weight loss that not only is but actively LOOKS unhealthy. Have they no eyes? Is the human body with all its curves and planes and exquisite balance that ugly to them?

    Sadly, it appears the answer is yes. They are more impressed by a number on a dress tag than by the glory of nature’s work. This depresses me more than I can say.

    Welcome back from your adventures in shrinking. May you never go through anything that bad again.

  17. Ah this blog made me all teary-eyed. I’m still struggling with being OKAY and moving along with the waves of the fat acceptance movement. Bravo Dani!

  18. This is a fantastic post, Dani. Thank you for writing.

    But…what can you say to a friend who is currently about 290lbs and always says that they don’t want to be skinny, just a size 16 because that’s when they’ll be beautiful? I can assure them they are already beautiful and wonderful until the cows come home to roost but they are convinced a size 16 is where they’ll be happy, and that that will work because they don’t want to be a ‘size four or anything like that’.

  19. Absolutely right on post. I’m at the top of my set range right now, but this time last year I was at the bottom; I was bordering on underweight and I never stopped thinking “only 5 more pounds to go.” I wish I felt then how I feel now! I shouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to make myself miserable for no reason.

  20. Annoying Truth of the Day: If you hate your body, you will hate it no matter what size it is. If you like your body (or at least respect it), you will like (or respect) it no matter what size it is.

    Oh, man, do I ever hear you there. I’ve yet to ever hear any dieter (i.e. anyone who lost weight on purpose) say, “I really wish I hadn’t lost so much weight, I’m too thin now.” No, it’s always, “I wish it had been just a few pounds more.” And yes, mea maxima culpa, back when this applied to me. Thanks for the clue-by-four.

  21. What a great post. I went on the popular mononucleosis diet in college and all I got were compliments–even when my doctor pointed out that he could see my organs bulging through my skin.

  22. I almost didn’t write this, but then I realized I needed to face it. I found out a few weeks ago that I don’t have PCOS, but I actually have a fairly severe congenital metabolic disorder (although a milder form- thankfully). I am happy that we know and it is being treated, but the medications are making me sick. I know there is an adjustment period, and that I will feel better soon, but I realized that I was actually happy when i realized that I had only eaten three things yesterday- not three times- three things. A cold slice of pizza that I didn’t finish, half a burrito, and a bowl of soup. It is insidious. I have lost 10 lbs since starting the medication (2 weeks) and I didn’t even stop to think that it might be bad.

    Damn body hate. I just realized how many times I have been sick and looked forward to losing weight because of it.

  23. Krista – I completely understand what you mean. For a couple of those weeks, I lived on dry toast, applesauce, and peppermint tea (because they were the only things that would stay down), and for some reason I was proud of myself that I was living on two “meals” and less than 700 calories a day. Look at me! I was “getting over” my “problem” of “devouring the WORLD!” ….sigh.

    I do hope you feel better soon, and that you find the right combination of meds to keep you there.

    Also, generally: these comments made me all glowy n so forth. :D Maybe I need an “I am Treehorn” shirt to go with my “I am Kate Harding” shirt (which I haven’t ordered yet)?

  24. Ugh. A year ago, almost exactly, I went from 10 stone to 8 stone in 2 weeks. No-one around me was appropriately frightened by this. Though at least everyone knew I was ill, since I couldn’t get out of bed, or sit up to eat. And I had a lot of support for gaining it back.

    20% isn’t a funny amount to lose.

  25. Thank you for this post. I have lost a lot of weight recently (on purpose, I suppose, although my real purpose in the past few months has been training for a marathon). Nothing magical happened when I hit the 140s on the scale. Or bought jeans in a 27″ waist. I didn’t become more popular; I didn’t get the perfect boyfriend; I didn’t get a promotion.

    To be honest, it has taken me a long time to get over that initial disappointment. And I guess I am still trying.

  26. I would like to add my voice to the chorus that this touched me greatly. I had a mild eating disorder in high school and a fair bit of the way through college, and it wasn’t until I really came into myself, and realized that trying to be what someone else wanted me to be was *not* going to make me happy, and that included being thinner. It’s still hard sometimes, though.

  27. Why is it that body hate is so everywhere that even after you (general, not you specifically) learn losing weight won’t make you happy you still want to lose weight? Last year I finally lost my 10 vanity pounds by being overwhelmingly stressed out for months and reached my ‘ideal body weight’ and was shocked to realize I still didn’t like my looks, I still couldn’t find pants that fit, and that at that weight my boobs disappear. I eventually got back to normal and returned to my usual weight but am currently stress losing again – and I find myself thinking ‘great! I can finally get back to my slim weight’ even though I know I hated it last time.

    When will I learn my lesson and just be happy the way I am?

  28. Dani – thanks for sharing your story! I love your Sharpie comment, and this: “giving my inner critic a boot in the ass is more fun and more fulfilling than hating myself for not being a “magic” size.” Absolutely!

  29. I’ve been thin: never underweight. I have big muscles or bones; my parents are light for their size so I don’t know where I got these good genes. I wear about the same size as someone about 20 to 30 pounds lighter than me. I currently wear size 6 jeans and have a BMI of 27. I’m strength training and watching what I eat.

    I sleep a lot due to chronic pain and my eating habits can become erratic. I might lose a little weight, but my main goal is to get more energy so I don’t sleep as much.

  30. “And so I had to face today’s Annoying Truth: there is no magic weight, no magic dress size, at which life becomes nothing but sunshine and puppies. The Fantasy of Being Thin remained a fantasy, no matter how small I got.”

    That is the realization I had, in the middle of a ‘successful’ diet, that turned me into a fat acceptance zealot. I think this one, singular realization marks the start of a very, very, very long and arduous pilgrimage to a better place.

  31. Thanks, Dani, for a moving and insightful post. We’re trying to ground both of ourseven year old twins in a love for their “unacceptable” bodies. Teddy is short and waifish, while Katie is tall and fat. If they were reversed, no problem, but they got the “wrong” bodies for their gender.

    Katie has this way of posing like a model that is, er, precocious (like the swimsuit model crawling out of the waves picture we have). We watch no television except kid’s cartoons, so I don’t know where she gets it. Anyway, this is a little bit worrisome as a parent. (Oh Noez! What if she does this as a teenager and the boyz notice!) But last night I realized that it’s actually WONDERFUL that she does this.

    She does it because she loves her body and likes showing it off! Because we haven’t taught her to hate it, but to love it. The Fat Acceptance is *working* just like we hoped!!! The key now is to help it last through her teens.

  32. Actually, there IS such a thing as a ‘perfect’ body & we all have one. We just need to say no to the marketing & the lies & silence the voices not only of the present but, for most of us, of the past which always told us that we were not good enough & never could be & be proud & loving like that seven-year-old girl. I only wish that I could go back & tell the little girl I used to be how special & beautiful she was, even if no one around her treated her that way. I guess all I can do is keep working to give her that love & approval now.

  33. Thanks, Dani! I just need to stop looking at the weight loss as the “silver lining”. The silver lining is that I will get healthier now, once I adjust.

    Also, now that I am aware, I am forcing myself to eat. This is something I have never had experience with. As a “fatty”, if I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t eat. It was noble, it was expected, and it was and is utter bullshit.

  34. Thanks for this from another thin-to-average person who’s been helped immensely by this site. Mostly, it’s helped with self-image issues that aren’t directly about body issues, but this post really hit home. About 8 years ago, I fell for someone hard, we dated *very* briefly and I just couldn’t get over itHe was the first person I’d been into in a long time, the first time as an adult, whatever that meant. He was with another woman in our group and I was convinced everyone was feeling sorry for me, which I couldn’t stand.

    I didn’t stop eating on purpose. I just had not apetite. I looked at food and it made no sense. I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but when you start at 5’2″ 120, you don’t have a lot of room to go. When I went below 100, people we’re still telling me I looked great. When the 100th person asked for my ‘secret’ I snapped, get your heart broken.

    One friend said, I’m worried. She’s one I’ll cherish forever even though our lives have gone in very different directions.

  35. Thank you for this. I lost about 25% of my body weight this year. I can’t really call it trying. Combination of depression turned medication side effects turned eating disorder. And just about everyone tells me I look great. The closest I get to anything else is “Well, you didn’t lose it in a healthy way, but at least you lost it and now you can keep it up.” Family and close friends did react appropriately though. My best friend, who is my ex, makes sure to let me know how beautiful I was and how attracted she was to me when I weighed 50 pounds more than I do now.

    On the down side, my sister, who weighs 142 and has for most of her adult life, has asked me for my old WW books so she can count points. She had mentioned in the spring that she really wanted to weigh 130-135 and I told her that she was just fine the way she was. I guess that was different when I was so much heavier. Now that I’m the thinner one, even though I got there in such an unhealthy way and I don’t feel virtuous about it, I guess she’s determined to be the thinner one again or at least lose the seven pounds that separate us. It makes me really sad that I’ve always thought of her as perfect, and I’m finally getting over this eating disorder and finally accepting that I am a size 10 today and if that changes tomorrow I will be just fine too, and my beautiful size 12 sister suddenly feels that she has to tie or beat me as if it were a competition. She didn’t say anything about a competition, but why would she suddenly decide now that she needs to lose 7-12 pounds when this has been her weight for all of her adult life, save the three months before her wedding when she dieted and exercised to get down to 136 pounds. Never mind that she has a spouse who loves her for her and not her weight, and I’m 33 and have yet to find that right connection with someone else, at least not one that lasts. I’m learning that I could weigh 105 pounds or 305 pounds and it probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference in that respect.

  36. Beautiful post and amazing comments, too.

    When I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 25, I was scared out of my mind, and lost lots of weight quickly. Once I had lost about 65 pounds, I told my closest friend that I wanted to see about just maintaining, and her advise to me was, “why not keep going?” I felt really fucking hurt by that, and it wasn’t long after that I started regaining weight. I couldn’t stand the thought that no matter how low my weight got, it wouldn’t be low enough. I didn’t see how spending 3 hours at the gym was worth it anymore.
    Of course, now, what I wouldn’t give for an hour at the Y every day — just to get to swim or do yoga or something — anything — funwhile moving my body.

  37. “I realized that a society that teaches us a woman’s highest accomplishment is to disappear is fucked up at best.”

    WORD to your mother.

    Thanks for reaffirming my feminism today.

  38. “When I was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 25, I was scared out of my mind, and lost lots of weight quickly.”

    I was 30 but this is what happened to me too, and the way almost every woman I know said some version of “You look great NOW” or “I wish it would happen TO ME” was horrible. Here my *underwear* didn’t fit me, I was a stranger in my body, I was sick and upset and struggling with some kind of mild PTSD from unresolved feelings from the last potentially-life-threatening-diagnosis a few years earlier, and what people were saying to me was a) I looked like a hog up until now and b) really, all the women I knew hated themselves and wanted to TELL me about it.

    Also I had developed a mild exercise addiction and people would say how great it was that I was so dedicated to my workouts.

    It was kind of nice to gain most of it back, and then much more slowly and less panickedly lose some of it later and feel more comfortable and safe with myself. I’ve noticed that seriously, comfortable underwear that fits makes ANY size happier.

  39. *applause* *cheers* *screaming*

    Post is both brave and brilliant.

    “At some level, we all know that no magic number will solve all our problems – otherwise, we’d have broken out a Sharpie, written our magic number on all our clothing tags, and been done with it.”

    I’ve actually done this.

    It makes getting dressed a little less distracting, as it at least helps with the inner pressure.

    “What a great post. I went on the popular mononucleosis diet in college and all I got were compliments”

    THIS is part of the problem with the OUTER pressure (can all these people just shaddup already?? I’m going to start asking people like that “Are you Treehorn’s parents?”)

    so

    “If you like your body (or at least respect it), you will like (or respect) it no matter what size it is”

    I can haz on shurt plz? *kthx*

    As someone recently posted, we are all in the fight to end Hate at Every Size.

    Awesome contributory weapon IMO.

  40. I’ve actually found that losing weight has increased my self-conciousness about my body, if for no other reason than because other people are constantly remarking on it. Over the past year I’ve gone from a size 12 to a size 5 pretty much by accident–I transfered schools and now take public transportation (so lots of walking), and I started exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables because I wanted to be healthier. Now I keep getting told that I’m “skinny” or “too skinny”, sometimes with genuine worry (from my mother, who previously worried that I was too heavy) and more often with envy (from friends, and also again my mother). I hate being complimented on it because it’s just a *fact*–I lost weight. It’s not something that deserves praise, and what, did I look bad when I was heavier? Not to mention, no matter what there’s always going to be something to pick at–I have cellulite, I lost a cup size so now my boobs are too small, my hips shrank and now my thighs are bigger than my hips, and so on and so on. There’s no magic weight or magic size where you suddenly go, “okay, I’m perfect now”–we’re taught that no matter what, there’s something wrong with us.

    Sorry for nattering on about myself, but this has kind of been building up for a while. It’s difficult to complain about being “too skinny” (if for no other reason than feeling guilty). I also just want to say that this site has helped me so much. I didn’t start losing weight on purpose, but once people started remarking on it as a positive, it was hard not to buy into it and try to continue losing weight, to diet, to over-exercise, especially because now I’m “so close” to how I’m “supposed to be”. It’s hard not to pick at my body and see what’s “wrong” with it. But just having a place that counters those messages and promotes a healthy relationship with your body, both in terms of accepting it and treating it well, feeding it the foods it needs and giving it the exercise it wants, and in terms of accepting and loving the way it looks, has been so good for me. Realizing that loving the way my fat friends and family look, and yet hating the way I look, is so harmful not only to myself, but also insulting to them, has helped me look at the parts of them that I love and find them on my own body. My body and I aren’t quite best friends yet, but we definately have a better relationship than we used to, and this site is definately a big reason for that.

  41. You know, reading this made me remember how, a few years ago, I had some horrible mysterious stomach bug that meant I couldn’t eat much for a couple of weeks. I lost 5 or 10 lbs, and my mom complimented me on it, saying, “Hey, you should get one of those stomach things more often!”

    I literally did not realise that it was fucked up. I was so proud of myself, and I agreed with her. I hoped that maybe I’d get a stomach bug every couple months so I could keep losing weight.

    I am horrified. How fucked up is it that such things are NOT considered fucked up?

  42. I was so proud of myself, and I agreed with her.

    This (which I completely understand) is one of the things that just makes me want to scream. We equate weight loss so strongly with accomplishment that so many people see it as something to be proud of even if you didn’t fucking do anything to lose the weight.

    The narrative goes that thin people all work hard at staying thin and should be commended for their self-discipline, while fat people are lazy and out of control. But that is such obvious bullshit when you consider not only that so many fat people are neither of those things, but so many thin people — those who are naturally thin, those who lose weight through illness, etc. — don’t work at being thin. And yet, they are encouraged to feel proud of themselves, while fat people are encouraged to feel shame, regardless of how much effort any given person is or isn’t putting into getting thin.

    I mean, it’s unbelievably fucked up that weight loss is seen as a noteworthy accomplishment even when it does come as a result of self-abnegation. But it’s just that much more fucked up that the state of being thin is automatically assumed to come from some sort of praiseworthy behavior — even if it actually came from a goddamned virus, or genes, or something else that involved no personal effort whatsoever.

  43. my mom got a parasite from brushing her teeth using tap water in a hygienically sketchy locale in the mid 70s. she went from a 16 or so to an 8 in two months. in her words, it was the best diet she’d ever been on. i personally dislike the runs, but hey, that’s just me.

  44. This is just incredible. Poignant, rich and raw.

    It brought tears to my eyes.

    Our society is so out of whack with what’s healthy for individual people. Your post just illustrated that so perfectly. Here you were, so ill, and people were enviously wishing for a similar condition? It is sad and awful. What are we teaching our children with these self-hating messages? Argh.

    I’m learning so much from this site.

  45. Ms. Kate, if I may say so, Totally! I was thin and didn’t do anything except “win” the draw of 2 overweight grandparents, 1 normal and 1 thin. Fat people weren’t so bad, honestly, the worst I ever got was free food “here, I can’t eat this, you need to gain weight, you have it” and scarf goes a piece of pizza. (Except from Mom and Sister, short story, very boring) Normal people though, normals got downright mean. Because “everyone knows” that you have to work to be under 90 lbs and I wouldn’t share my “secret.” I’m not sure what they thought of my normal public eating habits.

    And, for some reason, the more I was supposed to feel proud, the more I looked for things wrong with me to fit in. And it worked; I genuinely thought I was ugly from about 12 on, until fairly recently. When I gained 20lbs and the masculine population of Dallas was quite happy to let me know that boobs + hips = hawt. My husband calls me soft and cuddly, ’cause I really didn’t go for the toned look. I’m perfectly happy being able to lift like I have abs and have a nice place in the middle for my babies to cuddle up to.

  46. I, too, can not wrap my head around the notion that beauty is so wrapped up in weight, and that the skinnier a woman is the better. I remember the first time I started seeing the ultra skinny women at the mall…not just naturally skinny people, but women who worked at it like it was a full time job. I still feel sorry for them. A good woman is a disappearing woman? Not in my world! Great piece!

  47. This was a great post. It’s really starting to piss me off that thinness is considered so important and so wonderful that not just the misery of dieting but also the misery of illness should be considered “worth it”. As if losing weight were more than adequate compensation for any health problems, no matter how severe. What a load of BS. Which led me to come up with this rebuttal to one of the more unpleasant dieting soundbites:
    “No magic dress size looks as good as being healthy in body and mind feels.”

  48. but they are convinced a size 16 is where they’ll be happy, and that that will work because they don’t want to be a ’size four or anything like that’.

    And the thing is, it may be just as impossible for them to get to a 16 and stay there as it would be for some relatively thinner people to get to a 4 and stay there.

    One thing among many that stops me dieting is that I know I’d have to be unhealthily obsessive to get to a weight that in many people’s minds would still be ‘unacceptably’ fat. I could just about struggle to be a (British) 14 like in my teens, but then I recall that people used to mock my chunky thighs when I was that size. Then I recall that when I was a 10 – those few horrible, stressed months leading up to my wedding – I didn’t like the way I looked even then. I simply am not going there.

    At one point last year, my mother, who is in her late 70s, lost a lot of weight. Doctors, social services, family were all horribly worried. But, when anyone expressed concern, she would boast that she weighed the same as she did on her wedding day, 50 years previous. (She turned out to be abusing laxatives. Not necessarily a cause of weight loss, I know, and probably more down to that generation’s obsession with bowel function, but it made me wonder.)

    The problem is, there is no such thing as ‘enough’ in this game.

  49. Eggsactly. When I was in high school, I had a serious jaw surgery. I’ve always been kind of on the pudgy side, but you know, stable pudgy. But so I have my jaw basically wired shut, I’m in tons of pain, drugged to the gills, can only eat liquids, and miserable. My Nana, bless her heart, is one of those naturally thin big eaters (for example, dessert with lunch AND dinner every day of her life) who just doesn’t understand why fat people can’t have the self discipline she does to stay slim. So she comes to visit poor swollen, bloody-mouthed, morphined up me, notices I lost 20 lbs or so, and buys me my first slinky nightgown, saying, “Finally, you’re the perfect weight. If you can just keep this off you’ll be just right–I’m giving you this so that you’ll be motivated to look good in it.” THANKS NANA. Needless to say, I did not. Kept the nightie, though.

  50. I would like to second (third, fourth) all the praise coming your way Dani. This was amazing.

    I had horrifying experience with a doctor this past fall. I was having pretty severe health problems including not being able to keep anything down but gatorade and plain toast. Anything I ate other than these two things caused me to be violently ill and have extreme pain that left me curled up on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night for hours. I lost almost 30 pounds in a month. This horrified me. (I wasn’t aware that a fat person could look malnourished until this point.) The gastroenterologist I visited told me that it was okay that I had lost the weight because I was heavy and could stand to lose it anyway and that this was probably something I was just going to have to live with. I was lucky. My parents, with whom I was living at the time, were very worried and took me to lots of different docs until one was willing to actually listen to me and treat me. It’s terrifying to think about how many doctors told me it was okay I was losing so much weigh so rapidly because I was heavy.

    How did we get to this point? How are we at a place where a doctor looks at a 22 year old who is sick and in pain and thinks, Oh, she’s fat. Thank goodness she’s sick or she might stay that way. I hate that there are people who are reduced to wishing they’d get sick just to change their bodies. I would have given anything not to get that sick. I’d much rather have my fat body happy with me than a thin one that hates me and vomits up anything I put in it.

  51. Here you were, so ill, and people were enviously wishing for a similar condition? It is sad and awful.

    More than one person asked me “What are you on? What are you taking it for?” with a tone of voice that told me quite plainly they were not above faking a similar condition for their very own prescription of the “magic” pills. I refused to tell them.

    And Kate – I’m with you on the idea that thinness is an “accomplishment” being complete crap. I should have picked up on it years ago, when people asked me “how do you stay so thin?” (“uh….”), but again, it was something I didn’t really understand till I shrank. Or unshrank, rather.

  52. I think it’s almost bordering on negligence, the way so many of the medical professionals have bought into the idea that you can never be too thin.

    When I was first dx’d with lymphoma, I was developing superior vena cava syndrome (from the tumor pressing on the major blood vessels in my chest) and I had a ton of fluid that had built up in my chest, my neck, one of my lungs and even into my face.

    They put me on IV steroids four times a day, and within 48 hours I had lost at least 25 pounds – a lot of it fluid but also a fair amount of muscle mass and who knows what else. I was dramatically thinner. You could actually see the outline of this football-sized tumor in my chest and neck.

    *No one* seemed to be the least concerned about losing that amount of weight in such a short time. They didn’t even re-weigh me before starting chemotherapy, and since the doses are weight-based, I ended up getting too much and my white count tanked way down into the scary zone.

    Once things stabilized, I should have gained a few pounds back but I didn’t. I dropped even more weight all the way through radiation therapy. No one said a word, even though progressive weight loss with a cancer dx is generally considered a bad sign.

    I had quite a few people comment on how good I looked. I had a primary care doctor eyeball me and tell me my weight looked good… without ever bothering to compare it to what I weighed before, when I was actually healthy.

    It’s just so messed up. The worst of it is, I bought into this garbage and I felt really bad about myself when I finally started to regain some of the weight. The weight gain meant I was healthy again, but I couldn’t even feel good about it… and how twisted is that?

  53. (I meant to say this earlier but the blog wasn’t working from work, and I kind of was) This is partly why the new sloganeering from places like Weight Watchers is so insidious. They’re all “oh, silly goose, we’re not telling you to get all SKINNY — just lose SOME weight.” But they don’t HAVE to tell us to get skinny, because everything else in the entire world will do it for them… so you lose that ten percent or whatever Queen Latifah is pushing, and then you just can’t help but try to go for more. Until your body pushes back, of course, and then you hate yourself.

  54. When I was growing up, I knew that my mom weighed 106 pounds on her wedding day and wore a size 4 dress. During my first bout with anorexia as a teenager, I remember the day I hit 105 on the scale and thought that things were going to be okay now that I was under where Mom had been, because I thought that was the highest acceptable weight, and my previous high teenage weight had been all of 117. Then I set my new goal as 100, of course. Then 95.

    Then I found out years later that my mom got dry socket after having her wisdom teeth out, and the infection was so bad that she couldn’t eat solid food for some long period of time before her wedding. She lost about 30 pounds in a month or two right before the wedding and that’s why she weighed 106 and the size 4 dress had to be altered at last minute.

    My 14-year-old anorexic self and the 33-year-old still working on living HAES thank you for moving those goalposts for me, Mom. Because you know, thinking that I should weigh 135 as a teenager because you did, Mom (she married at 19), wouldn’t have been enough to live up to.

    Ironically, that was what I weighed at 18 years old, once I’d recovered from the anorexia, about 135. The only thing I wonder is if I stunted my growth, being anorexic right as puberty hit. I’m a touch under five feet. When I was little the doc said I’d be 5’4″. But she also said my sister would be 5’2″, and I’m a touch under five feet and my sister is a touch over it, so perhaps I wasn’t getting any more height anyway. But I do wonder, if I’d been properly nourished, if I’d be a little taller. Mom was 5’2″ at her tallest though she has lost a bit in the past decade or so. My great-grandmother and grandmother were both 4’10″, but they probably weren’t getting great nutrition in the shtetl in Poland either.

  55. Oh look, there it is again! Imported from one of the “complaining of our various diseases” LiveJournal communities I read:

    “you guys are really making me wish i could take [drug]. I would LOVE to lose weight like that.”

    I gave her a link to this post and begged her to reconsider. No idea if it’ll work, but really – I can’t watch someone say they want to lose this kind of weight and not say SOMETHING. Not anymore.

  56. Fortunately most of the women in my office aren’t too weight-obsessed, but there is one who regularly makes the comment, “I wish I could get anorexia for a few months so I could lose the extra weight.” Not really wanting to share my stories with her, I just say, “Be careful what you wish for, the results might not be what you want,” and shut my office door when she starts talking about it. I haven’t heard that comment in several months so maybe she has gotten the idea that she shouldn’t say it around me, either on her own or because someone else has mentioned that there’s probably something wrong given the amount of weight I lost in that short period of time. I’m only open about what’s going on with certain people, and not at work. There’s too much stigma associated with mental illness, even if I have one that our culture had a large part in causing.

  57. Oh man, this post resonates with me so strongly. When I lost some weight I didn’t need to lose, one (always creepy) guy who hadn’t seen me in two years told me I’d “gotten in shape.” To this day I want to punch him in his stupid face when I think of that. When I told someone “I hate losing weight” she looked completely blank and asked, “Why? Isn’t it always a good thing?” (probably not exactly verbatim but the sentiment was DEFINITELY there). I was like, “uh, I just had to buy a belt for the first time in my life. and I HATE BELTS.” (this part is still true. I just don’t like the way they feel, and most of my pants sit on my hips anyway so they just look awkward).

    Mercifully I was blessed with not just one but several friends, and a mother (and two doctors) who are sane about such things, and who continued to tell me they were worried about me as I insisted I was totally fine (a lie) and my weight loss had nothing to do with eating issues, nope, I just was walking so much and so busy! I didn’t have time for lunch, that’s all (a bigger lie, one my doctor totally saw through). They also made sure to tell me how much healthier I look now.

    Interestingly, I have never been “underweight” by BMI standards.

  58. “We equate weight loss so strongly with accomplishment that so many people see it as something to be proud of even if you didn’t fucking do anything to lose the weight.”

    Oh man, this hits home really hard, Kate. I’m going through exactly this right now. I’ve lost about 30lbs over the last few months thanks to what I assume is a combination of a few factors: quitting the drug I’d been taking for 5 years that caused weight gain (your precious Lexapro, I’m sorry to say), starting a different drug that slightly suppresses appetite, and deciding to join the roller derby and working out all the time. I’m pretty sure I was either at the very top or above my set-point range beforehand. So I’ve lost the weight literally without trying to – and I honestly believe I’m moving into the weight range that my body SHOULD be. But I’ve had a few comments, from a coworker and a random stranger at the gym, asking if I’ve lost a lot of weight and complimenting my ‘hard work.’

    I’m also fairly new to the idea of fat-acceptance, so I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance at the same time. If I’m supposed to like myself the way I am, why am I so happy that I’m changing?

  59. Meghan, if I may speak for Kate, I believe she would say that “it’s a process.” I doubt very seriously that there is anyone here who could say in all honesty that reaching that societal standard is not somewhat tempting even if it means ill health. At the same time, we come together here to remind ourselves and each other that our health, both mental and physical, comes before attaining someone else’s concept of what we should look and act like. I know for a fact that, if I were to choose HAES and I started losing weight as a result, I would be pretty fucking pleased as punch. In some ways I am embarrassed by that, but I also know that so many of us go through the same thing! Not wanting to feel ostracized, not wanting to have health care professionals harp on me, not wanting to go to different stores to buy my clothing, not wanting to have my family “worry” about me–those are all very real parts of my mental health that would presumably be eliminated by achieving a societally-sanctioned body. But if it dove into the same old obsession over food and purgative exercise with which I have flayed my body in the past, or if it was as a result–as Dani’s has been–of a serious pathology, I know that I can come here and be reminded that I am more than my dress size, more than my perceived ability to reshape my folds and bumps and curves. So please keep sharing and observing and travelling this path that is body acceptance; it’s well worth it.

  60. Oh Meghan, I have a lot to say about that topic and have been thinking of doing a post about it. Now that I see how many readers have been dealing with various unintentional weight changes recently, maybe I’ll actually sit down to write it. Stay tuned.

  61. I would love to see a post like this, Sweet Machine. I have struggled to accept my not thin yet “normal” (BMI-wise) body my entire life, and since starting Lexapro 2 years ago (which is precious to me, since it’s allowed me to live my life again) I have gained about 15 pounds – I’m now teetering on the edge of “overweight”. My doctor said it’s because anti-depressants make you crave carbs, and I’m really wondering if others out there have had this experience. Kate – do you crave carbs more now? Have you gained weight from Lexapro? I mean, taking an AD can be hard enough, what with the rest of the world telling you you don’t need it, it doesn’t really work anyway, blah blah, and then to deal with the stigma of weight gain on top of that, as if all you needed to do to avoid it was to resist those carbs you now crave…well, it’s not easy. That’s why I come here.

  62. Denise – Sinequan made me crave carbs like whoa, but I’ve had to avoid them anyway because they put my hypoglycemia into overload. Despite the avoidance, I’ve put on five or six pounds since I started it.

    On the bright side, it’s stopped my migraines almost entirely (down to one or two days a month from the former fifteen to twenty), and I can totally live with the trade. :D

  63. Totally late to this, but it hits home with me as well. I’m on the small side, but in a way that doesn’t correlate to small clothes sizes (mainly due to a high waist-to-hip ratio even without IBS bloating driving it even higher). In grad school, my IBS was completely uncontrolled and I was nauseated at least 75% of the time. Add in some dating and school stress or a stretch of hot and humid weather (or hell, a tight waistband at the wrong time), and I’d be bed and bathroom ridden for days at a time.

    I was picking at my lunch and trying not to turn green in public while with another grad student during one of my bad phases, and I mentioned something about not being able to eat much all week because I felt so miserable. She immediately said that she wished she had the same thing. All my clarifications (it’s not will power, it’s feeling like you want to die or puke or both simultaneously) didn’t make a difference – miserable would be fine so long as she lost weight.

    And 15 years later, I still get this. I’ve stabilized my IBS thanks to NuvaRing and soluble fiber and regular exercise and peppermint tea and giving up red meat and dairy and what seems like a bazillion other things. But I’m not in pain and I don’t spend days on the toilet and I only feel nauseated on rare occasions. Yay me, right? My doctor expressed worry that I’ve gained 3 pounds over the past couple of years. Yes. One does tend to gain weight when one can actually eat regular nutritious meals as opposed to cautiously eating a single slice of bread to see if the Stomach Gods find it acceptable. I have a low friggin’ BMI (thanks to having no hips at all, I think). And yet…I get the “we’d better watch this”.

    Obviously, losing weight is Good, even if you’re sick as hell and already on the small side. And gaining weight is Bad, even if you’re still small and you’ve increased both your nutrition and built muscle. Hmm – I think I just moved from “gee, this FA stuff is interesting” to “I need FA”.

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