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Respect Your Body

            The hardest lesson for me in my Intuitive Eating journey has been: Respect Your Body. I’ve been dreading this chapter in the workbook (by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch) since I started working with my nutritionist seven months ago. But as we ran out of other chapters to read, and re-read, she suggested going through this chapter one page at a time – in small bites – to keep it from becoming too overwhelming.

Small bites…of chicken?”

            One of the basic steps of learning to respect your body is the acceptance of your “genetic blue print,” because we have these fantasies that a five-foot-tall woman can transform herself into a willowy, long-legged model, if she just tries hard enough. In the Respect Your Body chapter of the book the authors write that, “Just as a person with a shoe size of eight wouldn’t expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation about body size.”

            But I do have these expectations. Literally, I’ve often felt guilty for how big my feet are, as if I kept growing on purpose just to take up more than my fair share of space. I don’t know how to accept that it’s okay to have big feet and big bones in a world where, up until recently, I couldn’t find many shoes in my size. But an even bigger part of the problem, I think, comes from the extreme size difference between my parents: my father is 6’4” and my Mom is, maybe, 5’1”, so being big automatically makes me feel like I’m on the wrong side of the parental divide. My father is a bad guy, and I feel bad by association for being tall and big-boned like him, instead of petite like Mom.

            I remember going to look for a watch when I was a teenager and trying on one women’s watch after another until it became clear that the bands on the watches meant for women were universally too small for me. And this was when I was skinny! I had to choose from the men’s watches even though they all looked so masculine and made me feel like I had cooties.

            I have a lot of stories like that: like when I was ten and needed new sneakers and none of the girls’ sneakers came wide enough for me, so I had to buy the ones for boys (aka blue). I wasn’t overweight, just built on the wrong scale for a girl my age, so there were no pink sneakers for me.

“Who needs sneakers?”

            I remember an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, years ago, when Oprah compared her “food addiction” to men who were “addicted” to domestic violence. She sat down with a group of domestic abusers and likened their inability to stop beating their wives with her inability to stop eating pasta. She really seemed to believe that this was a fair comparison. The underlying assumption, that wanting to eat a regular-sized serving of pasta qualifies as an addiction, went unquestioned, of course, but Oprah’s analogy pushed it further, implying that being fat is a character issue similar to beating your wife.

            I don’t know if there was any pushback against her assertions, because this was pre-social media, but her message resonated with a lot of other things I’d heard and seen by then. It was clear that, in our culture, dieting is considered virtuous, and choosing to eat just because you are hungry is a character flaw. But I am tired of dieting, and it has been a relief to give myself permission to eat over the past six months, and yet I haven’t been able to give myself permission to stop beating myself up for eating.

There’s a theory that we hold onto these dehumanizing and degrading ways of talking to ourselves because they serve a purpose; because we get something from these behaviors that we don’t want to give up. But I don’t think that’s true. I think certain types of thinking, especially abusive ones that start early and pervade society, stick to us for neurological reasons, not because we choose to keep them. And blaming me for “holding onto” these negative thoughts is just one more way of blaming the victim, and it sucks.

It’s hard to change thoughts that are so well supported by the people around me, like my doctors. They keep saying things like: if you’d just eat less you’d lose weight; or, your health depends on losing thirty pounds; or, exercise will make you stronger and therefore your perception that you are exhausted and in pain after exercising is false.

            How can I change internal messages that are constantly being reinforced by outside people who I am supposed to trust?

            I want these thoughts to change, but I wish someone could tell me how much more work I should put towards the goal of changing my thoughts, before it’s time to work instead on accepting that I will always have these thoughts and finding a way to give them less power over me.

            As I was reading the Respect Your Body chapter one page at a time, I came across a fact that stunned me: “The majority of American women (67%) wear sizes 16 and up, yet the majority of clothes available for purchase only go up to size 14.”

“Who needs clothes?”

            I have always assumed that I was a mutant for wearing a size sixteen as a teenager. And I felt that way when I wore a size fourteen, and a size twelve too. The only time I felt sort of normal was when I was a size eight (and anorexic). But what kind of society makes the majority of women feel like mutants? And how does the fashion industry even survive by aiming its merchandise at such a small percentage of the overall marketplace? Is the prejudice against larger-sized women so deep that clothing designers are willing to forego profits in order to continue stigmatizing women overall? All my life, I’ve thought that my sizes (of clothing, of shoes, of watches) were rare, and that’s why I could only find them in catalogs or online or in separate stores altogether, where the skinny people wouldn’t have to be contaminated. And now I find out that I’m actually in the majority?!!

            No wonder the Intuitive Eating book needs a whole chapter on respecting your body. It’s a shock that any woman over a size two feels acceptable as she is. And really, maybe no woman feels acceptable, because if you are led to believe that something you have no control over (your height and body type) determines your worth as a human being, why would any woman feel good about that?

            There’s so much work left for me to do on this issue, and the Intuitive Eating book doesn’t even address the body shame resulting from childhood sexual abuse. Even if I can work through the many layers of abusive messaging that come from societal expectations, or childhood bullying, or comparing myself to peers or to people on TV, underlying everything there is the fact that my body was not a safe place for me growing up.

            I want all of this to be easier. I want my doctors to stop being part of the problem, and I want the media to be more realistic about what can be expected of the human body, and I want Anorexia and disordered eating to stop being accepted as the cost of being a woman in our society. I want help, basically, because I don’t think I can do this work successfully without a lot of other people changing their minds with me.

And yet, I still desperately want lose thirty pounds, even though I know from experience that I will be just as unhappy with a thinner body, because I’ve been skinny and it didn’t fix anything. But I can’t let go of the hope.

“I hope for chicken. Always.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

89 responses »

  1. Why worry about body size? I have big feet. There’s nothing I can do about it, save amputating my toes. I don’t care. All that really matters is being as healthy as you can be.

  2. very well said, from another mutant who is rather glad not to buy into social paradigms!🤪 after years of self-improvement i am ready now for self- acceptance!🙏🏼❤️🙏🏼

  3. Having small feet is no picnic, either. When I wore a size 5, it was almost impossible to find shoes. I was actually pleased when I gained half a size with my first baby, but now 5½ is just as impossible to find: in all the catalogs, the sizes start at 6. I can wear a 6 in lace-up shoes (such as sneakers) but not in flats. And the shoes I do find to fit immediately start stretching to the point that I might as well be wearing flipflops.

    And, no matter how much weight I lose, I never lose the belly I’ve had since I was an infant. I could easily wear a size 8, I think, if I just had a tummy tuck. As it is, everything I wear has to either be smock-style or have an elastic waist because I have a relatively small waist but a big belly. We would all be much better off if we adopted Korean national dress, which works even if you’re fat or pregnant!

  4. I hear you. I’m slim, but I still feel all sorts of wrong for various things, such as always being cold and wearing a jacket when no one else is, for being 60 and single (and no longer trying to meet anyone, because why?), for not coloring my hair, not wearing makeup, and failing to care about looking “sexy” or younger. It’s all the marketing, infesting our minds. I try to stay aware of when I’m feeling down, so I don’t let it take over, but it is still difficult…

  5. I wish I could invite you to my part of the country. Here, thanks to common ancestry, nearly all the ladies are both tall and greater than a size 18. Perhaps being comparatively small might help you to see yourself differently. ❤️

  6. My body never seemed right – too big, too skinny, head too small, belly to big. It didn’t matter how I ate or what I did. Since I retired and have time to meditate everyday, I feel much better about myself. I see me as the real me. Not the image in the mirror or the one in photos. Especially photos. They make everyone look wierd. Works for me🤷

  7. I’ve found that most women want to be a size or two smaller than they are, no matter what size they start with. It’s the magazine and attitude influence. I bet if you asked every woman in the country, you’d end up finding out that 90% of women are unhappy with their weight. While I think it’s best not to overeat for our own health reasons, I do think that we should allow ourselves to be happy with who we are, no matter what our weight is. And if our weight is really a bit too much for our own good, how will it help to be miserable over it? Just be aware of it and work on it a bit at a time.

  8. I find that not commenting when the topic is women’s weight leads to a better life expectancy. But…no mention of “vanity sizing?” As a guy whose career was retail, I watched sizes expand significantly over the years and a quick Google shows that the “average” size in women’s clothing has gotten much larger over time. It seems to me that the standards for what is considered average have scaled up significantly over the past few decades so shouldn’t it be easier to fit into the norms? I dunno. Photos of folks in the 40s, 50s and 60s show far slimmer people. Maybe we’re just in an age where calories are easy to come by and lifestyles don’t burn as many calories per day. I know it takes a strict keto and tons of cardio/weights to keep me svelte, provided you accept “round” as a synonym for svelte.

  9. I hope acceptance is possible in your future. I understand the struggle.
    I won’t understand though, why Oprah is so popular.

  10. It have a short-round body style and was delighted when I found shops that catered to my size. It helped a lot!

  11. My feet are wide and misshapen. I was born that way. They considered correcting them surgically when I was 14. It would have involved breaking 4–8 bones in each foot and rearranging the muscles. No way, I said.

  12. I really don’t have any comment that is likely to be of any help other than I ache for you when I read this. I hope the writing of it is beneficial and you can become more body positive. Oh and there is seriously seriously nothing and I mean nothing remotely wrong with eating when you are hungry. Be yourself – everyone else is taken. 🙂

  13. Rachel, I found myself nodding at each “I get that” moment as I read this post! I wish I had the answers to help you, but I gave up trying to figure it all out when I turned 50. I’m overweight – I have pictures of me in my early childhood where I was chubby. I tried the ‘traditional’ diet methods throughout life, but every one of them only proved that I will never be able to see food as a pleasure AND be thin! I can’t – or won’t – live on greens and cabbage soup for the rest of my life! So I try to eat in moderation, even though I have medications I have to take with food, which sometimes require me to eat when I’m not hungry. I hope you continue to find the strength to work on accepting yourself just as you are! Please be as gentle with yourself as you are with others!

  14. We are fed fantasies of perfection by marketers. We know they sell us illusions, but we forget the images are false because part of us believes we can be perfect. My mother went through such struggles caused in part by these illusions.

  15. Yes, a relevant discussion for every woman in our society. And I just totally love “Who needs sneakers?”🌷

  16. This is an awesome post! It is such an important topic, you have a lot of valuable things to say, and I adore your dogs’ editorial comments (give them some chicken!). Personally, I am trying to lose weight, because I hope it will help my knee and back problems. Also, so I don’t have to buy new pants for work, but I may have to get over myself and head to the thrift store. My mom needs to lose weight for health reasons, too. I may have to write a blog post about the issue myself.

  17. I get a bit of a perverse thrill when I see clearance racks full of clothes in sizes 00-2 and think of the clothing manufacturers losing money because of their obtuseness. Why would any store order so many pieces of clothes in those sizes when so few women are that tiny?

  18. I’ve been buying men’s trainers for years as they are more comfortable, being wider and more generous. Over the past 20 years I have also been buying men’s joggers and tee shirts for the same reason. Maybe I should’ve been a boy after all……………. Mum and Dad were convinced I was a by then I turned up with the wrong plumbing. They loved me anyway.

    • Maybe clothes for women should be just as generous, instead of making girls wish they were boys.

      • I like my clothes baggy and comfy. I was never into fashion or designer labels anyway, as long as they fit me well. I own one frock which I bought for my niece’s wedding in 2017 and that was the only time I wore it. I know I’ll never be slim, but I do have curves, although they might be a bit too generous in places. However, there is more to me than my shape and that is what’s important. There’s more of me than there should be according to the so called experts, but at the end of the day, we all have the same bodily functions and I actually like the person I am, extra pounds and all, and that has nothing at all to do with what size I am.

  19. I think that comparison made by Oprah Winfrey was not at all helpful, as well as being badly-judged by her.
    Best ishes, Pete.

  20. Rachel, not to begrudge anyone who feels she or he needs surgery to accomplish improvements to help self-esteem, I am a believer in a woman or man just being the best version of herself or himself she or he can be. I think that fits into this chapter of “Respecting your body.”

    In America, we are the most obese country in the world (or near the top) based on the poll. We are train wrecks waiting to happen. We need to become better versions of ourselves to keep the train on the track as we age.

    On Kelly and Ryan last week, a trainer said that exercise helps with abs, but the key difference maker is diet. So, if we can find sustainable ways to improve diet (portion control, eg) and exercise, we are respect our body. Keith

  21. ” I want these thoughts to change, but I wish someone could tell me how much more work I should put towards the goal of changing my thoughts, before it’s time to work instead on accepting that I will always have these thoughts and finding a way to give them less power over me.” I’d say that you’ve already begun. Just my opinion from the ‘I’m big but am I okay?” side of things.

  22. Pingback: What IS “Normal” Anyway? | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  23. It’s so hard to accept our bodies as they are! And yes, the media pushes one type of body as the ideal, even when so few women are naturally built that way. Hang in there, Rachel…your body is beautiful just as it is!

  24. It only took one trip to France for me to realize why so many Americans are overweight. It’s the food that is in the machines and fill most of the space in the super markets. It’s what’s become normal for Americans. I am sure all us Americans would be much healthier if we ate more like the French…at least like they used to eat. My last trip there I saw a black lab in a McDonalds, LOL.
    I don’t mean to be unsupportive. Quite the opposite. I guess what I’m trying to say is there is a good reason why 67% of Americans are size 16 and over, and it doesn’t have to do with willpower or eating for reasons other than simple hunger. It has to do with what is being thrown at us via advertizing, grocery aisles, etc. I’m hooked on sugar like it was cocaine, and no matter how hard I try, if it is in the house, I loose to temptation.

  25. It doesn’t help when we allow big corporates and social media to keep perpetuating the ridiculous myth that skinny and young = beautiful and happy. It’s a shallow aspiration that we are being led by the nose to follow. Very similar to the Emperor’s new clothes.

    Genetically we have things that we can’t change about our size/shape and we have to accept and respect that. A healthy body beats an unnaturally skinny body every time.

  26. Let’s see: 14, 382 followers do not think any less of you because of your weight. Maybe they are on to something? 😉
    Seriously, I have the same struggles, but during lockdown, I let my hair, which had been fake blonde for all my adult life, go gray. And you know what? It’s staying gray. It’s me, and life is too short to worry about looks.
    Just my two cents!

  27. I have reached the time in my life where I have finally accepted my body…just as it is. We have been deluged with a myth and it is so hard to get past it. I now look in the mirror and see someone overweight and old and that is ok. I am alive and thinking and functioning. So many are not. I have finally learned to be thankful for what I have and not what I don’t have….at least most of the time.

  28. I worked in a sewing mill for 7 years – learned many things there, and I’ll share a few.
    When we had an order for a specific size and couldn’t fill it, we simply slapped that size label on whatever we had – so a size 12 today might be a size 14 tomorrow, same garment, just a different label. (We also delighted in swtiching labels on unsuspecting new workers because it was mind numbing work and we had to find amusement where we could.) Also, there is no standard sizing in clothing – so a size 8 for one company can be a 12 for another. And finally, the more expensive the item, the smaller the size sticker.
    When Oprah lost a ton of weight and announced she was wearing a size 8, and weighed 150 lbs, I laughed – at 150 lbs, I was wearing a size 14, but I bought my clothes at Walmart and I’m betting she didn’t. ‘

  29. ” before it’s time to work instead on accepting that I will always have these thoughts and finding a way to give them less power over me.”
    Think you ‘hit the nail on the head’. The only way I know of to overcome negativity is to look it squarely in the eye and allow the dreaded energy expression. Can be quite scary when we actually allow the energy loose and see it in all its dark glory. It can fill your body with its horrible vibrations. But, hold on; energy dissipates if we allow it expression.

    Oh yes… And don’t listen to the naysayers!

  30. Super Cute! I wish I had a dog like yours as well!

  31. I just admire how brave your writing is. And, shame on Oprah.

  32. It’s interesting that you mention that about the clothing sizes. My 19 yr old went shopping yesterday and bought some clothes. One of the tops is a size large, but she’s not big. She normally wears medium size tops bc she has wide shoulders, but the top was tight on her. Well, she put the new top on and commented, “This is why ppl have eating disorders.” It’s like they purposely jack with the sizes to mess with ppls minds. And if ppl don’t know better, they’d think they gained a ton of weight and needed to lose weight.

  33. Nice blog!
    Do visit to my blog and follow it if you like..

  34. Indeed, who needs sneakers and clothes? Love that lil cutie!

  35. These thoughts remind me of the immensely talented singer Karen Carpenter who chose to starve herself to death amid such feminine societal expectations. Skinny does not need to coincide with healthy.

  36. “I want these thoughts to change, but I wish someone could tell me how much more work I should put towards the goal of changing my thoughts, before it’s time to work instead on accepting that I will always have these thoughts and finding a way to give them less power over me.”

    I am Amazon-sized, myself. Six feet tall and big-boned, legs like tree trunks. I was the biggest kid in every class until puberty and a couple of boys got bigger than me. I relate to every darn thing you’re writing about here. I’m so sorry you were bullied, i myself have only begun to truly heal from all that recently.

    For me personally, when i try to banish thoughts i wish i didn’t have, they seem to dig their heels in harder. I accept them because i’m self-aware enough to know why i have them. I talk to them (my brain) like i talk to the parts of my system, i.e. like they’re real people. I tell the thoughts i understand why they’re there, floating around, and it’s okay for them to be there. Weird i know, but i’m weird, so maybe that’s why it works?

    I just keep plugging away on the reasons that they’re there. After all, they’re symptoms of my illness/malaise, not the cause. Some of those awful thoughts have faded. I hope one day they might all leave me.

    These pieces are meaningful and helpful, as they reinforce that i am not alone. Thank you, and hang in there.

  37. Oprah just dropped a few notches as far as I’m concerned. Dieting/enjoying food you love can not be compared, in the slightest!, with physically or even emotionally harming another person.

    It seems to me that if women could take over fashion and advertising, we could be more truthful about living within our own bodies. Men have always driven those images, but their bodies don’t reflect the qualities they dictate for women!

  38. This hits the nail on the head for me. I try to accept my body how it is. I’ve been thinner and still wasn’t confident. So. It’s more than weight. It’s proportions. It’s unrealistic expectations and all that.

    Some days I do well and I think : fuck the standards, I’m hot. And other days I think well, its hard to think well of myself when people still respond to you in certain ways and use language as if you should be smaller and thinner as a woman. It kills me. Like I’ve already been through trauma that made me wanna shrink and disappear and now this body stuff ?! Ugh. I also don’t like how women seem to bond over hating their bodies. I need to stop doing that.

    Also. That comparison Oprah made? Horrendous. I can’t get my mind around it. Liking pasta a little too much / let’s even say binge eating equals domestic violence ? Uh. No.

    Not all abusers are addicts, for one. There is just so much wrong with that comparison it’s almost laughable.

    Anyway. Great post.

  39. Awesome post. Very inspiring.

  40. We, must wither accept the shape we’re in or form it as best we can, One thing I do agree with is that with chicken you can never go wrong, All the best to you and the furry darlings,


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