Body positivity… and negativity

I’m a fan of Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars in the US), it’s my one bit of utterly mindless TV. In the past, I’ve not started watching until the early rounds are past, when those who have absolutely no sense of rhythm are eliminated. But Himself likes me to enjoy the full experience so, this time round, I’ve watched those difficult early rounds.

In week 2, this guy – a big guy – but one who’s incredibly graceful and oh my, can he move – was given the jive. Unsurprisingly, he struggled with the speed, and with the fitness required. After his performance, he apologised to his professional partner and the viewers saying “I’m just too big”.

The problem is that big (large, fat, big-boned, plus-size – there’s many a term) people know we are regarded as being lazy, greedy, lacking in willpower or motivation. And while I’d not suggest that isn’t sometimes true, what many people don’t realise is that there’s often a lot of rubbish going on upstairs – by which I mean in our brains.

All of which took me back to an article I read from the author of Fat Girl Walking. As I read it, there were repeated instances when I thought “I remember Mum doing that” and “Granny used to say that all the time!” Conflicting messages around looks, weight and food have been passed down from my grandmother to my mother, from my mother to my siblings and myself. Healthy eating habits were not taught or practised in my childhood home

Despite being a decidedly bonny baby, throughout my childhood, my teenage years, my twenties and into my thirties, I was slim – the only slim child in fact – and very rarely exceeded the ideal weight for my height. But that fact made absolutely no difference. Diets were the norm – either imposed by my mother, or self-imposed (but actively encouraged and supported). Did all this wreck my metabolism? You betcha – such that in my late thirties/early forties when I could do with losing weight after giving up smoking, I couldn’t shift an ounce – even when limiting my calorie intake to under 800 a day. Worried about this anomaly I consulted a doctor, when – unbelievably – I was instructed to restrict yet more.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I was never to become that naturally slim person again. Everything to do with food, with eating, with weight, with looks – was tainted by what I was told or overheard in my earliest years. What was in my head totally wrecked my metabolism and so my body. I have battled on and off with emotional over-eating, and now have a vast amount of knowledge about the impact poor mental health can have on physical health, and poor nutrition on mental health. This allowed me to break the chain and not pass the unhealthy views and practices of family lore on to the next generation. My daughter has an amazing attitude to food and is slim, fit, informed and educated, although much of the credit must go to her.

My Dad was a big guy (well over 6 foot and skinny at 17 stone after giving up beer 😉 ) and boy, could he dance. In fact, his jive was legendary…. which takes us nicely back to that big guy on Strictly Come Dancing. He went on to win, although never revisited his jive. Despite everything he achieved during the weeks of the competition, I don’t believe he was able to shake the firmly embedded belief about his size and the jive. Despite knowing he wasn’t the best dancer on the night, I was happy that he won, because I know from personal experience quite how hard it is to shake that negative belief and just how much courage it had taken to put himself out there.

Has something you’ve read, watched or heard taken you on an unexpected journey into your past?

24 thoughts on “Body positivity… and negativity

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  1. I’m glad the big guy won! Fatphobia is real, and really frustrating. In many cases, it’s compounded by medical professionals, like your idiot doctor, who have been indoctrinated into viewing all fat cells as the enemy, especially in women. I have so many stories from women with doctors who insisted that symptoms from everything from cancer to neuropathy was from being overweight. It delayed the proper treatment for so many, sometimes with deadly consequences.

    I have a body that has a ton of muscle, but had clearly evolved for famine. When I danced competitively and had to fit into very revealing clothes, I ate less than 1200 calories daily while lifting weights, swimming, and getting 20-40 hours of cardio a week. I literally had weight limits for wearing various outfits. And I listened to overweight male dancers constantly judge the weight and appearance of female dancers. Such double standards.

    Like you, I internalized negative, unhealthy comments from family, but also from working in entertainment and the dance communities. I made a decision to never, ever talk about weight around my child–we focus on health instead. I’m glad I did. My gymnast/ diver/ doctor sister gave her child an eating disorder by obsessing over their weight and controlling their food–the same way she obsesses over her own food and weight. Thankfully, the child is grown, did therapy and moved away and is in a much healthier place now.

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  2. Yup! It was extraordinary Jane. In truth, I suspect she didn’t believe me and was convinced I was cheating, but she didn’t say so, nor was she interested in digging into it further – and I could’ve offered my detailed food diary as back-up. I had some troubled experiences with doctors around that time. One who told me my exhaustion was because I was fat, except I was actually losing so much blood I ended up severely anaemic (as he discovered when the blood tests came back – the blood test I’d insisted on). And, of course, no apology or acknowledgement. I found a helpful nutritionist instead. Sadly, the damage was done, but I’m still here, so I take that as a win 🙂

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  3. When my mother was in third grade, she was put on a diet. She claimed they didn’t know any better at the time, but that is trauma.
    I hate the fact that there is so much trauma and negativity surrounding weight.

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  4. It is extremely disheartening when doctors don’t listen or respect the patient, who knows their body best. I’m glad you kept pushing for what you knew you needed. We really do have to take ownership of our health needs.

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  5. Oh Autumn, you had the extra burden of the dance world, on top of society and doctors. It’s absolutely rubbish, isn’t it.

    Can I steal your description of a body “clearly evolved for famine” as I think that is such a great expression (and so much a real thing) 🙂 I am so sorry to hear about your niece/nephew. If only there were lessons where parents get taught the subliminal lessons we’re teaching our kids, along with other practical stuff. Good to hear that the therapy was able to save them. Unfortunately, my nieces and nephew all have the family food curse 😦 It took me having hours & hours of therapy to get educated and motivated to break the cycle, whereas none of my siblings we willing to do it.

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  6. Yes, I know that my mother was food shamed, not only by her mother, but by the nuns in her boarding school. Except that they also encouraged comfort eating when the girls were sad and homesick. Talk about conflicted messaging. And yes, I agree it is traumatic. I’m not sure I could’ve spoken or written publicly on this subject without all the therapy and coaching I’ve benefitted from.

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  7. Heard, yes. I’m listening to a disco mix on Spotify today. I wasn’t old enough to visit Studio 54 in the ’70s (much to my chagrin), but it does take me back to my childhood.

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  8. I understand your story about weight. We all were encouraged to be THIN or else. It makes me sad to think about you living on 800 calories a day, but know some of my friends did that, too. As for answering your question, nothing has drawn me into the past recently.

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  9. It’s not surprising. There has been so much trauma and emotional abuse at the hands of “trusted” adults.

    I’m glad you’ve received therapy and coaching. I’m sending you my love.

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  10. I’ve always been a little bit round and shapely. And, yes, I’ve almost always felt that I should be thinner. Looking back at old photos, I looked fine. But it seems that I’m always trying to lose a few pounds and never succeeding. It’s an all-too-common tale. Luckily, we didn’t have Instagram when I was growing up.

    Hearing that an old friend has parkinson’s has me thinking these days about all the fun she and I had together when we were kids and teenagers.

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  11. Oooooh boy! This post really resonated with me. My mother was so afraid of having chubby children (she was one herself, and chided for it) that that’s exactly what she created. (What we fear, we create.) When we were hungry after school (like any normal, active kids) we went next door to our Oma’s house (no eating between meals allowed, with Mom!!!) and then went home and had to eat a big plate of dinner and of course were too scared to mention we already ate. We were shamed for our natural hunger and alternately force-fed (clean plate club? Hello!) or starved. It has taken me years to recognize my natural appetite and hunger signals.


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  12. Oooooohhhhh, I’d have loved to have that experience too Mark! I did enjoy the London discos in my 20s and was taken to see Chic in London by someone I met in a nightclub. At the time, I’d no idea at the time that I was in the presence of disco royalty 😉 Thank you for that little trot down my past early life 😀

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  13. Thanks Ally. I remember being distressed, perplexed and physically wobbly, but I do thank you for your sympathy. Fortunately, once I got over what she said I experienced quite the rage, which is probably what saved me. I hate to think what would’ve happened if I’d followed her instructions rather than consult a nutritionist.

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  14. Looking at old photos and thinking how thin you look, only to remember how you felt you should be thinner, is such a head wobble isn’t it.

    What sad news, but lovely that you were able to return to your old memories of the fun you had together when you were younger. I hope your friend is able to do likewise.


  15. Oh my, that brought back the first time I recognised the full signal, and making the decision to stop eating without fear of guilt, fuss or pushback. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was in my later decades for sure. And yes, my mother was exactly the same as yours, and it had the same impact (great saying: what we fear, we create – thank you, I shall steal that to use in my work!)

    There’s so much mind f**kery around food and looks, and still a long way to go to change it.


  16. Totally Jane! Those two negative experiences taught me to research, research, research and to question everything. My ex MIL helped a lot – she was a senior nurse with a healthy lack of respect for the doctors-as-gods belief. I’m fortunate in having had the best of medical care at other times, which restored my faith in the medical profession. But I still always have to ask questions and dig around on my own too.

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  17. Soon I’ll be seeing the friend with health problems. I suspect we’ll enjoy reminiscing about happy times we had together.

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  18. How lovely Nicki. So important to spend time with loved ones when they’ve had troubling health news.


  19. Many of us have such a complicated relationship with food and with our body shapes. I know I do. I’ve certainly gotten better towards both since my teenage and young adult years, but the inner voices still sometimes raise up and give me a little hell. When I catch them, I thank them kindly for their concern and remind them they are no longer needed.

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  20. Christie, I love your idea of thanking the little inner voices for their concern while remining them that they’re no longer needed – because they do mean well, they’re trying to keeping you safe which is their job.


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