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When the Revolution Happens, I Will Not Be Wearing Spanx

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Content warning: This blog addresses diet culture and intentional weight loss which may be triggering to some. Please take care of yourself and skip it if it does not support you.

My husband and I were on Day One of our much-needed summer vacation (a real one with no children!) to the Pacific Northwest. We had spent the morning walking around and taking in the touristy Seattle sites: snapped a selfie in front of the original Starbucks, watched the fishermen throw the fish at Pike’s Place Market, and got up close and personal with the Space Needle.

Feeling a little jetlagged, we decided to head back to our Airbnb to rest for a bit before lunch. According to Google Maps, we were a few miles away from our apartment, which suddenly seemed to be on top of a hill. So, feeling footloose and fancy-free, we decided to hop on electronic scooters that were, fortuitously, laying on the sidewalk just a few yards away. It took a little while for me to get the hang of it, and I never quite figured out how to turn without coming to a complete stop and jumping off, but we arrived at our destination seven minutes later intact and impressed by our spontaneity. We took pictures of each other on our respective scooters to document the harrowing, yet whimsical adventure.

A few days later, we were walking around Stanley Park in Vancouver when I viewed the batch of photos that my husband had just uploaded to our shared album during our long drive up from Seattle. When he moved into position to take a picture of me standing in front of a series of totem poles made by First Nations artists, I shoed him away.

“Everything OK?” he asked.

“Yep,” I responded curtly, but it was clear to both of us that I was not. Seeing the full-body picture of myself riding on the scooter had flipped a switch and I was no longer present and enjoying the moment. Footloose and fancy-free were nowhere to be found.

For months leading up to this moment, and for the first time that I can really remember, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I mean my kids were extra whiny and their fighting was driving me bananas, but I generally felt content, fulfilled by my work and my relationships, and sincerely grateful for the abundance in my life. I felt confident about the energy I was putting out into the universe and how I was showing up in different spaces. I was feeling more integrated in terms of mind, body, and spirit, and, although still a work in progress, inching towards a place of self-acceptance.

And, then I saw myself in a picture on vacation having fun, stretching outside of my comfort zone, and making memories taken from an angle that made me look a little rounder around the middle than I envisioned in my mind’s eye and, in an instant, all of that good stuff felt like it just evaporated. And, then, a second after that happened, I felt ashamed, disappointed, and disgusted at myself for having that reaction.

Why does this keep happening?

What is wrong with me that I can’t just figure out this body image thing?

I’m in my mid-40s and I am a coach, for God’s sake. I know better!

Also, maybe I wouldn’t have a body image problem if I just lost the weight.

Ah, yes, my old friends had returned: self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-loathing. The unholy trinity.

And, then, instead of blaming and shaming my own weakness, flawed character, and lack of willpower, I spent the next five miles of our walk through the park reflecting on all of the explicit and implicit messages that I had been consuming (pun intended) my whole life.

I thought about some of the early messages I had internalized that had an outsized impact on me. Like my mom saying, “You’re beautiful just the way you are,” but taking me to Weight Watchers with her when I was ten because she loved me so much and didn’t want me to struggle with weight like she did.

Or, getting the memo in middle school health class that it’s good to have a lot of self-confidence because, “No one will love you unless you love yourself,” but also remembering my dad saying to me around the same time, “You should try to lose weight now before you get to high school because boys won’t want to date you if you’re overweight” as justification for why my parents had enrolled me in a program called Shapedown recommended by a doctor friend.

And, then it all started bubbling up to the surface. Things that were said to me directly and things I had absorbed subconsciously, all of it just began pouring out of me.

It’s not healthy to lose weight quickly, but SlimFast

Diets never work, but call 1-800-GO-JENNY

There is no magic bullet, but ask your doctor about Ozempic

Take up space, but thin is in

College is the best four years of your life, but don’t gain the Freshman Fifteen

Five seconds on the lips = five years on the hips, but intuitive eating

Health at every size, but track your macros

Be in tune with your body and what it’s telling you it needs, but if you are hungry, it probably means you are thirsty so just drink water

Meal plan and prep for the week, but listen to what your body is saying it needs in the moment

Use a smaller plate to trick your brain into thinking it is getting more food, but also YOLO!

Eat a high-protein diet, but not eggs or dairy because you have to watch your cholesterol

Eat a low-fat diet, but eat more good fats

Eat a low-sugar diet, but fake sugar is even worse for you

Eat a low-carb diet, but your body needs carbs, especially if you are physically active

Eat dairy because it’s good for your bones, but don’t eat dairy because it’s bad for the rest of your body

It’s all about moderation, but intermittent fasting is the key

Do Paleo, but it’s not heart healthy

Do Whole 30, but don’t deprive yourself

Do Keto, but also remember the food pyramid

Do Atkins, but don’t eliminate entire food groups

Do Weight Watchers, but call it WW from now on because it's more than just a diet program

Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS), but starve yourself before your weigh-in so that you faint like my grandmother did when she was in her 80s

Be present with your loved ones, but count points for all of your food, drink, and activity

Stop and smell the roses, but keep your heart rate elevated

It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle change, but also 18 seasons of The Biggest Loser

Eating disorders are currently the deadliest mental health disorder for women and girls, but 24 seasons of America’s Next Top Model

“You’re a runner? You go, girl!,” but not in our store because we don’t carry anything in your size

BMI is not medically valid, but your life insurance will be up-charged or denied because of this number

Body positivity, but wear compression shapewear with every outfit to hide your rolls, creases, and bumps

You do you! but remember that the appropriate portion for protein = deck of cards and carbs = your palm

Untamed, but wear vertical stripes to elongate your torso

Life is too short; eat dessert first, but skip dessert if you’re overweight because people will silently (and sometimes, not-so-silently) judge you for having no willpower or self-discipline

Intrinsic motivation is best because it means you’ll stick with it, but join a group of colleagues/friends/random strangers for a weight loss challenge

Keep a food journal or log everything that touches your lips in an app, but savor each bite

Train for a marathon or a triathlon, but spend more time with your family

LIZZO!, but Beyoncé, Rihanna, and JLo

It’s not a competition and just run your own race, but post your workout stats from CrossFit, Peloton, Orange Theory, Garmin, or Strava on social media so everyone can see

Move your body in a way that feels good every day, but make sure you get in at least 10,000 steps

Change takes time, but New Year = New You

Slay the day, but portion control

Feel like a queen on your wedding day, but pay a premium upcharge for a wedding dress in anything above a size 12

Sleep when the baby sleeps, but get (bounce?) back into your skinny jeans as quickly as possible

Eat only when you’re hungry, but eat six meals a day at regular intervals

Exercise is for EVERY body, but we don’t carry workout gear in your size

The average US woman wears a size 16 (XL), but go to a separate department on a different floor to find a limited selection of clothes designated as plus-sized

Yo-yo dieting is bad for you, but also every magazine and morning talk show sharing tips about dropping pounds before that wedding/reunion/special event

Don’t eat your feelings, but Ben & Jerry will always be there for you

Inclusion in the workplace, but you can be fired in 49 states based solely on your weight (shout-out to Michigan!)

Eat mindfully, but weigh your food on a scale

Feel comfortable being yourself in a relationship, but don’t let yourself go

Your body is a temple, but also diet pills help to suppress your appetite and rev up your metabolism

Consume only things found in nature, but drink protein-infused water

Live every day as if it were your last, but also maintain your girlish (or is it hourglass?) figure

Work hard/play hard, but eat a well-balanced diet

Just relax and let it all hang out, but nothing should actually hang

Focus on self-care and doing things that make you happy, but drink Kombucha (a joke, sort of)

Just a few of the messages I noticed while writing this blog

Once I allowed all of these things to start bubbling up, they didn't stop, and the list above was just a fraction of what emerged. For the next three days, they just flowed out of me, at times showing up like a trickle from a leaky faucet and other times exploding like a gushing geyser. It was as though they were all locked away in a vault somewhere inside for decades, maybe generations, and I had just cracked the code.

As these confusing contradictions surfaced, I noticed the self-loathing was slowly transforming into something else: exasperation, frustration, and anger. I had bought into all of it – hook, line, and sinker – and now I was waking up to the fact that it had all been ONE BIG FAT LIE*?!

*OMG, I just now realized that this phrase literally positions fatness as something negative! WTF! Make it stop!

There were so many rules, guidelines, and parameters about how to live that there was so little space left for me to actually live my life. The system was rigged and there was no way to win. How was I supposed to be a #BossBabe and slay all day while subsisting on nothing but lemon juice and cayenne pepper for a three-day cleanse? How it is possible to rock a messy bun while also looking put together? It just can't be done.

It was all just a highly-effective, well-executed trap to make me perpetually feel bad about myself and then spend a lifetime (read: gallons of wasted energy and a ridiculous amount of money) trying to feel less bad, which was impossible and, therefore, never-ending. Failure was baked-in, covered with frosting, and then pre-set on a loop. Forever.

And, these were just a few of the “shoulds” I had internalized when it came to food, body, and exercise; I couldn’t even begin to dig into the loaded and confusing messages around beauty more broadly, parenting, relationships, and navigating the workplace. I mean, I was still on vacation.

I also reflected on the unreasonable expectations I felt as a white, straight, upper-middle class, cis-gender woman currently living without a disability and the additional layers there are for folks who embody other intersectional identities, especially those that are most often marginalized, commodified, and brutalized in our society. Even though it was the same dysfunctional system at play, I recognized that it impacted all of us in different ways.

Although my mind grew increasingly unsettled and agitated with each new awareness that emerged, I noticed that my body and spirit were relaxed and unphased. It made sense to me now why over the years, the pendulum had often swung between vigilance/compliance and resistance/defiance. My rational mind kept getting in the way, doubling down on what it was told to believe was best and right, but my body and spirit knew the truth all along.

We knew if we were just patient enough, you would come back, they seemed to say. We’ve always known what you needed, but you stopped trusting us many moons ago. It’s OK, we’re not mad. We know it wasn’t your fault, but we missed you. You have been away for a long, long time. Welcome home.

PS: It feels very vulnerable to be putting this out there. I am processing this in real time and it feels extremely raw, fragile, and disorienting. Even as I write this, I am noticing the strong pull to “get back on track” when I get home from vacation and am confused about what that even means now. What is this track I'm supposed to be on? And, why are the only options I have to be "on" or "off" of it? Isn't there another way?

P.P.S: I imagine some people reading this may be saying, “Well, duh, what’s taken you so long?” Other people might be saying, “Wearing shapewear makes me feel better about myself and has nothing to do with the patriarchy, capitalism, or white supremacy.” Still others might be saying, “I’m just worried about your health.”

For this to work, we need to have a collective understanding that it will take all of us to push back and move the needle on this issue, but the system is working overtime to pit us against each other.

Can we all agree – starting now – that although we might each be at different places in our own journeys, we’re just pawns in a messed-up game that we involuntarily opted into because we accidentally clicked on a link once, but now that we know, we choose to UNSUBSCRIBE?

I know this culture shift will take time and the tides won’t change anytime soon, but I believe Generation Z and their feisty disdain for the status quo will be leading the way. And, let me be clear: if I am still around when this revolution happens, I will definitely be there, but I will not be wearing Spanx.

If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified personal/professional growth coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action toward your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.


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