For the majority of my adult life, I rarely stepped on a scale, and thought about weight even less.
So I was rather surprised when, after about 5 years, I did my most recent check-in. The first scale I tried was clearly broken, saying I was up about 25 pounds from the last time I weighed myself.
But then, the second one said the same thing. And so did the third.
The following days, weeks, and months of embracing the reality of my weight gain and slowing metabolism– and my commitment to turning around both– have been fascinating, empowering, and fun.
That’s the response I’ve heard time and again since I began this journey a little over a month ago, a response that gets more emphatic as the pounds continue to fall away (currently up to, or rather, down, 10).
Seeing people’s shock, I realized how differently I view weight and self-image and therefore, what an opportunity it could be to share my experience. Particularly at this time of year, when eating and weight are brought into such sharp, and not necessarily healthy, focus.
Having not weighed myself for so long, my initial reaction was denial. I was healthy, happy, felt great about myself, and looked good (I’m one of those people who carries weight well).
Yet even after I accepted the reality of the situation– little aches and pains had started to creep in, the dry cleaner couldn’t shrink all of my clothes that much, certain pictures revealed that I didn’t carry weight that well– I still had a hard time dropping the pounds. Something was in the way, and I wasn’t sure what it was.
After a couple of months, I finally figured it out. While I wanted to lose the weight, there was a larger commitment I was tenaciously holding to: the belief that I shouldn’t have to, that my metabolism shouldn’t be slowing down, and that I should be able to continue eating whatever I want.
In essence, I believed that I shouldn’t have to deal with what everyone else on the planet does: Reality.
For years, I’ve written about reward theory: why we never achieve our goals so long as there is a larger one to which we– consciously or otherwise– are attached. So the realization that I was reward theory’s new and best posted child, was, to say the least, bittersweet.
Much as I wanted to lose the 25 pounds, believing that I shouldn’t have to was more powerful. And so the weight piled on. And stayed.
Finally aware of this underlying belief, I had a decision to make: pride or humility. Choosing the latter, I felt a sense of empowerment return as I reframed my relationships with health, aging, and weight loss into more positive ones. I started dancing and working out, ate more healthily, and made a game out of weekly-weigh ins. And soon after, the results– rather than the reward structures I’d been holding onto– began to speak for themselves.
Recognizing and shifting any disempowering notions about weight and health are important first steps. But there are larger issues at play in our culture with which weight is so often inexorably intertwined: Self-image, self-confidence, and self-worth.
Having spent my life in the music business, I have and continue to see the close ties between notions of appearance, weight, and worth. While certainly exacerbated by industry specific demands, they are in fact a reflection of the larger culture. The rates of eating disorders, self-mutilation, shame, suicidal thoughts, and self-loathing are and have for too long been on the rise, particularly in young people.
A proper and comprehensive look at the reasons behind these increases would require another article, and thankfully, many terrific ones have been written on the subject. And the majority at least touch upon a common issue: that imposed, scarcity-based, and even unhealthy notions of beauty set often impossible standards which people are then conditioned to try and achieve.
Couple these standards with the billions spent on advertising and marketing each year, as well as our hyper-sexualized and often shame-based media culture, and it’s no surprise that personal as well as physical confidence begin to wane. Constantly bombarded by and comparing themselves to the air brushed and buffed images staring back from movies and the pages of magazines, people see themselves as falling short in more than the physical sense.
Knowing Who You Really Are
While a worthy cause, the battle for a healthier media culture is an uphill one. Advertisers are well aware of social psychology, including the profitability of attraction, competition, and the quest for perfection.
Fortunately, we can undo the expensive work of advertisers by beginning a conversation about the true nature of self and what it is that defines who we are.
So who are you? Who are you if not your body? If not your hair, your face, the approval of others… the skin and bones that move you through the world?
You are the precious and glorious being within that external shell: Your heart. Your soul. Your spirit. Your curiosity. Your passion, hopes, and dreams. Your ability to love. Your desire to make a difference.
This is who you are, who we all are. Time will certainly change the shape and nature of our appearance; tragedy and illness often contort how we once looked. Yet neither matter; none of these changes diminish who we are.
Like so much of life’s wisdom, only in letting go do we gain what it is we wish for. Having long ago realized that who I am is not a function of my body, I have been able to enjoy and appreciate it in any state and at any weight, and now, to play with the latter. To effortlessly and joyfully renew and fulfill my commitment to my health, rather than resist or remain stubbornly and insecurely attached to ideas of how I should look.
This is my hope for each of you. To look past the messages of the media and to see yourselves with a sense of appreciation, wonder, gratitude, and love. You are not your body. You are so much more than it could ever contain. Know this, and an extraordinary relationship with your body– as well as with your true self– finally becomes possible.
Jennifer Hamady is a voice coach and counselor specializing in emotional issues that interfere with self-expression. Click here to learn more about her book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice, heralded as a breakthrough in the psychology of personal and musical performance.
Jennifer's second book: Learning to Sing: A Transformative Approach to Vocal Performance and Instruction is now also available.