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Friday, December 28, 2007

The body image Grinch

I closely observe how judgmental people can be of others’ looks. While the politically correct spirit of today forces us in the right direction, in my culture, it’s acceptable to make a negative remark of someone’s looks. While this fact doesn’t make it more pleasurable, the holiday season abounds in body shape judgments. Take for example a family get together for Christmas Eve. Food abounds, people are jolly and merry and someone says:” hey, don’t you think Joe is a tad heavier, he’s grown a belly or something”. Or take my high school class reunion from last night. We hadn’t seen each other in 9 years. First thing a guy says is: “hey, aren’t you a bit heavy for someone who works out?”. While Bulgarian culture is known for not making a difference between muscle and fat, and girls you see in the street have the body composition of a gummy bear, this is not exactly what I want to hear. Being a girl, all sorts of memories from high school body image issues resurface, and I have to spend half of my last day of Christmas vacation, fighting them and bringing myself to normalcy.

I have discussed this many times with clients, since the same things happens to them over and over again, and while the small imperfections that prove that people are not walking billboards don’t normally bother us, finding that they bother our closest friends and relatives is definitely a holiday downer. I call those body image critique specialists body image Grinches (BIGrinches), because they tend to steal the spirit of the holiday season. Funny enough, they are often the ones that don’t like to be in the BIGrinch’s spotlight.

At the same time, a lot of us have reason to be one way or another, and while some changes in body composition are often the result of being inactive and having a poor diet, the target of the BIGrinch might just be another person going through a hard situation or fighting through a time of bad health in their life. So think twice before you pass your judgment on:

Cousin Pete – over the past few years every time you see him for Easter of Christmas he looks like he’s working out, but he always eats too much, looks tired and he has a beer belly. He doesn’t drink, which makes it even weirder. This Christmas he looks strong and fit, his arms and legs look great, but his belly is bigger than ever. What you didn’t know is that he has diabetes type II and the triglyceride levels of a 70 year old heart patient. He feels tired all the time, so getting to the gym takes him a lot of effort, he is still not used to his medication and feels a bit depressed over losing his favorite foods. Not chatty this year, Pete? Let’s see if poking some fun at you over the arctic survival pack is going to make it better.

Aunt Lila – whatever happened to that happy, vital spirit? Aunt Lila looks tired and down. She’s gained at least 20 lbs since Easter and she’s lost some of her wonderful hair. She has bags under her eyes. You ask her if she has problems with eating too much sweets, and she breaks down. What you don’t know is that she has gastritis, which doesn’t let her absorb vitamin B, she is on antidepressants because uncle Jack is cheating on her and she sent her kids off to college this fall. See if her pounds will magically melt off if you buy her a gym membership. No worries, you have a whole year to think of another gift.

Your mom – you haven’t seen her in three months. You take her shopping and find out that she now wears a size larger than the last time you did that together. It’s sad in the changing room and you know better than to make a witty remark of her growing waistline. She’s been on a diet this whole time, to no avail. Her waist to hip ratio has grown and since you know that she has a history of thyroid problems, you get her a doctor’s appointment. Smart kid!

Your nephew Jim – he used to be the coolest kid in school, smart, strong and on the basketball team. His skin looks thin and pale, he doesn’t smile and looks like he hasn’t slept in months. He’s gained some weight in his hips and chest and he looks wimp and unmotivated. What he doesn’t want you to know is that he was just diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance and his testosterone has hit rock bottom. See if getting him a beer will cheer him up, don’t think so!

Your sister-in-law Gina – she’s a fitness trainer, former volleyball player and the high school beauty. She won a pageant once. You want to mention something about her hips, they always seemed sort of out of proportion with the rest of her body and those arms, they just can’t be all muscle. She is no longer a teenager and her job makes it hard on her to keep in the best shape possible. What you don’t know is that she has an estrogen imbalance, a metabolic condition where her body cannot utilize estrogen properly, so her thighs look big and bulky, while she boasts flat and beautiful abs. Don’t mention thunder thighs, unless you want to test her kung-fu.

So, the next time you see the ones you love most, don't steal the holiday spirit. Better yet, focus on you!


susannejulia said...

Oh yes. In Germany they'll go right ahead and tell you too.
They actually call me and ask me whether I'd gained weight like "those Americans".

So I understand being skinny is the beauty ideal in Bulgaria as well? In Germany all the girls did cardio like crazy. Well, and some heavy sets on the abductor/adductor machine. :O)

I hope you had a very merry Christmas and a great start into a fabulous new year!

Galina Talkington said...

Christmas was awesome, thank you! I hope your new year brings you joy and happiness!!! Stay inspired!

My husband jokes that coffee and cigarette is the official Bulgarian breakfast. Most girls are underweight and hold the skinny fat ideal, and I still get ticked off at people not getting why it's healthier to be firm and vibrant, instead of soft and covered with make up.