Friday, September 01, 2006

Body Innocence

A while back, I posed the question, “How far back do you have to go to arrive at a time when you weren’t aware of your body?” To frame the question differently, I’m curious when we lose, what I call, our “body innocence.” Body innocence has to do with knowing what your body can do, knowing what you look like, but not being “aware” of your body—not judging your appearance, not worrying about what you’re eating, not checking yourself in the mirror, or weighing yourself repeatedly. Body innocence is accompanied by cognitive innocence of all things diet and weight-related. Becoming body aware (versus innocent) does not necessarily lead to an eating disorder; however, this is often the first step down a windy, insidious path.

What causes us to lose our body innocence? A starting, and certainly not comprehensive, list:
1) An unsuspecting comment by a family member, friend, or peer
2) A purposely cruel comment by a family member, friend, or peer
3) Losing some weight unintentionally and being consequently reinforced by
others
4) Realizing ourselves that we’re not as skinny as other children
5) Being involved in a weight-dependent activity, such as ballet, gymnastics,
cheerleading, or ice skating (let’s not even say, “figure skating”)
6) Exposure to constant media messages about unnaturally thin celebrities
7) Exposure to constant media messages about the dangers of being
overweight
8) Exposure to constant media messages that promote diet pills, plans, and procedures
9) Exposure to family members, friends, or peers, who aren’t body innocent
10) Abuse

22 comments:

ps22 said...

I remember my loss of "food innocence" more than body innocence. I actually grew up in a family where I was made to feel bad about weight/food in the opposite way most people would expect. I am Indian, and food in the Indian culture is a big deal. Eating something someone makes for you, or hands you is a sign of love, respect, kindness...you name it. When I was very young, my parents were hysterical about the fact that I was naturally thin. And then they proceeded to let me eat whatever I want, because - God forbid - an Indian parent looks like they have a kid who is not fed well. And throughout my formative years, if I didn't finish a meal, take second helpings, or eat everything/anything put in front of me...my parents would be personally offended, get angry, act hurt, etc. "I'm full" or "I'm not hungry" was not in their vocabulary....if I said any of these things, they usually responded with "do you want something else?"..."Did you not like what I made?"..."I can cook something different"
Growing up, I used to eat just to get them to shut up, avoid their hurt/anger, leave me alone. Even now when I visit them, food is the center of their universe. At least now, I try not to let them make it the center of mine anymore.
What number on the list does that correspond to? ;)

blubbah said...

I wrote a post yesterday about the impossible desire to return to body innocence. Feel free to read it.

HaileySqueek said...

I remember complaining to my friends that I thought I was fat when I was in junior high, but I think that was only because they were complaining about being fat. It was more about fitting in than feeling fat.

I don't think I really lost my body innocence until I was 18. When I first went away to college I was at a healthy weight. I had never been on a diet before, I hardly ever weighed myself, and I never gave much thought to what I ate.

Two months after I moved into the dorm, I was date raped by a guy who lived down the hall. That's when I started to eat to make myself feel better. I was in complete denial about what had happened to me, and I stuffed my emotions down with food.

When I came home for the summer, I had gained a total of 30 pounds. I knew I had put on weight, but I wasn't really that concerned about it. My mom told me about some great new diet drug (Phen-fen) and offered to pay for it if I went on it. I thought, "Why not? I suppose I would like to be thinner."

The experience of losing weight on Phen-fen and then struggling to keep it off definitely made me body aware.

littlem said...

2 through 5.

PS22, are we secretly related?

Did you also, once you started to put on weight, receive the lovely double message, "make sure you clean your plate, but don't eat too much, because you don't want to be overweight"?

ps22 said...

littlem -Hmmm...not sure if we are related :)
Despite my frustration with my parents food perspectives, they actually never commented on weight or looks as a child (thankfully) and didn't send mixed messages about finishing the food on my plate. I think because of this, at least, I have always thought of myself as reasonably attractive (no matter what my weight). I think my "food behavior" (usually restrictive) began as a power struggle over them. It wasn't until my adulthood that my mother made open comments about my appearance (good and bad)...probably because by then the American perspective of body image had set in.

TrixieBelden said...

I'm America. My ancestors are from Poland. My grandparents (1st generation Americans) loved polkas. There's one that goes, and I'm not kidding, "I don't want her, you can have her, she's too fat for me." My grandfather jokingly sang that to me when I was a little kid. It shaped every body image thought I had afterwards.

Danielle said...

Puberty was the nudge that got me thinking about my weight. I was 11 when I had my first period. It happened during school. I thought I had peed my pants (how weird), and asked to go home. When I got home and saw I was bleeding, I told my mom and she got upset (???), shoved a box of pads at me and that was it. Soon after, when my hips got wider, I knew it had something to do with me getting my period. I felt ugly and knew I didn't want wide hips, all those hips did was attract the wrong kind of attention from dirty old men and had my mom calling me fat (that hurt so much). I noticed some girls my age didn't have this 'problem' and I envied them and wanted to look like them.

Anonymous said...

I was 7 years old. Although I only had about 10 pounds more than the other girls in class I was picked on mercilessly for being fat.

I remember the kids saying "Is katie going to the roller skating party? Because if she does, there will be an earthquake if she falls"

I have never been the same since. I was picked on and picked on and treated like a freak.

Despite the fact I was probably 145 pounds I forced myself to lose weight in high school. My weight varied until one day I simply gave up and said who cares.

I balloned up to 270 pounds because of the who cares attitude and recently lost about 60 pounds.
Now, I hate myself more than I did when I was 270 because I am now playing that game again...trying to be skinny for the world...noticing all the thin people and looking longingly at them hoping my body will soon look like theirs.

I find myself parusing Pro-ana sites for diet tips and avoid leaving the gym until I've burned off 600 calories.

I think I was better off on the couch eating ho-hos because now as a fat woman I may as well be 110 pounds. My behavior is eating disordered.

I can't agree enough with your assertions Dr. Every woman does have an eating disorder.

BTW...I should know better. I'm a clinical psychologist. Go figure.

Katie D.

Stacy said...

Katie D, I can relate to everything you wrote. *big hug*

My first realization of weight came when my mom took me to the boys' side of Kmart to buy me Husky jeans. I wasn't fat, just solid, but my mom was rail thin. I wanted to be like her. In my early 20s I finally achieved skinny 'stardom'. I was exercising up to four hours a day and living off beef jerky and lettuce. After a couple of months I knew I wouldn't be able to hold on eat so little, so I started mia and kept the exercise habit. I would be sometimes mia, sometimes ana.

I had an ana/mia buddy who was of great comfort to me. Then I moved in with my boyfriend at the time (now my husband). He found out what I was doing. We argued. He literally forced me to eat--talk about scary. It was a positive eye-opener, though.

After struggling for a couple of years with dieting, I went the other route and stopped focusing on weight (almost) completely. I gained weight and became comfortable.

But now I'm not feeling comfortable anymore. I am currently 'dieting' (read: healthy lifestyle) and feel confident that I can accomplish my weight loss goals in a safe and reasonable manner.

Haley-O said...

Wow...I think you covered everything. I think our definition and associations with food have a lot to do with it, too. :)

littlem said...

I didn't go to KMart, but I have vivid memories of "husky" jeans from other stores.

Do they still have those sections for little kids?

Ugh.

fat-n-forty said...

It was the summer after sixth grade. I got off the plane after visiting my grandparents for 6 weeks and my mother said "Oh my God! What have they been feeding you. You got so fat." After that, she kept referring to that trip as the time I got fat. I never felt the same since.

Looking back, I can't believe I gaine that much. I was still wearing the same clothes I left in. Plus, this was right before puberty hit in, so maybe some of that was not what I ate but a function of my age. It doesn't matter. I was a fat kid from that minute on and that is how I still see myslef to this day!

drstaceyny said...

Thanks to all for your wonderfully insightful comments. . .

ps--interesting example of how family and culture intersect (this is true of other cultures, too, it seems). It's a shame that honoring your body's signal of satiety was perceived as offensive. Thanks for lengthening the list. : )

blubbah--I did--thanks for letting us know.

hs--to me, it's so sad that diet-speak allows us to fit in. I'm sorry to hear abt your experiences.

lm--ah, the "rock/hard place" trap. . .

ps--interesting analysis. . .

tb--I'll have to find the lyrics to that polka. Thanks for stopping by. . .

danielle--it seems that puberty is a common trigger, particularly when we're not celebrated for growing/changing. Thanks for commenting. . .

KD--ugh, the comments and mistreatment. Thanks for sharing your story. If being a psychologist could protect us from all of life's problems, I'd encourage everyone to follow suit! ; )

stacy--thanks for sharing your story. I like your term, "skinny stardom." True, true. . .

haley--I'm curious to hear more. . .

lm--not sure. "Ugh" is right.

fnf--it's interesting how specific moments become so preserved. Thanks for writing in. . .

Anonymous said...

I started thinking of my body, and disliking it, when puberty began.

Jessica said...

I lost my "body innocence" when a friend made a comment about my "baby fat." She was four years older than I was, my hero, and thin. She didn't mean anything by it, but it's stuck with me--it was a combination of feeling put down due to both my body and my age.

Since then, I've had reinforcement from my parents, my friends, and even strangers. Thankfully, I've discovered that people will respond to personality and happiness if you let it shine through instead of focusing on weight!

This blog is awesome--I've started reading pretty much the whole thing, going backwards. :-)

yippy said...

I was 3 going on 4. Some of my earliest memories are of being made aware of my body by others or by different experiences. I was also sexually abused a few times when I was a kid and this made me very aware of my body from early on.

Emma said...

2nd or 3rd grade for me... I remember guys would make jokes about girls being 'cows' - they knew the right buttons to push. I was never heavy, just taller and bigger than most of my friends at the time. Although I insisted it wasn't a diet, I remember cutting out all desserts for a year in 4th grade. Though I made other changes to my diet for health/environmental/loving animals reasons (I became a vegetarian when I was 10) I'm sure weight loss was somewhere in my mind.

Anonymous said...

I've been a fat kid my ENTIRE LIFE so I think basically from the age of 4 when I started school I became aware of it when people said stuff to me. At the risk of sounding melodramatic I have to say it has pretty much ruined my life so far (I'm 14, and still fat ):). I've missed oppurtunities, cried myself to sleep at night because I feel like a worthless piece of shit yet STILL I over eat. Even if I lose the weight I think I always be that same fat kid in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Well, I remember first truly being of my body soon before I started puberty. All my life til then I had been a skinny short girl.
So at eleven I begun hunching my shoulders in embarrassment to hide my developing breasts.
At thirteen, I panicked over tummy pudge. At this point I nearly fell into anorexia. I thought I was getting "fat." No one told me this is a normal part of puberty. I skipped all the meals I could, but soon gave up because the maximum meals I could skip was one per week (my family always eats together).
I know that I'm at a healthy weight, but some days I look at my body and sigh. I don't think I can recover my body innocence.

drew said...

When I was 3 or 4 my father made a comment that I had cellulite. When I asked my mother what cellulite was, she told me it was something, "only models didn't have."

Bindy said...

I vividly remember becoming "aware" of my body in 3rd grade. Actually, I thought until now that no one else had this experience. I can pinpoint it almost to the day- it was the end-of-the year picnic, and I remember looking over at a (very thin) friend, who just naturally didn't eat much, and thinking "why am I such a pig?" It's never gone away. My parents have always promoted healthy body image, I've never been called fat, but it's been there since that day all the same. I am now fairly convinced that I'm predestined for some kind of eating disorder- it just doesn't seem normal to become aware that vividly and that young, and I've been trying to lose weight on and off since 6th grade (more on than off).

EJ said...

I was 16. A friend of mine had an eating disorder and we went to the mall to find some jeans. She commented on how the clothes fit her the whole time and I had no idea why she was so obsessive. Then I grabbed a pair of jeans to try on (my usual size) and they didn't fit. That's the first time I remember thinking, "Man, I wish I could still fit in a 4."