Ep. #65: Criticism vs. Acceptance (Body Episode)

We all know that criticism doesn’t help with weight loss, because shame is an unproductive emotion. But accepting excess body fat doesn’t feel quite right, either. In this episode, I discuss finding the third way between fat criticism and fat acceptance. It involves loving yourself even as you move towards a new place, and it feels so much better than feeling ashamed or feeling stuck.

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you earn more and weigh less. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth and if you’re feeling like it’s high time to get Rich & Thin™, then I’m glad you’re here, because in this show we talk about how to create that state of being and enjoy the pleasure and freedom that comes from living in it. Rich & Thin™ is the state of having everything you want, and nothing you don’t, and who doesn’t want that? I certainly do, and since you’re here, I’m guessing you do, too.

If you listened to our business episode earlier this week, you know that we talked about conferences, and whether attending a conference is worth it from a business standpoint, when you can get the training that’s offered at the conference online, and my take on things was that the return on investment often isn’t there, relative to the time, money, and effort it takes to travel to the conference and attend the training in person.

And you may have been wondering, if the return on investment just isn’t there, why on earth did Kelly go to the conference? And today I want to explain the reason, and I want to do this in our body episode for this week, because going to that conference was part of my weight-loss journey to my dream weight of 105 pounds.

Now you may be asking, how do those two things even relate to each other, and to illustrate how, I want to tell you a story. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this in the podcast before, but before I was a lawyer and a business coach, I was a marketing and salesperson. I used to fly around the world and attend conferences and high-end cocktail parties encouraging wealthy people to invest in the hedge funds that I represented. So although lately I often identify as a lawyer and a business coach, I used to be a salesperson way back in the day, and during this part of my career when I was flying around the world and hobnobbing with the most moneyed people in the world, I can’t tell you how many times I heard that my success was related to the way I looked. Not that I was a supermodel or anything like that. Far from it, but even my mother said to me at one point, “Better save your money, sweetheart, because once you’re looks start to go, it’s all over.”

And then, much later in life, after I was hurt hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail and I was basically confined to the house for three years, lying on the floor watching Sopranos in a Tramadol haze, I started to get a little paranoid. I’d internalized these voices about the way you look matters so much, and I could see that my looks had definitely started to go, and I was thinking, oh gosh is it all over now? Am I confined to the house now, even though I’m physically healthy enough to finally walk out of here, because now I’m too heinous to go out in public? It sounds silly to admit out loud, but that’s sort of how I was feeling during, especially that last year, of my three-year recovery. Like I must get down to 105 pounds before I’m acceptable to be in public again. And what happened during that year when I was thinking that thought and feeling so down on myself? We all know what happened. I’ve talked about it in numerous episodes. Cherry Garcia happened.

And that’s the crux of things, isn’t it? If you don’t like the excess flesh on your body, if you want it gone, then you’re down on yourself, you’re fat-shaming yourself, and that doesn’t help. On balance, I think we can all agree that shame is counterproductive to taking weight off. But if you’re totally accepting of it, and you embrace it and love it, then what does that say? To many people, it seems to say that you’re not going to do anything about it, because if you love it so much, why would you ever change it?

These were among the questions in my mind at the beginning of this year, when I decided that 2019 was the year my life was going to change—my business was going to explode, and my body was going to be the best it’s ever been—and in exploration of these questions, I decided that I was going to leave Idaho once a month, and go somewhere that my unsupervised brain is inclined to think is a place where only the “thin” me should go.

First I went to a hot springs in a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies. That was January. In February my husband and I went to New York for a week. And this month, March, I went to San Diego for the social media conference I was telling you about in our first episode this week.

Fat Acceptance vs. Fat Criticism

So as I was preparing to leave for San Diego, and on the plane on the way down there, I was thinking about the minefield that is the current war over fat. On one side, we have the fat acceptance camp. Fat acceptance is a school of thought that essentially seems to say that shame is toxic. It never helped anyone, so you can, and SHOULD, love yourself at any size.

The opposing force in this war is the critical camp, and their battle cry is the idea that says there’s simply no reason for anyone to be heavy, and what falls out from that—if there’s no reason, there’s also no excuse, and so if you’re carrying excess weight, you have no one to blame but yourself, and you’re also hurting your health and society at large, in the form of drastically inflated medical costs, and there’s simply no reason to applaud, much less accept, this kind of thing. This camp is often perceived as being body critical, and it’s probably not a stretch to say that they often are critical of overweight bodies, but whether they’re actually critical of overweight bodies, or they’re only perceived that way, the one thing that unites the critical camp is criticism of the idea that we should accept the state of overweight as something that’s okay. Their thinking seems to be that it’s decidedly not okay and they have no issues with voicing this opinion, often out loud.

The typical skirmish between these two combatants, the fat-acceptance folks and the fat-critical folks, often involves what’s called fat-shaming, in which the critical camp voices their concerns, in benign or malignant ways, and the acceptance camp cries foul and says that humiliating someone never helps. It’s cruel and unnecessary and counterproductive.

Here I could point out that humiliation is always an optional emotion, no matter what degree of criticism is coming our way, it’s our thoughts, not the criticism itself, that creates the feeling of humiliation, but it’s probably more useful to simply say that fat-shaming isn’t fun. Fat-shaming happens when people make mocking or critical comments about the body of an overweight person, or sometimes even a normal or underweight person, and sometimes the enemy lobbing the criticism at us isn’t a foreign invader. The battlefield is often occurring within our own brains. When we carry extra weight, and sometimes even when we don’t, often we are fat-shaming ourselves all day long.

And then the body confidence camp comes along, and preach their positivity, and while we’re in fat shame, we look at them and think, and maybe even say out loud, “Are you out of your mind? Look at me! This is not a body anyone could love.”

So what’s happening in the acceptance vs. criticism battle is that we have two schools of thought that seemingly share no common ground, so in our minds we’re zig-zagging across that battlefield all the time, defecting from one camp to the other, because frankly, they both feel like garbage to some degree.

We can talk all day long about, “You can be healthy and happy and overweight,” but I lifted up a 50-pound free weight the other day, or rather, I should say I tried to lift it, and it was very clear to me that the fifty extra pounds I’m carrying right now, I’d feel a lot healthier and happier if it weren’t there. 105 will feel a lot healthier and happier than 155, because all other things being equal, that’s just a lot of weight to drag around. It’s a third of my body weight, and my preference would be for it not to be there. Life would be so much easier in so many ways.

So fat acceptance vs. fat criticism, living in that battleground, turns us into treasonous soldiers, no matter what camp we’re in. We’re constantly trying to defect from one camp and join the other, and we’re often playing double-agent in our own brains. This happens because what’s at the heart of this battle? It’s the idea that if you’re accepting where you are, that’s where you’ll stay, and there’s also the fear that if you’re loving yourself at this weight, it’s going to get worse. Your body is going to get worse, because the only reason you’re not double what you weigh now is because you are critical. If you let go of the criticism, look out. That’s when weight really gets out of hand. If you love yourself at this weight, God help you honey, it’s only going to go up.

And yet, we know that shame doesn’t help. I remember sitting on a dock in my bathing suit when I was about sixteen, and a man I barely knew—he was the adult relative of one of my high school friends–reached over and poked at my inner thigh with his index finger. I was pretty thin at the time, maybe a size six, and he said, “Better get a handle on that. No one likes a fat girl.” And I don’t know about you, but nothing makes my unmanaged mind want some ice cream more than that kind of comment.

So how do we reconcile these two things? How do we get out of shame but avoid staying stuck right where we are, because we’re accepting where we are?

If you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you might know the answer. Let’s say it together. When you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, between two seemingly conflicting but both unacceptable alternatives, what do you do? You find the third way.

The third way in this case is that you choose both. You take the best of what the critical camp has to offer, which is that your weight is wholly within your control to change, and that you should change if it’s bothering you and you’d enjoy feeling lighter. I know I’d certainly enjoy feeling lighter. And you take the best from what the body acceptance people have to offer, which is that you can love yourself right now, and that you are lovable no matter what you weigh and no matter what your father had to say about it.

My father isn’t even alive anymore. Anything that’s happening in my head on this question of whether anyone could ever love an overweight woman is a question I get  to decide for myself, and as I was going through the conference this past week, I decided the answer is yes. I could love an overweight woman, and in particular I could love myself no matter what I weigh.

As a casual coach, I know the power of this question, “what would love do?” Brooke Castillo talks about it all the time. Susan Hyatt in her new book Bare, speaks of losing 40 pounds just by asking herself this one question, over and over. But the power of this question sank into my soul as I was watching everyone walk around the conference last week.

There were people more out of shape than me, and people less out of shape than me. Some were bigger and some were smaller. Some older, some younger. Some were prettier–in my view, this is obviously subjective–and some weren’t.

But I got the distinct impression that no one felt as unlovable as I’d been feeling. They were all out in public, members of the human race, going about their businesses, living their lives, enjoying their days. Not one of them was hiding at home, worried that they didn’t meet the standard to be considered lovable. They just got up and went out into the world, looks be damned. And I realized I could do the same thing.

This may sound obvious, but it was an epiphany. Adriane, who is my weight-loss coach, has been telling me that no one is as critical of my own weight and appearance as I am, and I didn’t believe her. I’ve read this in women’s magazines, too, and I didn’t believe it there, either, because if my looks didn’t matter, why was everyone telling me that they did? But in San Diego, I finally started to wrap my brain around something important. If my looks don’t matter to me, if they don’t hold me back, then what anyone else thinks is irrelevant.

I feel such a weight lifted off of me when I think this thought and when I say it out loud to you. Do you feel a weight that lifts when you think that thought, if you believe it? In Rich & Thin™ Workshop,  over and over again we’re seeing that the thoughts that thwart bank, that keep you from earning, also add bulk, because they keep you over-eating, and this thought, “Do I look good enough for all of you people to think that I deserve to be here?” is f…ing fatal to living a wealthy life. I’ve been coaching so many business women on some version of the thought, “What are they going to think?” that’s keeping them stuck and inhibiting their earnings, and it’s so clear to me now: This thought about what they think that hurts you so much in business also hurts you with your body, because all of my life, as I’ve been wondering, Is this good enough? Pretty enough? Thin enough? Do I finally look good enough to be here??? All the years I’ve been thinking along those lines, I’ve been feeling like crap and shoveling in Cherry Garcia to feel better.

So here’s what I have for you this week: when you decide how to feel based on someone else’s standard, someone else’s criticism, someone else’s view of whether you’re acceptable or not, at least two broke and bulky things are very likely to occur: 1) you keep yourself out of the game, as far as earning money goes, and 2) you internalize what they’re saying, and you feel like crap and you create the very thing that they’re saying is unacceptable.

So now the questions is, how do you shut out all the critical voices. It isn’t easy, but the way you do it is you get really loud inside your own head. You think thoughts that are more empowering, such as, “I damn well have a right to be here, even if I wear a size whatever it is.” And you turn up the volume on those thoughts, so as to drown out what everyone else might be thinking, and might even be telling you out loud as their poking you in the thigh one summer afternoon.

It feels so good to do this, because heavy thoughts lead to a heavy body, and I am so tired of thinking about my weight and wishing my body weren’t so heavy. Just yesterday, I reconnected with an old friend in New York and we were talking about a party we went to when I was living on St. Thomas. I didn’t even remember the party until he brought it up and emailed me a photo, and then it all came back. It was twenty years ago, and I was unhappy with my weight even then. It wasn’t as high as it is now, but I was more in shape because I hadn’t just spent three years lying on a floor, but seeing that photo, I remembered so vividly how way back then, I was frustrated living on an island and I felt trapped and I was eating Cherry Garcia almost every night after work and my body reflected what was happening in my mind. I felt weighed down and stuck, and that’s now my body looked and felt.

Just thinking about how long I’ve been carrying this weight makes me tired, and one of the goals of this show and doing my coaching with Adriane this year and all of the work we’re putting in in Rich & Thin™ Workshop, is to put all of that weight behind me once and for all, not just the physical weight but also all the mental fatigue and emotional drama that goes along with it, so I can finally start thinking about bigger and better things.

Adriane tells me all the time, “This is taking up so much of your energy.” I was listening to Brenda Lomeli the other day, she’s another weight-loss coaching colleague of mine, and she asks her clients, “How many years do you want ‘losing weight’ to be your number one New Year’s resolution? Wouldn’t it be amazing to set your eyes on a new destination at some point?”

Of course it would, for all of us, and if we’re going to get there, in my mind we’re going to have to find a way to reconcile criticism of excess body weight, which, let’s face it, leaves a lot of room for criticism but we know that criticism isn’t terribly productive. We have to reconcile that with fat acceptance, which doesn’t feel quite right, either. The way we do this is through the third way. You can love yourself now, and not be ashamed, the fat on your body is truly neutral, it doesn’t mean anything shameful unless you think thoughts that make it feel that way, and from a place of neutrality, you can still desire to go to a different place.

It’s a little like being in Cleveland and wanting to go to New York. You can hate Cleveland and want to go to New York, or you can love Cleveland and want to go to New York, or you can be neutral on Cleveland and want to go to New York. In any of these cases, you’re still going to wind up in New York. But the latter two options—love or neutrality–are going to feel much better than hate.

So what I hope you’re seeing for yourself this week is a path, as far as excess pounds are concerned, or whatever situation is vexing you at the moment. It could be debt. It could be a relationship that isn’t doing it for you any longer. Or a job. Whatever it is, you don’t have to hate the situation to leave it. You can accept it for what it is or even love it for what it is, and you can love yourself, and you can do these things as you move toward the place you’d rather be.

I hope this helps. I know it’s been helpful for me. I hope it’s been helpful for you, too, and I hope if you need some help, you get in touch. kelly@richandthin.com. Thanks and I’ll talk to you next week.

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