Posts Tagged ‘vanity’

The impossibility of body image objectivity

I’m 5’2.  Currently, I weigh around 114 pounds, ish, maybe more like 117, whatever, I don’t keep track at all, I’m just guessing,  But I once weighed in at 138, which was fine.  This is technically “overweight” on the BMI scale.  When I found out, I was appalled.  Sure, I could stand to lose some weight–and I in fact hated myself for not being able to–but overweight? No way!  I look normal.

This is a phenomena I’ve heard a lot of people talk about.  Our only frame of reference is the mirror.  The person we see looking back at us changes so slowly that we can’t ever see past how normal we look.  Even when we have standardized measures, such as scales and tape measures and body fat percentages to give us objective numbers, and even when we see concrete muscular changes, we still lack a truly objective lens.   We just can’t see everything, and certainly not in a time-sensitive manner.  This fact is exacerbated enormously by internal and external pressures.

I always knew that I wanted to lose weight, and I was always trying.  Still it was not a matter of managing overweight to me, or even of health.  Just vanity.  A couple pounds.   I look… like I always look.  normal. A little bit overweight. And it’s true– here’s a photo of me, not quite at my highest weight, probably around 130 or so, but it’s the best one I can find right now.  I had a whole lot of muscle, I ran long ass distances, and I lifted just as heavy weights as I do now, but no one could ever tell– it was all filled in with body fat.  I also had a bit of a chubby face, which is more visible in the second photo.  In any case, just a couple of pounds, I thought.  I look normal.

Not too bad, eh?  If you like ‘em curvy– goodness, I didn’t even know I was curvy then, just NORMAL–I certainly had something going on.  Looking at this photo now, I see a healthy size six, athletic, curvaceous woman.  I like what I see.

But I also look at photos where my larger spots are more obvious and think: “God I was big.“  (I’m sorry, this is society’s fat phobia reaching it’s ugly hand into my psyche.)

My dramatic weight loss occurred about 18 months ago.  As I mentioned before, throughout the whole period everyone expressed their concerns, and my pants kept getting bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t pinch as much fat on my hips as I had been able to before, but it didn’t really make a difference.  I couldn’t really see the difference.  I definitely felt more confident about my appearance than in my old body, but other than that I didn’t really have perspective on what I looked like to other people.  To me, it was just normal. And I was, of course, “a few pounds away.”


Yeah, haha, laugh it up– they’re both ridiculous photos.  But I chose them because they show, as best as any photo I can find, the differences in my body.  I recognized some of these differences at the time, but many I did not.  For example, I knew that you could see the muscles in my arms and my legs and my abs, and I loved it.  I knew that my breasts shrunk considerably, too.   I was willing to make that sacrifice.  I also knew the ribs in my back were visible when I bent over.  Some things I didn’t know were that my hands had gotten a bit gnarly, that the width of my shoulders basically disappeared, my legs looked really fucking thin from different angles, and that my collar bones were prominent.  I just didn’t see a lot of changes because they happened so slowly, and they happened in places I didn’t know to look.  My body was drastically different from the time of the first photo to the time of the second two photos.  But I never really felt it.  I looked n o r m a l.

What’s more, at every single stage I could always “stand to lose a few pounds.”  This applied at 138, and it applied at 108.  I always pinched my inner thighs and thought– “Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t have fat there, and she’s healthy, so clearly I can do the same thing” — … Ridiculous.  Look at me.  Do I look like I could have lost another pound in that final picture and still have been healthy looking?  Attractive?  I don’t know.  Not from my perspective.  Not now, anyway.

When I got down to around 108, a friend of mine told me that he used to find me sexy but didn’t anymore.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t win.  I can’t be attractive when I’m big, and I can’t be attractive when I’m small, and goodness can’t people tell I’m always a flawed body?

Which I guess is what it all boils down to.  It is possible to have objective measures.  And I know that it is easy to observe concrete changes, such as muscle emergence.  These are things worth celebrating!  Huzzah!  But when we live in a world in which our feelings about our bodies are determined before we even get an objective look at them, when we are never perfect, when we are watching ourselves change in the mirrors so closely that we actually miss the big picture, we are viewing the world through a legitimately fucked up lens.

I once participated in a Dartmouth study on body image. As a subject, I was asked how I felt about various parts of my body.  I have always felt fine about my glutes, so I told them that.  My stomach was flat and attractive at the time, so I liked it, and told them that too.  Yet most importantly: I had always loathed my thighs, so I told them that.   Then I was put in an MRI.  And I was shown shown computer generated pictures of women with body fat stored in different locations, and asked to rate their attractiveness.  What I discovered about myself was that I thought all of the women with larger legs were the ugliest, and the ones with more fat in their butts or stomachs I still found attractive.  This means that I took the things that I hated most about myself, and I turned them into an obsession in general.  I thought that–objectively, seriously– people with larger legs were the least attractive.  I had taken my own insecurities and magnified them onto a huge scale, such that a part of me someone might find neutral or even attractive was an abhorrent abnormality.  Objective my ass.  My (and society’s) obsession with perfection compelled me not just to lose my objectivity but my love, and to replace it with an inability to ever see my body as a stranger might.


My takeaway points, thus, are as follows:

Do you hate your body?  Do you hate specific parts of your body?  Take some pictures of yourself from time to time and try to comparing them to others. If you saw that body on the street, would you like it?  Why or why not?  These are super important questions.  If you end up having that sort of loathing, recall what I just said about the study in which I participated.  You are not objective.  You are you.  Bodies are bodies and are not meant to be designed and weighed and balanced and measured but cherished and utilized.  Breathe, and step back as much as you can, and smile, goodness, because isn’t that the most attractive thing of all?

If you are losing weight, and you are making progress, and it’s healthy, AWESOME!!! I’m so proud of you I could just up and die, float along to paleo heaven, and lounge happily for the rest of eternity.  But know this, and know it well: your body IS changing, but the society and environment in which you live is NOT, and it will always be pressuring you to seek perfection.  Don’t let it.  Throw it the bird.  Tell it to fuck off.  Weight loss helps with body image and with confidence, but it does not necessarily make you love yourself.  Accept your body and your metabolism for what it is, and achieve the best health you can.   That’s the best thing you could ever possibly do for your body and your spirit.  Trust.

Tying up loose ends note: I am not currently as thin as I was in the two photos I posted above.  I put on some weight when doing hormone therapy this winter, but I am currently losing.  And this post is relevant to me right now because I’m debating how low I want to go.  How do I know when to stop?  Am I objective enough to stop before I get too thin?  Yeah, I like to think so.  Do I like food too much for that to really be an issue?  Yes, that might be true as well.  But– well, if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear ‘em.


02 2011

I don’t brush my teeth

This is how I get all my hot dates.

“Hi, I’m Pepper.  I don’t brush my teeth.  Want to make out?”



But really.   I don’t brush.   This is the point at which back-pedalling usually becomes wise.  “Well, no, of course I brush my teeth, that would just be ridiculous.  Honestly.”

But I do not.  My name is Pepper, and I do not brush my teeth.

Except for when I feel like it or when I consume carbohydrates, which might be once every day or every other day or five or so.

So shoot me.  I do brush my teeth.  I’m a little bit of a liar.   But I don’t do it for hygiene, and I do it very reluctantly, and infrequently, and angrily.  Fuck you society!  Who are you to fuck up my teeth and then make me give you money to fix them?  Who are you to tell me what to eat and what to clean?  Who are you to create banes of humanity such as gingivitis and root canals?

When I do brush, it’s for vanity’s sake.  It’s true that they look a bit whiter having residues scrubbed off of them.  I’ve whitened them before, too.  I really do care about my teeth.  I also always make sure my breath smells nice–I’ve spent much of the last few years asking very blunt people about my odor just to make sure–so that’s a big motivator.  But other than that, I just don’t do it.  I don’t enjoy brushing my teeth.  It’s a waste of an entire 12 minutes of my day, which adds up to more than 4000 minutes per year.  I suppose it does give me that “clean” feeling everyone raves about, but what if my mouth never feels dirty in the first place?  What if it’s never swimming in plaque?  What if I never put garbage in it, so no swarms of bacteria can ever fester?

Because I don’t.  And that, my friends, is my case.

This is how we develop cavities:

Bacteria are always present in our mouths.  They help enzymes in our saliva break down food, and then they get to enjoy the kickback benefits of their altruism, which is a benevolent living environment.  What’s more, in today’s day and age, they get to go crazy.  Our sugar consumption is through the roof.  Given that glucose is saliva bacteria’s preferred fuel, sugar enables them to hang out on the surface of our teeth and multiply.  Proteins in our saliva help them stick together to form a plaque biofilm (ever feel like your teeth are fuzzy?  This is it.)  A byproduct of glucose metabolism is acid.  Acid leaks out of the plaque biofilm and onto the surface of our teeth, reacting with the basic Ca/Mg carbonate, and dissolve s it.  Poof, there goes our bones.  Voila, here come the fillings.

I have yet to find any reference online about bacteria in our mouths consuming anything but sugar.  And surely you’ve noticed as well– that ‘fuzzy tooth’ feeling really does only follow carbohydrate consumption.   With a diet low in carbohydrates, plaque builds slowly.  A day or two can pass before anything might seem even the slightest bit off, and then one can brush, happily.

These bacteria are also the ones that go wild at nighttime and give us morning breath.  So, while my morning breath definitely hasn’t disappeared, it’s certainly become more pleasant since cutting carbs.  I like this.  A few other people in my life have enjoyed this too.

That said, we have conventional wisdom to thank (again) for a whole host of unpleasant diseases.  Bad breath, cavities, tooth erosion, gingivitis, perionditis, and something really pleasant called trench mouth.

The absolute worst part is that no one seems to make sense of the correlations between dentistry and wider health.  Idiots.  Gum disease is widely known to be associated with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and pancreatic cancer. This time, it’s the Harvard School of Public Health claiming that “our study provides strong evidence that periodontal disease may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.”  Jesus.  Can they never look at the bigger picture?  What do diabetes, tooth decay, and the pancreas have in common?  With heart disease and stroke on top of that?  I know that these are just correlations, and that I cannot just fling my hands around in the air and shout “meaningful cause and effect!  meaningful cause and effect!” the way the Harvard researchers are doing,  but I am going to continue to be angry when I brush my teeth.  I’ve got a hunch about the connection between these diseases, and I will not go down without a fight.

My name is Pepper.  And I do not brush my teeth.*



02 2011

Where are all the Paleo Nudists?

If you’ve been hanging around the paleo blogosphere for as long as I have, you’ve probably become aware of the fact that there are a few camps out there regarding the best way to optimize our well-being. On one side, many paleos prioritize diet and eschew any other evolutionarily-derived principles. That’s cool, and I understand that we live in a totally modern world where ancestral behaviors don’t really fit in. Loads of others, however, try to imagine what life was like for primeval man, and to emulate the aspects that seem beneficial as much as possible. The idea is that not just the human diet, but everyday habits, are in fact optimized when aligned with genetic programming and an evolutionary perspective. For some brilliant and fun examples, check out John Durant’s barefoot running manifesto at, Mark Sisson’s defense of dance, or the aptly named Paleo Playbook.

There are two other relevant facts I need to point out before proceeding.

The first is: everyone who’s anyone in the paleo world knows that vitamin D and sun exposure are crucial for optimizing health.

The second is this: Paleo dieters are sexy. Way sexy. Way, way, way sexy. I’ve never seen such glowing skin, bright eyes, tight abs and fresh-out-of-the-oven-mmmm-mmmm glutes. People’s testimonials all over the paleosphere blow me away, and if I wanted to link you to all the hot shots I’ve seen, I’d be stuck in the post for days. Plus, we are aware this fact. Paleo is hot. Mirrors are our friends. Jump on the train or don’t. Just know that I invited you along.

All of these points considered, I ask you this:

Where are all the paleo nudists?

If primal ladies and gentlemen truly enjoy experimenting with the natural state of humanity, if we really love soaking up vitamin D, and if we have bodies to rival Matthew McConaugheeeey, why are we still so heavily clothed? Why have I never read about a nudist paleo family? Or maybe just people who enjoy being naked more often than is typical? People who wish they could move more freely out in the woods? Perhaps move to Vermont and spend their days bathing in shaded glens?

I know that nudists are a bit of a fringe group, and also that there are a million good reasons to wear clothing. I also know that ancestral man used tools and clothing to protect himself from the elements. But I’m willing to bet that he was way less nervous about freckles and nipples and shrinkage. Plus he didn’t have to worry about Prada’s new line, or suffer through a Joan Rivers diabtribe, or even concern himself with Patagonia’s four hundred dollar, must-have, lightweight, moisture-wicking high-performance fleece that “travels incognito as a dignified, richly textured, cross-dyed, heathered sweater.”*

I am not advocating a nudist lifestyle, and I am in fact currently clothed in long johns and a heavy old robe. But I do think it odd that I don’t hear nudism bandied around more often. Paleos are a funny, safe-effacing bunch, and I can see us mocked on nude beaches as easily as I can see us mocked wearing loin cloths and wielding clubs.

Yet most importantly, I advocate taking a page out of the nudist book from time to time. Embrace your body, and embrace the bodies of others, and let shame roll off of your shoulders! It might feel really amazing to spend more time naked, especially if it’s just you and your significant other lounging around the house. You are beautiful, and I want you to feel it! And I want you to share it with others! And maybe you should put on some pants when you leave the house because I don’t necessarily want to see your public hair, but, regardless, my challenge stands: think about your clothes, and love what’s in them!

*They actually advertise this.


02 2011