health

"Please stop telling us that we can be healthy at any size. It’s a lie."

As a young woman in an image-obsessed world, I feel the thin-pressure every day.

Last week, writer Jane Caro wrote an article entitled ‘The simplest act of defiance to encourage in your daughter’.

“I watch with sadness the tendency for so many young women to do what I used to do: allow themselves tiny amounts of food to stay thin,” she wrote.

She goes on to talk about how her personal obsession with food made her boring and neurotic, concluding, “it may even become an act of defiance for a young woman to simply eat whatever she wants”.

Well, Jane, I watch with sadness as more than fifty-five percent of Aussie women eat themselves to death.

As a young woman in an image-obsessed world, I feel the thin-pressure every day.

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But it’s articles like this one, rather than airbrushed models or #fitspo, that pushed me to a borderline eating disorder.

I spent much of my 19th year reading so-called ‘positive body image’ articles and devouring Ben and Jerry’s. I had moments of ‘beauty at every size’ triumph, but most days were guilt-ridden, stricken with body image anxiety. The thing is, when I read stories like Jane’s telling me I should “eat whatever I want”, it gave me an excuse to gorge on a block of chocolate as I binge-watched Girls. When I listened to the media telling me to reject the unrealistic expectations set by magazines, it made it easy to skip the gym in favour of a bag of natural confectionery.

I don’t remember having a lightbulb moment, but I eventually got fed up with feeling tired all the time. I was sick of breakouts, weight gain, depression, and mood swings.

When I started listening to my body, I realised that sugar gave me acne and gluten hurt my gut. I realised that on the days I exercised, I could concentrate and focus. I stopped feeling guilty about eating, because food nourished me, and I got my sparkle back.

positive body image articles
Bella: “I was sick of breakouts, weight gain, depression, and mood swings.” Image: supplied.

It wasn’t until I rejected these well-intentioned, but ultimately unhelpful articles, that I got healthy – physically and mentally.

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When I taught myself about nutrition and exercise, ditching the ‘fat and (un)happy’ philosophy for a more positive outlook, my appearance became just a bonus. The focus switched to health, that happy medium between fat and anorexic that body-love advocates continue to forget.

So if we’re talking daughters, here’s a memo from a daughter herself.

Please stop telling us that fat equals happy and skinny equals boring. Stop telling us that food and exercise don’t have an impact on how we work. And stop telling us that we can be healthy at any size.

It’s a lie, and the research proves it.

positive body image articles
Bella stopped following the crowd and found herself. Image: supplied.

Studies show that being overweight or obese is linked to both depression and anxiety. What we eat has significant impacts on our concentration, energy and focus.

And, the Australian Department of Health says, “There are several new large, well conducted studies that have shown a clear relationship between excessive body weight and increased mortality and morbidity”. In other words, being fat can kill you.

It’s killing us already. Lifestyle related diseases are the biggest cause of death in Australia, killing far, far more people than smoking, homicide or domestic violence.

Mothers, brothers, daughters, grandfathers, wives… senselessly stolen as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise.

If we’re encouraging acts of defiance in our daughters, let them be towards the ones who manipulate our body image insecurities for capital gains.

And if we’re teaching our daughters something, let it be to listen to our bodies, because feeding them the things they need has the potential to change the way you look, feel, think, sleep, act and react.

And it might just save your life.

Bella Westaway is a journalist, writer & adventurer. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Artemis Adventure Magazine. 

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“I am thin. I have always been thin. And it is not okay to shame me for it.”

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