A few weeks back, my podcast, The Table Chat Show, had an episode where we explored the topic of Health At Any Size (listen here). We discussed what the term means to us as dietitians and health professionals, as well as providing some myth busting on common misconceptions of the term. I’ve been thinking about what we discussed ever since because I definitely had a lot more to say. At the end of the episode, we mentioned a few people we looked up to or followed on social media for inspiration. I mentioned Crystal Renn (pictured below) because she was one of the first women out there, besides my mom, whose messaging really hit home with me.
My parents divorced when I was 10 years old which seemed to be the icing on the cake of the most hormonal part of life, puberty. Suddenly, on top of the swarm of emotions I felt, I became acutely aware that all of my friends and other girls at schools were smaller than me. They could wear certain clothes that I could never fit into. Their hips didn’t seem to jut out as much as mind did. I seemed to take up much more space. Oh, the thoughts! My mother, who was also a curvy woman, knew the struggle I felt and would always help me find stylish clothes that fit me well. I couldn’t shop at American Eagle, but we would scour TJ Maxx, the Misses department of Kohl’s, Lane Bryant, and the newest Torrid that opened in my local mall. Also around this time, I started playing tennis which helped me become more active. I started eating more vegetables and less Cosmic Brownies, and developed more muscle tone. I had a bit more confidence, yet, I was still considered a “plus-size” by teenage standards and overweight according to my BMI. That bothered me.
Most nights after school, if I wasn’t playing tennis, I’d come home, grab a snack and zone out with one of the many, many magazines I received in the mail. Oh, the days before smartphones. Despite my constant struggle with finding clothes that I liked and that fit well, I was obsessed with fashion and magazines, specifically the newly released Teen Vogue (circa 2003-ish). One afternoon, I noticed my mom had earmarked a page in the latest edition, and attached a post-it note saying, “Read this, honey.”
I know that models shouldn’t be looked at as something to aspire to, re: Photoshop, makeup, angles, lighting, clothing, etc, but at the time, Crystal Renn became my new hero. She was featured in a story surrounding her journey to being a plus size model and body positive advocate. Crystal talked about her love of living a healthy lifestyle, being a plus size model in a world of straight size, but also discussed how much compassion she focused on showing her body and her mind, after years of being told she needed to lose weight. I remember thinking that this seemed like the perfect mindset to have! How freeing of a concept. Since then, Crystal has actually been the target of criticism because she’s lost weight over the years. Apparently you’re not supposed to be the ruler of your own body. Since her time though, there are now even more “plus” models who share similar sentiments, like Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, Robyn Lawley, and more.
As years went on, my weight fluctuated, and I landed in the nutrition and healthcare field, I discovered that most of my colleagues don’t discuss this dichotomy of health and being a larger or smaller size than the “norm.” They’re afraid to, I think. Just like the fashion industry! We’re set on establishing this ideal health model, yet ideal health is going to look a hell of a lot different for everyone. Aka, the non-academic world. Yes, there’s a time and place for weight loss or weight gain, when a person is uncomfortable, there’s inherent health risk, or they want to establish a new routine, but that’s not the only answer. I landed in the field of nutrition, not just to help others make better food choices, but to focus more on finding that sweet spot where healthy habits and compassion exist, like Crystal’s article I read over 13 years ago. It wasn’t a research study, but it’s a mantra I’ve learned how to practice in my own life and help others do the same. I’m also still considered overweight according to my BMI, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.
Like we mentioned in our episode, you CAN be a larger or smaller size and still be healthy. There’s no type of “real” woman. Hell, we’re all real and full of different shapes. Health is multidimensional and not solely focused on weight or physical activity. There’s no one-size-fits all, perfection way to live and be a healthy human being. You can focus on a variety of habits to perhaps bring you to that more comfortable weight (wanna chat?), but don’t feel like you should live your life always thinking you NEED to lose or gain weight. Look beyond that. There’s much more to life than restriction and being obsessed with food. The love you share for yourself, in this very moment, and not when you get to a certain weight, is what matters in the long-run.
What are your thoughts on health at every size? Let me know in the comments below!