Sometimes You Don’t Realize Your Confidence Is Low Until You See Someone With a High Level of Confidence

Today I read an article by the comedian and author Sara Benincasa, who was responding to a very pointed question from a fan. The question was: Why did you gain so much weight?

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It’s a question that would’ve destroyed my confidence if I was already feeling bad about myself- as I think it would have secretly destroyed many women. And I’m not fat by any standards. I’m actually pretty small if you’re going by some kind of American average. But it doesn’t matter- I always knew from society and all the magazines I’ve ever read that I was kind of worthless unless I was losing weight or thin.

What’s crazy about the thought pattern of ‘I’m only worth something if I’m thin’ is how built into my belief system it is- and I know that I’m not the only one. I work in an industry where being thin is prized, but I also live in a society that’s weight loss crazed…and always has been.

The article today shocked me with the confidence and bravado it presented- the woman who wrote it is successful and funny and talented and also bigger than what Hollywood, or society at large (whatever that means), deems ‘acceptable,’ but she’s confident anyway. How is this possible? Are you allowed to be confident if you’re a woman who’s not ‘acceptably’ thin or striving to lose weight? I ask this question as sort of a joke, but it’s not a joke. I truly care about healthy food and about being healthy, but there’s definitely a major part of me that cares only about being thin, so that I can feel good about myself and move on. This weight pressure is not something that only hits women in their teens and twenties and goes away…it continues well into our thirties and likely until the day we die. Weight pressure is built into the fabric of how women live. Every woman is pressured to be ‘acceptably thin’ and can’t feel good about herself unless she is so. Or so I thought.

“…here’s the shocker: in addition to my family and real friends still loving me, I kept getting work! Comedy, acting, and publishing 5 books from February 2012 to July 2016! It’s almost like I still had worth and value beyond the number on the scale…!”

She did? Women can? Especially in entertainment..or fashion…or hell, just being a respected woman? How can you respect yourself if you’re not ‘acceptably thin?’ How can anyone respect you? You should use all your time and energy to get onto a weight loss plan, right? But the successful comedian and author who had ‘gained some weight’ confidently continued:

“Let me tell you about some of the things that I did between when I started gaining weight (2011) and now (2016). I published that first book, “Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.”I adapted it as a TV pilot. Diablo Cody is the executive producer. Have you heard of her? She’s very talented… Anyway, she wanted to work with me and never brought up the fact that I wasn’t skinny. Can you imagine? It’s so strange. I talked to her yesterday and she still did not say anything about me being so fucking fat. Is she just being nice? She’s from the Midwest and those people are sweet. And Ben Stiller’s company, Red Hour, worked with me too. None of them told me I was fat. Ben Stiller didn’t tell me I was fat!”

And this breathtaking woman didn’t even feel unlovable when she was fat! It’s crazy:

“Now during this time I began to think about weight. Not mine! I saw how women were criticized on the Internet and elsewhere for gaining weight. This intrigued me. I didn’t feel fat or unlovable. Should I? Hmm. I considered this and decided instead to make fantastic art instead, because I’m amazing at it.”

Wow, how dare she make art instead of getting her weight under control?! How could she even do that? Isn’t it better to spend your entire life getting your weight under control before you do anything else? I don’t understand it!

I gained all that weight because I was so busy working and growing as a person, a writer, an actor, a comedian, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a lover, an activist (hi Emily’s List and Humanity for Hillary and Los Angeles LGBT Center!), a thinker, and a cook (ironic, right?!?) that I didn’t have time to pursue what I really, really want to do: spend my precious spare moments making anonymous comments on the blogs of successful, beautiful, hardworking women in a failed attempt to undermine them in order to give me some sense of power as I marinate in my own inadequacy, stuck in the knowledge that no one will ever pay me to write my poorly-crafted thoughts down on paper, to be translated into book or film or television form, and that beyond money (which of course doesn’t lend my thoughts any inherent value) or any degree of fame (which is pointless and wholly unnecessary to a happy and fulfilling existence) no one will ever really want to hear what I have to say at all, because I am essentially worthless and of no value to the world at large. That’s what I really want to do.

Wow. What a response. Read Sara Benincasa’s full, beautiful response here.

I’m truly moved and shaken by Sara’s amazing statement because I feel like I not only wouldn’t have the confidence to respond that way, but I wouldn’t have the confidence to FEEL that way.

Imagine if we could actually, truly feel so confident no matter what?

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The Childhood Calorie Dilemma Still Around In My Thirties

As a woman, I’ve grown up reading my fair share of women’s magazines. It started with Seventeen Magazine (which I began reading at age 12.)

But I was always a voracious reader even back then, so it didn’t stop there.  I began to devour Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, Elle, Vogue, Allure, and occasionally even Redbook. I couldn’t stop. When I got to college and discovered that the gym existed and was something I could do, I added Shape, Women’s Health, and Self Magazine to my repertoire.

The magazines were “fun” and “silly” but they were also addictive and confusing. I took their advice very seriously because I didn’t have any other information about diet and exercise. I’d never really thought much about working out and being thin before. I grew up in a household that ate dessert and drank soda with every meal, and my mother always cooked wonderful indulgent dinners for us every night.

It took until college for the magazine brainwashing to really kick in, but once I was living on my own, I began to really experiment with diets in order to be the ultimate in skinny. I went through all kinds of weird food phases.

  • I tried the Atkins diet where I only ate meat and cheese, and just butter alone…with no bread.
  • Then I tried the South Beach diet, which was a modified version of Atkins- so I could add some nuts to my meat.
  • I tried skipping dinner every single day until I couldn’t do it anymore.
  • I tried skipping lunch every single day until I couldn’t do it anymore
  • I replaced dinner with milk shakes
  • I went days without eating solid food and tried to live on liquids alone.
  • I tried eating soy sauce packets instead of food when I got hungry.
  • I tried to eat only fruit and vegetables and absolutely nothing else…except occasionally soy chips.

And there were probably many other stupid phases I don’t really remember. And during most of them, I made sure to go to the gym 5-7 days a week as well, because I figured that would help. And I never thought of myself as having any sort of disorder, because it was all “normal”…every woman was obsessed with being thin. Obviously, thin was the best thing to be. And I didn’t have an “eating disorder” because I was neither anorexic nor bulimic. But I was obsessed. I couldn’t think of much else besides what I did or didn’t eat. But of course, I knew I could stop at any time…

Throughout all of this, and beyond, my focus was never on being the strongest I could be. I never thought about food as making me strong and actually physically powerful. I thought about LACK of food as making me powerful…psychologically powerful that is…because being thin equals ultimate power, right?

So when I read the article 1200 Calories the other day, it almost made me cry, because the comments it makes about problematic marketing to women are so true. Even now. The marketing is just as bad now.

I hope that one day women’s magazines will all stress eating whole foods, building muscle, and getting strong, as opposed to just cutting calories and getting as thin as possible, but I don’t know if this will ever truly happen.

The author of ‘1200 Calories’ talks about how women have been taught from a very young age, through all sorts of media sources, that what we need to do is cut calories and starve ourselves. We’re taught that being as thin as possible is the ultimate perfection. We’re taught that eating low calorie food with no real nutrients and doing as much cardio as possible is the way for us to be sexy.

“Women’s magazine covers frequently use terms like “drop X pounds fast!” and “calorie-torching workout!” and “low-calorie foods.” Men’s magazines use keywords like “build,” “power,” and “strength. Think of all the potential that is thrown out the window when women deprive themselves of food on their quest to be thin. What great things could women accomplish if we weren’t fucking dieting all the time?! It’s saddening.” 

How sad is it that the message of going for actual health, building muscle, and being strong wasn’t a message I started thinking about until recently? How much sadder is it that I still barely believe that message to be true?

What can we do about this? How can we combat the harmful marketing to women that’s still going on strong right at this very moment?

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