Body Image: Am I normal to think I am 'skinny-fat'?

Friday, May 17, 2019

This year's theme for Mental Health Week is Body Image.  Here I share a bit about my own hang ups with my body and how my views have changed over time.

If we define 'normal' as what the majority of people do, I think it is safe to say that it is normal not to like specific parts of your body.  These views are influenced from the culture we were raised in, what we were teased about at school, what media showed us growing up and even what we see today.  Fashion trends change (look at the evolution of eyebrow trend and male facial hair) with time, as do definitions of beautiful.  Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Cindy Crawford, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyonce (just to name a few) each have their own unique look and style.

Often times, we as the general public forget that these famous beauties have several things going for them which is why they are famous and/or beautiful.  Genetics is a big factor, followed by time and money.  Why time and money?  Because if you had the time, you too could work out for several hours a day to achieve a strong/lean/muscular/toned (insert adjective here) body.  If you had the money, you could afford a live-in chef, a top personal trainer, and be motivated by contract requirements to look a certain why (such as how actors manipulate their appearance for roles such as super heroes or POW).
September 2017- at one of my heaviest recent weights (but also a bad angle).
Plus my tan and the clothes I am wearing are not flattering.
My motivation comes and goes.  As a fitness blogger and personal trainer, I do feel a bit of pressure to look a certain way.   My grandmother was always on a diet when I was growing up.  Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, cabbage soup- you name it, she tried it.  My shape takes after her's- apple.  However, when I told her this- she defensively declared she was not an apple shape! In the first two years of high school, I felt pretty fit because I had physical education three times a week and played recreational soccer and softball.  Plus I could do proper press ups.  My goal weight will always be 126 pounds because when I was 19 years old, I had my tonsils out and started university.  I hadn't eaten solid food for a few weeks which slimmed me right down. Having access to ice cream twice a day in the canteen meant I quickly gained the Freshman Fifteen.  When I flip through old photos from my first year out of university, I am shocked at how chubby my face looks.  I didn't even notice at the time how heavy I was and wore bikinis to the beach (which I am reluctant to do now).  When I lost a lot of weight after my ex broke up with me in 2004 (dropped down to a USA size 6), everyone was so complimentary about how 'good' I looked. And it felt good to receive compliments and be skinny.  Lately, a few people have told me I look skinny when I bump into them, but I don't believe it.  Your perception of your own body image is relative based on where you are in life (lifestyle, maturity, self-confidence), the people around you and societal pressures.

Trying to be a lifestyle blogger with black on black
For the most part, I think of myself as skinny-fat.  I thought I had made up the term, but apparently it is a medical term for dangerous visceral fat that can impact your organs from working properly.  To me, it means that 'I know I am not fat but I also know I am not skinny.'  I am usually about 135 pounds and a US size 8-10 (UK 12).  I fluctuate depending on my training, how much sleep I am getting, and of course what I am eating.  Over the past two years, I have worked with a nutritionist and got down to 125 pounds.  I am also happy with my body at 130 pounds.  But sometimes when my weight is higher than that, my BMI says I am overweight (side note- I am not really keen on BMI for various reasons.  However, I totally understand why people use is as a baseline measure as it is easy to obtain).  Do you let ratings such as BMI effect you or do you go on how your clothes fit and how you feel?  Or do you use another measure, like percent body fat?

Working on my lazy (but fabulous) bum for running
The part I like least about my body is my stomach.  I love my legs, my ankles, my boobs, my arms, and my wrists.  I like my bum too.  But in my mind, a narrow and toned stomach is the ultimate feature.  Unfortunately for me, I don't have the genes to have one naturally or the will power to eat my way to having it.  Because of this, I don't like wearing tight-fitting clothes or what I call "fabric that gives." I want to avoid looking heavier than I actually am or worse- pregnant (which I am not).  I don't enjoy clothes shopping because I only want to wear clothes that make my body look the shape I think it should even though it's not.  It took a long time for me to give up boot cut jeans and swap to the trendy skinny cut because it changed my silhouette to be bigger at my hips and waists because my ankles are skinny.  And low cut jeans?  They are my nemesis!  I need panels of fabric to keep my belly contained, especially after a burger and fries.  When I moved to the UK, all the women in the gym wore leggings, but I was self conscious about my shape to I stuck with shorts (which show off my legs) and boot cut activewear for a long time.

March 2019 on the last day I ran up until recently.
Tan is gone but looking a little more toned than the 2017 photo.
I have proven (between doing the Whole30 while marathon training and while sticking to my nutritionist's plan) that I can loose those last annoying five pounds and be skinny (well I could in my 30's).  Was I happy with how I looked?  Absolutely.  What I happy in life while avoiding certain foods and alcohol?  Sometimes.  Whole30 is very hard for anyone to accomplish, especially someone who loves sugar, sweets, and Jack Daniels as much as I do.  It also put a lot of pressure on cooking meals at home and socializing with friends.  With that said, I found black and white rules much easier for me to follow than stopping halfway through eating a candy bar.  My nutritionist would set goals for calories (based on if it was a workout or rest day) and then tell me how many grams of fats, carbs, and protein I should eat per day.  I was given the choice and flexibility to achieve that.  But I barely could stick the calories, let alone the macros.  I made incorrect choices. I couldn't control my cravings.
My weight over the last 6 months
I managed to get my weight down and stable between August and December 2018.  It was probably due to my 4x4 Challenge, which required a lot of travel and running.  Now that I can start running again and have a run challenge set for October (more on that next week), things are starting to look up.  My weight has crept up since then but I now feel I am ready to focus on making good food choices.  But I will probably always think of myself as skinny fat and wonder if other people think I don't know how to dress for my body type when they see me wearing tight fitting clothes.

August 2018. Flattering outfit and fit body.
Are you happy with your body shape?  Does your body image match how others perceive you?  What influences you the most in your judgements?

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