Body Image: Doesn’t Define Me

I sat at a recent conference, at the back table, watching my peers walk in and take their places for our graduation from a work-related development project.  With ‘normal’ weight and height, they wore beautiful linen or wool blend suits with taupe pumps and fresh lipstick.  They appeared professional and confident in contrast to my elastic waist pants, sensible shoes, and jacket.

Truthfully, I hadn’t ever thought that my weight (212 pounds) had cost me anything in the workplace.  Closing in on 55 years old seemed to be more of an issue, yet I couldn’t help this growing unease as I looked around the room.  I am a professor, a published social science educator with a Ph.D. However, these past few years as higher education and college enrollment suffers from increasing economic stability, I’ve felt that my age, weight, and gender may be holding me back from achieving my goals.  Working on a specific career path or trajectory means that I only had 10 or so more years to reach my professional potential.

My father is a first-generation college graduate completing his engineering degree on the GI bill while working full-time and with three small children and a wife to care for.  Though he made it out of the trailer parks into nice gated communities, I believed that his working-class background along with my mother’s Appalachian roots had effectively kept us from learning the rules to the middle class cultural ‘game.’  Thus, I struggled, continue to struggle, while trying to figure out how some people climb up and out of situations and others can’t.  Where are the directions?  The rules?

Most recently though, I’ve come to be more frustrated with why I am still playing the game at all.

From childhood, I was taught that I could achieve anything if I were willing to work hard and persevere.  I think all little girls of the 60’s and 70’s were taught that.  If we remained obedient, respectful, played fair, stood in line, and waited our turn, we would have our chance at the top.  We were deceived!!  It wasn’t just that they lied about our chance to reach the top – they lied about what the top really was!  True success isn’t power over an organization, a population, or a team.  True power is that which we use to define our own lives, our own destiny, and our own success.

So, I quit.  I am not playing the game anymore.  I’m taking my toys and going home, both literally and figuratively.  I’ve learned that “fatter women face employment discrimination regardless of race and class” (Gruys, 2017).  I now know that “objectified cultural capital compounds already-existing gender, race and class inequalities.”  The game is rigged!

What does it look like to quit and go home?  It means I came to a fork in the road and decided that my professional potential is not where I choose to spend my energies.  I love what I do.  The first day of every class still delights me as I meet each unique student and get to learn their story.  But, my energies are best leveraged with those close to me, my family. Instead of striving to be the best educational administrator I can be – I will work on being the best mom, grandma, wife, friend, and community member that I can be.

I’ll probably never feel confident about my body or what I look like.  My strengths are elsewhere – and frankly – I am so much more than my size, my gender, my age, or my looks.  Yesterday I shopped with my daughter, took my granddaughter to the playground, fixed the dishwasher, and designed a mud kitchen.  And you know what?  My size or weight didn’t come into play at any time!

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Oh, and just another quick FYI: Cheryl Fuller, author and researcher questions the ethics of promoting weight loss, “Evidence does not exist that obesity can be effectively treated over the long term through behavioral change. No so-called treatment for obesity has a more than five to ten percent success rate long term. Most types of cancer have better prognoses” (Fuller, 2017).  “For me, healing is to end the war within. To be able to be at home with myself in myself. To inhabit my body without shame.”

 

Fuller, Cheryl. 2017. The Fat Lady Sings: A Psychological Exploration of the Cultural Fat Complex and Its Effects. London: Karnac.

Gruys, K. (2017). Making over Poor Women: Gender, Race, Class & Body Size in a Welfare-to-work Nonprofit Organization.

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