|Me and Taryn, dinner before the show.|
The truth is skinny does not equal happiness or health. I am the thinest I’ve been since my twenties, I’m also the most unhealthy I have ever been. I know friends who with age have gained weight–it happens but they are healthy–they run, cycle and eat well balanced meals–they are beautiful.
I was recently asked to be on a Q and A panel immediately following the documentary called Embrace. Taryn Brumfitt did incredible research on the subject of body image. She interviewed some pretty amazing people. One common thread that most of them had was they never learned how to love themselves, or their body. I too struggled with body image as a teenager, I was too skinny and ‘boobless.’ (more about that in my book I CAN-cer vive) Some people are pre-disposed because of their genes to be thin or heavy. It’s not the ‘fatty’s’ against the ‘skinny’s’ we are all a part of the human race and deserve love and laughter.
What if I were to say “I wish I wasn’t so thin? or I wish I could gain weight?” If you are honest most people would say or think “I wish I had that problem.” I know this to be true because I have heard people say it to me. Be careful with your words, what may be an acceptable weight for yourself may not be a healthy weight for another. When as a youth I heard friends say “You are so skinny!” It hurt, those words were as hard for me to hear as someone saying to another person “You are so fat!” I tried hard to gain weight and never quite accomplished my goal. When I graduated from high school I was 5′ 9″ and weighed only 96 pounds–that my friends is not healthy!!
When I speak to youth about body image it’s interesting to open up for Q and A–most hesitate to ask questions knowing their peers are surrounding them and what they have to contribute may not be acceptable. The few moments of silence tells me they all are squirming in their seats because the thought of talking about their body is embarrassing–
I usually break the ice by asking this question, “If you could change anything about your physical body what would it be?” I laugh and say “I’d change my smile I loved my smile before my paralysis” When the dialogue begins it is magical to hear–most of our youth are not happy with something, usually I hear them talk about their weight, or things they were born with–like a not so perfect nose or believe it or not their feet or toes. I love that one. I remember a very handsome kid in high school who determined the girls he would date by looking at their toes–he needed the perfect shape- no toes were allowed to be taller than another–Say whaaaat? Seriously, toes? You may be wondering why I find this conversation magical–let me explain. When our youth collectively come together and are able to say out loud “I don’t like___about myself” It gives everyone in the room a safe environment to talk about these issues, the youth usually walk away realizing they are not alone, but more importantly they are not perfect, imperfections are what make them unique. For some of them it is the beginning of embracing who they are and the endless possibilities they have to make a difference in our world.
When I was diagnosed with permanent facial paralysis, it was devastating. I went into a deep depression wondering how I would fit in, I still have moments of doubt but now I’ve learned how to harness that silly thinking by allowing myself a few minutes to mourn then looking myself in the mirror and telling myself I am uniquely beautiful from the inside out. Another healing thing I did was write a letter to myself, I scribbled down a few things I needed to let go of and let be. Those unimportant things that were serving no good purpose to my life are now a part of my past not my future, then I burned the paper.
This sweet lady is featured in the documentary Embrace. I was privileged to meet and talk to her. She has facial paralysis, obviously not as pronounced as mine but just as real. This was a moment I never thought I would have. Permanent paralysis from a nerve dying only effects 2% of people. Jade had a benign brain tumor that caused hers. I have to admit I teared up talking to someone who knows exactly what I am feeling–the messy eating–and the frozen eyebrow were just a few things we talked about coming to the conclusion we are imperfectly perfect
So, I’ve asked myself plenty of times over the past couple of years “How can I make this a positive experience? How can I endure and be blissfully happy with a disfigured face? Who will I allow in MY circle of trust and friendship?” I cannot change the world, but I can create a ripple effect by speaking out, embracing other’s and being inclusive.
**Just a side note and after thought, our youth need to understand they are beautiful they way they are, but they also need to know this is not an excuse to feed their insecurities with food, we are a nation of obese people–this too needs to stop and is not healthy. Childhood obesity is on the rise, as parents we need to teach them a healthy balance of all natural foods–and guess what? It’s ok to eat dessert first, once in awhile.