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For generations, women have been convinced that true happiness only comes when we hit that goal weight, shrink ourselves down, and change ourselves to fit a rigid and unrealistic beauty ideal. We’ve been taught to see our bodies as collections of problems that need to be fixed.
Instagram star Megan Jayne Crabbe is determined to spread the word that loving the body you have is the real path to happiness. An international body positive guru with fans in all corners of the world, Megan spent years battling eating disorders and weight fluctuations before she found her way to body positivity. She quit dieting, discovered a new kind of confidence, and replaced all those old feelings of body shame and self-recrimination with everyday joy. Free of the pressure to fit in a size 2, her life became more satisfying than ever before.
In her debut book, Megan shares her own struggles with self-acceptance and her path to body positivity. With whip-smart wit and a bold attitude that lights up her Instagram feed, Megan champions a new worldview for all of us: It’s time to stop dieting and get on with your life.
Three years ago, I sat across from my dad, tracing patterns in the dark wood table between us. We’d come out for some lunch and a chance to catch up on each other’s lives, and I had something big that I was anxiously waiting to tell him about. I braced myself, looked up from the table, and began.
“You know those body image issues that I’ve always had?”
In that moment, my dad could have been remembering any number of things. He could have thought back to when I was five years old and came home from school one day in my little blue check dress, clutching my stomach and asking him to tell me why it was so much bigger than the other girls. He might have remembered a time ten years later, standing beside my hospital bed, hoping for that day to be the one when I’d finally start my recovery. He could have pictured me at any point in the years that had passed since then, at any of the nine different dress sizes and hundreds of pounds up and down that my body had spanned since then.
Of course, he didn’t mention any of those times. Instead, he replied with an ever-so-cautious, “Yes…”
“I’ve fixed them now,” I said, waiting to see the disbelief spread across his face. I’m sure he was expecting me to launch into the details of the new diet plan I’d found and how it was the one that was finally going to make everything better (nothing like all the ones before). I’m sure by now he knew not to get his hopes up.
I started to explain that I’d found something, something that in just a few short months had changed my life. Something called “body positivity.”
One day in the summer of 2014 I was having a perfectly ordinary Thursday. I’d woken up in the morning, taken my two diet pills, washed them down with a smoothie of apple, berries, and kale, and forced myself to start the usual full-body workout. Two hours later, I was slumped on the living room floor getting my breath back, and beginning my daily routine of searching Instagram for pictures of washboard abs and toned thighs to remind myself why all the pain, sweat, and ignored hunger pangs were worth it.
Except that day, by some social media miracle, I stumbled across something different. A woman wearing a bright red bikini and writing about loving her body as it was. In her own words, she was fat, she was body positive, and she was daring to be visibly happy in a body I had never thought people were allowed to be happy in. There she was embracing all the parts of herself that I’d spent my whole life hating myself for—her soft stomach that rolled when she sat, the cellulite that covered the thickness of her thighs, the jiggle and sway of her arms as she moved.
Seeing her happiness felt as if a sudden crack had been placed in the very foundation of how I believed the world worked. Here, for the first time in my life, was someone saying that you don’t have to spend your days starving, sweating, and hating yourself. That it’s possible to accept, and even love, your body just as it is.
I had never even realized that was an option. Nobody had ever told me that shrinking my body didn’t have to be my ultimate goal in life. I’d only ever been taught that self-love would come once the hand hit the right number on the scale.
I clicked away from her page and went back to my usual fitspo images to try and erase the thought of that red bikini, and everything that it might mean. But something in my mind had shifted.
As the days went by I started to question my daily routine more and more. Could I really do this forever? Could I really keep dieting and exercising until I passed out every day for the rest of my life? Because that’s what it was going to take to get the “perfect” body that I’d been striving for since I could remember. The idea of body positivity kept chipping away at me until a few weeks later that crack in my foundations had turned into a canyon. And there I was precariously balanced with a leg on each side, desperately trying to decide which way to jump.
I remember standing in the garden with my brother and asking for his advice. Did he think that I could do it? Could I really give up everything that I’d ever believed about weight and worth and beauty and learn a whole new way of seeing myself? I can’t remember exactly what he said in response, but it was something along the lines of supporting whatever was going to make me truly happy.
At that point I knew, deep down, that if I hadn’t found happiness hiding in my bathroom scales after all this time, I was never going to.
So I decided to take a leap. I let myself dive into the online body positive community. I searched out all the information that I could find. A couple of weeks later I borrowed a copy of The Beauty Myth from a friend, and the rest is history…
Actually, the rest is in this book. Everything I’ve learned in the last three years about why we’re at war with our bodies and how we can make peace with them instead is in these pages. I hope that it helps every single one of you to make that leap, to reclaim your happiness, and to take your power back. Because life really is too short to spend hungry and hating your body.
P.S. Dad, I told you so.
GET THIN OR DIE TRYING
How Striving for the Ideal Body Is Destroying Us
We do not need to change our bodies, we need to change the rules.
—Naomi Wolf, THE BEAUTY MYTH
We are obsessed with our bodies. Or rather, we are obsessed with everything that’s wrong with our bodies. We are obsessed with shrinking our bodies, toning our bodies, sculpting our bodies, getting lean and perking up, burning fat and slimming down, flattering our figures and flattening our stomachs, accentuating curves and disguising flaws, battling the bulge, beating the scale, dropping dress sizes, becoming the best version of ourselves that we can be!
And for what? What are we in pursuit of when we do those things? It must be something good, because those things are not fun. Ask anyone on day five of the cabbage soup diet how much fun they’re having, and let me know if you get out alive. Of course, we’re not supposed to admit how not-fun it all is. We even go as far as lying to ourselves—I really am enjoying living off cayenne pepper and maple syrup cocktails; it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself! The facade begins to crack when we start crying over our friend’s pizza and wondering if tissue paper is edible, and if so, how many calories? Why do we keep lying to ourselves? Why do we willingly inflict so much discomfort, even pain, on our bodies? What for?
We do it to get the perfect body—flawless, unblemished, ideal. Some of us spend our entire lives chasing the ideal body. The one that will finally make us beautiful, the one that we’re told will finally make us happy. We picture that body while we run desperately on the treadmill and our knees feel as if they’re about to buckle. Just one more mile. We imagine that body when we say no, yet again, to our favorite dessert. That’ll go straight to our thighs. We have visions of that body when we step on to our scales and the numbers flash frantically in front of our eyes before they settle on our fate. Please, just two more pounds this week, we’ve worked so hard. And we have worked so hard. We starve, we sweat, we cry standing over those scales and fall to pieces at the sight of our naked reflection. We vow to be better next week. Everywhere we go we carry around our feelings of not being good enough. They weigh on everything we do. I can’t wear that at my size! I’m not hungry, I ate earlier, I swear! They would never be interested; just look at me. I’ll do it once I’ve lost the weight. Our entire lives get tied up in the chains of the ideal body, only to be unlocked once we’ve earned it. Perfection is the key. And it’s always just slightly out of our reach. There’s always another pound to be lost, another problem area to fix (they seem to pop up out of nowhere, almost as if someone’s invented them). But we still believe that we can get there. We still believe after all this time that if we hate ourselves enough we’ll end up loving ourselves. We don’t realize that we’ve been tricked.
How did we get here? How did we reach a place where it’s 100 percent normal to hate your body? Every female I’ve ever known has disliked some part of her appearance, or all of it. We’ve been convinced that changing the way our bodies look should be our ultimate goal in life, and although women have been the primary target of these messages for the past century, these days no body is safe. Men are increasingly being told that their value lies in their muscles, and that looking like anything less than the cover of a fitness magazine isn’t good enough. Thanks to toxic expectations of masculinity, they’re also being told not to talk about the body image issues they’re struggling with. Hating your body is the new normal.
Most of us know someone who’s had an eating disorder. Someone who’s had cosmetic surgery. Someone who’s lost and gained the same twenty pounds over and over again. People of all sizes, all ages, all genders, all colors, and all abilities are being affected by body image issues. We’re too fat, too wrinkled, too masculine, too feminine, too dark, too pale, too queer, too different. We’re always “too” something, compared to the ideal body. The pressure becomes too much for us to handle. Our societal self-hatred is spreading like wildfire; slowly but surely we’re all being set aflame in the pursuit of perfection.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this. You already know. You see it every day. It’s in the advertisements for the New! Easy! Fast! Lose Ten Pounds in Ten Days! Weight-Loss Plan. It’s in the sky-high posters of model bodies selling everything from perfume to burgers. It’s in the never-ending murmurs of how many pounds have been shed this week that you overhear on the train, at work, among friends. It’s in the TV ads telling you how breast enhancement could change your life. It’s in the magazine pages you flick through to pass the time, raving about the latest juice cleanse or detox.
It’s in the backhanded compliments about looking good “for your age,” and the concerned comments from family members about when you’re going to do something about, well, you know.… It’s in the supermarket aisles you walk down filled with “guilt-free!” reduced-fat, sugar-free, zero carbs, made-of-nothing-but-water-and-air food products. It’s when you try to unwind with your favorite film or TV show and parading before you is a cast filled with nothing but thin, white, beautiful, young, able bodies. You might not even notice it, but you learn from it. You learn in millions of little ways every day that there is an ideal and you don’t match up to it. So that when you get home, away from the murmurs, curtains drawn against the pictures, TV ads silenced, and screens turned off, only you, your body, your mind, and the quiet.… You still know, because there it is in your mirror staring back at you. Everything that you’re not.
Everything that you need to change. All the ways that your body is wrong. You know.
If you’re anything like I am, then you’ve known for a long time. Ever since you were first old enough to take in the words, the images, and the lessons. The first time I remember thinking that I was too fat is when I was five years old. That’s all the time it took in the world to believe that I was too much. I was too big, too soft, too brown, too ugly; my stomach was too round; and my hair wasn’t blond enough.
I remember spending hours in fantasies of what I would look like when I grew up, grasping for reassurance that one day I would be beautiful. Beautiful meaning thin. Thin was the only option. Of course that’s what I would become; that’s what all the representations of beautiful women around me were: Barbie-doll thin, Disney-princess thin, Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe thin. To my five-year-old mind, that’s what women were supposed to look like. The fact that I was still a child didn’t stop me from comparing myself to them.
Recent studies suggest that children as young as three years old have body image issues and at four years old are aware of how to lose weight. The biggest concern children that age should have is whether they can do a cartwheel or memorize the alphabet, not whether they’re too fat or how many calories it takes to change their bodies. The obsession is starting earlier and earlier. And this is what those thoughts grow into:
97 percent of women in a survey conducted by Glamour magazine admitted to having at least one “I hate my body” moment a day, with an average of thirteen negative body thoughts every day.
In a survey of 5,000 women by REAL magazine, 91 percent reported being unhappy with their bodies.
The Center for Appearance Research found, after surveying 384 British men, that 35 percent would trade a year of their life to achieve their ideal body weight or shape.
54 percent of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat, according to a survey in Esquire magazine.
There are thousands of statistics and surveys telling the real story of our body image: That we spend every day picking out our flaws and tearing our reflections to pieces. That we put our entire lives on hold because we don’t think we’re worthy of living in the bodies we have. That we would trade in years of life and risk illness, pain, and even death to turn our bodies into something worth loving. And that we’re teaching our children to feel exactly the same way about themselves. Statistics are easy to glaze over, so here’s the simple truth: we are destroying ourselves for an unobtainable and unrealistic body type.
The things that we’re willing to do for the ideal body speak for themselves. We go hungry, deny ourselves essential nutrients, and ignore our most basic needs. We push ourselves past our physical limits until the room starts spinning and we can barely move the next day. We spend hours applying lotions and potions with promises of miraculous results on the label. We stuff ourselves into elastic casings to smooth out our silhouettes or train our waists into shapes nature never intended them to be. We drink teas and take pills that make our hearts race and keep us in the bathroom all night.
We attend groups every week where we sit in circles fantasizing about goal weights and pretending we don’t hear it when someone’s stomach rumbles. We live off nothing but juice, convinced that our bodies are full of evil toxins that must be cleansed. We pay people thousands of dollars to cut into our healthy flesh, lift it, pin it, tuck it, suck it, staple it, reshape it, and stitch us back together again. And it isn’t a select few people who are going to any lengths necessary to get the body of their dreams; we’re all doing it. The stay-at-home mom who lives down the street, the girl you went to school with, your old English teacher, the star athlete, the savvy businesswoman, the A-list celebrity, the millionaire entrepreneur. The pressure of perfection leaves none of us behind.
And besides the physical lengths we go to, the things we willingly inflict upon our bodies, there’s an even darker side to our obsession with perfection, and that’s what it does to our minds. The real cost of a diet isn’t those irritating hunger pangs you have to ignore but the constant preoccupation with food, the never-ending counting and weighing and bargaining that takes up so much mental real estate. The hatred we have for our bodies doesn’t stop at our thighs. It takes over our entire sense of self.
It affects our relationships, how we treat others and how we think we deserve to be treated. It seeps into our professional lives, determining what we have the energy to accomplish and the will to aim for. It saps our ambition beyond dropping dress sizes. You can’t dream of becoming an artist, an explorer, or a leader when your dreams are occupied by visions of thin. It makes us believe that we don’t even deserve to exist in the world, to be seen and heard and valued in the bodies we have. It takes away all of our power.
If we don’t measure up to societal standards of beauty, we see ourselves as failures, burdens, and disgraces. We don’t just hate our outer shells; we hate our whole selves. And it’s exhausting. I know I’m not the only one who feels completely worn out by it all.
Those extra pounds we’ve learned to see as hideous flaws turn into the weight of the world on our shoulders. Do you feel it? That heaviness? That pressure? That’s the weight of all the ways you’ve been told that you’re not good enough. In our current cultural game of How to Be Beautiful, none of us are good enough. We keep playing by the rules because we’ve been promised that it’ll all be worth it in the end. Even if we stumble, fall off the diet, or regain the weight, we get up and try again because we can still see it. The image of the body that will finally make us happy.
I want to let you in on a secret that nobody ever told me in all of my years chasing the ideal body: happiness is not a size. It isn’t a number on a piece of fabric, it can’t be found in a calorie count, and it sure as hell isn’t hiding in your bathroom scales. I know that’s hard to believe—after all, everything around us says otherwise.
We’ve been told for so long that if we just work hard enough the ideal body will be within our reach. Once we’re there it’ll all be worth it: we’ll be beautiful, desired, successful, and, finally, good enough. Except by now you might be starting to realize that you’ve been playing by those rules for a long time, for as long as you can remember, in fact. You’ve tried everything you possibly could, you’ve sacrificed so much time, energy, and life to get the ideal body, and still you look in the mirror and see something so flawed. So imperfect. So human. How can that be possible?
I’ll tell you how. Sit down, my love. Take that weight off your shoulders. If you’re reading this book, then that probably means you’re tired of chasing the impossible. You’re tired of waging war against your body and never, ever feeling like you’re good enough. The problem is that you just can’t see another way. How do you let go of the rules and realize that you’re good enough already? How do you make peace with your body?
First of all, we have to unlearn all of the lies we’ve been taught about the way we look. Then, slowly, we can learn the truth instead. If it doesn’t happen straight away or if it feels like it’s too difficult, I want you to remember that you are fighting against a lifetime of negative conditioning about your body. It’s not easy to undo all that and embrace a new way of thinking. So be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and most of all, keep reminding yourself that you deserve better. We all deserve better than spending our lives hating our bodies.
Lesson number one: the image of the ideal body you’ve been holding on to for all these years is a lie.
THE 5 PERCENT
We learn the ideal from what we see, and we see it everywhere we turn. The images that fill our minds when we think about what’s beautiful aren’t creations of our imagination but come from the hundreds of media bodies we’re exposed to every day. Every time we look at a magazine page, film, ad, TV show, or music video, every time we turn on our screens or walk down a billboard-lined street, we see it. We see her.
The fashion model, the Hollywood star, the girl with the golden hair and honey-smooth skin. Sometimes the hair is sleek and dark, the eye color might vary, and very occasionally the skin color does too, but two things remain the same: she is beautiful, and she is thin. If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, we now have the faces that launched a thousand diets, a thousand beauty regimens, and a thousand different kinds of self-loathing. From seeing their bodies plastered wherever we go, we learn what our culture’s idea of perfection is, which bodies are celebrated and lusted after, what we should all be striving for. We’re never allowed to forget.
If aliens ever did descend upon Earth, and confined themselves to a small room with only a television and a stack of magazines in order to learn about humankind before integrating themselves into the community, what would they think? Probably that our women are all five foot ten, weigh about 110 pounds, have gravity-defying globular breasts and faces without a blemish, are naturally hairless from the nose down, and pretty much all die out after the age of thirty-five (except the few that become mothers, cougars, or sad-looking old women). They’d probably also think that a disproportionate number of our men have rock-hard abs and dazzling white smiles, although they’d notice that men are at least allowed to age visibly, and have identities beyond how attractive they are.
They’d probably assume that people of color are a rare spectacle, and disabled people are far too rare to ever be seen in the outside world. And they wouldn’t have any idea that people outside the gender binary exist at all. Imagine their surprise when they leave that room and encounter us, women especially, in all our glory. After the initial shock, they might be quite confused about why our media chooses to constantly represent a body type that 95 percent of us don’t have, and leaves the rest of us behind. They might even find it funny, seeing it as such an obvious distortion of reality. The problem is, we don’t recognize the distortion.
Instead of seeing a single body type everywhere we turn as inaccurate, misleading, or manipulative, we see our own bodies as the problem. Why aren’t our legs that long and toned? Why is our hair so flat and lifeless? Why does our skin have lines on it? We compare ourselves with those images until we’re left feeling worthless. Those images are nothing like us.
They’re not supposed to be. They’re supposed to be aspirational, superhuman enough for us to be in awe of, but with a beauty that we can still believe is achievable. That way, we can be sold the thing that promises to make us just as beautiful. We can buy the miracle diet pill that will give us the figure of our dreams. We can spend our money on the shampoo to get thick, flowing locks. We can splurge on that outfit that we’ve seen advertised on the most flattering (read: thin) bodies, because maybe it’ll make us look like that too! Maybe we can be beautiful too! In all the ads we’re being sold two things—the ideal image, and the product to get us there. Want one? Buy the other.
Female beauty ideals are the best marketing scheme in the world. What better way to make money than to make half the world feel ugly and then sell them the solution?
Outside advertising, the media makes sure we all get the message that the ideal body is the only one worthy of being celebrated, admired, or loved. When was the last time you saw a leading female character get a happy ending without first fitting conventional standards of beauty? You only get a happy ending if you’re beautiful, duh.
We quickly learn that the only way to be beautiful or happy is to spend our lives chasing the ideal body. And it will be a chase, since only 5 percent of us naturally possess the body type that the media loves so much. Even those of us who appear to be perfect on the outside carry the same nagging insecurities about not measuring up. When we look in the mirror, we don’t see ourselves clearly because we’re looking through a lens of every perfect body we’ve ever seen. Against those images, we are always too fat, too ugly, too dark, too imperfect.
One study examining how seeing ideal female bodies on television impacts our own self-image found that 95 percent of women overestimated their body sizes after seeing images of women with ideal body weights. Meaning that when we constantly see images of the ideal thin body, we come away thinking that we’re bigger than we are. What we see every day is shaping how we see ourselves.
We can’t see the beauty in everything that we are because we’ve been taught to first see everything that we’re not. All the rules of how we should look take the magic away from how we do look. Jes Baker sums it up perfectly in her book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls when she writes:
We do this terrible thing where we look in the mirror or at pictures and we expect to see a thin model. Unless you are a thin model, THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN. So stop that shit. The second you start looking for you is the second you will start to appreciate what you are.
Things get even more complicated when we realize that the perfect body we’re searching for in the mirror, the body we think we should have, the body we’re killing ourselves for, doesn’t even exist. The ideal isn’t a real woman, one with history that comes to life on her skin, one with a moving, changing body. The ideal is a creation of a Photoshop wand. Nobody looks as perfect as the ideal, not even those 5 percent.
Fourteen years ago, Susan Bordo wrote the following in her preface to the tenth-anniversary edition of Unbearable Weight:
Now, in 2003, virtually every celebrity image you see—in the magazines, in the videos, and sometimes even in the movies—has been digitally modified. Virtually every image. Let that sink in. Don’t just let your mind passively receive it. Confront its implications. This is not just a matter of deception.… This is perceptual pedagogy, How to Interpret Your Body 101. These images are teaching us how to see. Filtered, smoothed, polished, softened, sharpened, re-arranged.… Training our perception in what’s a defect and what is normal.
Fourteen years later, things have only become worse. We compare ourselves to bodies that don’t even exist and spend all our time, energy, and money trying to look like an illusion. When I was younger, I used to dream of spending my one magic wish on sculpting my perfect body. I would be able to mold myself like Play-Doh, pushing the fat from my stomach up to my breasts, making them perky and round, and perched above my ever-shrinking waist. I could carve out my collarbone and etch on my abs, make my eyes three sizes bigger and my chin three sizes smaller.
Which is exactly what editing software does to nearly every image of the female body we see in the media, except it goes so much further than I could have imagined. It erases all signs of ageing, tiredness, and character from female faces. It routinely makes dark-skinned women paler and light-skinned women tan. It shrinks ears, noses, ankles, toes. It doesn’t just shave pounds off the usual places like waists and thighs; it makes people thinner in places they never knew they had to be—necks, forearms, backs, knees, and everything in between. Not even our armpits are safe—they’re consistently smoothed out, brightened up, and made to look like hair was never even intended to grow there. There is an ideal armpit. I’m not joking.
- "Megan Jayne Crabbe... isn't letting critics get in the way of her confidence."—The TODAY Show
- "Her message is simple, but incredibly healing."—Bustle
- "[Megan has] gained a confidence and an understanding of herself that few truly possess. Brava, Megan Jayne!"—Allure
- "[Body Positive Power] will make you laugh, cry, and love yourself a lot harder."—Hello Giggles
- "Insightful, inspiring, incredible."—Ravishly
- On Sale
- Sep 11, 2018
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Seal Press