WHY YOUR IDENTITY GOES BEYOND WEIGHT AND BODY SIZE

Do you measure your self-worth based on appearance?  If you ever find yourself obsessing over your weight or size, take a closer look at all the amazing things that truly define you.


BY: RACHAEL HARTLEY, RD, LD, CDE

If someone asked you to describe yourself in a sentence, what would you say? Most people would probably spout off a list of personality traits, hobbies, profession, passions, or describe themselves in relation to others (e.g. parent, spouse, child).

Now, how would you describe someone you love?

If I were to describe my husband, I would do the same. He’s a talented engineer, supportive husband, loyal friend and compassionate and humble human being with a witty sense of humor.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that for most of you, your weight didn’t make it into that brief description.

That’s because who we are as a person is so much more than a body size.

Yet, it doesn’t always feel that way. Through my work as a dietitian in private practice, I meet with many people  who have deeply internalized their body size as part of their identity, usually subconsciously.

I see people with large bodies who have internalized the negative stereotypes that society often portrays of them. I can’t tell you how many smart, successful, and hardworking people I’ve worked with over the years who call themselves lazy for not working out as often as they think they “should”, as that is a stigma commonly attached to fatness (p.s. ‘Fat’ is used as a neutral descriptor, not a pejorative term, because a naturally existing body size is not an insult).

Yet when you look at what they’ve achieved in life, they are clearly anything but lazy.

I’ve also worked people in smaller bodies who have so deeply internalized their identity as a thin person (along with society’s fatphobia), such that any change to body size becomes an assault on their self identity.

When you’re constantly complimented for your appearance over your personality, actions or achievements (which often happens in this thin-obsessed culture we live in), it’s easy to see how self worth can get wrapped up in body size.

Given this fact, it’s easy to see why a changing body can be so distressing – because it challenges our self identity.

However, that’s not to say that your body shouldn’t play any role in your self identity. Your body will often dictate your experiences in the world (especially if you are in a marginalized body), and experiences shape who you are as a person. So it’s impossible to separate the two.

With that said, who you are is so much more than a body.

And seeing how your body is almost certain to change during your life, is it really worth your time and energy to wrap your entire self identity up in it?

That’s why it’s incredibly important to build out your self identity outside of your body. Identify the characteristics you value about yourself that have nothing to do with appearance. If it’s hard to do, think of compliments you have received from others.

Are you a compassionate person who always wants to help everyone feel comfortable and accepted?

Do you love to laugh, and make others do it too?

Are you always hungry to learn and grow, both personally and professionally?

These are all wonderful qualities that make you the amazing person you are.

Another part of making peace with your body is also accepting any possible future body – or at least working towards that. It’s highly unlikely that your current health status, degree of able-bodiedness, size or weight will stay the same. While future changes to your body won’t always be easy to accept, remember that building a self identity outside of your body gives you strength to weather the bumps along the way.

After all, body love is a journey, not a destination.

Adapted from the original article.

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC.  By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being through delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.

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