A Body of Thoughts

Recently the actor, Jonah Hill made a social media request, asking people not to comment about his body—good or bad. Hooray for him! I am overjoyed that a celebrity with a substantial public platform has opened up this conversation. For many years, I have been expressing similar sentiments. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and conquering obesity is a great achievement. Unfortunately, our societal obsession with body image does nothing to support these endeavors. It often makes things worse.  

When we lived in Thailand, I lost a lot of weight under the supervision of an endocrinologist. In my book, Nine Years in Bangkok: Lessons Learned I wrote about that journey. Here is an edited excerpt from the chapter dealing with this topic.

In a year and a half, I had lost 37 and a half kilos—a little over 82 pounds. My health problems virtually disappeared, and I felt great due to regular exercise combined with healthy eating habits. I’d made some permanent lifestyle changes.

Oh yes, and I looked great too. That caused a lot of inner torment, believe it or not. I had been sensitive to fat jokes and judgemental comments regarding body image when I was heavy. But I became even more aware of people’s preconceptions about physical appearance when I lost weight. While out and about in Bangkok, I would see people with whom I’d worked for several years. Some of them walked right by me with no recognition. At social get-togethers, my husband would have to re-introduce me to business colleagues who hadn’t seen me for a while. One or two of them thought he had a new wife!

Some remarks were enough to drive me back to unhealthy eating. I was told that I looked better, I looked like a new person, I looked like a different person, I looked beautiful now. I know I was supposed to be flattered. But no one seemed to realize that I wasn’t a new or different or better or more beautiful person. I was myself. The superficial flesh had changed; the essence of me hadn’t changed. A few times I got fed up and confronted people with some hard questions such as “What did you think of me before?” “Wasn’t I good enough or beautiful enough for you before?” “How was I so different when I was heavy?”

No one answered these questions. Perhaps they didn’t want to be trapped into admitting that superficial beauty counts for almost everything in the modern world. I wanted to tell them that this very philosophy was what caused my problems in the first place. I wanted to tell them about all the nights of my life when I’d cried myself to sleep because I thought I was too fat (when I wasn’t). I wanted to tell them that this emphasis on perfect physical beauty—especially for girls and women—was destroying many of us. It had taken me many years to reach a level where I no longer needed the fatty protection (or the haze of cigarette smoke before that) to protect me from all the negativity in the world. In my 50s I was slowly learning to be happy in my own skin.

As I look back, I wonder how things might have been if I hadn’t been trapped in a cycle of diet programs for years before finally going to the other extreme. What if I had just been happy with who I was and what I saw in the mirror? Would it have taken me until my early 50s to finally be at peace with my appearance and focus on my health? I hope that one day we will reach a place where people, especially young girls, no longer feel the social pressure of attaining physical perfection.

I welcome any comments from my readers. Opening a dialogue on this issue can only lead to a healthier outlook in the future.


4 thoughts on “A Body of Thoughts

  1. Well said Sharon. Some parts of the media too focus too much on body image and body shaming. It causes all sorts of emotional harms well amongst the vulnerable.

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  2. I love the openness and vulnerability you displayed in your post Sharon. I’m still working on all this stuff too…..

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  3. Funny, I was thinking something similar. What if I’d never put on the weight? What if I’d never gotten on the lose-weight-regain-weight carousel? What if I’d just let myself grow heavier without worrying about it? Don’t have any answers to my questions. I would likely be more healthy mentally, but maybe not so much physically. In any case, no one should comment on another’s person’s body–especially not negatively.

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  4. Sharon, you sure are busy! Vis à vis your current posting, we met after your weight lose, but you told me about it at the time. It was actually hard for me to think of you as being heavy. If other friends told you they thought you looked beautiful, they were just saying the truth, I think. You didn’t say much at the time about how much it bothered you. It is amazing to me how we can think we’ve resolved something at one point in our lives only to have it come back for a little more work later on…..like maintenance…..I’m certainly experiencing that from time to time, occasionally shaking my head at thoughts related to middle school or high school! I personally never really cared about my or any of my friends weight. “Looks” weren’t a preoccupation for me. Comfort (warm clothes, etc) meant more to me— to hell with what it looked like. No, I thought about my mother’s sadness, her melancholy, and wished I could change it. I was determined to be happy, to not be like my mother in that regard. I felt anybody who had a happy mother was lucky indeed! I’m so glad you adjusted your perspective in your fifties and gave your kids a happy mother who seemed (to me) to be full of pep and ideas, never a dull moment. As I said, you sure are busy! ❤️ Barbara

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