This session was a panel discussion led by Jackelyn Ho with panelists Carla Birnberg, Kia M. Ruiz, Sarah Bramblette and Martha Koeske. The session focused on body shaming and body acceptance. As a society, we need to get this conversation started and keep the momentum going to affect change. As human beings, we should invest our energy in lifting each other up and empowering each other – not tearing each other down. This session dove in and tackled the controversy behind fat and skinny shaming.
Jackelyn: My goal for the panel is to get uncomfortable. Let’s talk about things we aren’t used to talking about in public. This is how we affect people and get the conversations started.
Carla: I started to gain weight during college and graduated overweight. I made a change – joined a women’s only gym and hated it. Then, I found something that clicked and lauched MizFitOnline in 2007. I now blog at CarlaBirnberg.com.
Jackelyn’s Question for Carla: You serve as a consultant to Venus Williams. How did that happen?
Carla: Venus reached out to me because she wanted her brand to be known in the fitness industry. She saw how I led my personal life and my fitness life in a practice-what-you-preach philosophy. So, Venus hired me to help her navigate into the fitness space.
Kia: Kia is a healthy community builder, practices yoga in the Denver area, serves as a Lara Bar Ambassador and is the person behind Ignite Fitness. Kia believes in meditation as it has helped her to build stability into her life. She is actively involved in the GMO labeling campaign in Colorado.
Jackelyn’s Question for Kia: You are core part of the team for GMO labeling. How did that happen?
Kia: I was part of the core team that had GMO labeling on the 2014 Colorado ballot. I reached out to them. I kept receiving emails from the opposition wanting me to get involved on their side, so I reached out and started consulting and, eventually, went on payroll. I’ve debated Monsanto and other lawyers on this issue and serve as a strategist on the team. It was a surreal moment when reports came out that the opposition had contributed $4.7 million against GMO campaign.
Sarah: I blog at born2befat.com. I describes myself as being morbidly obese my whole life. I live with Lymphedema and lipedema. I am vocal and not afraid to say things that make people uncomfortable. Lipedema chronic disorder of adipose tissue generally affecting the legs, which causes the legs and sometimes the arms to accumulate fatty tissue. Some people living with this condition can be normal weight, but excess fat doesn’t respond to diet. Lymphedema – tissue is crushing my lymphatic system. I am swollen and abnormal everywhere except my head and my boobs. My mom raised me to just get out there and do things.
Martha: I am a Registered Dietitian from the northwest with a background in treatment of eating disorders. I am impassioned about empowering women. I opened my own practice in January 2015 after spending a couple years treating inpatient eating disorders. I opened my own practice because the medical practice is broken and patients are not being helped.
Jackelyn question: What is shame to you?
Martha: anything that makes you feel bad or wrong as a human being. For example, you get a D on a test and feel like you’re a terrible student which makes you feel less value for yourself.
Carla: Embarrassed on steroids – value has gone down, wanting to turn and hide away. We are only as sick as our secrets.
Kia: Fear in the absence of honesty.
Sarah: Guilt – I’m Catholic.
Jackelyn question: What is fat shaming?
Martha: specific to someone who is making you feel like your value is diminished. People’s judgements are being taken on by you internally.
Kia: I want to quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can you make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Sarah: There’s a Facebook pic with logo of McDonald’s on an overweight person’s arm and they are holding a soda or burger. The perception is that people that are obese must be consuming junk food all the time. In pictures, ads display larger bodies with a soda and a chicken leg. The assumption of poor lifestyle bothers me.
Jackelyn question: Let’s explore the spectrum. What is skinny shaming?
Carla: I struggle with the word shaming. I remember I rarely talked about what I ate. I used to get emails asking What do you recommend, obviously you don’t eat?
Kia: Boulder County ranks least in obesity in nation. However, there is a big problem no one is talking about and it is the fact that anorexia is prevalent.
Sarah: I had to stop watching the Real Housewives of OC or Beverly Hills – the one Slade is on. When he said to one of the woman, “I want to call you cheeseburger. You’re so skinny” it really bothered me. I like the idea of building people up and not tearing them down.
Jackelyn question: Martha, the weight stigma is a huge thing. You look like this, you must be this kind-of stereotypes. Why are they wrong?
Martha: There are some physicians doing damage because they are not being trained in the research related to health. Research tells us that BMI and weight are not indicative of someone’s health. Everyone’s body type is ok and you need to healthy within your body type. That looks different for everyone. Sad that we think we have the right to have a say over other people and their habits. Everyone should be empowered to do what they want with their health and their body. I look at health spectrum – lipids, blood sugars, etc – if your goal is to lose weight, I won’t help you. If your relationships with food need work, I will work with clients to get over those issues.
Jacklyn: Carla, going from being overweight to what you are now, what criticisms have you received from both sides?
Carla: I’m 5’3” and I gained 40 lbs. When I decided to lose weight, it wasn’t healthy. I didn’t have the money for a new suit to wear for graduation. I didn’t know what to do; I did crazy things…lost weight really rapidly. People started saying “you look too skinny, eat a cheeseburger”. Then, I got into weight training and wanted to put on muscle weight. People got used to me being the chubby sidekick. I don’t own scale. I weigh in at doctors once a year. I walk when I can. It doesn’t matter what you weigh, just be as healthy as you can.
Jackelyn: Kia, let’s talk about the little monster in your head blog post?
Kia: little monster = ego This goes to body dysmorphic disorder. There’s this nagging thing that we’re not good enough.
Failure – not an end point. Stats are sexy – I’m a stats person. Look back at the overall experience. Effort vs time chart from Ignite – as long as you’re going in the general direction, it doesn’t matter if the path is all over the place.
We dislike people that are like us. We pick those things out in others. We need to stop and ask ourselves Would you talk to a friend like that? No? Then, why do you talk to yourself like that?
Jackelyn: Sarah, you write everything that happens to you. What is your most jarring experience? How did it make you feel and how did you respond?
Sarah: I was outside the gym with my boyfriend at Hollywood beach. A woman came up to us on her bike smoking a cigarette. She told me she was working on her physical training education and could help me. I looked at her and said no, I don’t take health advice from a smoker.
Last year, at pool with boyfriend taking some photos by the pool for Ignite presentation. A woman walked up to me and told me her daughter was overweight and was seeing a doctor who could speed up her heart rate to help her lose weight. She wouldn’t leave me alone. I asked my boyfriend – why don’t they say anything to you? When I posted my blog post about this occurrence, I got comments from people such as she was just concerned for your health. To approach someone and give them health advice is not appropriate.
Jackelyn: Martha, when clients come in with eating disorders, what do you tell them to help get out of the negative mindset?
Martha: 1st session their story and goals. We talk about the process and what the process looks like. Then we work on hunger and fullness cues. In terms of weight, I don’t know where that’s going to land. Your body has a set point. We are watching to see where your body lands when we work on your hunger/fullness cues. Then we’ll learn how to accept and be comfortable there. I like to work through gremlins in your brain that attack body image. There’s empowerment in the fact that your body knows best.
Jackelyn: Carla, what word would you choose instead of body shaming?
Carla: I don’t know another word I would use. My question is why are we still talking about this after all these years? I don’t know when it will ever end. People ask me why I have all these tattoos. Why are we wasting energy like this?
Audience member: Money. Women are editors of magazine – they are telling us there is something wrong with us and here’s how to fix it. There’s no money behind not doing that.
Jackelyn: Over recent years, we’ve seen fitspiration. One ripped skinny girl with quote saying suck it up now, don’t suck in later. Real women are curvy women. Is this a war? Are we competing? Why are we being some mean to each other?
Kia: That goes back to online envy. The way around all that is to meditate. Focus on yourself. Put on your wonder woman bracelets and deflect all that.
Martha: Judgement is what someone does. Shaming is what we feel. We can only feel that if we respond. We can choose to educate.
Kia: You don’t diminish your own flame by building up someone else’s. We need to radiate out empowerment.
Sarah: The if I can do it, you can do it – Why do people fat shame? They are ashamed of themselves, so they feel like others should be also. It’s almost as if they can’t understand how someone else could be comfortable with themselves.
Jackelyn – Sarah, great attitude. How do you get there?
Sarah: I’m the youngest of five and it’s how I was raised. I didn’t know I was fat until 2nd grade when the nurse told me I was fat. My sister passed away in 1992 from aplastic anemia. She looked at me before she passed and told me that God gave me a healthy body and I was killing myself. She struggled to live life that best she could and she was sick. I realized I had to live my life the best I can. Everyone has issues. No one is perfect. Worry about yourself. I take risks. A friend of mine won’t go to the pool because afraid to be shamed. She thinks her kids are embarrassed by her. Then, sit them down and have the conversation and teach them to be accepting of all people.
Jackelyn opened up the floor to questions:
- Does media play a role in body image? Magazines are starting to say they don’t want to Photoshop. They want to see real people.
Kia: Media is pushing to sell a product. They aren’t being altruistic. Keep that in the back of your mind when you spend your money.
Sarah: Even though Dove campaign advocates for real women, have you ever noticed no one has scars or other imperfections. Why do we have to be without clothes to prove we are confident? What are we communicating to young girls by doing this. We need to be showing them we can be confident in our clothes. As a plus-size consumer, another thing that bothers me is that I want to see what a plus-size woman looks like in clothes. Don’t advertise a plus-size on a size 10.
- One thing as an overweight woman I struggle with is the search for doctor to treat you for health not weight. It doesn’t help me to say you need surgery. How can I better navigate the medical system?
Sarah: new requirements for docs, have to document BMIs. Obesity as a disease is comorbidity. Docs are using this as a diagnosis and then recommend weight loss surgery. Need to shop around to find a doctor that has been trained in the new research.
Martha: I look for doctors who don’t dictate treatment based on weight. Unfortunately, their training is based on BMI and weight. I tell my clients you are in charge of your own health. You can decline to be weighed. You can decline to have your bmi printed. A lot of docs haven’t caught up with the conclusion that weight is not an indicator of health.
Kia: work with a hospital patient advocate.
- Comment from audience – Skinny shaming is not often talked about. I have experienced it. I don’t want to belittle others experience because I feel blessed to not have had that struggle. I get asked Why do you work out? I hate you because you’re naturally skinny. I’ve missed out on friendships because I feel judged. I wish there was more discussion in fitness community on both sides – skinny and fat.
Martha: When people say I hate you because you can eat anything, I teach my clients to answer back why can’t you? Weight is not health. I care about my health.
Audience member – I work out because I want to be healthy in my older age.
Jackelyn rap up – I think the take away from all this is that body shaming stems from a deep place. When people say things to us that are body shaming type statements, it has nothing to do with us. We need to get to a place where people exist in an I don’t judge you because I don’t judge myself mentality. Let’s continue this conversation and use our influence to keep moving the conversation forward so we can get to that place. Thank you to the panel.
Round of applause for panelists!