Mess Acceptance & The New Hotness

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Warning, I don’t do short posts… you’re in for the long-haul here, my friend.

My friend, peer and part-time-unaware-that-she-is-my-mentor Mentor at the Pilates Pod, Michelle Smith has started The “Your Body Rocks Campaign” A celebration of our bodies and stand up to body shaming –

Michelle details some deeply disturbing body shaming behaviour and downright nastiness on behalf of the Pilates teaching community in her blog post “Am I Worth the Weight?”

I met Michelle on the classical Pilates training intensive Sarah and I did last summer (2018).  She is a fellow studio owner and like I say, I think enough about her ability to teach and DO Pilates that I have been saving my pennies so I could go to Hitchin and spend few days learning from her.  I am obviously having to rethink that because clearly her ability to mentor me or teach me anything new is beyond her because of the those “E Cup Bad Boys”… I mean she clearly can’t see me over those for one thing, so how can she teach me effectively.  If she can’t fit into a Sweaty Betty outfit then her knowledge of Pilates is sorely lacking and I want a refund 😊  I jest – obvs I’m just jealous of the E Cup Bad Boys because my A Cup Small Girls ensure that I look like a nine-year old boy in the chest department when I lie on my back.  Sweaty Betty would laugh at me for bothering to spend a hundred quid on a shelfy-doofery-top when I clearly have nothing to put in it!

It’s always strange when you find yourself suddenly more and more interested in a subject and you think you’re the only one and then suddenly someone pops up and goes “Me too, me too!”.  Whilst Michelle has been suffering the abuse of other teachers and highlights the problems we have in the Pilates industry, I’ve been contemplating it more widely.  The Your Body Rocks Campaign has helped to focus my mind and to help me write this post in support of Michelle’s.

Whilst I was visiting Michelle I made the mistake of going into Waterstone’s… I say mistake because if I get sucked into that black hole I can only haul myself out by spending a mortgage payment on more books than I can read in this lifetime.  One of them, “Burnout – The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle – for Every Woman who thinks I am not enough”, called to me.  It’s a good book and as I was reading Michelle’s posts last night, I got to the chapter entitled, “The Bikini Industrial Complex”.  Whilst there’s not a lot that’s particularly new in it (for me at least), it did pull some loose threads together and the statements were on point for this topic.  Essentially this books points out that what Michelle and probably many more women face within the Pilates industry is actually just a smaller segment of what women in the world face full stop.

I know, I know, I can hear you all gasp, cover your eyes, cringing and whispering, “Please tell me she’s not gone all feministic on us,” well, maybe I have.  Maybe I spend all day with women who come to the studio for private sessions, women who tend to be mid forties upwards into their seventies, who come to me day after day, week after week with their own tales of body shaming.  Wait for it though… just wait for it… no, they’re not BEING body shamed by SOMEONE ELSE… no, they’re doing it to themselves.  “I can’t possibly wear a short-sleeved top anymore, I mean look at the state of my arms,” just one example from a couple of days ago.  I could go on and on and on with examples, and each time I hear one my heart breaks and my response is normally along the lines of, “Who gives a flying fuck what your arms look like, wear whatever the fuck you like.”

And just so you know and for the sake of clarity I would like to point out that I am the Pilates teacher that has tattoos and who swears constantly in general and at her students in particular and if a student doesn’t call me a least one nasty name during a session considers herself a failure… oh, and most of my Pilates-wear is second hand!  I’m from Yorkshire, for fuck’s sake, I’m not spending a hundred quid on a pair of leggings… Christ, I can get a couple of hours training with Michelle and her E Cup Bad Boys for that.

Many of my clients are so caught up in the Bikini Industrial Complex they’ll do just about anything to try and squeeze into that mould.

Some of the ‘facts’ in the book… the notes section and references section cites the research for this if you’re interested.  I went through and did a brief check before typing this lot, but if you want the nitty-gritty you’ll have to read it.

  1. “… by age six, about half of girls are worried about being “too fat”. By age 11, it’s up two-thirds, and by full adolescence almost all girls will have engaged in some kind of “weight control” behaviour.  One recent studio of … adolescents found that… (92%) engaged in some kind of weight-control behaviour and almost half… of girls engaged in unhealthy weight-control behaviours.
  2. … In 1994 there was no television on the island of Fiji; there were also no eating disorders. British and American television were brought to the island in 1995.  By 1998 29% of the girls had developed severe eating disorder symptoms.  13% developed these symptoms within one month of the introduction of television.
  3. The body mass index (BMI) chart and its labels – underweight, overweight, obese, etc. – were created by a panel of nine individuals, seven of whom were “employed by weight loss clinics and thus have an economic interest in encouraging the use of their facilities.

And if you haven’t thrown your telly out and burned your weighing scales yet…

  1. … metanalysis… encompassing nearly four million people who never smoked and had no diagnosed medical issues… found that people labelled “obese” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … have lower health risk than those the CDC categorised as underweight… being overweight… is lower risk than being at the low end of the “healthy” range, as defined by the US federal government and the World Health Organisation.
  2. … even found that people in the BMI category labelled “overweight” may live longer than people in any other category, and the highest predictable mortality rate might be among those labelled “underweight.”
  3. …newest research…doctors warn middle aged and older patients against losing weight, because the increasingly well established dangers of fluctuations in weight outweigh any risk associated with a high but stable weight.

I like the last paragraph in this section…

“And yet weight stigma is so deeply entrenched that even the researchers who study health and weight are prone to “scientific weightism,” the empirically unsound assumption that thin is good and fat is bad.  It leads physicians and scientists to write sentences like “It is well established that weight loss, by any method, is beneficial for individuals with diabetes.”   “By any method”? Tuberculosis? Radiation therapy? Internment camp? Amputation? Come on.  Weight and health.  Not the same thing.””  😀 😀 😀

The book goes on to state that stigma is the health hazard, that by buying into the bullshit that the industries who thrive on our body dissatisfaction peddle we will spend anything, do anything, try anything … those yo-yo diets “ultimately causes changes in brain functioning and [changes in hormones] which leads to actual disease.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality of any mental illness – higher even than depression”.

So having written all that, now comes the caveat… I deeply believe that what someone looks like on the outside is not necessarily a reflection of their whole body health.  However, if you know you are unhealthy, whatever size you are, because you are engaging in unhealthy behaviour then this post is in no way meant to give you a big green light to continue engaging in those behaviours, whether it’s the full cake instead of a slice every day, the two litres of fizzy drink, the half litre of wine, the diet pills, laxatives, purging, the sucking it all in, not having a shit for a week… whatever, you get the idea.  If you know you’re not healthy, then zip up your big girl pants and sort that shit out!  (props for the “zip up your big girl pants” quote goes to one of my favourite clients, Nat).

Also there are plenty of studies out there that will contradict everything I’ve written.  Yep, that’s what studies do.  HOWEVER, I am always interested in who funds the studies… A post for another time.

… so the solution, the strategy outlined in the book and also the title of our Sister Campaign to Your Body Rocks… Mess Acceptance and “THE NEW HOTNESS”.

The writers, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski say that encouraging you to “(1) practice body acceptance, (2) embrace body diversity, and (3) listen to your body …[it’s] good for you… [and] you should definitely try them.”  It’s also nearly impossible.

“…[instead] practice “mess acceptance”.  Turn toward the mess of noisy, contradictory thoughts and feelings with kindness and compassion” for yourself.  Deep down you know that the size of shape of your body is not a defining factor in who you are and you also know that it’s not necessarily a defining factor in how healthy or fit your body is either.  As an example the Nagoskis say that when you work out do it because you know it’s good for your body, not because someone has told you you need to exercise so many times a week or your electronic device has nudged you into taking more steps, or you need to ‘get in shape’… “… part of you might still actively want to change the shape of your body, and that’s perfectly normal.  Move your body anyway – because it really is good for you.”

The New Hotness Game, a strategy for teaching ourselves to let go of body self-criticism and shift to self-kindness.  “Maybe you don’t look like you used to, or like you used to imagine you should; but how you look today is the new hotness.  Even better than the old hotness”…


“Wearing your new leggings today? You are the new hotness.

Saggy belly skin from that baby you birthed? New hotness.”

Wrinkly arm skin on bingo wings? New hotness.

Only half a right butt cheek because you survived cancer. New hotness.

A torso criss-crossed with scars because you came through a surgery that usually kills 70% of other people at nearly 70 year old.  New hotness!

Starting Pilates at 70+ with a body that doesn’t move like it used to. New hotness.

Dragging your aching, tired, 80+ hour overworked, elderly parent caring, older child ferrying, overwhelmed, underpaid, undernourished (in lots of different ways) body to the party of life day after day and still finding time to be generous to yourself and others.  New hotness.

Learning how to look after your body and understand what it needs instead of what everybody else tells you it should need, be, do, look like. New hotness.

Those last six are my own contributions.  And that’s the game we are going to play… it’s easier said than done to redefine beauty… The Nagoskis suggest that reconstructing our own standard of beauty should be with a definition that comes from our own hearts and includes our body as they are right now.  Of course that’s easier said than done.  BUT much like your movement practice, you keep chipping away at it, you keep practice, and you get better at it.  The same with your definition of what’s hot… stop consuming the stuff that keeps you in your place, the magazines, the ads, the TV.  Broaden your definition of what’s beautiful and join the New Hotness game at the studio.

My own weight loss journey coming next…