Big Ways and Little Ways
by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D.

Sometimes it seems that the whole world revolves around size issues. And sometimes, size has more to do with some basic ways we can take care of ourselves. There are big ways and little ways.

Big ways involve certain life choices, such as choosing to have a good life (regardless of size), or to make a contribution to the world, or to be as physically fit as possible, and so on. (By the way, it is prejudice and its effects that contribute to the notion that a fat person cannot be physically fit. As Pat Lyons, RN, and Dr. Debby Burgard noted in their wonderful book, Great Shape, it is quite possible to be fat and fit. Despite the prejudice, there is even some research finally confirming this fact.) The big choices we make help us steer our lives, whether by how we choose our occupation or by what we do with the first hour of our day, or even by how we react and respond to an event in our day. We may not have much of a choice about our or our preferred partner's body size, or about the degree of size prejudice in our culture. But we have choices of how to deal with such conditions.

I think one of the easiest choices is that we can learn from anything. Certainly, there are some "lessons" that Dimensions readers seem to get over and over again (like that many people in our culture are size-prejudiced and nasty). But we can use such events in many ways-for instance, to sharpen our humor, or to participate in size-friendly activism, or to study prejudice (as did W. Charisse Goodman in her excellent book, The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America). Or we can allow them to keep us housebound, or to give up as hopeless any notions of happiness or good health being possible for us. While Dimensions readers have probably chosen to affirm and accept their size or size preference, many of our sisters and brothers probably don't know such a choice is possible. We always have choices of how to use what comes our way.

When my husband was very ill, I chose to have the experience improve our relationship, educate me, and allow me to make a contribution to the world-regardless of the outcome of his illness. By making such choices and then dealing with the events that came up, I shaped the outcomes of those events to provide the results I had intended. Our relationship improved, I learned a huge amount, and I was able to use what I learned to help others. Some of the worst events in our lives can provide some of the best learnings. For example, many participants in my Weight Release workshops have commented that being fat in a fat-phobic culture has taught them to be more compassionate and stronger.

It might be wonderful if we were thin, or if we were exactly the size and shape we are now in a culture that was not fat-phobic. One big choice that many Dimensions readers have faced is to decide whether it is easier to fight one's own body size (or one's preference for a particular body size) or to fight against the fatphobia which makes outlaws of fat people. Many of us are familiar with the conditions of the fat-fighting life: deprivation; food obsessions; costly "treatments"; perhaps bingeing on both food and exercise; closets full of various-size clothes; elation at weight loss; shame, guilt, and despair over weight gain; approval from others for our shrinking bodies and disapproval/disdain at our expansion; fantasies of how everything will be perfect when we are finally thin; broken vows of permanent thinness; agoraphobia (fear of being in public places); depression, and so on.

The fat-phobia-fighting life offers many other conditions: the blessed peacefulness of finally giving up the fat-fighting battles; partnership with one's own body; harmony regarding food; disbelief/disapproval from many people in our lives who cannot accept us or our partners; defiance; rage; a feeling of brotherhood/sisterhood with others engaged in this choice; feelings of despair and/or disillusionment about the size and membership of the fat-phobic contingent; perhaps a sense of one's full power; the delight and sense of wholeness of accepting one's sexuality, and so forth.

Some days we can be on top of the world. Other days, on the other hand, we'd rather be under the bed. Some days it feels too hard to be constructive about events. Blinking uses up all our energy! We can use such days to learn about better ways to take care of ourselves.

A better way might be as simple as making ourselves a cup of tea, washing our face, cuddling a pet, or going to sleep early or often. It might involve reading, watching TV, listening to music, taking a walk or a drive, or dancing. Or wearing a favorite, reassuring piece of clothing. Or crying or screaming. What are some little ways you have learned to take care of yourself?. I have a favorite pair of slippers which feel like they hug my feet when I wear them. While it's only a small act, anyone who's ever had sore feet knows what a huge difference donning comfortable footwear can make in one's quality of life!

If we are able, connecting at difficult times with a true friend can be a wonderful way to take care of ourselves. Making a phone call, writing a letter, getting on the Internet, or even just remembering such a good connection can help us to feel whole again. A "friend" might even take the form of a size-friendly book, such as those offered in the NAAFA Book Service, or a magazine such as the one now in your hands. A size-friendly therapist or doctor might help to turn such times into better ones. Occasionally, even medication might be useful-particularly if no matter what you try, you cannot seem to get back in touch with any positive energy in your world.

Sometimes, when the world is tremendously burdensome, we may need to take life an hour or even a minute at a time. Get through this minute, then deal with the next one. Whether we are trying to survive the next minute or the next day, it is still helpful to bring small creature comforts to our experiences; to give ourselves acknowledgment and appreciation for surviving; even to give ourselves a small reward for making it through a hard time. I occasionally recommend starting a "Fun Fund." Once in a while, spend some quality time daydreaming about what this Fund will pay for. When you make it through an hour or a difficult event, put some money into the Fund. Most importantly, once you are willing to enjoy yourself, make sure to actually spend the Fund on something fun!

Until next time, wishing you little problems and big hugs.. ß

Well Being