A Change in Perspective
by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D.

I recently had the opportunity to travel out of the United States. While travel in general is a great way to change one's perspective (you mean things aren't the same everywhere?), I was particularly heartened by an hour in Italy. The hour was the only time when I walked separately from my husband, and I was followed and enthusiastically commented on by several Italian men. It warmed my middle-aged, midsized self! I remembered that women of different ages and sizes are appreciated differently in different cultures. If I needed a future reminder, I could remember that hour, or if need be, get on an Italy-bound airplane.

Do you remember how you felt about being or preferring fat, before you discovered NAAFA or Dimensions? You may have felt bad, wrong, and totally isolated. Then you found out you were not alone. How did that change your perspective? While some people who feel bad about being different from the dominant culture may condemn others like them (e.g., that person is fat, therefore she is a bad person), or others who like them (e.g., this person wants to go out with me, therefore something is wrong with him), many people feel immense relief knowing they are not alone. The presence of others like them confirms that they fit somewhere in the world. Perhaps they are just different in some ways, but that doesn't mean they are bad. I still recall the pleasure and relief in the face of my friend Susie, when she came to her first NAAFA meeting. She couldn't stop grinning! She still drives two hours each way to attend a local meeting. NAAFA gave her a change in perspective; an opportunity to belong to a good, productive, well informed, fun-loving group.

We have many opportunities to change our perspective. They can be as simple as wearing shoes which change our height (try it!), or donning or removing eyeglasses or sunglasses. If the whole world looks dismal to you, and everywhere you look you find more of the same, it's not the world--it's your perspective. I've sometimes likened the experience to wearing brown glasses. They color everything you perceive, but they are only your filter, and not what is really out there. Sometimes hormones or depression can contribute such an all-or-nothing coloring of our experience.

I am a big fan of affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements with which you can reprogram the chatter in your mind. For example, many fat women I know can affirm to themselves that they are both fat and beautiful, or fat and healthy, or both -- rather than the North American litany of fat-and-ugly / unhealthy. They have told themselves, seen, read, heard, listened to enough statements that equate fat with positive qualities, that they can tell themselves another story. They have surrounded themselves with artwork depicting fat, beautiful people, and with people who recognize and support their true value. They have changed their perspective. Many have mentioned that an ardent admirer has been the catalyst for their ability to change their perspective; for the first time, the eyes of a lover have shown them their sexuality and their beauty.

Students of meditation are able to "step outside" the mind's workings and notice that the mind runs on, doing its own thing. They realize that they are not their minds, and that their mind's chatter is not the truth. They can observe their minds without being run by them. You can do the same. Sit quietly and simply name what passes through your experience.

If you feel an itch or other body sensation, name the part of the body experiencing it (e.g., 'ears" if you hear a sound, or "knee if your knee hurts). If a thought goes by, say "thought," or "eyes "if you see a memory. When possible, don't go into the thought or the memory. The exercise is simply to notice, then to notice again, and again, and so on.

My friend, who studies meditation, was stuck in heavy traffic daily en route to her work. One day, after sifting and fuming about all the time and gasoline that were going to waste while she was stuck in this terrible traffic jam, it occurred to her that she could change her perspective. Rather than fidget and recite to herself all the bad things about being stuck, she could discover what was good about the same situation: She realized that she could do some meditation, could appreciate the sky and the scenery, could relax, maybe do some isometric exercises, follow the songs on the radio, etc. None of those opportunities had been available to her from her mind-set of being a traffic jam victim. She was able to get value from something which previously had taken a toll from her, simply by choosing to consider it from a different point of view.

Another friend and colleague, Dr. Warren Berland, has written an excellent book about "Getting Out of the Box" (due out in Spring 1998) When he works with people, many of whom feel bad and stuck in painful situations, he suggests that they imagine that their bad-and-stuck feelings are inside a box. Inside the box also goes any sense of limitation about who they are and what is possible for them. Then he has them step outside of the box, and view their situation from this out-of-the-box perspective. It is amazing what freedom is available to people who can step outside of their self-imposed boxes! They can see what really matters to them in their lives and can make freer choices They can sense who they are, as opposed to who they thought they were.

But people cannot step outside of the box, unaided, if they don't know that they are in one. That's why my hour in Italy was such a gift. It reminded me that notions about attractiveness, body size, and age are part of a cultural box, but not what is really so all over the world. And certainly not what is really true about me --or you!

Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., is a clinical social worker, size acceptance activist and educator, and author of Worth Your Weight (Rutledge Books, 1996).

Well Being