AN INTRO TO BODY BIZ WITH LIZ
“Vay es inch kan es chaghastel”
(Wow, you have gained so much weight!)
“Vay inch kan es niharel”
(Wow, you have lost so much weight!)
These two statements can either make a person shrink into themselves or smile uncomfortably and accept the backhanded “compliment.” Isn’t it interesting how both statements make one want to disappear either from humiliation or starvation?
Why is it that we place so much significance on our bodies and appearances, rather than someone’s humor, compassion, intellect, love? I think in our community we forget that simply existing is enough, that we are always worthy of love.
For a culture that thrives around the dinner table or manghal (grill), whose traditions are so heavily steeped in food and family, and where sharing food brings us joy- we deem food the enemy. Conversations at the dinner table involve how much or how little we ate during the day or during dinner. At dessert time, you primarily hear women discussing how much weight they need to lose and other women’s bodies.
Children (primarily younger girls) register these conversations and are taught early on that thinness leads to happiness, love, and success. Children who can’t achieve this standard are constantly bullied into losing weight, and often forced into diets that impact their health far more than weight can. This type behavior can be traumatizing to kids, as it destroys their relationship with food and their bodies. Just because we Armenians are a strong and resilient people, does not mean we are immune to mental health issues.
It’s bad enough to hear these messages from the media, but for children and young adults to be constantly be reminded of their “unwanted” body in their own homes is absolutely toxic and destroys their self-esteem for years to come. Hearing these messages from the people who are supposed to love us most and shower us with validation can be heart-breaking.
THE WORDS FAT AND HEALTHY ARE NOT OPPOSITES
I know many of us think fat = unhealthy, but that could not be further from the truth. How can you tell someone’s lifestyle from their body? It is so important to remain sensitive to the fact that one’s appearance can not represent any underlying physical or mental health problems.
Perhaps you are praising a thin person or fat person who currently has an eating disorder.
Perhaps you’re praising a person who is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.
Perhaps you are praising a person whose illness keeps them from gaining weight.
Perhaps you’re judging a fat/thicc/curvy/plus-size person who has a “balanced diet” and exercises multiple times a week.
We often forget that many people can never reach “perfect” health, especially those with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Does that mean they are not deserving of love and that they deserve to be constantly bullied or questioned about their weight? Of course not.
intention is everything!
I want to be cognizant of the difference between body liberation and body autonomy. If intentional weight loss is a personal goal, than by all means go for it - just remember to examine where that’s stemming from and if you’re doing it to meet some form of validation or happiness. Know that there are many ways to achieve this and that accepting yourself as is should be your goal first and foremost. This in turn will break the toxic cycle for you, your friends and family. If you’re going to exercise, choose movement that ultimately brings you joy. Above all, don’t fear lahmajun and allow yourself to enjoy each hamov (delicious) bite.
If we can start by accepting all bodies and let go of the damaging stereotypes and expectations upheld by traditional Armenian families, we can diminish the chance of eating disorders and body image issues, and raise our children to do the same.
ABOUT ME, LIZ
I have been combating comments about my body my whole life. This drove me to various eating disorders and to major extremes (hospitalization) in attempting to achieve the perfect body. Which I expected would mean happiness for a lifetime. But, newsflash! Weight loss does not equate to happiness.
I know that personally because even after I lost a lot of weight, I still felt the same way about myself. I was still striving to be thinner. I didn’t magically become happy. It wasn’t until I regularly saw a therapist that I was able to move past this and live a life in recovery.
Until today, I fight off comments for myself, for children, for adults, and for anyone who is incapable of speaking up for themselves. I don’t want to see another person scolded and shamed for their body, especially a child whose main goals in life should be to play, learn, and laugh. I don’t want another child telling me they are on a diet. I don’t want to see someone else suffer from a life of turmoil that can be prevented with a little bit of love, self-awareness, and education.
We have so much to do to unlearn these behaviors in the Armenian culture. Body positivity and body neutrality are pretty much foreign concepts, so it is no surprise that we cannot understand body liberation or the movement that started it all - FAT ACCEPTANCE. So, the next time you want to make a comment about your weight or someone else’s, or how much food you’ve eaten or need to burn off, recognize how harmful it can be.
For today’s closing exercise, ask yourself:
Would you judge your younger self so critically, knowing how it has affected you growing up?
When’s the last time you made a comment towards another body? Even as a ‘joke’? How was that experience? Do you purposefully want to hurt someone else and push them towards a negative path?
P.S. Remember that the word FAT is a descriptor, and accepting that it’s not the worst thing to be called on this planet takes a lot of self-work. So if you use the word, keep in mind that some people may not have reached that point yet, so please be kind and compassionate.
Click here for a list of resources if you or anyone you know is struggling from an eating disorder, or if you need helpful tips on how to speak about body image with your children. Reach out to someone you trust.