Body Image

Trigger warning: discussion of eating disorders and body image.

I just got off the bus and I’m still brooding over some things I overheard…

The woman a few seats away was speaking (er, yelling) very loudly on the phone to a friend about weight and body image. It was pretty clear that she wanted the whole bus to hear her “helpful” advice.

And you know, she did have some helpful advice… she suggested not weighing oneself, not counting calories, not thinking about foods “not to eat”, etc. She advised her friend (and the rest of the bus) to eat things that she feels good about eating (fruits, vegetables, etc) and to love her body and take care of it.

What she said should have made me feel GREAT about myself… but it didn’t because she also implied that “fat” people DON’T already do those things and that weight loss is as simple as eating well and exercising. Now for some people, it is that simple. But it’s never been like that for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fat. I’ve always ate much less than others and I exercise moderately, but I am always gaining weight and weight loss is virtually impossible. In fact, I ended up with a pretty horrific eating disorder, because people kept telling me that weight loss was as simple as calories in-calories out and telling me that I must just be eating too much. I starved myself… I ate 600 calories a day, walked 3 or 4 miles a day, and lost about 1 to 2 lbs a week, which is the amount a normal person would lose eating about 1500 calories a day.

When I got to college, I started eating 1,200 calories a day, and gained 40 lbs in 8 months. I talked to my doctors, but they kept saying “you must just be eating too much”, as though I didn’t know how much I was eating. Even my friends at college were (and are) worried about me, because I ate so little. But I figured the doctors were right, so I started eating less… and still didn’t lose weight. As it turns out, I have mild hypothyroidism and PCOS, which isn’t helping me at all. My hypothyroidism went undetected because my levels were just on the cusp of the “normal” range and it took a lot of pushing and shoving to get someone to do something about it. But I’ve recently started treatment for hypothyroidism (there is no treatment for PCOS, but there are ways to control some of the symptoms) and am still figuring out medication. A few weeks ago, I managed to lose 10 lbs in a little over a month (I was also awake/alert and stopped losing hair!). Of course, I changed medications and gained those 10 lbs back, but I know that I can eventually find the right type and dose of medication to make my body work with me.

I’m not “fat” because I eat bags of doritos and lay around on the couch. I drink green smoothies, eat salads and raw nuts, and walk frequently… but I do have endocrine disorders that directly affect my metabolism.

Not everyone has thyroid disorders, but they are under-diagnosed. It’s not a well-understood disease, and doctors are still arguing over what “normal” levels of TSH are, as well as other diagnostic criteria. Try eating well, exercise, and sleep, but if you’re still freezing cold all the time (I wear wool sweaters in the summer!), exhausted, losing hair, and gaining weight at an impossible rate, then thyroid disorders are worth looking into. Here are some helpful links:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001393/

http://www.thyroid.org/patients/brochures/Hypo_brochure.pdf

http://www.thyroid-info.com/topdrs/

Dresses

So I’ve mentioned before that finding (cheap) clothing that can accomodate my bust is… a challenge. My waist is a US 6/8 (small) and my bust (according to size charts) is a 16, though I can usually squeeze it into a 12 and a 14 is okay. Here are a few dresses that I’ve made work!

Blue dress from H&M (H&M size 8, fits like a 4)

(edit: I’m experimenting with GIMP to get rid of the dishes and stuff in the background.)

This isn’t my usual style, but the navy blue silky fabric looks great on me, and the cowl-neck style has enough extra fabric to fit my boobs! Sure, the top is supposed to be much looser, but I think it works out well anyway. Also, it’s the only “formal” dress I have right now.

Per sizing, H&M tends to run very, very small. Most people find that they need at least 2 sizes larger than other brands. According to their size charts, my bust is an 18! It’s pretty much a miracle that I was able to fit my bust into an H&M 8! And the waist fits quite well.

H&M pink sundress (H&M size 12)

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I went to a wedding in Florida last summer, and needed a dress. I stopped at H&M and found this on the sale rack for $10. I tried it on… the waist was big and the bust was about 4 sizes too small. I got it anyway, and picked out the side seams and re-sewed the bust with slits in the sides. It’s not a great job (I hand-sewed it while in the car on the way to Florida!), but it works. I have to wear it with a belt… but it I get the chance to attack it with my sewing machine, I can take the waist in and make the bust alteration a bit neater. Oh, and it has boning, so a bra isn’t 100% necessary (though it is preferable).

The alteration:

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Forever 21 blue dress (Large)

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This dress is big… too big. The criss cross stuff on the back is floppy when I stand up straight and the waist is a little saggy. A medium would be better (not perfect), but they didn’t have it and I love the dress anyway. I usually wear it with a belt. The v-neck, puffy sleeves, and neat back detail are great… and the dress is blue, which is a colour I seem to wear a lot.

Frustrating things…

It drives me a little bit crazy when I mention that I wear a US 32H (or 32I) and someone says “oh, well you look like a D”. Why does it drive me nuts? Because it’s just false… and that’s why people are wearing the wrong bra sizes!

When I went to get fitted a few years ago, the fitter looked at me (claiming that they do fitting mostly by eye) and said that I looked like a 34D… I walked out in a 34DDD, which still wasn’t quite right, but was definitely closer. A 34D? Really? If I looked like a D (a real D), then I would be able to fit into clothing, but my waist needs a 6 and my bust needs a 14. I’m not a D by any stretch of the imagination.

Sometimes I get the same reaction from friends, and it drives me nuts. I don’t care whether or not my breasts are “big”… I just care that I’m wearing the right size. The comment always strikes me as really meaning: “stop trying to pretend that you have huge breasts!”, as though a) a US H cup is “huge” and b) I am trying to “puff myself up”. There isn’t much I can do about the fact that a US 32H is the smallest I can go in the cup… I just am a 32H (by conventional add 4 or 5 method, a 36F, which is still pretty big… and still far from a D). My wearing the correct size isn’t my pretending to have HUGE breasts, it’s just my wearing the right size.

In fact, I don’t often think of my breasts as being big. I could have much larger breasts… I have friends with much, much larger breasts. But as it stands, mine are fairly big, and I notice this every time I try on a bra or attempt to fit into a dress or dress shirt. I am a US H, and I’m fine with that. I’d also be fine as a C or a K. It doesn’t matter what the letter is… I just care that I’m in a bra that can support what I’ve got!

So here’s my PSA: “H” does not stand for “huge”.

Back flub… rolls… etc…

So I’ve been thinking about back fat. Specifically about the fat that shows when wearing a bra. At the moment, I’ve got some extra fat on my back. If I put on a really loose band, the fat is mostly invisible… but then my band slides all the way up my back and gives me no support. And sometimes a too-loose band can cause even worse back fat than a too-tight band! If the band is too lose, it will pull up… which creates more tension. Once you’ve got the weight of your breasts pulling a band up and into your back, you’ve got a recipe for back-fat-disaster. But I digress… if you’ve got extra fat on your back, it’s probably going to show under a bra. Back fat happens. I need a 32… and, with anything non-baggy, the back flub shows. Some bras are worse than others, and I think I’ve figured out why a well-fitting bra can cause back rolls:

1) thin back bands: Basic physics here… when a thin strip of fabric is supporting a lot of weight (breasts are heavy!), it’s going to cut in. A larger band will exert less pressure.

2) different materials used in the band: If the band is fabric trimmed with elastic, the elastic is frequently much tighter than the fabric part of the band. Because of this, the elastic will cut in, leaving the rest of the band out of the suport-equation.. so it’s basically a super-thin band! If the elastic is the same tension as the rest of the band, then it should be okay…

3) not enough stretch: really stretchy bands hug without suffocating… and a stiff band will cut in each time you breathe or move!

So… a bra with a wider back band (sorry, I know it’s not as pretty) made of one-tension (stretchy) material might solve this back fat problem. I want to test this hypothesis!

One last note about band sizing and back fat: imagine I have no extra fat on my back (this was once the case)… my underbust might measure 28 inches… on a tight or loose measure. There wouldn’t be much difference between a tight or loose measurement, because there is no compressible back fat… and the bra wouldn’t cause back rolls because there is no fat to be squished around. Having back fat doesn’t mean compromising on support for the sake of not showing back rolls.

Okay I lied… one last last note: a few fitters have suggested that I try a 30 band. Most 30s are painful on me, but if more of my 31 inches were fat (compressible), a 30 could work.

Nota bene: a band can be too tight… if it hurts to breathe or the centre gore is cutting into your sternum (it should lie flat, but not cut in!), it’s too tight.