Having been obese during a phase of my life, I know the emotional pain of feeling large and unacceptable. Our culture has indoctrinated most of us, particularly women, to believe thinness and media-defined beauty will bring happiness, bliss and self-love. Unfortunately it appears there is no limit to what we will do to achieve beauty we believe we don’t have and a figure that is as close to a sought-after shape as possible.
It has come to my attention this week that the Food and Drug Administration has recently approved two new “devices” that contour the body ~ eliminating “love handles” and fat “pouches”. These two medical procedures claim to rid the body of excess fat without the need for surgery or invasive methods. One technique “freezes” the fat cells in “love handles” or specific areas of accumulated fat, causing them to self destruct over a period of several months. With their “CoolSculpting device”, a patient simply sits in a chair while a technician uses a tool that sucks a handful of fat into a container the size of a paper bag which adheres tightly to the body and starts chilling the fat. Eventually the fat is actually frozen, causing the cells to die an early and natural death ~ being reabsorbed into the body. The company’s founder, Mitchell Levinson, claims the fat doesn’t return.
The second technique is a procedure that does not kill fat cells. Rather a low-energy laser device, called the Zerona laser, creates small pores in the cell membranes causing the fatty contents to slowly seep out, deflating the cells. According to Ryan Maloney, chief research officer of the manufacturer, Erchonia Corp., the cells are still viable and are able to secrete important health hormones. The patient lies on a table while the device rotates around the waist, hips and thighs. The procedure takes 20 minutes per side and is repeated three times a week for two weeks. Both procedures cost up to $3,000 for each “love handle” (or similar accumulation of fat cells) and a larger area of fat or a “muffin top” may require two treatments. These methods are appropriate, however, for only “discrete” bulges, not large areas of fat.
If you have read this far and are not deeply worried, you should be concerned ~ more than concerned. These companies and the people who pay thousands of dollars for these procedures are supporting a myth that is robbing thousands of people of self-acceptance and joy in life: the myth of bodily perfection. We have been brainwashed by a sixty billion dollar a year diet industry that informs us, in both conscious and unconscious ways, that we will be what we desire: loved, longed for, accepted, admired and above all satisfied and blissful ~ if we just lose weight and shape ourselves differently. Yet according to recent studies, no one is happier once they are thinner or re-shaped according to some external definition of loveliness. In addition, in spite of all we are bombarded with regarding lifestyle change and weight loss, obesity on the rise ~ now reaching our youth with alarming statistics. Something is terribly wrong.
For most of my professional life I have worked with women struggling with weight issues, doubts of self worth and body image distortions. In my own life, I have gained and lost over 1,900 pounds. I know intimately the desperate attempts to be thin and to have a body that looks like the models on magazine covers. I have learned dissatisfaction is not relieved by dieting or by “sculpting” our bodies. Deep and lasting satisfaction with ourselves requires us to dismantle the false information we tell ourselves or have been told by others and now believe to be true. We must face ourselves compassionately, accept who we are and trust our worth and our goodness. We must give up believing the myth of “if only I were different than I am I would be happy”. We must define our own truth and live with awareness, wise choice and self acceptance.
Sadly, many women (and men) live a lifetime believing they have to be thinner or more attractive in some way to be happy and fulfilled in life. Too often this quest for perfection leads to a constant state of unhappiness and longing ~ and too often isolation, depression, and eating disorders are the results. In order to live in acceptance, joy and freedom, we must let go of the “myth” and open to a truth much more liberating, realistic and rich with possibility: we are already lovable and complete, just as we are. We must lay down our attachments to weighing less or looking differently. Nowhere in the world is it true that the value of the human spirit is dependent upon a number on a scales or a certain sculpted shape. Attempts to be thin or thinner take us further and further away from the heart of the matter ~ and from what will bring true happiness: becoming in touch with our true nature and realizing we do not need to be fixed or improved upon to be whole, to be valuable, to be loved.
Aside from hijacking opportunities for personal acceptance and transformation of belief systems about body and weight issues, dismissing fat cells from the body may not be healthy in the long run. Fat cells serve a purpose and it is important to understand the part such cells play in health and wellness. Briefly, fat cells are not just places that store surplus calories. They also regulate growth, puberty, healing, disease-fighting and aging. Fat cells release more than 100 hormones, two of them being leptin (which tells the brain to eat more or less) and adiponectine (which helps regulate metabolism). Healthy fat cells are attentive to the body’s needs, according to Michael D. Jensen, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. If fat cells aren’t working properly, they don’t do their job of storing or releasing fat effectively (a process necessary for health of the body). Instead, certain fat cells (called visceral fat cells) accumulate both in and surrounding the heart and liver, releasing fat into the blood stream and raising the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Another potential danger in the new fat blasting techniques is that they don’t target visceral fat ~ only subcutaneous fat (fat cells that accumulate under the skin, around the hips, thighs and lower belly). If a person continues to consume more calories than they burn, they may actually speed up the process of accumulating harmful, life-threatening fat ~ leaving them, perhaps, more sculpted but at a very high price. In addition, many experts are concerned that forcing fat out of fat cells could increase the level of fat in the bloodstream, a toxic and dangerous situation. Also, losing fat cells could lower leptin levels and signal the brain to eat more. Though both companies, Zeltiq and Erchonia Corp., are assuring the public their methods are safe, they also urge people to change their eating and exercise habits as well.
It appears that, ideally, subtle excess fat can be removed for a price and, if the patient is wise, he or she will also change their lifestyle habits in order to lose weight. This brings us back to the myth of body perfection and the apparent failure of the American majority to maintain a healthy weight and fitness level. Is it possible that there is something larger at play here than fat cells and body shape? I think so.
We want to be thin and shapely because being so is the currency of happiness and acceptance in our culture. Yet this currency is a lie and most weight loss systems fail because they do not make people happier in the end. Being a certain shape does not address the issue of emptiness or an unhappiness that goes deeper than any diet, fat freezing technique or laser magic. Before any true or sustainable joy can be experienced, we must first accept ourselves and be grateful for the bodies we have. We must marvel at the extraordinary complexity and beauty of our physiology and body wisdom. We must take time and listen to the whispers of our heart and soul. We must find the courage to face our deepest fears and strongest feelings without turning to food or fat removal as a refuge. We must face our truth, our lies, and realize that misery and suffering is based on wanting to be somewhere other than where we are right now. This includes our bodies. We must stop contributing to the tyranny and the violence of forcing our bodies to be different than they are, according to some external standard.
If you are someone who is tempted to look into fat removal, I wonder if you would consider asking yourself: am I contributing to a preoccupation with and dedication to perfection? Am I turning away from my feelings, leading me to unhealthy eating habits? Do I want a quick fix ~ an overnight cure ~ robbing me of the opportunity to face my true issues and embrace my life with wisdom and mature choice? Am I shunning the commitment and discipline required to establish a healthy lifestyle, thus perpetuating a habit of avoidance? Am I setting an admirable and respectable example for the youth of our culture by paying thousands of dollars to fix what was never broken ~ just in need of a shift of lifestyle? Can I put this money to better use than freezing off or lasering down pockets of ‘unwanted me’?
It is my belief that when we welcome and accept the parts of us that we most want to remove, we open ourselves to true freedom and happiness. Our lives can become vibrant and full of value and meaning. Facing our feelings, learning new ways of being with who we are and what we look like opens us to all life has to offer. Becoming free of an existence of conformity to an externally dictated and desired shape expands our horizons and enlarges our entry way into life in full color, vivid and fulfilling. Turning away from the option of an almost instant body change is the chance of a lifetime to live deeply from a core of wholeness and strength. From this foundation, we take a stand and participate in a change desperately needed by our culture: a transformation from being a prisoner of wanting and seeking perfection ~ to being authentic, whole and vibrantly alive, embracing all of life with mindfulness, strength, faith, certainty and purpose.
“…don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation, so everyone will understand the passage: we have opened you.” ~ Rumi.