Actionist Jess Weiner Gets Real About Body Acceptance

My dear friend and mentor Jess Weiner, author of Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds From Now and the Global Ambassador for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, is in the national spotlight again, this time with an important, and some say controversial, article in this month’s Glamour Magazine.

In her very honest piece, “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me,” Jess writes about her personal journey of body acceptance. In the past several years, Jess examined her approach of encouraging overweight women to accept their bodies at any size after discovering she had some health-related challenges, including being on the verge of becoming diabetic. That fateful doctor’s visit resulted in Jess developing the Conscious Weight Wellness ™ movement, in which Jess encourages women to use their knowledge of their weight as a barometer of their health, not their value as a person.

After the piece came out, I checked in with Jess to find out more about how her journey can positively impact teens. Here’s my question and Jess’s answer:

Me: Body acceptance is just one of many factors most teens struggle with – acceptance to fit in, acceptance into certain cliques and groups, acceptance for sexual orientation, acceptance to be seen as who you are. How might your message of Conscious Weight Wellness translate into these others aspects of teens’ lives?

Jess: My hope with Conscious Weight Wellness is that teens focus on the word Conscious – which is to be aware – to be awakened to your bigger purpose – and to gently inquire within. Whether you are dealing w/ weight, sexuality, or other identity issues that can seem overwhelming and put a lot of pressure on you to ‘fit in’ the consciousness I want to encourage is one that allows you to see your true worth – to ask hard questions of yourself and others – and to know that while you really are valuable just as you are, there is also nothing wrong with seeking to enhance, shift or change areas of your life (or beliefs) as you grow. We are fluid. Our lives are not static. We change and grow – and that includes our beliefs about ourselves, our bodies, and others. Don’t be afraid to allow that growth – be gentle with yourself – and be conscious that the changes you are making are coming from deep within and not a desire to solely please someone else. In particular with girls and weight – I want girls who struggle with being overweight to know that wanting to lose weight is okay as long as it is in combination with the other numbers associated with their health (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugars, etc.) – and that they recognize that their worth is not just about a number on the scale – they are worthy of full and complete confidence which comes from taking care of yourself inside and out!

I love that answer and the openness with which Jess is going about this shift. In putting her story out there, Jess is so powerfully demonstrating one of my core beliefs: When you speak your truth, challenging though it may be, everyone, including yourself, benefits.

Though Jess admits she has been concerned about a backlash from some about her change in philosophy, she knows it was worth it to boldly speak her truth about body acceptance. Jess’s willingness to have the hard conversations, model beautiful authenticity, and be vulnerable as a way to inspire others is what makes her one of the most powerful role models I know.

14 Comments »

  1. Amanda Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    I think Jess is being completely ignorant of the fact that 95% of weight loss attempts fail within the first 3 years, of the 5% that ‘succeed’ there is on average only a loss of 10% of body mass. She is also completely ignoring the fact that there are no studies that show weight causes ill health, weight has been shown to have correlation but so do things like poverty and I don’t see her trying to address the structural inequalities of health. The only thing that she is doing is creating a even deeper line where fat bodies will only be ‘acceptable’ if they are on the side that she thinks is correct.

    I don’t see how anyone could think of her as a role model when she is apparently going to be making money off the added stigma and oppression of fat people.

  2. dreber Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    There is no doubt that the issue of weight and health is a complicated one, and there are many layers to the conversation. However, in this article, Jess is sharing her personal story. No judgments, no cure-alls, no “these are the indisputable facts.” She is writing about her journey, and because she has been such an outspoken figure in the dialogue about body acceptance, she felt it was critical to share her shift in philosophy. I stand behind her for bravely doing so. I know that Jess was extremely thoughtful about how she wrote this piece and considered the impact on her fans with every word – I don’t see her piece as being judgmental in any way, shape, or form. There is no way to predict how every reader will internalize her message – but as I wrote in my post, I believe that when people are transparent and honest about their journey, everyone benefits.

  3. Amanda Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

    After reading this I did more digging and found that she is speaking at a conference where she is presenting with a diet book author about how to lose weight. So while you might think everyone benefits, my body is actively being assaulted with more stigma because of her new ‘opinion’ while she lines her pockets. This isn’t honesty this is greed.

    “This interactive session help you obtain conscious weight wellness, while maintaining compassion, grace and self-love so that your health journey is not a burden but rather a positive way of life. Self-esteem expert Jess Weiner and Dr.James Beckerman create a dynamic duo that explores the psychological and scientific aspects to foster steady weight loss. Together we will learn how moderate exercise, nutrition and self-awareness can give you a fullness you’ve never known.” http://www.paconferenceforwomen.org/conference/agenda/

    There is nothing scientific or remotely healthy about telling people to lose weight when it will fail 95% of the time and most people put on more weight after they gain it back, which has been shown to cause health problems (not the weight but the loss then regain). Steady weight with a focus on behaviors, placing emphasis on wellness not weight loss doesn’t stigmatize bodies and it allows for people to not feel pressured into conforming to what society deems a socially acceptable body.

  4. dreber Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    I’m sorry to read that you see Jess sharing her journey and trying to inspire others to come to peace with their body while creating a more healthful life as an act of greed and an assault on you and your body. Jess’s piece emphasizes wellness and what it took for her to create a more healthy reality for her. For Jess, wellness came as a result of losing some weight. That is her truth. And while it may be true that most diets fail, that doesn’t change the fact that obesity is a factor in diabetes and other serious diseases. I know there are many women who have been or are in Jess’s position – who have found their healthy-at-any-size philosophy doesn’t actually ring true. Not talking about these things doesn’t benefit anyone…if anything it keeps people shrouded in their own belief systems and self-judging realities.

  5. Kath Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    Ahh so it’s about money. I wondered why the “epiphany”. So Jess is going to have this “movement” that I’m sure she’ll sell books and speaking tours and have her face on all kinds of endorsements from the diet industry. How long until she’s the face of Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers.

    Now we know what this is really about. Thank you for clearing that up for us.

  6. dreber Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    Another perspective here…please read my friend and fellow girl advocate Melissa Wardy’s post on her blog Pigtail Pals: http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2011/08/jess-weiner-gets-honest-about-her-body/

  7. dreber Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

    I realize that nothing I write here is going to change your point of view on this issue. I hear your anger and I can only assume that this article struck a nerve for you, as I know is is for many women. I believe Jess’s intention here was to share her journey in the hopes of opening a dialogue about something many people struggle with or don’t discuss because of shame and other painful experiences regarding weight and health.

    To share a quote from shame researcher Brene Brown: “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

  8. mdouglass Said,

    August 9, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

    Admittedly, I know nothing about Jess other than what I learned from my friend Debbie last night on our walk. But, I don’t think I need to know her or what she stands for or even if she’s making money by sharing her point of view (or changing it) to know that Jess is brave. She messed up. She messed up big and publicly and now she’s owning it. Yup, she’ll make bank with her change of heart and would probably get another shot at Oprah if she was still around but man, who cares? She’s advocating health here people and not using your body weight as a measure of your value. How, oh how, can that be wrong?

  9. dreber Said,

    August 10, 2011 @ 9:35 am

    Here’s a link to Jess’s interview on The Today Show this morning where she gives more insight into her motivation and thought process in writing this piece: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/44088947#44088947

  10. Laura Said,

    August 10, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

    There are a lot of problems with Jess’s article. And I think its interesting that many experts in the field of eating disorders disagree with the tenets she puts forth. As a licensed psychologist who has specialized in the treatment of eating and body image issues, I and many of my colleagues believe this article presents confusing, inaccurate, and dangerous messages. I disagree with your statement in comment #2 that “Jess was extremely thoughtful about how she wrote this piece and considered the impact on her fans with every word.” I actually hope this isn’t true because if it is, she has very little understanding of how triggering some of her words were and how significant of an impact they can have. The title alone is outrageous. First, its overly dramatic. “Loving My Body Almost KILLED Me.” Really? She was pre-PRE-diabetic and had higher than desired cholesterol. I would hardly equate that with death. Second, loving her body is not what caused the health concerns. Her previous choices in terms of food and exercise as well as her lack of knowledge of how to determine health are what caused the problems. I applaud Jess on becoming more aware of her health and on making what appears to be pretty healthful decisions to improve it. I’m also happy for her that her #s (cholesterol, bp, etc.) have improved. However, and again I disagree here with your comment in #4, wellness did not come about as a result of losing weight. It came about because Jess made healthier choices in her life. Weight loss was a byproduct of that. Others who start out at the exact same weight and do the exact same things may also see health improvements and NO weight loss. Or they may see much more weight loss. The point is that this isn’t and should never have been presented in terms of weight. The BEHAVIORS are what is important. By conflating weight with health, Jess has done a huge disservice to the millions struggling with these issues. It also appears that she did not have a true understanding of body acceptance and the concept of Health at Every Size. If she did, she would realize that loving and accepting one’s body also means taking care of one’s body and making healthful choices that align with that. Jess (and you) have the right to share your personal stories and opinions and I do applaud her courage in doing so. However, when she is a very public figure and has a significant amount of influence, especially on teens, she does need to think more fully about the ways in which she impacts others. After many years of having a positive impact, I am afraid that with this story, she has just had a very negative one. And that statement is based on extensive education, knowledge of the research, and years of clinical experience in this arena.

  11. dreber Said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 10:07 am

    A great voice in this conversation – therapist Rebecca Bass. “I believe Jess is adding an important and much needed dynamic to the size-acceptance discussion. She is taking ownership of her choices and putting herself out there sharing what she has learned. I also believe she is doing this responsibly by giving out information with full disclosure and context. I am excited for a provocative discussion to follow up as a result of her leadership. This is a nuanced and highly personal topic for many. I am always inspired when I meet someone who walks their talk. I especially admire those who have put themselves out there and adjust previous held beliefs while holding their head high and standing strong. The journey towards true health in the public eye is a gutsy one and I thank you, Jess, for being you.”
    Read her full post here: http://www.potentiatherapy.com/blog/2011/08/is-your-definition-of-health-keeping-you-unhealthy/

  12. dreber Said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    And today thought-leader Rosalind Wiseman chimes in over at Huffington Post. Here’s an excerpt: “It doesn’t matter if the issue is women’s weight or girls’ cruelty. Women, individually and collectively, must challenge themselves. They must see that loyalty is speaking the truth precisely in those moments when you know something is wrong; when you fear rejection and backlash from your community but you speak out anyway. As a leader in the body acceptance movement, it is critical that Weiner’s article fosters dialogue among women. By doing so she’s not only taking care of her emotional and physical health but also role-modeling what it means to be an empowered courageous leader.”

    Read the full post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rosalind-wiseman/body-acceptance-movement-and-health_b_922503.html?ref=fb&src=sp

  13. Kimber Simpkins Said,

    August 14, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

    “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me”? One woman’s story? I bet we could overwhelm that with hundreds if not thousands of women who could write their personal story titled, “Loving My Body Saved My Life.” Aside from Jess’s mischaracterization of Health At Every Size, the headline/article seem to assert that loving your body is a bad idea… that it can kill you. Is that really how she wants to portray herself as a role model? Loving my body saves my life everyday. Love Your Body blog: kimberyoga.blogspot.com.

  14. Roze Said,

    September 30, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    I’m sick of people defining “beauty” and “health” for me. I’ll make my own dang definitions.

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