Deflection Writ Large – When Did I Become One of Those Women?

According to affect control theory (a social psychological theory of identity) people create events to confirm their fundamental identities. Simply put, if we think we’re a good person, we create events where we engage in good behaviors and we’re more likely to do these good behaviors in good settings, while feeling good emotions. This is the reason why people who think they’re lovable often find themselves with people who love them (almost like magic), whereas those who think they’re unlovable find themselves in situations with people who don’t.

It’s also why people who continue to see themselves as fat – even after they’ve lost weight – tend to gain it back.

If it’s not clear yet, just know that this is the root of the self-fulfilling prophecy, not to mention classic self-sabotage.

The weekend before last, I went and did a workshop on pleasurable weight loss. I know that particular phrase may seem like an oxymoron, but there’s definitely something there. The workshop facilitator, Jena, spent a lot of time talking about sexy. One of her premises is that until sexy is safe, you will never lose weight.

Actually, although that’s not the purpose of this particular blog post, just sit with that for a moment and see if it resonates: Until sexy is safe, you will never lose weight.

She then asked us to write down all of the negative thoughts we had associated with “being sexy,” and then she invited us to the microphone to share.

It’s dangerous.
I’ll get unwanted attention.
It’s scary.
I’ll get wanted attention.
It’s dangerous.
More people will be attracted to me.

As more and more women got up to share, the trend was clear. They were all afraid of getting more – more love, more attention, more sex, more harassment, more intimacy….

I finally stood up and went to the mic.

“Hi, I’m KJ, and my most insidious one is that nothing will change. I won’t get more attention. I won’t get more intimacy. More people won’t be attracted to me. And then I’ll know that it’s not my body that’s the problem – but me.”

A woman sitting in the front row shook her head slowly, considering my words. “Wow,” she said quietly, “that’s a good one.” (I always was an over achiever – even when it didn’t serve me).

Later that afternoon, on a break, a petite blonde approached me in the kitchen.

“Hi, I’m B and I’m curious about your story after what you said earlier at the mic.”

I began to explain the statement, when she stopped me. “No, I want to know why you think you have weight to lose. I’m a health practitioner and if you were to come see me, I wouldn’t work with you. I make my living assessing people’s body weight and you don’t have any to lose. I want to know why you think you do.”

She looked like a nice woman and she never raised her voice. There was no judgment; only compassion. Well, compassion and curiosity.

You would have thought though, by my reaction, that she’d been waving a hot poker!

I got all defensive (the affect control term for this state is deflection – that is, the difference between your fundamental self sentiment and your situated self sentiment) and started defending my history. Luckily she just stood there and let me babble until I realized what I was doing (not to mention what I sounded like).

I took a deep breath. Folded my hands in front of my heart, then opened them.

“Let me just receive this for a minute.”

She just stood there.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for bringing this up for me, let me think on this and I will get back with you.”

“You’re welcome.”

The next day, I was talking to a few other women when the health assessor (my accuser;) walked by. I told the women that I was with that I needed to follow up with her on something she’d said the day before.

“Did she say something that upset you?”

I essentially told them the story and they both blinked.

“You know,” one of them said, “I actually thought that myself. When you said that yesterday, I thought, ‘she doesn’t have any weight to lose.'”

The other woman nodded. “Yeah, I thought that too.”

The deflection spiked, but not nearly as much.

I stopped, before I said anything, breathed, and received it. I then excused myself and went and found the health assessor and we talked again.

I’m changing my fundamental sentiment regarding myself; I’m going to let the story go. Because I don’t want to be shooting myself in the foot or presenting like someone with a major body image problem or worse, an eating disorder. I also don’t want to be one “of those women” who, when they stand up and talk about weight, other women look at and dismiss everything they say out of hand simply “because [they] don’t have any weight to lose.”

According to affect control theory, when an individual experiences a discrepancy between their “fundamental sentiments” regarding self and their situated self they experience deflection (often perceived as a sense of unlikelihood). In order to reduce that feeling of what is, essentially, cognitive or affective dissonance, the individual must either change their behavior, their identity, or both.

In the past, I would have changed my behavior by eating and gaining weight so that no one would mistake me for someone who “didn’t have weight to lose.” This time, instead of reaching for the peanut butter, I’m going to change my identity – or at least the story about who I am.

I’m no longer the woman who struggles with her weight.

I am a woman at peace with my body, who loves myself as much as any food. I am also a woman who has a lot to say about weight loss, not because of the weight I still need to lose, but because of the weight I’ve already lost and kept off.

Thank you, Jena, for creating the space for that interaction to occur. Thank you, B, for asking the question and simply holding space for me while I struggled and flailed for an answer. And thank you, the two women whose names I have forgotten, for not writing me off like I’ve written off so many skinny women before me.

May all of us recognize our destinations and come to enjoy – truly enjoy – the fruits of our labors, whatever those fruits (or labors) may be.


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