Today on the Body Positive Yogacast, I’m chatting with bestselling author, actress, and mama Kimberly Rae Miller. We’ll talk about her latest book Beautiful Bodies, and cover topics like body neutrality, the strange history of dieting, and how a personal tragedy brought her to a place of body acceptance.
Check out Kimberly’s books
[Amber] Hey everybody, it’s Amber, from Body Positive Yoga, here, and I’m here today with author and mama and blogger, Kimberly Rae Miller. Hey Kimberly.
[Kimberly] Hi, how are you?
[Amber] I’m good, how are you?
[Kimberly] Great, thank you.
[Amber] Thanks for being here. So, Kimberly is a best selling author and an editor and blogger and I am a mama, recently.
[Amber] Well, not so recently, but …
[Kimberly] Yeah, he’s like a person now.
[Amber] He’s a little baby, yeah, but a baby that does things, so …
[Amber] Yeah. I first ran across Kimberly’s work through a blog called, “Elastic Waist,” which, this was a while ago … What, like over ten years ago?
[Kimberly] In 2007, it starts.
[Amber] Okay, so yeah, a whole decade ago.
[Amber] We were just little Internet babies. So Kimberly had a daily show on this blog and it was hilarious, and it was about diet culture and how everyone is fed up with it, and I just loved her comedy and writing and candidness, and then, I followed your blog for a long time, which I actually just looked and it was like still Online, now that we don’t follow blogs anymore, I didn’t realize that, but, the Kim challenge.
[Kimberly] Thanks, thanks, I don’t follow bl– Ever since Google Reader went down the tubes, I stopped reading blogs, but …
[Amber] Thanks Google.
[Amber] Anyway … But yeah, you used to post like pictures of your food everyday and talk about fitness and stuff and it’s still there. That’s pretty cool.
[Kimberly] Now I just talk about my kid and my dog, but, you know, same stuff.
[Amber] Well, your life, so anyway. So I wanted to talk to Kim on the podcast because Kim has written two books that I really loved reading and, the second one especially. So, Kim’s written two books. One was a memoir, “Coming Clean.” I’m a sucker for memoir and I didn’t realize, until I was like almost finished with the book, that it was you. So I would like go back. I was like, “Oh my God!” I totally didn’t even realize, like, who this was, but anyway, it’s a memoir about growing up with your family and hoarding …
[Amber] And it was really moving and hilarious, and tragic and everything else, and I loved reading it. And then you just came out with another book called, “Beautiful Bodies,” which is all about dieting and weight and the crazy things we do.
[Kimberly] Yeah, and it sort of, it maps our cultural obsession with weight and how it’s so ingrained in us as a species, and it’s really, you know, I went into writing “Beautiful Bodies” because I had worked in the diet media industry for so long and I was really disillusioned. I was just so over it. You know, I was just so inundated with new diets and making diets popular. I also edited diet books and so I was just … Everything in my life revolved around the idea of losing weight, helping other people lose weight, losing weight myself, and at a certain point, I just reached a tipping point where I just, I couldn’t, there needed to be more to life than how much people weighed, and so I decided to start researching dieting and our obsession with it, and our obsession with bodies and sort of forcing bodies into figures that aren’t necessarily natural to them. And it was originally just going to be literary nonfiction and just a big research project, but over the course of editing, it ended up being part memoir, part social history.
[Amber] Yeah, it’s kinda like, who of us doesn’t have something that we, you know, some history here with body and diet, weight, all that, so … Yeah, I really loved that it reminded me what I like about Bill Bryson’s books, which is like, I learned a lot, but also I got a glimpse into like your experience and I thought it was amazing, and really hilarious, which of course, is why I’m a fan so …
[Kimberly] Thank you.
[Amber] So, yeah, I think, you know, I remember reading that you kind of went in search for answers. It’s like why are we so obsessed with this and I think you found some. I really liked … You had like a whole chapter about body shame and kind of like the origins of body shame and how this plays out in our everyday lives, so can we talk about that a little bit and sort of like what you found there?
[Kimberly] Yeah, well I mean, there’s so much of it. You know, I mean, it is … It’s rooted in the Bible. I mean, we talk about Adam and Eve right there in Genesis, they start feeling ashamed of their bodies and that I think is the start for us. We’re raised in a culture where bodies in and of themselves are shameful and then we just attach all sorts of reasons for that to them. And, you know, there’s instances throughout history. You know, I talk about William the Conqueror, who was the first Norman King of England, in, I believe it was the 11th century, and he was mocked throughout Europe for being overweight and, I mean, and this is an era where, you know, news take a while to travel, but he was sort of inundated with mockery from other leaders for being overweight. So, it’s always been there and he was the first celebrity, so to speak, to diet, in recorded history. And there’s always sort of been this diet media, but when having excess weight, according to whatever standard society has put forth, became something that was publicly allowed to be shameful and to shame other people for, really happened around World War I when Americans had food rations for the first time.
[Kimberly] And so, being svelte was considered a patriotic act.
– So if you were starving so that more food could go to the troops, you were a good American, and that was really the beginning of weight becoming a public consumpting, you know, something that the public could consume of each other. You know, we could judge people publicly for it.
[Amber] Right, and I think also, an interesting thing there is like that was literally connecting weight and body size to like morality. Like there’s a moral failing and a failing of you as a patriot and as an American if you’re overweight because, the assumption I guess is, if you’re overweight, then you’re eating more than your share or whatever.
[Kimberly] Yeah, exactly.
[Amber] People are different weights for a lot of different reasons, and so, I think that’s really, you know, as a state-sanctioned moral judgment it has a really interesting like distinction in sort of the timeline of all this stuff.
[Kimberly] Yeah, we are judgmental a bunch, I mean– From the get go, but America really, you know, Americans love to pick a villain and go for it and it was still in the first time that we as a culture, I mean, had gone on the record saying you are a public menace for having eaten, and, you know, and we’ve really steamrolled since then, for sure.
[Amber] So I’m wondering, what’s the most ridiculous or hilarious thing you found in your research about dieting or weight loss?
[Kimberly] I mean, it’s all crazy. I mean, I think William the Conqueror had a really really rough life. I mean, this guy, he was terrible, a terrible person. He killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, but he had such a really hard life. He was a bastard by birth and that was rough, and his father was killed shortly after assuming the Duke demon, so people kept trying to kill this kid, to try and gain the throne from him. And he always, he was always overweight, whether it was … There are … You know, we’ll never know for sure, but there are some records that state that he wasn’t actually much of an eater. That it was probably a genetic propensity towards being overweight, but he was sort of mocked constantly for being heavy and he went on a diet shortly before his death where he drank nothing but alcohol and ate no– Like he ate no food, he only drank alcohol and just laid in bed all the time, and that was his way of losing weight. Which we know now that alcohol is really terrible for weight loss, but he did lose some weight because he was, again, able to ride a horse comfortably. That was a big thing for his ego and he was en route to a very very early proto weight loss spa in France, when his horse bucked and he was impaled by the pummel of his saddle, and he ended up dying of sepsis from the injuries, from those internal injuries. And because there was no embalming in that era and it was August, and there was bacteria in his body, he made it to his funeral, but he ended up exploding during his funeral. And like all of this could have been prevented if he, just like, didn’t want to go lose weight. He could have just like stayed in France and had a nice … I mean, in England, and had a nice meal.
[Amber] Oh my goodness, yeah, and the way you tell this story in the book is so like hilariously tragic I think.
[Kimberly] It’s really off. I mean he was a terrible terrible tyrant, but that’s a sad way to live and die.
[Amber] And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the whole Graham family and that ordeal.
[Kimberly] Oh yeah, well Sylvester Graham was the guy who invented graham crackers and he was, I forgot which denomination, but he was a minister and he had like a big speaking career going around the country talking about morality and linking it to food, and he was just really obsessed with masturbation. Like, he just thought masturbating is really the sin of all sins. I mean, you kill people, but if you masturbated, you were definitely, like spawn of the earth. And so he linked masturbation with diet and he said, you know, if you ate nothing but … You know, if eat vegetarian diets, low fat, high carbohydrates, low sugar, so really just basically all whole grains, that was really a way– No spices, no tea, no caffeine, no alcohol …
[Amber] Nothing that gets you too excited.
[Kimberly] Really just basically whole grain bread is really all you’re looking at here, and some crackers, you could ward off unholier jiz through diet. You’d just be so like tired and weak … Like you just couldn’t do it. He considered diet a means of moral action and he was huge. He was like the Tony Robbins of his day. He traveled all over the country talking about morality and diet and linking the two. And, I mean, universities had separate kitchens just for Graham followers and they would have these Grahamite menus, uh Grahamite … There were Grahamite grocery stores, Grahamite communities, so people didn’t have to interact with people who were eating meat or using salt. You know, I mean, it was really … They really really believed that they could control evil urges through diet and he was really the inspiration for the Kellogg family, who– And we know the Kellogg family because they invented cereal and they also invented peanut butter. People don’t know that.
[Amber] I didn’t know that.
[Kimberly] Yeah, but, they were also a very religious family and, I’m trying to remember which Kellogg … William, William Harvey Kellogg. He became the leader of the “San,” a sanitarium in Michigan. And he also, he was so, he believe not just masturbation, but sex in general was terrible, and he was married for a long time and never consummated his marriage. He and his wife adopted children, but they never actually had sex. He also believed that you could ward off your sexual urges through food, so he also prescribed … There’s like 100 years here of people just thinking that whole grains were really the way to, you know, keep things G-rated.
[Amber] Yeah, yeah, and I can’t help but notice that this sort of idea of like purity and body, like food is the vessel, but at the root of this is just like a shame of the body and its urges, in general. Like not only hunger and appetite when it comes to food, but also, you know, sex, which is normal for humans to want to–
[Kimberly] Right, like we need it to keep going as a species, but–
[Kimberly] Yeah, no, we are just looking for shame and I think that’s a big part of our human condition is that we’re all looking for, you know, I think we’re all looking for the cult that’s going to tell us we’re doing it right and– And that was, that was the cult of the day. You know, we have the same thing now, you know, we have the Soul Cycle cult and we have the Gos-pit cult, and everybody has their cult they’re looking for to tell them that they’re doing it right. And, in that era, it was, it was the Grahamite philosophy that sex was bad and so was food with flavor, and by being thin, very thin, gone to … You were wearing your piety for all the world to see.
[Amber] Yeah, which we saw some of that in medieval times too, with like the, you know, aesthetic, like martyrs and stuff. They would starve themselves–
[Kimberly] The Victorian era, I mean, they, women in the Victorian era were expected to have an 18 inch waist, and just to put that into perspective, my son is 15 months old, his cranium is 19 inches, so, you know–
[Amber] I’m pretty sure my calf is 18 inches because I had to measure it one time for boots. Yeah.
[Kimberly] Yeah, so this is a really, these are really, this is really small as an 18 inch waist, and that was considered the ideal. And so women were waist training to have waists that were akin to an infant at, you know, at the day, so it, you know, we’ve really latched onto this idea of a body as a symbol of piety for a very long time, yep.
[Amber] So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about sort of diet culture and what it, you know, it promises to us and so like I want to read a quote from your book. This is just like the context of what this is talking about is you were, you really really wanted to go to fat camp when you were a kid–
[Amber] A teenager … And you finally got to go, but I think you were 16 or something.
[Kimberly] I was in a, no I just finished high school, so I was 17, and that was like the summer between high school and college.
[Amber] Okay, so I’m gonna read a quote about that. “All of them,” that means all the fat camps, “Promised I would make friendships “that would last a lifetime, and more importantly, “return to my real life a more beautiful “and confident me than I’m ever been before. “It was a montage in the making. “I could go off to spend the summer “laughing with new friends over lush salads “and will testing, sweat drenching step aerobics, “and when I came back to school in the Fall “it would be with a totally new persona. “Not only would I be a lean willowy Kim, “but one with an impeccable sense of fashion, “who is also outgoing and socially skillful, “I would be someone else entirely.” So I think one of the things that really blocks a lot of us from getting to this place of self acceptance, even when we hear about body positivity, your health at every size, is this fantasy of being thin. Because the fantasy doesn’t promise that we’ll look good in shorts or something, it promises that we’ll be another person altogether, and in the end this isn’t true. Thin or fat, you’re still you, like with your own demons and personality and the way you do the world, but why is this fantasy so pervasive do you think and how are we ever gonna feel like we come out on top when we compare to her, this her, like this fantasy her? So, I don’t know, if you want to talk about that a little bit.
[Kimberly] Well no, we just, we don’t see anybody. We don’t see anybody in the world that has this ideal life. You know, we don’t see the perfect people. I mean nobody’s perfect, but you know, we have these role models that we idealize and none of them, none of them are heavy. You know, they’re, they all fit into this, you know, Jennifer Lawrence, tall willowy, you know it’s … We just need role models. We need people who are saying, “I am living a good life “in a normal body.” And I don’t … I would like to take that back. Because I don’t there’s an abnormal body and, you know, a big point of the book for me was saying that, you know, you can be naturally thin, and that’s great, that is your body and that is perfect. It’s more about, the idea of the book, was not about judging one body over the other, but about not judging bodies at all, you know, their own … But, you know, we need more people. We need more people who are, who are out in the world and in public and saying, you know, “I’m living a perfectly good life in my size.” Eight, 10, 15, 22, 28, you know, whatever it is, and just saying, “Like I’m living a real life “in this body and I’m happy and it’s okay “and I have everything that I want in this world.” We don’t have enough of that. You know, we don’t have enough people … We like to watch The Biggest Losers, where everyone is miserable, but then somehow, is saved through exercise and, and then they are happy. You know, we don’t see any people just being happy …
[Kimberly] As they are, and we need more of that. But it’s certainly not a lack of people out there who are happy, it’s just a lack of avenues for them to be public about it.
[Amber] Yeah, for sure, and I think, I mean, what you’re saying is really, was powerful for me just to like, when I could start to see myself refelected in people that I thought were like hot and happy, but also they look like me. Like for me, my gateway was plus size fashion and I’ll like see these pictures of these women who I was like, “Oh my God, she’s so badass! “I wanna look like her. She’s so confident. “But oh my God, she’s fat, ah, my mind is blown,” like it was that cognitive dissonance of like, “Wow, for the first time I can like see a fat body “and understand that like I wanna be like that person, even though that person isn’t the thin ideal.”
[Amber] And for me like that was a big turning point like to be able to see myself reflected. And I think one of the things that we have to do, if we want to see that … Mainstream media’s not gonna give that to us. Hollywood’s not gonna give that to us. Even like news anchors aren’t allowed to be fat. Like you know, nowhere are we gonna see that and we have to cultivate our own media, our own images, and seek those out because they’re not gonna show it to us. And if we want to really start to cultivate peace and, like you said, there’s no like normal or abnormal body, but if we grow up seeing every image that’s shown to us as the thin ideal, we start to think that our body’s not normal, and that it’s not right.
[Kimberly] Right, absolutely. Well that’s one of those things that I was I think really remarkable about “Elastic Waist” back in the day, was because it was really … And I was always amazed because it was produced by Conde Nast, so it was re– It was the same people who published Vogue were promoting this body positive site which is really sort of always a big like mind screw for me, but it really was about normalizing the normal, and it’s still, it’s been 10 years and I’m still sad that that site is gone–
[Amber] Me too.
[Kimberly] Because I think it was so monumentally important for its time.
[Amber] Ya’ll should look up “Elastic Waist” on YouTube because there’s still a bunch of videos on there. I was looking through them when I got in contact with you and I was like, “Oh my God, I remember this one!” And it was pretty fun.
[Kimberly] Well, as an actor, “Elastic Waist” was amazing for me because it was the first time that I didn’t have to diet, you know? My job required me to not be always striving to be skinny. Like I could just eat a sandwich and it was okay, there was no guilt involved, I still have a job. It was amazing. It was really a once in a lifetime opportunity.
[Amber] So, one of the most compelling stories in your book, and you know, really heartbreaking too, was how you came to body awareness and ultimately some kind of body truce through tragedy after you miscarried, And there was a quote that really stood out to me and you said, this was about when you kind of tried to start meeting your body where you were, you know, instead of striving to change it. “It’s what we do at the end of the day, “not what we think that matters, so I decided to fake it, “to start treating my body like it belonged “to someone I loved.” And I really really liked that. I believe in, you know, body neutrality. I think most of us can’t necessarily come to a place where we love our bodies, even though that’s sort of the rhetoric is like, “Love your body.” I think that’s a pretty tall order in the society that we live in and so I really am a proponent of this, what I like to call a cease fire zone. And, you know, I’m wondering, what are some ways that that you decided to fake it till you make it and honor the body that you’re in, rather than struggling against it, which I think you, you know, you like most of us have done most of your life.
[Kimberly] Yeah, I mean one of the things that’s always funny is that I keep hearing people say like, “Wow, you know, it’s a really body positive book,” and I’m always like, “It’s actually really body, “body neutral.” Like, at the end of the day it’s not about saying like, “I love it.” “This is it. This is who I am. “This is what I have and I need to live in it “and respect it.”
[Kimberly] But a lot of … One of the things I did was I stopped focusing on clothes. And I know that’s not– But, you know, we attach such a meaning to the number in our pants and, you know, I stopped buying clothes and I started renting them because I was like, “I’m not ready to own where I’m at, but I can rent.” I can rent clothes and I can say like this is where I am now. I don’t know if I’m here permanently. So I’m just, I’m not gonna fill my closet again with a new number, you know, like I have. Because I have so many numbers in my closet and I just was sort of like, I just wanna find, I wanna wear clothes that fit me. I’m not ready yet to commit to like a lifetime at this size, and I may get bigger, I may get smaller, but this is where I am right now, so I subscribe to a wardrobe rental company, which was great because I got to dress like I cared. Like it was all very, it was all trendy clothing. I didn’t have to like, just wear like cardigans with clothes that were too tight to try and like hide, you know, I just, instead of buying a whole new wardrobe, I rented it, which was just my of sort of like living where I was without commitment. I started, I started eating, like you know when you’ve been on a diet your entire life, you don’t need the confines of a diet to tell you which foods are good and which are bad and how much they’re worth in whatever, you know, lexicon your dieting of the day is, but, you know, because you know, you know innately how many calories something– You just know because you’ve been obsessed with it your whole life. So, I just started focusing on eating without counting and just like having a meal and not emoting about it, you know, like because I just want a sandwich and I’m gonna eat a sandwich and see how that feels without making the sandwich good or bad, without making it a punishment for not being good or, you know, so that took a lot of practice. And I will say that, you know, I did eventually get pregnant again and while I don’t suggest being pregnant is the cure for disordered eating, it taught, being pregnant taught me how to eat. You know, for the first time in my life, I had to eat, and there was no good or bad, you know, I had to take care of somebody else who happened to be residing in my body at the time. And that was a huge breakthrough for me. But it took practice before I got pregnant again. So, you know, learning to eat without emotion was a, was a big deal.
[Amber] Yeah, and what you’re describing, you know, sounds an awful lot to me like how we practiced mindfulness, you know, my thing is yoga and so like I try to teach that skill when we’re in the classroom, and my favorite definition is paying attention on purpose without judgment. And I think like if we learn that skill, you know, we can practice it with like really simple stuff, like let’s observe the breath. So far they haven’t found a way to shame us for our breath, so like that’s a pretty neutral place to be like this isn’t good or bad, this is just what it is, this is where I feel it, this is what it feels like, and then be able to take that skill other places where it is more of a minefield, like a table with food in front of you or when you’re trying on clothes, or whatever it may be, and I think that’s a really powerful, you know, thing to be able to learn how to sort of not only live in your body, but just like be there fully in the present moment and like, I’m just gonna take judgment out of this equation.
[Kimberly] Yeah, you know, I also started exercising without a purpose, you know, I lived and died by my heart rate monitor to know how many calories I burned at any given moment, and I just stopped wearing it and I was sort of like I don’t like, I don’t like kickboxing. I’m gonna stop. Like, I don’t need to do this, I’m not proving, youknow, just because it burns a lot of calories, I don’t enjoy it. I hate it. So I just started doing, you know, I didn’t stop exercising, but I stopped doing the things I didn’t like.
[Amber] Yeah, I think that’s a really great, sort of, like litmus test to find a movement practice that works for you is like, if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Because there is like so many things that we can do to move our body, that do feel good and that do make us happy and that do bring us joy. Like I would rather be shot in the face than run on a treadmill, but I would do lots of other … Like, I’ll hike 13 miles up a mountain, you know like so, I think we have to figure out like what the thing is that’s going to bring us joy and if we can disconnect our movements and our exercise from the desire to fix or change, or size or shape or weight, I think that we can have like a really profound and much better experience of being in our body and appreciating what we can do, rather than like doing this as a punishment or as a, you know, way to make us disappear or whatever.
[Kimberly] Absolutely, I mean our, most, I think a lot of people, the only relationship they have with their body is trying to punish it, you know, just for existing and learning to actually recognize that your body is a part of you is a big, a big step, and it’s a hard disconnect to bridge.
[Amber] Yeah, for sure, and one last question and then we’ll wrap it up. When you were talking about, you know, when you got pregnant and you started to learn how to eat because you had to take care of someone else. Why do you think we do that? We like, we’re way meaner to ourselves than we are to anybody else. Where it’s like, if you think about, you know, now you’ve had a kid, you have this human that you’re taking care of, like, you would never want to deprive him or starve him or tell him his body wasn’t good enough, but we are like so quick to do that to ourselves. Why do you think that is?
[Kimberly] Well because we feel like we should control every aspect about our lives. We don’t feel like that about other people. You know, I don’t feel like I can control whether or not my husband, my husband, my son … Wow, that’s bridaient. Uhm, you know, my son when he’s full, like I can’t, I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s full. I mean, like I don’t, I don’t, and you don’t want other people to live in the kind of negativity that you live in. But we, as a culture, we dish out judgments so, so easily, especially in an era where, you know, everyone’s anonymous on the Internet and we take it personally, you know, and it’s very easy to, you know, integrate other peoples’ opinions of you, into your narrative, but for other people, when you love somebody, you, it’s very easy to say, “Well, all those other people are wrong. You are perfect.” And, you know, I’m the reason why like men grow up with really great egos because I look at the way I treat my son and I’m like, wow, he’s, you know like, this is why, this is why they’re like this. You know, I think that, you know, it’s just a disconnect between personal and impersonal and uhm, when it’s you, you should be able to control all the perceived faults, where we give a lot of other people slack.
[Amber] Yeah, the should word. That’s a bad one. Should be able to.
[Kimberly] It’s a big question. It’s a big question.
[Amber] What is real and what’s actually, you know, going on, so yeah, anyway …
[Kimberly] But, you know, at the end of the day, do you want to have spent a majority of your life hating your own body, you know, at a certain point you have to say like how much of my life have I committed to hatred. And that’s, you know, everybody has their own timeline for getting past that.
[Amber] Yeah, definitely. I think if we’re on our deathbed, we’re not gonna wish we worried more about our cellulite or whatever.
[Kimberly] I wish I’d spent more time on the treadmill, like which is–
[Amber] Right. Well I think that’s a good place to end it.
[Amber] Thank you Kimberly for your time and I encourage everybody to check out Kimberly’s books, especially “Beautiful Bodies,” and I’ll definitely put links to those in the show notes and we’ll have a transcript of this, so, Kimberly, what do you have going on that you want to tell folks about or where can they find you on the Internet?
[Kimberly] All right, well I am still blogging at thekimchallenge.com, uhm, I am on Facebook, Facebook.com/Kim-Challenge, Twitter, Kimberly R. Miller is my handle, but I’m trying to get away from Twitter because it drives me crazy, and Instagram, it’s kimberlyraemiller, so I’m all over the Internet.
[Amber] Awesome. Thanks for being here and thanks for your time. We’ll see ya.
[Kimberly] Thanks, bye!