FREE TO BE: Thin v. Happy

By J. Alison Hilber

I know you are used to believing that it’s “thin equals happy.” That, indeed, is what this society continues to encourage us to believe. Women especially are fed (no pun intended) great piles of misinformation, both subliminal and direct, about how being thin will change everything in our lives. Most importantly, once we are thin, we will be happy. The message being, of course, that if we are fat (or even just not what currently passes for thin), we will NOT be happy.

This strong, media-driven, patriarchal philosophy does not stop with making us unhappy with our bodies. It permeates all levels of our self-esteem. Because once we give away our power to those who would have us believe that being thin is the ultimate goal, then we have given away our power emotionally and spiritually, as well. Any time we allow others to dictate how we feel or how we see ourselves, it is because we give them the power to do so. There are not people out there who have been given the inherent ability and duty to make us feel bad about ourselves or decide who we should be and how we should look. They only have that ability because we give it to them. We, as a society, have been convinced to relinquish our own control about what’s right for us to huge media groups, who then give us the answers through magazines, commercials, television, movies. Once we see what they have decided for us, we can see whether we measure up and what we must do to change so we can be just like that and, therefore, happy.

As individuals, we often continue this pattern by giving this power to specific others in our lives: our family, our partner, our boss, our friends. We often even give our power to inanimate objects like mirrors, calorie counters, and numbers on a scale. We take the information we have requested from the media, and which they have so graciously and gladly provided us, and we find ways in our own world to make it true. We find people who will tell us we look bad or should really only wear dark colors or shouldn’t sit in the front of the room or shouldn’t say what’s on our mind or shouldn’t eat that double chocolate chocolate chip cookie. We scrutinize every inch of ourselves finding all the flaws; we take a perfectly fine mood and ruin it by stepping on a scale and finding ourselves lacking. We create situations whereby we begin to live limited, shameful, scared lives, afraid to be seen or heard or loved. Sure that no one out there wants to see us or hear us or love us.

This is when the media really, really has us where they want us. Because this is when they can completely sell the idea of thin equalling happy. Spiritual and emotional needs are way too fluid for the media to generalize about, but bodies are another thing. Everyone has one, everyone can perceive everyone else’s. You don’t have to know another thing about the person to see their body. It is the first impression, and therefore the easiest to manipulate. You can compare yourself and make all sorts of judgments without even having to say a word without even making eye contact without even being in the same room. Setting up standards of “beauty,” whether about bodies or faces or hair or toes, is about setting up a structure by which we can all easily compare ourselves and decide whether or not we are worthy. And the more the media continues to equal thin with being worthy of love and happiness, the more we strive to go there and be that. We believe that once we achieve “thinness,” we will be free from the struggle and the pain and the shame and the comparisons, and all will be well and joyful at last.

What a pile of crap! What a huge, amazingly pervasive, incredibly worshipped pile of crap! Thinness will NOT set you free. It may seemingly make you happy for a while, because suddenly all those people holding your power will be so proud that you have finally accomplished what they asked of you, that they will, for a while, shower you with adoration and praise. So now you are thin. Cool! Now what? Now you get to worry about getting fat, and what will happen to all this adoration and praise then? And will these people still love you if that happens? Oh, goddess, we can’t let that happen! Wow! Sounds like more of a prison than they said being fat was!!

Now, there are many, many people out there making huge amounts of money from this media blitz about thin equaling happy. There are fitness programs, diet programs, food manufacturers, plastic surgeons, motivational speakers, authors. They are all out there using this premise of thin = happy to sell you something that will help make you thin. You just need more exercise; come spend your money with us and we’ll sweat it off of you. You just need to eat less; come spend your money with us and we’ll help you starve. You just need support while you exercise and eat less; come spend your money with us and we will write down the number on the scale for you every week. You just need a smaller stomach; come spend your money with us and we will completely adjust your insides so you can’t hold more than 2 oz. of food at a time. You just need to find out why you eat so much; come spend your money with us and we’ll help you fix your emotions. Do any of these people actually care about who you are inside? Do they learn about your dreams or your hopes or your strength and courage and spiritual depth? Do they even give a damn if you are healthy? Mostly, no. They only care about making you THIN, and then providing you with more ways to spend your money to maintain that new, acceptable status. They aren’t caring about whether the stress of the shame, the worry, the continuing loss of self-esteem is slowly killing your soul. As long as you look good getting there! They continue to shackle you to the idea of thin equaling happiness and therefore shackle you to their product/program/philosophy forever. Free at last??? I don’t think so.

Here is what we must learn: There is no freedom in being or trying to be that which you are not. There is no freedom in trying to be a rich corporate executive if what you are is a dancer. There is no freedom in trying to be white if you are black. There is no freedom in trying to be male if you are female. There is no freedom in trying to be thin if you are not. There is only struggle and failure and depletion of your spirit. Anytime we fight against our true spirit, we will not find freedom. We can only be free by connecting with whatever Divine source we believe in, and letting it flow through us. Then we begin to feel the joy and peace and exhilaration of true freedom: the freedom with comes when we allow ourselves to be who we truly are, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Happiness is an in-the-moment feeling that ebbs and flows with the workings of the tangible world. Joy, however, is more foundational, and is born from gratitude and self-love. Joy comes from choosing to be joyous. The contrast in the world will show you all the choices you have. And society will try to sell you what they want you to choose. But unless you give it away, only YOU have the power to decide who you are, what makes you happy in the moment, and what brings you joy inside. And those choices need to be made from your heart and soul, listening to your true source, knowing your own intrinsic value and worth in the world.

We are all born worthy and deserving of love. We do not have to earn it. We only have to remember it.

J. Alison Hilber - Change How You See, Not How You Look
Body Celebration Workshops for Women. Six-week sessions and one-day intensives available. (802) 658-5313 or

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