The desert island.

I’m conscious when I go out in public that my very presence is a tiny act of rebellion. It’s a kind of rebellion that I find totally ridiculous – the idea that just existing in front of other people is transgressive is…I don’t even know how else to put it. It’s mind-bendingly, surreally, ludicrously ridiculous. And it says a lot more about the world we live in than it says about me.

For one thing, it says that the world we live in is completely messed up when it comes to appearance-based discrimination, social hierarchies, and how we value people as members of society. It says that, when I walk out onto the street, some people assume my body is a tragedy, a cautionary tale, or a fetish object. And that they have certain rights over that body.

They have the right to make pronouncements about it to my face, or just barely behind my back where I can still hear them, and that they can assume all kinds of things about my life and my character and personality based on how fat I am.

Not everyone does this, and certainly not every time I leave the house. But it has happened enough that each time I walk out the door, it crosses my mind.

I think about the joggers who mocked me as they ran past, I think about the men at the street market who followed me until my husband intervened, I think about the men shouting at me from cars, and I think about all the photos of fat ladies with bodies like mine that have been used as objects of ridicule on funny cards and websites, because they dared do something as transgressive as wear a bathing suit at the beach, as though they were human or something.

I think about how much I love the beach, how much I love the water, how good I am at floating, or surface diving, or snorkeling, or kayaking – and then I think about all the people back on shore.

Very often, I think about the desert island scenario, which is something I often ask my clients to do when they are caught up in blaming their body for things that may or may not be its fault.

The desert island scenario goes like this: If you were stranded on a beautiful desert island, with no one else around, and with plenty of food and water accessible to you, what problems would being fat cause you? This can help you separate out which difficulties you’re having are actually located in your body, and which difficulties are located in a culture that treats fat people poorly.

For me, the answers are something like: I might walk kind of slow in the sand because I sink into it more, and I would probably be sweaty and hot and maybe get the chub-rub. On the upside, I wouldn’t have to worry about people judging me for being sweaty, I would wear whatever is most comfortable without wondering how I looked. I might have trouble climbing trees, but I would be totally fine in the water.

Things I wouldn’t have to worry about: people judging me and treating me poorly, feeling self-conscious about how I look, having trouble finding clothes that fit me, wondering whether I will fit in that chair with arms, worrying that they might throw me off the airplane, playing the Good Fatty all the time, having to constantly prove that I am 1) not ignorant, 2) not lazy, 3) not gluttonous, 4) not smelly, 5) not sick. As if any of those things affect my intrinsic value.

Once you know what problems are located where, it gives you some information about the source of the problem, and how might be the best way to handle it. Problems located in the body might need a solution that is body-focused. You may need accommodations or physical therapy or medicine. Problems that come about simply because you can’t avoid being part of society, well…they probably require some personal fortification and self-compassion in the short-term, and changes to the culture in the long-term.

Next time you’re blaming your body for something, try it. Would this problem still exist if you were stranded on a beautiful desert island with enough food and water? If so, what is the kindest way you can help your body? If not, maybe your body isn’t the issue.

Hi! Looks like I wrote this post a long time ago, and never posted it. I might write it differently today, but here it is. Feel free to add your experience and thoughts in comments.






55 responses to “The desert island.”

  1. Susan Ashworth Avatar
    Susan Ashworth

    I can tell as I read this that I’m a lot older than you are. One of the great blessings of being 60 plus is that I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. If anyone doesn’t like what they see when they look at me, they can look somewhere else. Period, end of subject. You have so much to look forward to!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I honestly am really, really looking forward to it, thank you. I definitely care less as I get older.

      1. Matt Avatar

        It’s not just age. I think it is also an anthropological/gender issue. Women are prone to be obsessed about what other people – especially other women – think. As a man, I’ve never given a damn what other people think of me.

    2. Sally Ember, Ed.D. Avatar

      Thanks for posting.

      I’m also over 60 and have had varying weights over the decades, from over 260 to under 115 (under 125, I look ill; I’m about 5′ tall, big-boned and muscular), but I stopped caring what others think or say in my 30s, so feel free to start NOT CARING, ANY TIME!

      One of my pet peeves, especially on social media, commercials, films, other media, is the idea that someone is funny doing something simply because that person is overweight, or over 40, or both, and especially if female or a POC. Ridiculous and horrible.

      Anybody watching “Dietland”? Would love your opinions. I’m mixed. It’s brave, true, and realistic (in parts), but also horrifyingly stereotypical, with some characters who are 2-dimensional, violent and/or bizarre scenes (many halluications, e.g.). I didn’t read the book, though.

      Best to you all.

  2. AJG Avatar

    Finally – an open post where I can comment!

    Love your blog, came across it from danceswithfat and am still trying to get my head around the concept of eating with permission. It’s only been a week or so, but I’m already feeling better. I do still have a tendency to moralize about the food choices I’m making, but your blog is helping with that.

    And I’m going to start using this desert-island technique, too. I like it because it makes a clear separation between what is actually ‘my issue’ and what is society’s problem with my existence.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hi! Welcome. It’s been a while since I posted anything, so I’m glad you finally have the chance to comment. I’m glad you’re working on permission – it’s the first step most people need to take when improving their relationship with food. Best of luck.

  3. Linda Avatar

    That desert island idea is so lovely! When I was young and my social anxiety was still untreated, I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper so I could avoid people. I was sad to learn most of them are automated.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I know that feeling, haha. Thankfully it really can get better, but that is a shame about the automation.

  4. Missie Avatar

    My heart did a huge dance party when I saw you had a new post. Whatever all those other folks think, WE LOVE YOU HERE inside and out! I found you when I was going through the toughest part of recovery from an eating disorder. I have read every post at least twice, and admired your wit, intelligence, and tact as you respond to comments. Is it possible to have a crush on someone’s soul? haha. Keep doing what you do so well. You bring light and hope and happiness to the world with your gifts.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you so much. I really missed being here on the blog. Knowing that you took something from old posts during recovery really makes me want to write more. I hope you are in a much better place these days. Surviving what you’ve survived is a huge testament to your courage.

      1. Missie Avatar

        I think you are an incredible asset these types of conversations. I’d love to see more of your work!

  5. Ro Avatar

    I got drunk recently on vacation and ran around on the beach at sunset, in and out of the water and I was breathing heavy but it felt SO GOOD I literally was like, I love this! Why don’t I do this more? And then I remembered that the way my fat body moves is welcome in public.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Right? It really does feel good in those moments where you’re just…using your body as you feel like it. My ultimate goal is to not need to feel welcome in order to keep doing that.

  6. Joanna Miller Avatar
    Joanna Miller

    Wish I had Susan’s confidence. As a 60 plus woman, I still anguish over what my body is and isn’t. I love the desert island analogy. Sometimes it seems like I am my biggest critic. I look at current pictures of myself and totally berate every aspect of my appearance. I think I do it because I want to mentally prepare myself for the onslaught of negativity that will be thrown my way. But lately, I’ve been trying to be kinder to myself. Lately I’ve been trying to respect my person. Your posts help me to do that.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I think you hit on something that a lot of people do: internalize the shame our culture has to offer as a way to attempt to keep themselves in line so they won’t be further shamed. The only problem is, it makes us miserable and limits our lives.

      I’m glad you’re trying to be kinder to yourself. I promise you deserve it.

  7. LEO Avatar

    I love this post so much, it made my day to read something from you.
    It just got hot in Chicago so of course chub-rub was the first thing I thought of.
    …that and the blisters on the bottom of my feet from sweaty feet in sandals. Luckily I would not have to suffer the scourge of shoes on my island.

    1. LEO Avatar

      wow that is a hilariously old picture of me that comes up! ha!

    2. Michelle Avatar

      Sounds like Chicago is having the same weather Toronto is. I just bought two air conditioners and had to promise the delivery guy there wouldn’t be any more. Time for a new headshot!

  8. Isabelle Avatar

    I’m not gonna lie here, when I saw the subject line in my email I thought: mmmmm Dessert Island? This blog post will be yummy! I always confuse the 2 because they make the z sound despite one have 1 S and the other 2 SS. After my deception, I read tbe blog post and kt helped me reflect. My experience is somewhat different. The circles I work and socialize in haven’t made me feel “other” based on my appearance. I’m lucky for that. But I do notice how “inappropriate” people are with their “compliments “ and it drives me crazy! I’ve recetly lost weight because I found what was making me ill and corrected it. Why oh why do people in my office feel entitled to comment on my appearance. “You’re doing good “work” Isabelle. How much weight have you lost? Keep up the good ‘work”. Ugh. What makes you think I give a shit what you think and what makes you think it’s okay to comment on my physical appearance? It enrages me. I try to use these moments as a teaching moments and provde the following comparison: what if we commented on people’s hair loss or facial hair growth? After your co-worker waxes her upper lip after letting a noticeable amount of hair grow in would you say – “Kepl up the good work, you look great”? Would you approach a blading man and say, I’m worried about your health, that hair loss sure is problematic eh? What do you plan to do about it?” Ummmm NO. But yet body size is always fair game. Grrrr. So on a deserted island, my only concern is thigh rubbage/chaffing and under-boob sweat. It’s just unpleasant. But, with the right clothing and products (body glide), it’s totally survivable as I am today. Thanks for the analogy Michelle. You’ve really helped me change my life and thought patterns in the past 2 years!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      There really should be a post about Dessert Island.

      You’re welcome. You did a lot of that work yourself!

    2. Joanna Miller Avatar
      Joanna Miller

      Isabelle, totally agree with you on why other people feel compelled to comment on my physical appearance. I love the one that goes like this: I’ll bet you were a real knock-out 30 years ago. ….I say, Gee thanks, but what I mean is- screw you bucko.

      1. Isabelle Avatar

        Lol! I need to find better sarcastic comebacks! Like “I’m glad you appreciate my effort. It means the world to me!” *sarcastic face*

  9. Chantelle Avatar

    Oh, I love the desert island exercise – that is so eye-opening! Happy to see a new post, too. :)

  10. DessertFirst Avatar

    Hello Michelle,

    Yay, another post!

    I love the Desert Island idea; it’s so freeing. It also reminds me of a post I read years ago from Debora Burgard at her Body Positive site, where she asked readers to “imagine a chemical got into the water supply that meant no one’s weight would ever change again for any reason. How would you feel? How would your life change? How would the people in your life be different? What would you do with the time you now spend trying to change your weight?” Etc. If you’re interested, it’s at

    Lots of food(!) for thought in these what-if scenarios. Thank you!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That’s a good one, thank you! I love Deb.

  11. robin~ Avatar

    I am so happy to see a post from you!! Your blog has been such a healing balm for me over the years and I’ve missed your writing so much. Thank you for this treat =)

    I’m getting to the point where I’m seeing the problems that are actually located in my physical well-being as paramount to all the rest and it’s helped a lot when I pay no attention to the valuation of foods, but more how I physically feel when I eat something or not.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hi Robin – You make a very good point. Sometimes there really are physical issues located in the body, and getting good at noticing them (with compassion) is a really useful skill to carry forward as we age. All of us will be ill or deal with disability at some point. Noticing how food makes you feel physically, without attaching shame or blame or inappropriate guilt to the feelings, is an equally useful skill. As I’m getting older I’m also seeing this, as my body is more fussy about what it will accept food-wise, and I’m glad I have a way to respond to it practically and without beating myself up.

      I’m challenging myself to keep writing, so stay tuned!

  12. Cindie Winquist Avatar

    Excellent writing here, Michelle. I can relate to SO much of this. I feel the shame daily too – much of it self-imposed, but enough of it imposed by others to make me cringe at enjoying some things in life…like wearing a bathing suit.

    Keep writing.

  13. Sherry Moore Avatar
    Sherry Moore

    WOW…this is a great post. I can and do relate and thanks for speaking up. I, too, am finding the older I get the less I care what others think. Keep writing great things!

  14. Danni Avatar

    I’ve never heard of this concept before but it’s very refreshing. Stepping back and thinking ONLY of how YOUR body affects YOU is nice but it’s hard to put it into perspective like this concept does.

  15. Marylee Nambu Avatar

    Michelle, This post is compelling and healing. I have been overweight only a fraction of my life but my body image was warped much of my life. My family was heavy and we were ridiculed in our multi-generational family tree. Your valiant authenticity is greatly appreciated. Your ability to enter into inner process is beautiful. The desert island imagery/meditation is wonderful. Thank you for this offering.

  16. J Avatar

    Thanks for being brave enough to write about your experiences. It’s a help to everyone..whether they share your experiences or not. It gives everyone perspective.

  17. naomi xx Avatar

    as a teenager, i hate to think about anything that has to do with my body, and even as stylish as I seem, I cannot wear most of the things I love.
    This beautiful write-up hasn’t changed my mind or reduced my insecurity, however it has shown me things in a new light. It’s absolutely beautiful and I think everyone should have a copy of this pasted on every surface they can allow.

  18. Ganymede Avatar

    This is an amazing post. I’m so glad you posted it :)

  19. Smartia97 Avatar

    I’m battling with self image as a fat girl, though not as much as when I obsessed much about people’s view of me. Now its just I don’t care what people say but personally I would love to be slim. I even wrote on it in my blog post today.

  20. Crystal Avatar

    This is pretty awesome. Society makes it’s demands on how we should act, look and live. The moment when you realize your happiness is determined only by you is when life becomes that much more valuable :)

  21. Cait Avatar

    I find my problem is less blaming myself and more hating everybody else. It’s not just about weight, most things are judged superficially and I got awfully tired of being judged on my personal preferences when they weren’t the norm. I just started resenting everybody.

  22. Delaney Avatar

    Omg I can so relate to this! We need more people like you to put themselves out there, be vulnerable. Be honest. Be a role model. I am still nervous about putting myself out there on my blog but I do it, because I want to help others, and I want to challenge myself. Loved this!

  23. Juliet Seers Avatar

    I really like this idea, helps bring some perspective into the reality of a situation.

  24. Chelsey Avatar

    Love the desert island scenario, I think this would be a good exercise for young women everywhere. Such as good way to think about our bodies.

  25. Ajulo Avatar

    I’m a fat girl too the funny thing is I’m surrounded by slim friends,family and all
    I’m sometimes inferior you know…especially when it comes to being around guys
    But your post has given me hope. Thanks

  26. Jess Pacheco Avatar

    Hi Michelle, this is wonderful. I am in my late twenties and I thought by now that I would be a bit more secure with my insecurities and lo, I have discovered that I am more self aware than ever before. I sometimes think this is because of my awareness of being a woman in this world, which takes on an entirely new experience, or the fact that I am a part of a generation that is so flipping sensitive to everything and everyone. It gets to a point where I just want to live out my days and experiences the fruits and fulfillment of life with good relationships and purpose, yet something in my mind always seems to get in the way. Mind control or rather control of the mind takes training, like the muscles in your buttocks, oh how they grow with squatting and running and persistence and increase and changing the dynamics of your training regime…. all of this, also, applies to the power of the mind and the power of the mind over you. Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts and experiences on insecurities and living with them and growing beyond them and not letting them define you because you have so many fabulous qualities. ‘Nough said, you are fabulous!

  27. Anne Avatar

    Very good ❤

  28. Dora Avatar

    Thank you so much for writing that article!
    I’m going to lie in bed and imagine myself on a desert island in the bikini I can’t allow myself to wear in public.
    what is wrong with our society? I have learnt in school to judge myself so harshly for my imperfections, as if I had hand picked my genetics, I can never be thin enough for my imagined critics.
    and now I am 43 and still living under that dictator even though most of me knows that the most important part of me and everyone else is our hearts!

  29. linda janssen Avatar

    I liked reading this article a lot. I am a 56 year old who used to never have weight problems till I was over 48 that’s around the time my depression started hitting me a lot. I hate the way I am now its a constant battle to feel good about myself. I find it hard to get sun in a bikini even. I saw where one of your readers commented about being over 60 and not caring. I hope this happens to me

  30. Mia Venus - San Juan Avatar

    I’ve been self-conscious for all my life as I was often compared to my mother who was skinnier and looked younger than me. It was depressing, and for years I’ve struggled with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety to which people only responded with more criticism especially on my physical flaws. But as I grew older and met a more diverse set of people both online and offline, I’ve slowly overcome my insecurities…you are one of those people now. Thank you!

  31. Kaytie Beth Avatar

    I have never heard of this before and I absolutely love it! Thank you so much for writing it! I just came across it in the Discover Page and I am super excited to read other things you have written!

    Awesome job!

  32. Jenny Avatar

    I can relate with your experience. It’s sad reality of life that we are judge because of what we look.

  33. Mercy Avatar

    Thanks for this post. It is mindblowing!!!!

  34. Utkarsh Avatar

    I’m very happy that you are able to tackle this so optimistically! Yes! I too find it absolutely ridiculous that people go about making assumptions and fun of fat people. People like you serve as a helping hand; always keep blogging!

    A stranger.

  35. Birgit Avatar

    Hi! It was a good reading!
    I do not know much about being fat, I’ve been relatively skinny all my life with no effort. But I have mom and granny who did put on weight after turning 50 years. So now being 44 I’m curiously looking forward to that age. I’ve never been dieting, nor very keen on sports and believe in aging with dignity (although I do dye my hair). I do not know if that mindset will change…
    I do not believe that being fat has necessarily to do something with eating too much. I’m a resident of former Soviet Union and throughot my cahildhood and specially my teenage years the was lack of food. But fat people did not disappear, including my granny, despite meager food supplies. I’m not talking of sweets and sugar, but essentials, as bread, meat and vegetables.
    During my life I’ve noticed that chubby kids, that become overweight people are generally stronger. When I reached the weight of 72kg (and I’m 174cm tall) I found it very hard to walk, go up the stairs, stand. I felt like prisoner of my body, panting after every move. Te more I admire those who have been able happily to carry much more weight remaining lively and active! I guess the muscles that have got life long excercise are in much better shape than mine. Which in turn makes me feel like weakling, being afraid of future weight gain.
    Due to some hardships in life last year I lost appetite and about 10kg of my weight, but although I’ve gained half of it, I feel in full power now, again in control of my body.
    Calling fat people fat is one thing, but skinny got called names too in my childhood – “broomstick”, “two bones and stench of piss”, “spaghetti legs”, “did you forget your tits home?” are couple of those I still remember. And I was not that skinny in my opinion!
    I think if someone feels that he/she has to call other people names, there is something wrong with himself/herself. I guess there is nothing else to do, but feel sorry for them – it must be lack of kindness and love in their life.
    So these are some thoughts of a average person :)

  36. Dr Amrita Aneja Avatar
    Dr Amrita Aneja

    Love the way you have unmasked reality of a culture where the Beauty Myth still traps women in an incessant rat race. Keep writing. Your pen empowers many…

  37. Niora243713 Avatar

    Real interesting piece..makes me care less about people’s opinions..

  38. Rachael Njeze Avatar

    your writing is very encouraging, please keep the candle burning, i have learnt so many things through your posts

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks Rachael. I really appreciate the encouragement.