People often talk about veganism in relation to weight loss. It's a pretty well known fact that a vegan diet can be very helpful when it comes to losing weight, but something that people don't talk about is what it can do for your self-image. I can't say how much this will apply to other people but, at least in my case, my commitment to animal rights and veganism has made a huge impact on the way I see myself, and my body. There was a time when I was pretty obsessed with being thin and had little concern for strength or my overall health. I felt like I was in a constant battle with my body; it refused to look the way I wanted it to, and I refused to give it what it wanted.
The more dedicated I became to animal rights though, the more I started to care more about being healthy and strong than I did about being "skinny". I wanted to prove that vegans aren't the way so many people perceived them to be. I think the real turning point for me came when I was interning at Farm Sanctuary in California. There was a day when a group of volunteers came to help at the shelter, and I was working with them cleaning up a large section of the cow pasture. We were all shoveling manure into these big trash barrels, and then I had to lift them up and dump them into the back of the tractor. One of the barrels got particularly full before I got a chance to dump it, and when I started to pick it up a guy offered to help me. I said that it was okay, and I could get it. After I emptied it, a woman standing nearby said "Wow, you're really strong." I realized that hearing that made me feel far better about myself than I ever would have from hearing "Wow, you're really skinny." After that, I decided that, no matter how good veganism is for losing weight, I didn't care about that anymore. I would rather be strong, capable, healthy. And a vegan diet is just as good at encouraging those things.
Now, every once in a while, I get people who tell me how "skinny" I am, and I always tell them that I'm not skinny. I think they either think that I'm trying to be modest, or that I have a skewed view of my own body. That's not what it is. I'm really not skinny. Skinny is something that you achieve one of two ways; either you are born with an especially high metabolism, or you severely restrict your caloric intake. That's not me. I take care of my body, and give it the healthy fuel that it needs, that's not the same thing. I don't even like the word "skinny" anymore. It brings to mind the idea of the scrawny, sickly vegan that I have been trying so hard to disprove. It implies that you are nothing but skin and bones, and that's not what I am, and it's not what I want to be.
I owe a great debt to veganism, Farm Sanctuary, and that one volunteer, whose name I never even knew, for changing the way I think about myself and my body. I have heard people say that veganism is like an eating disorder (which is utterly ridiculous, by the way), or that it is used to cover up an eating disorder, but for me it was the exact opposite. It gave me a new respect for my body and the motivation to be as healthy as I possibly can.
Buffalo Boo, from the California shelter.