Peggy Elam: Don’t Change the Body – Change The Mind (and 12 ways to do it)

pearlsong Hello lovely, welcome again to Leading Questions, this joy-filled series that started with asking women how their relationship with their body affected their success in life, and is becoming a wonderful sharing of success, aspiration and inspiration – and a teaching that it is possible to get comfy with your imperfect unique human body and love living your life. Sharing with us today is Peggy Elam, publisher of Pearlsong Press and psychologist. I *love* her hair, having embraced my own silver journey recently. Please enjoy Peggy’s wisdom, humour and insights.

Peggy – thank you 🙂

leading-questions-header-120 What are you most proud of in your life?

Founding and running Pearlsong Press, an independent publishing company whose mission is to promote body- (and mind- and spirit-) positive books, with an emphasis on fat friendliness and the Health at Every Size® (HAES) approach to wellbeing. (See for the basic principles of HAES espoused by the Association for Size Diversity and Health, which trademarked the concept to help keep it from being coopted by the weight loss industry.) We published our first book in May 2004, Dangerous Curves Ahead: Short Stories by Pat Ballard, and this summer will publish our 40th, Acceptable Prejudice? Fat, Rhetoric, and Social Justice by Lonie McMichael, Ph.D.

I say “we,” but Pearlsong is essentially a one-woman company. Until about a year ago I pretty much did everything, from editing manuscripts and designing and setting up the trade paperbacks at the printer and formatting the ebook versions to running the website ( and blog (

Now I do have the Kindle and ePub ebook versions formatted by someone else, and have contracted with a professional actor to create an audiobook of one of Pat Ballard’s novels as a test run. If all goes well, which I expect it will, I want to publish audiobook versions of most of our books.

And that’s the first time I’ve said that in a public forum, so you’ve got breaking news here! (Sandy: awesome! I LOVE audiobooks!)

What’s the most outrageously huge thing you still want to do?

Founding and running Pearlsong Press has been huge, especially in these tumultuous times. (It was only after I’d become a publisher that I heard the joke: “How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a large fortune.”)

Making Pearlsong profitable and sustaining also feels like a huge — but important — endeavor.

So is publishing much of our backlist in audiobook format. In addition, to further my work as a psychologist I recently signed up to work on a certificate of advanced study in therapeutic writing.

Put all these together and they sometimes seem like outrageously huge commitments considering other challenges in my life — personal and family health issues, caregiving elderly parents, etc.

What I’d also really like to do is to write a novel myself.

Funny, isn’t it? I’ve edited and published 40+ books by others, but have yet to publish any of my own.

I was a journalist before I went to grad school in psychology, so I’ve written lots of nonfiction, and also poetry, and know one day I’ll finish some things I’ve been working on and publish them.

But I find fiction harder to write, so completing a whole novel seems outrageously huge. If I ever do it, though, at least I know a publisher.

Do you ever feel that you have or have not gotten a job based on your appearance?

I don’t feel I’ve ever gotten or not gotten a job based on my appearance. However, as a psychotherapist working with people with eating disorders and body image images, I’ve had a client or two initially tell me they didn’t think I could help them with their problems — specifically, compulsive eating or bingeing and purging — because I was fat. But they changed their minds pretty quickly after we began working together.

How have your feelings about your body affected what you do in life?

My feelings about my body led me to read some books about weight and eating and dieting back in the early 1980s that got me interested in pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology.

In particular, I was fascinated by research on the relationship between dieting or restrictive eating and binge eating. Some very elegant studies done by psychologists Janet Polivy and Peter Herman and others were described in the book The Dieter’s Dilemma: Eating Less and Weighing More. In my clinical work I developed a specialty in eating disorders as well as dissociative disorders and trauma.

Eventually I pulled my journalism/English B.A., my M.S. & Ph.D. in psychology, and my interest in promoting body-positive and fat friendly fiction and nonfiction together in creating Pearlsong Press, with the mission of “Healing the World One Book at a Time.”

 Can you really love yourself if you are not thin? How do you go about doing that?

Absolutely, any of us can love ourselves if we’re not thin. How we feel about ourselves isn’t dependent on the size of our bodies or how we look.

One way to test this out is to look through old photos and consider how we looked then and how we remember feeling about ourselves at the time. Often we may think now that we looked pretty good back then, but remember that we thought we looked terrible at the time (too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, nose too big, hair too frizzy, or whatever we tended to focus on as body problems).

Even here and now we may be able to think of times when we were feeling fine about ourselves, or even just neutral, and then stepped on a scale or heard a snarky comment or saw a superthin fashion model or heard the latest “obesity” fearmongering and suddenly felt ______________ (fill in the blank with the applicable body negativity). There was no change in the size and shape and weight of our bodies in that split second; what changed was our perception, our thoughts, about our bodies.

And the good news is that we can change our thoughts. Don’t change the body, change the mind.

 A few years ago I came up with a list of 12 Ways to Love Your Body:

  1.  Quit comparing yourself to others. It moves you off center and increases the likelihood of losing (or never achieving) balance and equanimity.
  2.  Quit weighing yourself. Throw away your scale or turn it into a Yay! Scale (a delightful invention of body liberation activist Marilyn Wann, author of Fat!So? Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size.) 
  3.  Celebrate diversity in body size & composition. Appreciate the beauty in all bodies.
  4.  Spend your time & money on yourself — beautiful clothes, jewelry, haircuts, hobbies, travel, socializing — not the weight loss industry.
  5.  Fire the food and body police. Spend time with people who respect size diversity and natural appetites — and you — and disengage from those who don’t.
  6.  Limit your exposure to media promoting unrealistic physical or behavioral standards. Increase your exposure to body- and size-positive art and media.
  7.  Keep the connection between mind, body & spirit flowing through life-affirming movement and practices that increase positive body awareness.
  8.  Clothe yourself in garments that fit NOW. 
  9.  Let go of the past — what you used to weigh, how you used to look — and accept your body as it is in the present.
  10.  Let go of the future — whatever you have put off doing until you _____________ (lost weight, changed your appearance, etc.), start doing now.
  11.  Stand and move with confidence and assurance of your right to take up space in the world.
  12.  Be kind to yourself and your body. Expect detours and mistakes along your journey. They will provide you with valuable lessons, growth and healing.

How do you manage to have balance in your life — take care of yourself, your family, your home, work, friends?

I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

Seriously, it’s something I work on, and I don’t always do it perfectly. I remind myself — and have reminded my clients — that balance is an ongoing process. Sometimes you wobble or you lose balance; sometimes you fall down. So you get back up and you start again, maybe making some changes after examining what toppled you in the first place.

An example: A couple of weeks ago my elderly mother got sick, stopped eating well, got weaker, and fell. She’s in an assisted living facility in another state, but needed more care than the facility could provide. My sister, who usually looks after her, was looking after a sick grandbaby for several weeks and we didn’t want to risk her picking up germs from mom and carrying them to the baby. So I drove down, took mom to the ER since we were having difficulty getting in touch with her regular physician, got her antibiotics, stocked her room and fridge with nourishing food and juices, and looked after her for a few days before returning to my home and work. I stayed in mom’s room because I didn’t want to risk carrying bugs to my sister’s house and vicariously infecting the baby. I knew all this meant I’d probably get sick myself, and sure enough, the day after I returned home I started developing symptoms and was sick over the holiday (Memorial Day) weekend. Between the trip and my illness, I stopped walking on a treadmill daily, as I had been doing to help my back. (I have a herniated disk from a fall a few years ago). Between the car trip and being more inactive due to being sick, my back started hurting more. To be honest, I was in a bad mood a couple of days there! But I reminded myself that I’d chosen to do what I thought important — take care of my mother and help care for my great-nephew — because I’m stronger and healthier than either of them, and I would get back on track (and on treadmill) as I recovered. And sure enough, I have.

What’s the thing you say most often to yourself about yourself?

“What good would that do?” As in, I could continue to be irritated that my mother got sick and I “had” to go down and take care of her and then got sick myself. but what good would that do?

I say “continue to be irritated” because I do allow myself to feel my feelings — I just try not to nurse the ones that won’t do me or anyone else any good.

Get More of Peggy

peggy-elam Peggy Elam, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, healer, journalist, poet, artist and founder of Pearlsong Press. She lives in Nashville, TN. Read more about her here, and have a look at the wonderful authors and books her company is bringing into the world.






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