Ok, I have to preface this by saying that I know I’m in the minority, feeling the way I do. I know. I know that the rant I’m gearing up for doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people. But it is to me.
I’ve lost a little weight. Not a lot, maybe 10 pounds or so, and I really lost that before Christmas; I haven’t lost more than a pound or two since then. And I’m ok with that; I have mixed feelings about losing weight solely for vanity reasons, anyway. But it’s enough to show. It’s enough that when I’m wearing jeans and t-shirts that it’s noticeable (not so much in office clothes).
So yesterday I had some friends over. And a couple of them asked me if I’d lost weight. The first was from the first person to arrive, so I didn’t have to deal with it in front of others. The second person asked me in the kitchen, and when I said, “Yeah, some. My jeans fit differently, so I must have,” (more on that response in a minute) she responded with “Good for you!”
And I was PISSED.
I didn’t say anything to her, because she was really just mindlessly participating in a cultural exchange: weight loss good, weight gain bad. But I was really upset. First and foremost because, even if we assume that weight loss is really the panacea the media would have you believe, that sort of depends on HOW you lost the weight, doesn’t it? Whole foods and going to the gym = good, but skipping meals and working out excessively = bad, right? We have NO IDEA how someone lost their weight. Are they eating enough? Are they subsisting totally on packaged, processed, “diet” food? Because I can lose weight eating frozen diet dinners 3 meals a day, but I’m not HEALTHY. In fact, I’m less healthy doing that than I am at a higher weight, eating “real” food. And if I stop eating altogether, I can lose a LOT of weight. Am I healthy? NO. Beef broth and Club crackers (my most recent – that is to say, within the last 3 years or so – preferred starvation diet) do not make a healthy diet. Hell, for all she knows, I was diagnosed with some horrible wasting disease. People who go through chemo often lose weight because they can’t keep food down. THERE’S NO WAY TO KNOW HOW I DID IT, so congratulating me on it . . . it’s weird. I don’t like the message it sends: weight loss is good AT ANY COST. That bothers me a LOT.
So there’s that.
There’s also the fact that weight-loss, even attempted in a healthy manner, does not NECESSARILY make you healthier. It might, but it’s not a given. There’s a whole page on this site marked “Links to Studies,” so I’m not going to post a bunch of stuff about it here. You can go check out some of that stuff if you’re so inclined. But suffice it to say that EVERY BODY IS DIFFERENT. And that includes levels of health. Just as it’s possible for some people to be quite thin and healthy, it’s also possible to be quite fat and healthy (and the reverse is true for other people). And there’s no way to know by looking at someone how healthy they are. My “fat” weight might be your healthy weight, or my “thin” weight might be your “overweight” weight. Even if we’re similar heights.
Why is my body up for public comment at all? AT ALL? It’s not like I brought the subject up, you know? It would have been one thing to solicit the comment: “Hey, I dont know if I like my new haircut. What do you think?” But it’s another thing altogether when its unsolicited. Would you walk up to a work colleague and tell them, “Thank god you changed your hair cut. That last cut was hideous?” Probably not. And don’t tell me that’s not the same, because I phrased that differently. It’s THE SAME because I phrased it differently. Because when someone compliments your haircut, there is NO IMPLICATION that the previous haircut was bad. But when was the last time you heard a normal-weight person complimented on their weight-gain? Society says that fat is bad, unhealthy, ugly, and a host of other things. No, you only get compliments when your weight goes DOWN. When it goes up, people studiously avoid saying anything. (Then again, if someone said, “You got a new haircut! Good for you!” wouldn’t you feel the tiniest bit patronized? It’s weird, right? My body is no different, thanks.)
(And I think it’s probably just the opposite for those who are underweight due to EDs. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, those folks would also like people to stop commenting on their weight gain. Different mental issues maybe, but still a foundation of IT’S MY BODY. WHY IS IT UP FOR PUBLIC DISCUSSION? Especially since I’ve watched people in recovery interpret “you look great” as “you fat cow,” and immediately go back to starving themselves. It’s NOT helpful.)
And I know, I KNOW it’s a cultural thing. I KNOW that she meant well. I KNOW that she was doing her best to be encouraging and congratulatory. But the implicit comment in any comment like that is that you weren’t good enough BEFORE. That “good for you” because you’re not “settling” for being a fat cow. That you’re somehow doing BETTER, that you’re DEDICATED, that you’re IMPROVING YOURSELF.
And all that brings me back to, but what if I’m not? NO ONE KNOWS how I lost that weight. At least, no one who comments on the loss. What if I starved it off? What if (as is really the case) I was just about 10 pounds higher than where my body likes to be, and now I’ve evened out? What if?
And and and. I know this is a huge issue for me that most people think I’m off my rocker about. I know. I’ve read too many feminist books. Whatever. And a lot of this has to do with my own internal struggle: with being uncomfortable with the principle of weight-loss for vanity, while engaging in it at the same time. I haven’t resolved that paradox for myself yet. I DO know that when I’m losing weight for vanity (I want to make the “vanity” part clear, because my health is fine), I make some choices that are better, and some that are worse. I go to the gym and get stronger (good), but sometimes I get Crazy Brain and go to bed hungry (bad). I eat less sugar and drink less wine (good), but eat more processed “diet” frozen dinners ( bad – I LOVE them, but let’s not lie about the nutritional value there.) Am I really coming out ahead?
For now, I think so. I feel better when I go to the gym and eat less sugar and fewer refined carbs in general. But also because if I’m “dieting” it FORCES me to deal with Crazy Brain instead of just ignoring it. It FORCES me to face things like going to bed hungry, which I KNOW is bad for me. It FORCES me to recognize just how deeply entrenched this mindset is in my head: deeply enough to consider going to bed hungry in pursuit of vanity. It forces me to see that in myself, to recognize that I DON’T LIKE IT, and then to have to figure it out. It forces me to recognize that I’m so deeply ambivalent about it and what it represents that rather than say, “Yes, I lost 10 pounds because I tried” to my friend in the kitchen, I say, “Oh, yeah, I think I might possibly have lost some – I really don’t know.” It forces me to get to know myself better, even the parts of myself I don’t like. So at the moment, I’m flirting with dieting. Some days I do, some days I don’t. It’s a relatively half-hearted effort, frankly. But right now, it’s enough. And the weight-loss, although it was the motivating factor and initial catalyst, is becoming less and less the primary reason. Mostly I’m getting to where I really want to clean out my head, and this brings up a lot of issues for me, so that I can deal with them. (Among those issues is that same paradox: I LOVE the vanity “high” and LOATHE what it represents. Make sense?)
But that still doesn’t mean that my body is an object for public comment. Now I just have to figure out a way to convey that message to well-meaning commenters without being an asshole about it.