We should probably all face it: when it comes to even the most innocuous mention of food, or bodies, we are all incredibly emotional creatures. TW for body/weight loss talk.
Who can blame us? Everything from advertising to our mothers to some physicians have trained us to think emotionally about food, and have trained us that there are ideal body types that we should all be working hard to attain. So there are a million sources of information out there about which foods are “bad” and another couple million sources of information telling us exactly which ways we can train ourselves to be thinner, all crying don’t you dare touch that dessert item/bacon/carbohydrate. You shouldn’t try to find health and comfort at the size you are, because there is no possible way that you can eat for happiness or be any size larger than a 2 and still be healthy! On the other side of the aisle, we have a responsive movement called Health At Every Size, or Fat Activism, telling us don’t you dare touch that diet book/slimming shake/magazine with skinny people on and in it. You shouldn’t try to lose weight, because that is a concession to the unhealthful diet industry!
Yeah, there are a lot of voices in our culture telling us exactly how we should feel about our bodies and what we should do with them. The shame of it is, these are other women giving us these messages: women who would march side-by-side with us at a Rally for Choice, decrying the men in government who try to tell us what to do with our bodies when it comes to reproductive issues. But when it comes to body image issues, these same women apparently abandon the motto, “My Body, My Choice” and want to give you an ear-full of why your particular perspective and your particular choices about your particular body is wrong.
Now, I think we’ve all had friends – or been the friend – with disordered eating, and I will be the first one to say that that is a form of mental illness, not an informed life choice, and intervention can be the saving grace in a life plagued with that kind of disorder. But this isn’t about disordered eating. This is about relatively healthy, grown-ass women making choices about their bodies: to exercise and eat a moderate diet with the end goal of losing some of their body fat, or, simply put, not to. Earlier this week one of our columnists wrote a beautiful piece about not using the “real women” phrase to exclude or belittle women who are not “curvy,” nor using it to mask what people are really trying to say about a curvy woman – that she’s fat, period. And I so appreciated that.
But that’s not enough, avoiding this one phrase. I’m sorry, but where does anybody get off telling anyone else how to feel about her body, or what to do with those feelings? I think the diet movement has been well decried for the harm they inflict on others, but let’s just reiterate it, shall we? There is nothing wrong with women who are fat. Stop picking on them. There are women of every size who are healthy, just as there are women of every size who have heart problems, diabetes, hypertension, thyroid issues, and so on. I think we can all safely agree that weight alone is no determinate of a person’s health, so if someone is fat and is happy with that, why shouldn’t she eat cake? The diet industry absolutely does make giant efforts to shame and humiliate people who are not actively seeking to lose weight, people who are not almost impossibly thin, people who are anything other than magazine cover-ready.
On the other hand, I’m ready to go all Maxwell’s Silver Hammer on the next person who tries to shame me for going to the gym and eating a moderated (perfectly full and healthful and varied and not starving myself but not indulging my every whim either) diet in the name of Fat Activism or how we shouldn’t “obsess” over food and implying that we’ve somehow bought into the diet industrial complex’s lies of how ugly we are and how that’s such a humongous personal failure on our parts. Essentially, people in this movement have begun doing exactly the same thing that the diet industry has done: they’ve started telling us what choices we should make about our bodies, about our food, and about our self-perception. Before you start saying that FA people don’t do that, um, just check the Fat Activism or HAES tags on Tumblr, or go ahead and check out the quite varied responses to our own Luci Furious’s stellar post on her choices to gain some control over out-of-control eating habits using Weight Watchers.
I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the implication that I’m not good enough as I am, and I’m sick of the implication that if I want to change something about how I am, that there’s something wrong with that. I’m sick of being accused of mental illness and obsession when I’m an intelligent, roundly-informed woman who has made an informed decision that she wants to change some things about herself. I’m sick of the implication that some other woman’s distaste for dieting or for exercise or for setting weight loss goals should somehow inform my own opinion of those things. Ultimately, though, I’m sick of working up the courage to try to discuss something that is personal and emotional for me in a balanced, constructive way only to be met with the clamorous accusations of either side of the argument wanting to find something else that’s wrong with me.
I want to be respectful. I don’t want to start conversations with people who have trouble talking about exercise, weight loss, dieting, because it’s not about them and I’m not losing weight in the hopes of getting them to lose weight, or in the hopes of making them see themselves differently. I hope that someday my FA/HAES friends will understand that I don’t hate myself, that I’m not gazing longingly at Vanity Fair and then cutting my calories in the hopes of looking like Kate Moss (or even Tina Fey, come to that). I hope they’ll understand that I think they are beautiful, that I appreciate they’ve found a movement in which they can get a better grasp on their health at their size and that they have found a community that supports and encourages a much more inclusive ideal of beauty. I hope they’ll see how much I admire that they are working hard to broaden perspectives and embrace comfort in one’s own skin. That is utterly beautiful to me, and I won’t pretend that I haven’t gotten a lot out of HAES myself. Learning that kind of acceptance and reasonable love of self – as is, no strings attached – is critical to a person who hasn’t always been able to see the beauty I carry already, right now, as a (gag, spit) plus-size woman.
And I hope that my diet-and-weight-loss oriented friends will come around to understanding that I’m not “sabotaging my diet” when I eat a week’s worth of cupcakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner around my fiance’s birthday, and that I’m still perfectly fine with myself when the scale moves up instead of down. I don’t hate myself when that happens. I take note, make adjustments when I need to, and go fix breakfast. I hope they’ll grasp the idea that while there’s nothing wrong with their goal-setting and working hard to change themselves, that they, too, are beautiful as they are. I hope they’ll understand how much inspiration I take from their motivation, dedication, and spirit of experimentation, as well as the kind of joie de vivre it requires to pursue fitness and weight loss in a healthy manner. I think that kind of hard work is beautiful, too.
Mostly, I hope everyone in on the discussion will come to a point where they can live and let live. Where they will feel free to pursue whatever course at whatever time seems best to them, that they will do so with an eye toward their own health, and that they will leave everyone else the hell alone. We can come together and enjoy food and discuss what it means to be healthy in a manner that is better informed by many viewpoints. We can admire the beauty we each carry. And we can work more authentically toward shared goals of true bodily autonomy, true acceptance, true choice.