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Sometimes it’s easier to just lose weight
We shouldn't always worry about worrying about dropping a few pounds.
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There is a shift in American culture from what Anne Helen Petersen inhas called a “vernacular of fatphobia” to a recognition that perpetual weight loss attempts are not in everyone’s best interest. This is generally positive. Still, body acceptance has begun to feel like a mandate: You must totally accept your body at all times now that it feels like you have more freedom to. If you don’t, what the hell is wrong with you?
But it’s not easy to make this shift on a personal level. We can’t just snap our fingers to accept everything about our bodies. We can’t just post a few Instagram graphics to eliminate all fatphobic thought. (And some people use “fatphobic” as a personal gotcha instead of as a descriptor for the beliefs everyone in our culture absorbs, as stated by fat activists in fat studies texts.) When people grew up with the same vernacular of fatphobia as I did but say they’ve cast aside any glimmers of desire for a smaller body — even sometimes, even for just a moment — I do not believe them.
We’re meant to somehow undo decades of negative social conditioning about our bodies as soon as we hear of body positivity. We’re meant to suddenly not care about gaining weight or wanting to lose weight after entire lifetimes of internalizing that those are things we should care about. I am not saying that we should always care. I am saying that it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to stop caring immediately or easily. I am saying that it’s not always and necessarily bad to care.
I read’s newsletter post, “(NOT SO) WEDDING READY” in November and was moved by her honesty about wedding dress shopping:
Do I want to put in the mental anguish to actively try to lose weight so I can get — as many bridal websites and social accounts call it — “wedding ready?” Do I want to unleash that critical voice that I have fought so hard to diminish these last few years so I can “get my act together,” change my eating habits and feel confident when I look in the mirror at future dress fittings? Or would I rather continue my life as is and risk feelings of socially conditioned anti-fat bias when I look at my future wedding photos? Because I don’t think I have enough time to completely unpack all the negative conditioning I grew up with about female bodies and what it means to be a beautiful bride in less than 12 months …. I hate that I am not far enough along in my body acceptance journey for this not to be an issue.
OK, some of us have not come so far as to no longer care about weight gain. Is that something we must hate about ourselves? Yet another fucking thing? If we have managed to care a little less about constantly trying to be thin but still berate ourselves for occasionally wanting to lose a few pounds, I’m afraid that we haven’t really learned much about body acceptance at all.
The very examination of this issue represents a stunning leap forward from where many of us were even a few years ago. Were we thinking about anti-fat bias, negative social conditioning, and body acceptance journeys even 10 years ago? My Facebook connections used to comment, “Skinny!!! Jealous!!!” on each other’s pictures, and now they’re sharing links to “The Body Is Not An Apology.” We’ve come a long way but are made to feel foolish for not having reached the finish line of total, perpetual body acceptance. What if that finish line is a fantasy?
The cultural shift we’re experiencing about body image and weight loss can be positive and freeing for many people. It can also make people feel that “the threat of being exiled to social Siberia for losing weight is real.” All any of us can do is accept our choices as entirely valid if they’re guided by our values. If you want to feel better in your body by losing some weight, that’s a valid choice. If you never want to touch a scale or manipulate your body size again, that is too.
I can just lose 10 pounds if I want to, or I can hate myself for wanting to. For me, the first choice is healthier and easier.
Let’s pull at the thread of “mental anguish” Allison mentions. Losing some weight doesn’t involve mental anguish for everyone. Dieting can be cognitively and physically harmful, but some people lose weight from sane, safe, and sustainable changes. Changing your diet (how you eat 80% of the time) forever isn’t the same thing as dieting. Some say “lifestyle change” is a new diet company euphemism. That doesn’t make actual lifestyle change less legitimate. I lost 70 pounds a decade ago as I worked to manage binge eating disorder and got into strength training and cycling. The process of permanently changing how I eat and move is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and it also led to weight loss.
Since then, my weight has fluctuated at times from instances of binging relapse (or just high stress), from exercise (I gained 15 pounds when I was training for a powerlifting meet), or just from eating and drinking more than usual on vacation. Listen, I can gain like eight pounds in a weekend. It’s a cool party trick. I’ll probably fluctuate by 15-ish pounds forever, and I’ve made some peace with it because honestly, 15 pounds is small potatoes when you’ve experienced a 70-pound swing.
If I gain 10 pounds on vacation and none of my pants fit, it is not an experience of mental anguish to adjust my eating and movement back to normal. It has been frustrating before, but that’s not the same as anguished. For me, binge eating is anguish. Now, I like exercising and eating “healthy” because exercise helps me fix my fucked-up life and I’ve broken free from the idea that “healthy” food sucks. Asput it in my interview with her: “It’s a very American idea that the only pleasure from food is from eating crap food.”
Basically, losing a few pounds is something I can do in a chill way because I know what causes fat loss on my body and I don’t hate doing those things. (And cardio is not the exercise that does it best. Building muscle is.) I’ve had more experience living without those 70 pounds on my body than I’ve had living without internalized negative social conditioning about my body. I’m finally more comfortable. How much more body-related work must I do to be doing it “right”?
I’ve undone some conditioning, though: I’ve learned that most marketed diets are bullshit and don’t do them anymore. I don’t talk about calorie burn or weight loss attempts in mixed company. I don’t neg myself for eating. But I also don’t think wanting to lose weight is always or entirely grounded in negative social conditioning. Sometimes my pants just don’t fit and I don’t want to buy new pants. Have you tried to buy pants lately? Talk about mental anguish!
I often think about this interview betweenand Ira Glass:
I was only ever at the smallest end of “Lane Bryant fat,” which meant size 14 to 28 at the time. I didn’t need to be thin, but I too wanted to wear certain clothes, for example. I wanted different things for myself. Even as a “small fat” person, I knew the difficult realities of living in my body. We all do.
Allison also writes:
It feels unrealistic for me to not succumb to some of the pressure to “look my best” on a day that will be captured in more photographs than any other moment. But I think I can be more in control of what my “best” entails. If I try to recapture the frame of my youth, I am setting myself up for failure and disordered eating. I can, however, be a bit more mindful of what I eat and my workout routine, so long as it doesn’t lead into an unhealthy obsession.
I agree that if you seek only to be as skinny as you were in 9th grade, you might experience mental anguish. But if you’ve been eating more and moving less, are a size up, and that bums you out, I don’t blame you if you want to adjust your habits and wear last year’s jeans again. I also don’t blame you if you decide to change nothing and buy new pants. The decision is entirely your business.
The body has long been subjected to alleged rules that are conveniently always changing: You should be skinny. Don’t eat fat! Wait, fat is good, don’t eat carbs. Hang on, some carbs are good. But do intermittent fasting. Are you exercising, though? You should be skinny but also, like, “toned.” Still, you should be running, or even better, sprinting! But oh, it’s bad for your knees. Get a Pilates body instead …
People are pushing back against these rules. That’s good. But they’re also imposing new ones: Don’t try to lose weight, that’s fatphobic. There are no “bad” foods, and “exercise” has been claimed by diet culture. Exercise should only ever be joyful.
They forget that these rules too cannot apply to everyone, that people have bodily autonomy and so will make decisions others don’t like or understand. Maybe we don’t like or understand that some people just want to lose a few pounds to feel better without having to entirely unpack or undo or unlearn or question the validity of their body acceptance journey at every turn. That might not be the most intellectually elevated and au courant choice as seen by people on Twitter who apparently never do or think anything problematic or contradictory. But it is a human choice. It’s a choice I understand.