Today I reread Nomy Lamm’s piece “It’s a Big Fat Revolution” and watched a short Missrepresentation video of Margaret Cho talking about her eating disordered past (linked above: I highly recommend checking both of these out). Anyway, their pieces got me thinking about my own experiences with weight loss/gain and how I felt during these experiences, mentally, emotionally and physically. I don’t mean to preach: I have always been thin and I will admit that mainstream feminism accommodates me in a way that it does not accommodate bigger women. This is certainly a drawback of feminism that needs to be addressed. I have never struggled with an eating disorder (thankfully), but I know many women who have and I worry about the well-being of my friends. But this is more of a reflective exercise than a didactic piece, so to speak.
My recent experience with weight loss has prompted me to think more carefully about my health and how I physically FEEL. I have lost almost ten pounds over the past few weeks, something that I didn’t even notice until my shrinking was pointed out by friends and family. Interestingly, I’m always conscious of weight gain – even the slightest changes – but I failed to notice that I was steadily losing weight due to the fact that I was eating less. For some time I actually thought that I was gaining weight and it’s scary that my perception was so far off from reality. Typically, people think “oh you lost weight, that’s great!” I’ve been told that I look “trimmer” and the standard “you look so good!” While I appreciate the compliments, the fact of the matter is that my weight loss in no way reflects health. My appetite has been highly suppressed due to depression and anxiety, and I have been eating less nutrient-dense foods while consuming approximately the same amount of desserts (my sweet tooth is raging). I am aware that this is extremely unhealthy, and I’ve been trying to force myself to eat the healthy, home cooked meals my mom prepares.
In addition, much of my weight loss can be accounted for by a loss in muscle mass – as I have been eating less I have also been less active. I don’t have the calories I need to exercise (in a healthy manner). So in fact, my weight loss is not a positive thing at all. I haven’t lost much fat but I’ve lost significant muscle. I am smaller and weaker.
The scary part is that our culture applauds me for this. Losing weight automatically indicates that I’m healthier, and of course, more attractive. Especially for women, being beautiful means being thin (among other stringent criteria). The funny thing is that I don’t feel more attractive, and I don’t feel healthier. I feel weak. My endurance is gone and my body is fatigued. I don’t feel like eating but grow dizzy and faint when I don’t, at which point I force myself to eat. My strong shoulders from swimming have shrunken as have my thighs. Most importantly, I don’t feel good physically. No matter how good society tells me I look, I do not feel that way because I am not physically and emotionally healthy. In my opinion, feeling good is health. I know how to eat healthy; I know that exercise is important. I know that if I do these things my body will reward me for it. There is a noticeable difference when I consistently go to yoga classes – my back pain is relieved, my body feels stretched and my muscles and joints feel stronger. These are the kind of cues that I look for. When I make sautéed kale for dinner I feel significantly more energized than when I eat something fried. I know how to take care of myself – the struggle is getting to a place where I can get into the routine, and more importantly, make my goal HEALTH, rather than weight loss.
I won’t go too much into the feminist theory, but there’s something sinister behind the way our culture encourages women to lose, and lose, and lose weight. We are, in essence, told to cut ourselves down to size, to literally take up less space. Whether you believe this or not, the consequences of sending this message to young girls and women are clear: it is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder – 7 million of them women. It’s hard to argue that there isn’t something wrong here. Underweight people face just as many health risks as overweight people, and for underweight people these risks are more often fatal.
Margaret Cho jokes that elastic waistbands are the solution to body image issues – there are no pant sizes to obsess over, just comfort. Personally, I love yoga pants, and I plan to get back on my yoga mat in those pants and start regaining my strength. I’m not concerned about the number on the scale, and I’m not concerned about the size of my waist. I am the only one who can make me feel better: it’s my journey and I am going to do it my way. And heaven forbid, I might even gain a few pounds.