My mom was telling me a story that she heard. Now, this is my mom and she is the best mom in the whole world, and she’s not always really focused on the details of a story so feel free to consider this a parable. Apparently there was a woman who wanted to be a model and she was told that she could make a career out of it but first she would need to lose weight. So she started dieting which lead to an eating disorder. She did the hard work to recover and got herself into college. Then she got called from a modeling agency asking her to be a plus size model. But, they told her, she needed to gain weight. She said “This was a chance for me to see – did I learn the lesson or not?” So she told them that no, she wasn’t interested in artificially manipulating her weight to get a modeling gig.
This really struck a chord with me. I spent a lot of my life trying to artificially manipulate my weight. Not for a modeling career but because I allowed myself to be convinced that it was healthier, and because I wanted the social acceptance that comes with having a body size that is socially acceptable. But it never worked, I was hospitalized for an eating disorder 15 pounds over my “healthy” weight. So I started doing research and it turns out that weight loss almost never works for anybody. And that my premise was half flawed and half bad choice. The flawed part was the idea that I had to be thin to be healthy, that’s just not true. The bad choice was that I thought I should solve bullying by trying to do what the bully wanted. Now it’s crystal clear that weight loss is not the cure for social stigma, ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma.
As I walk my fat body around the world I get all kinds of messages about how I should lose weight so that I can be healthier, or happier, more date-able or more socially acceptable (from people who have no idea about my baseline health, happiness, date-ability or social acceptability.) And I consider each of these occasions a chance for me to see if I’ve learned the lesson. I shudder to think of the money, time, and energy I gave to the diet industry that makes over 60 Billion dollars each year selling us a product that has the opposite of the intended effect 95% of the time.
So when Weight Watchers asks me to believe that Jennifer Hudson is finally a success because she lost weight (even though she was an American Idol Finalist, Grammy Winning singer and Oscar Winning Actress when she was “fat” and now the only thing she stars in are Weight Watchers commercials) it’s a chance for me to see – did I learn the lesson or not? Ok, that’s an easy one.
When someone tells me that they think I’m great but they don’t date big girls, it’s a chance for me to see if I’ve learned the lesson. Do I think that it’s a good idea to date someone who only wants me if I’m different than I am now? Sure they’ll date me if I lose weight, maybe even marry me if I can keep the weight off long enough. But what happens when time changes the superficiality of my body?
When they try to tell me that I’ll be all but immortal if I lose weight, it’s a chance to see if I learned the lesson. Do I believe the research, or the hype? Do I demand evidence-based treatment from my doctor or do I allow him to treat me based on the information that he got at the Allergan-sponsored seminar, or the prescription he’ll write me with the Meridia pen that he got when he played golf with his friendly neighborhood pharmaceutical rep.
When the Shape Magazine publishes its 1,153rd cover article on how I can “quickly and easily lose weight for good!” it’s a chance to see if I’ve learned the lesson. Do I really want to support these people with my money – do I really think that the 1,153rd time is the charm?
In our thin-obsessed culture there are countless opportunities to see if I’ve learned the lessons – that thin is not the same as healthy and that every body deserves respect. The more I learn that more I’m sure that I’m on the right track this time.
If you’re looking for a little bit of activism today, might I suggest emailing the Communications Director of Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to ask that she denounce the Georgia Fat-Shaming Strong4Life billboards? You can send a quick note to Mary Beth Bigley and let her know where you stand: firstname.lastname@example.org I sent my e-mail yesterday!
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