I believe in being honest and transparent with all of you. I wish I could describe my journey with food and weight as linear: at one point I struggled, and now I am perfect! Be like me!
But the truth is it happens in stages. And even though I’ve written in the past about how it will be hard to totally eradicate your food problem until you’ve eradicated your secretly-wanting-to-lose-weight problem, that’s exactly the position I was in for a long time. My eating was extremely stable and felt “normal,” but if a fairy godmother came and offered me a 10-pound-weight-loss with zero effort….well, I was on board.
I told this to my friend Hilary at one point, this oh yeah I feel totally happy with my eating but sure, I’d be pumped to lose a few pounds if I didn’t have to do anything.
And she sent me the most amazing email of my life. She sent me a wake-up call.
I wanted to share a few of my favorite sections with you, as well as my reactions to it, because I was so deeply moved by it.
I should also say that Hilary has a Ph.D. and is a freaking fabulous genius. Also she didn’t intend for this to reach a wide audience (though she has given her permission to share this).
Why would you want to lose weight? You’re tall, healthy, beautiful, and happy eating and enjoying life.
Basically, I can only imagine that for anyone in that category—you, me, a dozen friends—if you want to lose weight it’s because societal beauty norms are completely messed up and yet so deeply ingrained.
When one already feels healthy and basically good in their bodies, and only has 5-10-15 lbs to lose, then those 5-10-15lbs of potential weight loss are entirely social constructs.
"True beauty" in the West can only be achieved by utter leanness, and an unceasing level of deprivation which gets conflated in our minds with a moral, social, and psychological purity.
WOW. Can we talk about this?
The point she’s making, that leanness = goodness…I think it’s so ingrained that most of us don’t even notice it anymore. But it’s true—why would leanness matter if we didn’t think that it made us “good,” from a moral and social and even psychological (in our own minds!) perspective.
Because it’s EVERYWHERE. Skinny little frail women who are oh so good and deserving and worthy of success and attention. Even in our young adult fiction. (Not that there's anything wrong with being skinny or frail, but that's not the only body type there is).
In other words, "true beauty" requires a complete minimalism of body. It’s no coincidence that minimalism and the art of tidying are so popular. Only by being completely minimal do we have the right to real decadence—wealth, fancy clothes, sinful desserts.
I think she’s coined a radical new term here—“minimalist bodies.” (If you haven’t heard of the “art of tidying,” check out this). For centuries, having a lot meant that you were wealthy—that you could afford gilded candlesticks and knickknacks and whatever. But now, with our capitalistic society, everyone has been consuming and buying and acquiring….so now the really “elegant” thing is to be minimal, to have just a few (often very expensive) things. And that applies to our bodies, too.
But also, WTF? Since when did having a bit of extra skin or hips or thighs make us unworthy?
A woman who is thinner is more beautiful, has her act together in life in ways others don’t, is more desirable, is to be envied. Everyone else in the 5-10-15 lbs range, who can pinch a little skin around the waist and who has thighs that touch, is a bit of a schlub (physically and morally, in their career and social capital). And anyone who needs to lose more than that is fat and dismissible, not part of any important cultural or social equations.
Again, WOW. Isn’t that what society is telling us? That we need to lose weight to be worthy, to be taken seriously? And on some level, do you notice yourself making those judgments about “goodness” or "worthiness" for other women, based on their weight?
So if you desire to be thinner, it must be desire for physical and moral “perfection” as society promotes it: Don't your friends and family and boyfriend secretly think that you should lose weight? Wouldn't your business take off faster if you were just a little bit thinner? Wouldn’t you be richer if you were thinner?
So much pressure!
As for everyone else who needs to lose 20, 40, 100 pounds, well they’re really screwed. They have to reach nirvana but they are so very far away from it that they can only aspire to “getting to a healthy weight,” while secretly longing to be the “the perfect weight,” and the cycle of diet and failure is all the more vicious because they're not even in the realm of “passing” for thin.
Um, obviously I’m not saying I believe that message, but I’m saying that’s what’s inculcated in every woman in America. All those invisible fat people moving among us.
Whew, even reading that section of the email again makes me feel overwhelmed and angry. FUCK THAT.
How ridiculous is it that our worth would be defined by weight. How absurd and unfair and dehumanizing.
Even writing this letter to you makes me feel upset. Even remembering the subtle and unconscious and sad ways that our weight determines our worth makes me feel a little sick.
We can’t just deal with the food issues, friends. We absolutely have to deal with the body issues, too. And we will be doing just that here in my blog in the coming months.
Otherwise we will always feel—as my friend so beautifully put it—that we need to lose weight “to become the perfect human being that we secretly are in our heart of hearts but can only prove to the world by looking a wee bit malnourished.”
And you know what we will do, then? Mess with our eating.
Are you angry? Do you think that you do need to have a “minimalist body” to be worthy? Let me know in the comments.
And for some ideas about what to do with this bullsh** situation of body image, as well as stop yourself from messing with your weight, join the Spring Dessert Club. There are a few spots left, and we start next week.