Over at Kate Harding’s, they’re talking about how there’s some joker at a gym who’s going to gain a bunch of weight and then lose it so that he can appreciate what his fat clients go through. Then, over at Amp’s, they’re talking about Carol Lay, who lost a bunch of weight and then wrote a graphic novel about it. And then, this morning, I read this over at Tanglethis’s and the light went on.
Tanglethis is talking about how, looking back at pictures of her from when she was younger, she realized that a.) she did not feel conventionally attractive and b.) she was a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty. She says
So why did I feel so miserably unattractive? Why did I feel deceived when someone told me otherwise? Easy questions: certainly a multimillion-dollar industry and a big steaming pile of patriarchy had something to do with it. You don’t get an award for meeting standards for conventional beauty, my 27-year-old self thought wryly as I flipped through unsmiling self-portraits.
And I’ve been thinking about that in terms of Carol Lay’s project, which, I’m sorry, could just not be funnier to me intentionally. She was in the upper range of a normal BMI and now, through constant policing of what she eats and how much she eats of it and constant obsessing over food, she is in the lower range. And, America, you, too, can be thin (and healthy) if you only submit to turning your life over to constantly thinking about food.
Cecily, in the thread at Amp’s takes this point a step further:
I have never been on a classic restricted-menu ‘diet’, but I have been on Weight Watchers, and that ‘day’ was exactly why I quit. It’s like another job. Look how much time she spends thinking about this crap. Sure, there are fitness goals you can set for yourself that don’t involve self-hatred. But I want to live my life, which means not spending hours every day obsessing over food. Hell, she even made this book, which meant allowing her food-obsession to consume her work.
I repeat, “she even made this book, which meant allowing her food-obsession to consume her work.”
And I was wondering about this dynamic of it, why, if losing weight is just about being healthy, we so publicly perform it? Why, for instance, if it’s just about you wanting to be more healthy, do you write a book about it? I take a shit every day because I feel terrible if I don’t. I don’t write a book about it, telling you how to take a shit. I assume that you’ve either gotten that taken care of to your own satisfaction or, if you don’t, there’s not much I can tell you about how to fix that.
So, why, then, is this “healthy” choice different?
And I think that it’s because, as we all know, few people are losing weight for the primary goal of being healthier. Most people lose weight for the primary goal of more closely fitting societal standards, but since few people want to come out and say–or admit to themselves– “I’m losing weight in order to conform. I’m a conformist.”–they use “health” and “feeling better” as reasons. I mean, think about this from the other way, when people lose weight for health reasons, maybe they are deliberately losing weight in order to lower their blood pressure or maybe they’ve been sick and unable to eat–what do you think the ratio of “you look great!” comments to “you look like you’re feeling better” comments are (and, in fact, if you’ve been sick, the “you look like you’re feeling better” comments would be darkly hilarious)? I suspect you’re going to get a lot more compliments on how you look, how you conform, than on your health.
So, okay, you’ve pushed to become thinner, to conform more correctly, and what happens?
I think, in general, nothing. Sure, you might get a few more compliments. You might like how you look in the mirror. But you’ve been promised a life that has changed. A reward. I mean, isn’t that what Tanglethis is saying–she could not recognize that she was beautiful, not only because of typical screwed up teenage crap, but because she thought that being just right would be recognizable because it would be so great.
Which explains why Carol Lay has to write a book about losing weight–because if she doesn’t, how will people know that they’re supposed to heep accolades on her, that she’s now supposed to get the rewards she assumed skinny people got?
And the great con is that, of course, there is no prize. It’s not that you’re not skinny enough or pretty enough or whatever. It’s that, in real life, no one is handing out great rewards for those qualities.
(Ha, or they are. You do get privilege, but part of the way privilege works is that you’re not supposed to have to be aware of it. So, what you really want is to make changes that give you privilege, but you want to be aware that you’ve been rewarded, which is, of course, not how it works.)