Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Politics of Losing Weight

Due to my dietary changes and an increase in exercise, I've lost a noticeable amount of weight.

It brings up a lot of old issues for me, and I feel I've been dealing with it mostly successfully. Then, I see someone I haven't seen for a while and they comment. Everyone loves to comment. There was a time in my past when I would have reveled in those comments. Those comments were part of what drove me to diet unhealthily as a teenager and I savored each one like it was a canape at a party I'd never be invited to again. Now, however, I dread them, they make me feel a part of a system that forces women to strive for a certain kind of perfection that isn't actually attainable. So many of us torment ourselves our entire lives to try and fulfill whatever aesthetic quality we think we're lacking. Some men do it, too, but it's not the same as the requirements our culture has for women to be fulfilling -- and if not, constantly striving for -- the unrealistic ideal.

Coming to realize that the world, since my birth, had conspired to force me into a wee box of performed femininity that just does not work for me, has been pretty great, actually. I realigned society's expectations of me with my inner feels and determined that I would be ok if I hardly ever wore make-up. And that probably no one would even notice.

My weight, however, is something that people always seem to notice, and feel super free to comment on, and I'm sure men encounter a version of this as well, but there are far more women with whom I've had to engage in this strange appearance-based verbal dance upon every meeting (You look so good! Oh no, I look terrible. You look thinner! No, you look thinner!) and it is exhausting.

I can usually see the good intentions. They mean to congratulate me for a job well done, to compliment me and perhaps find out my secret. But, I don't enjoy having my appearance publicly praised anymore. It makes me feel like a show dog who went to the pricy groomer this time. Besides, not everyone loses a bunch of weight because they want to wear a bikini, sometimes they lose weight because they can't afford food, or they're ill. Both have happened to me, and responding to a "You look great! How did you drop the weight?" with a raised eyebrow and a dry, "I'm poor," was really satisfying. I'd drop the awkward like a mic and walk away like a boss.

But, I don't have the energy for all that sass anymore, and this time my avenue of weight loss will be LOADS more fun for people to quiz me on (diet and exercise, THE WORST), so I've just got to avoid the subject, unless I want to piss off the diet junkies by refusing to waste my precious energy on regaling details of my diet and your diet and that ridiculous diet and that other ridiculous diet, because it's so. boring. and really rather stressful.

But you may have noticed, in this era of reality weight-loss tv, that being fat is bad and losing weight is the truest path to righteousness. Let me insert here that I believe this to be an incredibly narrow view to have when more than half of the nation is overweight or obese, and I find a lot of truth in the Health at Every Size movement. There are plenty of healthy fat people, and there is obviously something more happening in the world than an overeating epidemic.

I don't want to have body-obsessed conversations anymore, none of us should be envying another person's waist and feeling bad about our own. Or thighs, or hips, or whatever body part is making us feel inadequate, because we're a lot more than the sum of our parts.

I am proud of my weight loss, however, in the way that it's evidence (for me) of better health. I've been able to be more active, I'm eating the way I've been wanting to eat for years and I feel so much better for it. I gained a lot of weight when I first got sick, due to the meds they had me on and being unable to get off the couch for weeks at a time, so now that I'm approaching my pre-migraine shape again, I feel like I'm regaining a piece of my life from this stupid, frustrating disease.

I might have a secret weapon against the diet-junkies however. Very few people really want to hear about veganism. My facebook feed has at least one bacon post every day, that's just how my closest friends and family tend to roll, and my previously pescetarian lifestyle was already an oddity amongst those I care about, so going vegan has gotten me lots of blank stares. I do get the protein question, but once I point out that a protein deficiency is nearly impossible to come by, particularly in well-fed USians -- and I can assure you, I am certainly well-fed -- the conversation dies. Everyone's heard of PETA, unsafe farming practices, the environmental impact of livestock-raising, and hormones in meat, but almost no one really wants to know about it, so most people leave me alone once I utter the dreaded v-word because ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

It may be, but I'm finding it more true that knowledge is power. Ignoring the impact our choices have upon our bodies and the world around us doesn't change those consequences, it just makes us lazy, complacent, and selfish. I feel that by educating myself, looking the facts straight in the face and making changes, taking responsibility for the ripples my life is sending out into this world and the people around me, and doing my very best by myself and all of you, I am a force for good in the world. And that's really all I could hope for.