So lately I’ve started being anxious about my weight again. In a sense, this is a good thing, because I was too busy having an existential crisis for awhile there to have any energy left to worry about my weight! But there are some things I’ve realized I need to get straight in my head about my weight, so I’m going to write down some of my thoughts about it here. Please don’t feel I’m preaching at anyone, since I’m also “preaching” to myself: but I do hope that some of these thoughts are helpful to others.
Also, this is my first foray into nightblogging, so forgive me if it starts going a little nuts.
You’ve got to wonder sometimes what the stock photographers were thinking…
The first thing I had to question was, Why am I so afraid of gaining weight?
I realized that it was because deep down inside, I feel like I’m a failure if I gain weight. I feel like it significantly diminishes my value.
I certainly learned this attitude from our culture, which has some weird, weird ideas about weight, which we’ll get into in a moment. But I think I also learned this attitude from my mom.
My mom is an amazing person. She’s compassionate, thoughtful, introspective, helpful, creative, intelligent, self-disciplined, a hard worker, courageous, and enormously unselfish. But she also has low self-esteem. Part of this comes from her weight: from comments she occasionally lets drop, I can see that she genuinely believes that her weight is a mark against her, that it drops her value, that it means she isn’t disciplined, a hard worker, etc. And though she’s an amazing mom and would never teach me that my value has anything to do with my weight (and will probably be horrified if she ever reads this), I learned that lesson from her anyway: because that is what she believes about herself, and it comes through her actions and thoughts, so I learned it by osmosis.
Insert “studying by osmosis” joke here
And here’s the thing that’s really hard to wrap one’s brain around: Your value has nothing to do with your weight.
And at this point, you’re thinking, Yeah, I know, obviously, blah blah blah, I’ve heard this before.
So let me say it again in another way: Your weight, the number on the scale, does not mathematically correlate to ANYTHING except your relationship with earth’s gravity.
If I’m “naughty” and have a little too much chocolate in one day, I feel bad about myself (there’s that word! BAD!) and think that I should have had more self-discipline. If I don’t exercise for awhile, I feel bad and think that I should have been more proactive. So if I get fat, I will feel like it’s a sign of my lack of discipline. And that’s actually nonsense.
Now, I can hear what you’re mumbling, because it’s what my brain is mumbling, too: But keeping your weight down is important for your health! Nutrition and exercise are important!
Well, the thing about your weight being correlated with your health is actually kind of nonsense, from a scientific point of view [see below for links to research]. But let me put this another way:
How many of us, when we see a very large person, immediately assume that they must be unintelligent, uneducated, and completely undisciplined? It used to be that the stereotype was that fat people were happy: now the stereotype is that fat people are stupid.
Which is a stereotype that makes people the opposite of happy.
AND THIS IS ABSOLUTE BULLSHIT.
My mom, as I said, is large. She is also HIGHLY intelligent, extremely well read, and THE most self-disciplined person I have ever MET. If there were any correlation between weight and intelligence/self-discipline, I would believe from her example that it was a negative correlation: if you’re smarter and more self-disciplined, you must be larger, not smaller! BECAUSE THOSE THINGS LITERALLY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH EACH OTHER.
In fact, her weight and her life habits have nothing to do with each other, either. My mom exercises regularly: except for these six weeks right now when she’s in a walking cast, my mom swims and water walks for 45 minutes every weekday. She also has cut most of the sugar and starches out of her diet and eats a lot of raw vegetables. And she’s still large: because her weight and her health and habits have almost nothing to do with one another, either.
Please don’t let anybody take this chart seriously. Please don’t let anybody take this chart seriously. Please don’t let anybody take this chart seriously…
Saying she’s an amazing person, intelligent, self-disciplined, “even though she’s big” is like saying, “She’s really good at math even though she has green eyes.” The two facts of eye color and mathematical skills are completely unconnected. The facts of weight and personality are completely unconnected. In fact, the facts of weight, nutrition, exercise, and general health ARE COMPLETELY UNCONNECTED. I’m not just saying this: click through the links at the bottom to see the research! Your weight literally has nothing to do with anything except mass and gravity. Your clothing size has nothing to do with anything except the amount of fabric it takes to make you look fabulous and cover your naughty bits from general view. (And let’s all be honest, ladies: we know that clothing sizes have nothing to do with anything anyway except for the deranged minds of clothing manufacturers, because clothing sizes for women make no sense: amirite?)
I’ve spent months–years!–since I started gaining weight in college (WHEN I WEIGHTED 138, ONLY FOUR POUNDS LESS THAN “OVERWEIGHT” ON A BMI CHART THAT IS ANOTHER LOAD OF BULLSHIT OMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO END) looking at the number on the scale, the number of my BMI, the number of my presumed body fat percentage, and seeing those numbers as measures of my worth, my self-discipline, my intelligence. And that is a load of complete bullshit. BMIs are bullshit: the research shows this. Body fat percentages are notoriously hard to calculate. AND EVEN IF THEY WERE PERFECT MEASUREMENTS, I’M GOING TO REPEAT THIS AGAIN: THEY ARE NOT CORRELATED WITH ANYTHING EXCEPT YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE GROUND.
Please feel free to pass this one around, however.
Our culture has a dangerous habit of linking weight and size and attractiveness to a host of other, unrelated characteristics. If we lived in a society that believed that people with green eyes were necessarily bad at math, that fired people from math-related jobs if their eyes were green, that mocked green-eyed people publicly (especially if they were famous and women, even if their jobs had nothing to do with math), that wrote in armageddon-like tones about GREEN-EYED EPIDEMICS! in America, that told people with green eyes that they were “only worried about their health” and “only trying to help them”… we would call that a dystopia. (In fact, that’s a pretty good idea for a dystopian novel… I might have to think about that!) And yet, that’s essentially what we do with weight in our culture. But weight has nothing to do with value. It has nothing to do with personality traits or personal habits. It even has nothing to do with your health! And it only has an effect on your ability to attract a mate insofar as your potential mates have swallowed the lies our culture has been feeding us all since birth.
…You’re a bad person and should feel bad, apparently.
I don’t blame my mom for linking her value to her weight. I do it, too. So does almost everybody in our culture.
But it can stop with us.
So let me repeat this one last time: your weight has nothing to do with anything. It is literally only a number, and a number that correlates with nothing whatsoever, even your health. And it’s going to take awhile for us all to believe that and internalize it. But let’s begin working on it today: because recognizing the total disconnect between your self-worth and your weight actually IS correlated with better health and happiness. And it’s a much better goal than losing a few pounds of pressure between you and the floor.
People who are overweight live longer than thin people on average and seem to have protection from some health problems, like heart disease and pneumonia, and even diabetes! And another article on the same topic.
To quote Kate Harding, whose excellent post I am mining for research links, “No one has proven that fat people generally eat more or exercise less than thin people.” NO LINK BETWEEN DIET/EXERCISE AND FAT. NOPE. NOT THERE. If it were really as simple as everyone makes it sound, there would be TONS of proof on the subject. There isn’t.
To hammer that point home: Tons of studies have shown that dieters actually GAIN weight in the long run! Because no one knows how to actually make a fat person thin or a thin person fat! YOU DON’T HAVE CONTROL OVER YOUR WEIGHT THROUGH DIET AND EXERCISE ANYWAY. Eating healthy is great. But please don’t diet to lose weight: it is likely to cause you more health problems than being fat would!
While I’m at it, shaming fat people makes them less healthy, not healthier. Fat people can have eating disorders like anorexia, too. On the opposite side, autonomy, self-esteem, and health are linked.