I’ve written about this subject before, but in January, it seems pertinent to bring it up again.
I have mixed feelings about weightloss programs.
Is there anything worse than scrolling through Instagram and seeing people’s #cleaneats and #fitfam posts? It’s horrible for so many reasons, among which are: sometimes when you’re down on yourself, others’ successes make you feel inadequate, your body dysmorphia and self-perception is reflected in the fit bodies of others, you’re usually in bed, and/or eating something like greasy pizza while looking at someone’s white bean and tuna salad with no mayo/no dressing/no cheese which just makes you feel like you’re climbing the mountain… and that’s not to say those feelings are the fault of the people who are crushing their #fitnessgoals – it’s just that sometimes, you can’t help but feel when you look at your social media, that the world is a race, and you’re in last and being surpassed by others (this is a real thing, psychologically – it’s one of the reasons why so many people are encouraged by their counselors and loved ones and teachers to quit social media – it’s not great for many people’s mental health).
I also have a few very beautiful, wonderful friends and associates who are doing amazing things under the umbrella of fat acceptance and body positivity. Their argument: it is anti-woman, anti-‘self love’, and altogether pointless to diet, join a weightloss program, and wish you were someone else when you’re just not. They agree with what a health nurse who came to my junior high school told us many years ago that I still remember to this day: we are all built differently, the way you’re built is the way you’re built, and if you’re a larger person you can work out and go on a fitness regime that any supermodel is committed to, and you will still never look like a supermodel. You are you, you should be happy being you, and the fitness/diet industry is a lie. If you listen to it, you’re not crushing goals, you’re a victim.
I’ve also heard similar arguments from many articles and uplifting posts and memes which slam the beauty industry completely. and I struggle because… well, I am a woman, I want to feel beautiful, and a little eyeliner, eyeshadow, blush, and mascara boost my confidence and make me feel more alive, awake, and complete, and yes, beautiful every day. Days without those accouterments are sick days, not-leaving-the-house-on-a-Saturday days, and that’s pretty much it. Is it anti-feminist of me to feel this way about makeup? Am I less of a woman because I subscribe to the lies of the beauty industry? Is it more worthwhile for me to just be ‘me’ and accept myself as a loved, productive, happy member of society?
I joined Weight Watchers in 2009. It’s been almost 10 years since I walked through those doors for the very first time. On that day, the first time I had weighed myself since I was probably a very young child, I was just over 188lb. Almost 200. At 5’2″. That’s heavy. I looked like trash, then – at least, I thought so. And at that time, I was SO committed to changing myself and my life, I went almost two whole months without ever even eating a french fry. I worked so hard, I lost about 20lb in that first couple of months. Jackets that didn’t close were way too big for me by October. I was down about 4 sizes in jeans. I was dropping hundreds on new clothes because I could finally wear all the beautiful trends and clothes I had always wanted to wear, but was too fat. I owned jeans for the first time in years. By the end of my first stint at Weight Watchers, I had lost about 60lb. It was INSANE.
Since that very productive time, I’ve been a bit more balanced and realistic with my quote-un-quote “weight loss journey”, but I have accomplished many things in my “new” body I never thought possible:
-I’ve run 6 half marathons
-I’ve run 1 full marathon
-I’ve run several 5ks and 10ks
-I’ve completed an intensive personal training program
-I’ve done Tough Mudder and two Foam Fests
-I have walked well over 20,000 steps in a day
-I have done all kinds of workouts I was previously too intimidated to try such as : zumba, spin classes, kickboxing, boot camp, yoga, and even drumfit
-Most importantly, I have felt beautiful. I never did before I accomplished all this.
I struggle with weight loss, because I firmly believe in self-love and body acceptance. The only reason we strive for a certain type of body is because that’s the body we seen in the media. In reality, everyone is welcome and everyone can be loved. Love has nothing to do with weight or appearance. There is so much more to love or even finding love, than that. No matter who you are, someone will see you on the inside and outside as the beautiful person you are.
The sad reality is though, not everyone will be able to feel the way that people see and perceive them. Some of the most gorgeous women I know tear strips off themselves about their thighs, stomachs, height, dress size, etc. etc. etc. I know other people who are vibrant and wonderful and selfie-every-day confident and they’ve never even been inside a gym. The most important thing in the world, weight loss program or not, is whether your self-perception matches your outer reality. And if it doesn’t, then you can try and change something to make it happen. If weight loss doesn’t work after you’ve tried it, okay, it doesn’t work. But trial and error, undergoing achievements and revolutions to find yourself, is a part of being alive. Not everyone is going to prescribe to the same remedy for self-consciousness.
Speaking from experience, does weight loss change your self-perception? In some ways, yes. You really are the same person but for me (and this may not be the same for you), seeing myself in photos as a more fit and healthy version of myself made me feel a lot better about myself. Having achieved something like running 42.2km when in high school when I was at my heaviest and couldn’t even run for 30 seconds without wheezing and stopping to walk, makes you feel like yes, I am a new person. I am different than I was before. Lastly, I’ve always had a deep love of fashion and beauty. That’s why I struggle so much between loving makeup and pretty dresses versus firmly believing in the power and agency of women. But the beauty industry, especially in the early-mid 2000s, often left out women with different body types. The industry has changed ever-so-slightly but not enough so that this is predominently their problem and not mine. So I met them halfway, I guess. That might sound or seem terrible and unjust and it is. But sometimes you can’t change the world, but you can change yourself even temporarily, and that kind of has to be good enough.
What’s my point? I don’t know. That I am confused about dieting, exercise, and beauty. That as someone who works with youth, I constantly want to not project anything about beauty standards on young women even though I prescribe to them often myself and that could make me vulnerable to criticism. At the end of the day though, feminism is about agency and to what extent we have it, and can have it. When we don’t, that’s the problem. Is it unethical and un-woman for me to participate in the diet industry? Maybe. But it’s an individual choice I’m making, and something that has helped me.
When you are participating in your resolutions, especially ones that are weight-focused, you will hear and read advice and criticism, you’ll hear from saboteurs, and competitors, you’ll be slammed and encouraged. Do what’s best for you. Ignore everything that doesn’t fit your end game, regardless of what it is.