We’re midway through January now, gang, and that means two things:
1. Every media outlet is running or has run a story about how to achieve your New Year’s Resolution weight loss goal — because obviously, you made one — like, this time for real. This article suggests it’s just a matter of staying organized. Gwyneth Paltrow, in her infinite wisdom, is pushing a 21-Day Elimination Diet (argh… post to come on how I hate the whole concept of detoxing with every fiber of my being). The Special K Challenge wants you to consume just 829 calories per day, most of them via Special K products.
2. Feminist writers and bloggers are dutifully carrying out the annual backlash to weight loss-related resolutions. Feministing’s Chloe reminds us, “it’s the time of year when women are told, by every mainstream women’s media outlet there is, that we must lose weight” in her post about Isabelle Caro (the French model who died a few weeks ago after a long and terribly tragic battle with anorexia). Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams is upset about Carrie Fisher joining Jenny Craig. Jezebel eye-rolls the resolution-fueled trend of “get Natalie’s Black Swan body” workouts. And lots of folks are in a lather about the Florida woman who resolved to look better and then died in the middle of cosmetic surgery.
So, here’s my thing: I’m a feminist. And I made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
Here’s the previously on, in case you’re just tuning in. I went to Beauty U, gained twenty pounds, spent months hating those twenty pounds because I thought they kidnapped my body, then realized that my body is still pretty rad and good at back bends, no matter what the bathroom scale says.
Which was a lovely and positive conclusion. But it’s not quite the same conclusion that I’m drawing day-to-day. I’m still sad that my favorite jeans don’t fit. Also my favorite sweaters and dresses and skirts and even boots — did you know that knee-high boots don’t zip up so well if you gain twenty pounds? True story. My small-calved sister is making out like a bandit right now.
At the same time, I really and truly believe that we need to get away from the notion that thin always equates health. So if you’re eating well, exercising regularly, and are free from/able to successfully manage chronic disease and debilitating health problems, then I count you as healthy. Period. No matter what you weigh. Which means I count myself as currently healthy. And so I just have to own it and say: I’m not worried about my health. I want to lose weight solely for aesthetic reasons.
I figured this out right before the holidays and I’ve been seriously mad at myself for a few weeks now. Because I feel like a big traitor to the cause. Women do need to stop judging ourselves so harshly by a completely arbitrary and punishing set of beauty standards. It’s making us crazy and sick and distracts us from getting on with our lives and saving the world and sh*t. All the feminist bloggers getting mad about New Year’s Resolutions are pretty dead-on. Natalie Portman has said she worried she might die while training for “Black Swan” — so why, exactly, is my inbox filled with press releases promoting the ballet-based workouts that will give me her hungry little body?
But then my very wise friend Amy reminded me that there are shades of gray in all of this. “You are allowed to want to look differently for aesthetic reasons,” she told me. “Just not if it’s making you miserable!”
Of all the beauty standards running rampant in our culture, weight is hands-down the most powerful (or at least, tied with age and well ahead of other standards, like blond hair, tan skin, and impractical footwear). We’ve built thinness up to equate health and a good work ethic and a whole host of other non-beauty-related character traits. Which means subscribing to this standard takes the biggest toll.
But why give it that much power? Your weight is just one of the thousands of ways your body gets judged every day! (By the way, that is meant to sound chipper.)
In a perfect world, we’d all be picking and choosing amongst all of these standards like so many paint chips, testing out the ones we like and rejecting the ones we don’t, checking how they look in different lights and then going about our business without a care in the world. In that world, deciding to lose weight because you think, rather arbitrarily, that you look better at 145 pounds than at 165 pounds would be no more fraught than deciding to start wearing jeggings because you really like the whole jeans-tucked-into-boots trend after all. That being the other most recent beauty-standard-related (and thus, slightly ridiculous) decision I can recall making.
It’s not a perfect analogy — losing weight is way more difficult than just buying the damn jeggings. I’ve signed on to be more mindful about what I eat, exercise regularly, and weigh myself with some frequency to track my progress. And since losing weight sustainably means shedding no more than a pound or so a week, I’m going to be doing all of these things for the next five months. Whereas once I bought the jeggings, I got to wear them that same day. Plus, if I decide this 145 pound trend has real staying power — if it is in fact not jeggings, but more like the new little black dress of my wardrobe — then I’m going to have to continue to be mindful of food choices and exercise in order to maintain it.
Still, I think there’s something to this idea. And “Just not if it’s making you miserable!” is the whole key — in fact, it may just be the key to whether or not you should let any beauty standard into your life. So far, I’ve lost two pounds in two weeks that also included several glasses of wine, a brownie or two, and a delicious pasta dish, alongside mountains of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. I’m pretty far from miserable.
But I’m also keeping tabs on that. Because just like I stopped highlighting my hair when $200 hair appointments every six weeks made me miserable for a whole other set of reasons (expense, smell, the fact that I just do not work as a blond), I’m reserving the right to opt out* of this standard any time I feel like it. The are-you-miserable math isn’t going to add up if I have to go to impossible lengths (and for me, skipping meals or living without chocolate would constitute impossible lengths) or invest an endless amount of time to attain this standard.
All of which is to say: “Black Swan bodies” aside, I’m rethinking my position that all diets are by definition punitive and dangerously anti-woman. After all, telling women they shouldn’t want to lose weight is just us imposing yet another external beauty standard, when it’s all far more personal and more complicated than that. So I’d like to propose that I can make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and keep all of my feminist street cred intact.
What do you think? Is it possible to lose weight without giving it so much weight (see what I did there with the word play fun)? Or is losing weight for aesthetic reasons just too loaded in our culture?
*When I say “opt out,” I mostly mean “stop weighing myself” and striving to attain a certain weight. Because again, this isn’t about health. Eating well and being physically active are important for your health and I want to live a super long time, so I’m on board with doing that stuff more or less indefinitely. At the moment, I also happen to be on board with the beauty-related (not health-related) idea that I should weigh less so I can fit into my pretty clothes, and thus, I need to pay attention to what I actually weigh in order to do that.