And between retooling that piece for MyDaily/reading all of your excellent comments on it and on my take on bathroom scales/losing two pounds in two weeks and then half a pound in another two weeks, facts I am only privy to because I have started weighing myself again (biweekly)… WELL.
I’ve been having some further thoughts about all that jazz, which I wanted to share today. (Your weekly Six Items Or Less update will come tomorrow. Spoiler Alert: It’s not going so well…)
So. Kate Treacy of Not Washing the Dishes commented thusly:
I’ve had really negative experiences with the bathroom scales and I think the sense of ‘accomplishment’, as you put it, is equally part of the problem as being more unhappy when the scales say you’ve piled on the pounds. I speak from personal experience here, I really do think there’s something disturbing in turning losing weight into a project. I fear that what may lie behind that sense of accomplishment, of ticking of the to-do list, is essentially women validating themselves for living up to an ideal imposed upon them. I know I’m happier when I’m thinner but I must question why this is the case. As you say, it’s nothing to do with health. I know my efforts and energy could be better spent elsewhere, but still, I deeply want to be thin and will devote a disproportionate amount of my thinking into achieving this. Where does this really come from?
I agree with Kate’s point that turning weight loss into a “project” (and, oh my lord, do I love a good project!) can be a way of finding validation. Though it must be said, in defense of the scale that I’ve talked to plenty of women now who find the scale to be a useful tool for keeping tabs on themselves — in a “hey, what’s up with that?” way, not a hairy-shirt punishing way. Which is cool — though I admit to having a knee-jerk “really?!” reaction every time a woman tells me this.
Mostly because I am so gosh-darn impressed that anyone is that at peace with their bodies, I guess. God, that’s sad.
Anyway, there’s no question in my mind that my reliance on the bathroom scale number plus the fact that I’m taking on weight loss as my first 2011 “project” is clear evidence that I’m losing weight for external reasons — that, as Kate says, I’m “validating [myself] for living up to an ideal imposed upon [me.]” I’m not making any bones about that.
I want to be thinner because I think it looks better because I’ve bought into that thinner-looks-better beauty standard — and so, I need external validation of said thinness. Since it’s a standard that originates outside of me, how I feel about my weight inside (by judging how well my clothes fit, or how I feel when I look in the mirror) is not a reliable enough metric. I need the external input to confirm that I’ve done it “right.”
Oy. That’s troubling. As in, why can’t I just trust myself to decide how I feel about my body and its size? Why so dependent on an external yardstick?
But. I wonder if the fact that I’m aware I’m buying into a standard helps at all? I am mindfully deciding, “yep, I want to be thinner because I’m believing all these messages about how losing twenty pounds will be aesthetically pleasing for me and the whole world.”
Which sounds ridiculous.
But that means I’m keeping an element of “this is ridiculous” in mind as I embark on this project. Which is helpful in terms of keeping that in perspective — as I said in this post, this is just one standard that I’ve decided to purchase. And I’m only buying a teensy part of it. I am, for example, completely delighted to shoot for being a size 8 (who might sometimes be a 6 and sometimes be a 10 because clothes are wacky like that). I don’t want to shoot for a size 2, because I know my body well enough by now to know that would require effort significantly above and beyond the “does it make you miserable?” checkpoint. (Don’t interpret this as me hating on sizes 2s now. I have many lovely size 2-4-6 friends and I think they are grand. I’m just talking about what’s realistic for my body.)
So I’m hoping that it’s possible to rely on external validation while chasing (with awareness!) one rather specific beauty standard — and not have that standard and that bathroom scale suddenly become the key benchmark by which I measure my whole sense of self.
But I’m genuinely not sure.
Because I know so many women struggle with disordered eating precisely because that distinction is so difficult to make. And because I also feel a sense of guilt for even deciding to apply this standard to myself in the first place. We don’t live in that perfect world I described, where beauty standards are like paint chips and you can pick and choose and reject them as you like. We live in the real world, where beauty standards about hair color, eye color, skin tone, age and oh, so especially size are used to bolster and perpetuate discrimination.
And if you decide any one of these standards applies to you, how can you be sure you aren’t also applying it to everyone around you?
[Photo: A Vintage Kitchen Scale, which I would like to have in my kitchen for reasons entirely unrelated to body image and entirely related to the sheer cuteness of any kitchen appliance that comes in red. By H is for Home, used per Flickr’s Creative Commons License 2.0]