My Weighty Story: An Appeal to Feminist Thought

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

Two years ago, I lost weight. Growing up, I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Left to the devices of a television that made me feel inadequate, magazines that made me feel I was in need of a makeover, a doctor that criticized the numbers on a scale, verbal abuse from my peers, and a me who did not understand the meaning of size acceptance, I became obsessed with my appearance. Inevitably, I dieted.

At the time, I had not begun my love affair with feminism, let alone that with fat acceptance (I still bring up the latter during family dinners just to have the opportunity to educate the confused faces around the table). Before my discovery of the ability to let my body be what it wanted to be, I began to physically shrink. Almost everyone commented. When I changed my Facebook photo, people who I barely knew began to commend me on what they thought were improvements.  I thought that if I “got thin” people would stop commenting on my weight, but no, the awkward dotes about my body just kept on coming.

It is considered far too acceptable to comment on women’s weight. Worse off, it is considered far too acceptable to commend thinness and criticize fatness. Although I never verbally criticized other women’s bodies the way I was conditioned to, I internally criticized my own. I am ashamed to say that when I dropped a few sizes and compliments abounded, I said “thank you.”

I no longer believe in dieting as healthy (neither physically nor mentally). I, diet-free, have a new system of beliefs: feminism and acceptance, the two joyously frolicking hand-in-hand. I believe in the power of my mind and body to take up space. It does not matter to me how much space I take up. Simply that I make an imprint on the face of equality is good enough for me. It does not matter if I’m a size 4 or a size 14. With feminism and acceptance, the imprint is still the same.

For some esoteric reason, people still comment on my weight. I do not blame them; they were taught to idealize one type of body and I provide a before, after, and yo-yoing picture for them. For similar societal pressures as why I lost weight, they comment on it. The difference between this year and last year is that this year, I do not say “thank you.”

Through feminism, I have become a size activist, reading the prose of other women speaking out against body discrimination and co-leading discussions on body ideals at my school’s feminism club. With the breadth of knowledge that I have gained from awareness and acceptance, I do not say “thank you,” but that alone unfortunately does not keep my friend’s mother from calling me “the incredible shrinking person” or my second-cousin-once-removed telling me I “look so much better after losing the weight.” Because I no longer deem these innocently demoralizing remarks worthy of my gratitude, I am left stuttering or awkwardly silent during the pause in which I’m expected to say “thank you.”

So what do I, a feminist size activist, do now? The comments keep coming, my body’s not changing, and the awkwardness pervades because I will not express my gratitude for recognition of conformity. How can I tell these people that my weight is not to be commented on (positively or negatively) when they are so innocently trying to compliment me? How do I spread this rant of size acceptance to people who just expect a “thank you” out of my loud mouth?

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§ 9 Responses to My Weighty Story: An Appeal to Feminist Thought

  • Ingrid says:

    I have been through the exact same thing!
    Reading the first sentences, I too had the same reasons (almost exactly!) for my diet to set off.
    It did not prove to be good. On the contrairy, it did more damage than I’ve experienced in my whole life. And all because of this obsession with controlling women… SIGH.

    I did save myself when realising “This is not me! Where did I, clever me, go?”.

    Weird, people thought they could tell me about my body weight, as if it was commenting the weather! “Oh, you lost weight” with worried or jealous voices. “Uhm.. you’ve gone up again? Don’t you think you have some kind of trouble?” Yes, I do, with you! Gosh, people, leave me and my body alone. Or tell me how wonderful I am being me. Or give me a hug. Sigh.

    Thank you for this article!
    It made me again think of how important this fight is, and how much feminism really did save me…

    Now I love my body, and every time I come close to the idea of maybe going on a diet again, or do some exercise (with weight loss as reason), I immediately rethink the issue and become aware of my curves. I never liked being thin, it made me weak, obsessive with food and it did never feel like “me”.

    So.. next time I begin to exersize for real, my goal will be healthy, like, becoming stronger and healthier. :)

  • mirandanyc says:

    This is lovely.

  • S. says:

    At the beginning of this year, I also lost a lot of weight, and I despise the endless comments I get about it. People tell me that I’m shrinking, and follow that up with “you look great!” Um, cool, thanks for telling me I look best when I have less of a presence. Other favorites include the gym teacher who never spoke to me in the hallway, completely ignored my presence, and once made me cry in gym class. Now that he sees me running in the park every evening and I weigh less, he will go out of his way to say hi, crack a joke to me in the hallway, and be all smiley and cheery. I smile and say hi back to be polite to my teacher but really I just want to tell him that he should not be teaching physical education to teenage girls with an attitude like his. And of course, there was the other day, when a friend of mine came up to me out of the blue and told me “Sarah, I was just talking with so and so and we were saying how thin and healthy you look!” The girl she was talking with was someone who I really don’t know very well, and that whole exchange made me feel extremely self-conscious, as if people were watching and scrutinizing me and thought it would be okay to just come up and tell me what they think about my body.

    I also began to lose weight out of a desire to conform to what people told me I should look like. After a while, I became really obsessed with it and it started to interfere with my life. I have to say, getting into feminism is mostly what turned that around for me. Now I run not because I need to burn off every last calorie, but I genuinely enjoy it. It makes me feel happy and energetic. And I eat healthy for the same reason. Also Shira, (this is Sarah Rosengarten), I distinctly remember saying some really stupid things about calorie content in various foods when we were younger that made both of us uncomfortable, so I want to say sorry because I know if people had said stuff like that to me, it would have made me feel hella weird.

    This is a fabulous post and I can certainly relate to a lot of it! Thanks.

  • shira says:

    I have to say that when I first got the idea for this post I was hesitant about writing something so personal. I now know that I’m writing for comments like these. Seeing my story in your experiences with a total feminist edge makes this more than worthwhile.

    Sarah, I love that you read the blog :) and no need to apologize for what was done pre-embrace of feminism!

    I am still wondering what to say to these people that is not “thank you.” Any ideas?

  • vesta44 says:

    Being the snarky old woman that I am, I would just look at them and ask “And this is any of your business?” But that’s just me, and I’ve been superfat for 30-some years, and have been told more times than I can remember that my fat is going to kill me (I must have more lives than a cat, the first time I heard that, I was 25, and I’m now 55). I’ve even told my doctor that unless I gain or lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time, my weight is not up for discussion (and the same thing has been told to family and friends).

  • Phoebe says:

    This is such a great post. As someone whose weight fluctuates from year to year, I do get a lot of these comments as well (both positive and negative). I feel conflicted about them, because I really can’t get the “skinny ideal” out of my mind. So I’ll say, “Thank you!” automatically and it’ll take a little while before it settles in that a complete stranger just commented on my body weight. Bizarre…

  • meloukhia says:

    I’ve taken a leaf out of The Rotund’s book and started using “oh, I don’t really track my weight” in response to comments about it. It’s not necessarily rude or confrontational when said with a smile, but it also makes it clear that you are not reading their comments as compliments.

    (here via Feministe, incidentally)

  • Katie says:

    Just a thought, but how about, “Actually, I look good at any size.”

    Or perhaps, if the comment was targeted to health, “I was just as healthy then as now.”

    Of course, my initial reaction is “fuck off,” but I realize that’s not always an option…

    Anyhow, just my .002…

  • RMJ says:

    I am also uncomfortable with the comments I get when I lose weight, but I also appreciate them. I try to lose weight sometimes, and sometimes I don’t. Weight fluctuations are natural, and changing desires with regard to my size are also natural. It’s a contradiction – there are so many in life.

    I usually just nod, like “yup, I’ve lost weight.” The lack of a “thanks, I’ve been XYZ!” will be enough of a statement.

    Found you via Feministe, and will link this over at my blog!

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