Weight loss is a topic that has loomed over me my entire life. As I have shared many times before, I was always a “chubby kid” or “fat kid” in my schools and my neighborhood group of friends. This led to nearly daily bullying from my so-called “friends,” and I often wished I could just cut the fatness out to make it all go away. These feelings worsened in middle school when a fellow “chubby kid” came back from summer break between 6th and 7th grade having lost enough weight to be seen as “fit.” I was the sole “fat kid” left in our grade.
In high school, the bullying settled somewhat, not because I lost some significant amount of weight or got “fit” or “skinny” (although my growth spurt did help with that illusion at times), but because I was no longer the “fattest.” A strange feeling overcame me at times, where I was relieved to no longer be the focus of the fatphobia and bullying I had in some ways become accustomed to but still angry that the other “fat kids” were pushed to their mental limits by the incessant fat jokes thrown at them. How could anyone feel good about themselves, especially a “former fat kid,” seeing people we considered friends suffer constant body terrorism, just because they were bigger than us?
I have since regained my “fat kid” status, having gained who knows how much weight since high school (I stopped weighing myself regularly after junior year), and having been the biggest person in my graduate school program and in my current job. In some ways, it is much better than it was in elementary/middle/high school, dedicating my life to promoting body positivity and trying my hardest to love my body as it is, no matter how big my belly and legs and arms get, or how chubby my face gets. On the other hand, though, whenever my colleagues are getting ready for our weekly in-office yoga hour and ask if I will be joining this week, I worry that my unchanging response of “no” comes off as more of a typical “fat kid” answer to any form of exercise than my honest desire to just not be in the office for another hour.
It is interactions like those that get me thinking about weight loss the same way I did when I was younger. No matter how much work I have done to accept and love my body, I am always inevitably brought back to that mindset of “I need to lose weight to be happy.” Not to mention the fact I find myself buying larger clothes to cover up my fatness, donating the clothes that no longer fit and wondering, self-loathingly, “how did I get this way?” Whenever I find myself stuck in the mental state of wanting to lose weight, there are always certain thoughts that run through my mind.
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If I want to lose weight, am I automatically anti-body positive?
This is the first thought that crosses my mind every time I think about losing weight. It is a question that I do not have the answer to—at least not one that ever seems to stick—and is one that I do not think the body positive community can agree on either. I feel like if I dedicate myself to losing weight, or more specifically reaching a smaller body size, I would be betraying the body positive community, all of my writings on fat acceptance, my Master’s thesis on fatness and sexuality and the participants who helped make it possible, my fat friends and family who have begun to love their bodies, and most of all, myself. Wanting to lose weight feels most like a betrayal against any sense of radical self love I have achieved in recent years.
But is body positivity not about loving your body? What if I find myself incapable of loving my body as it is right now? What if I have grown tired of my growing belly and thighs and arms? What if I cannot afford to keep buying larger sizes of clothing?
The best answers I can muster for any of these questions are two-fold: if I do decide to lose weight someday, it cannot be for these reasons, or rather losing weight should never be my focus or obsession and, at most, it should be a passive by-product of other choices I make in my life; and if I decide to not lose weight, actively or passively, it is possible for me to still love my body now and in the future, and I can find peace with my body if I focus more on what it wants rather than what I want from it.
Are my thoughts on weight loss dictated by the media, social norms?
Another big issue I come to when I start thinking about weight loss is more “meta:” is it actually me thinking that I need to lose weight, or is it something outside of myself that is dictating my thought process? How possible is it for me to actually separate my thoughts, my self-loathing, my fleeting desires of losing weight from the constant messages from mainstream media and social norms that my body is not a “good” body?
We are inundated with advertisements for weight loss products, weight loss programs, and exercise programming subscriptions on the regular. We are constantly told that fat bodies are undesirable, unworthy of love or affection or sexual satisfaction, unable to do the things that “normal” bodies can do, unwanted in public places like buses, doctor’s office waiting rooms, or swimming pools. We have to wade through fatphobic comments posted by the always-unwanted “Devil’s Advocates” on the Internet whenever there is a story about a fat person doing anything—even things that have nothing to do with their weight or size. We are called “Trigglypuff” when we call out real issues and try to speak up when no one wants us to (“Trigglypuff” was the fatphobic/anti-politically correct name given to a protester at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and has been used as a moniker for any fat folks who are deemed “social justice warriors”). So why am I so sure that my thoughts about wanting to lose weight are completely my own?
Yes, we are a species of agency and autonomy—what separates us from many other species in the animal kingdom is our ability to think for ourselves, to have complex and meaningful conversations, to make informed decisions, to make educated guesses, etc. But who can truly say that they have ever had a 100%, completely autonomous thought, unaffected by their surroundings, their upbringing, their politics? So sure, Mr. Devil’s Advocate, I am an autonomous person, I do have agency, but who is to say that my ever-changing thoughts about losing weight are any less dictated by the hatred our society has for fatness than your desire to dehumanize fat people is dictated by that same societal hatred? I have to remind myself, then, that the self-loathing I feel for my body is much less a true, autonomous feeling about myself than it is a product of the status quo of fatphobia in our society.
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When fatphobia is thinly veiled as body positivity and encouragement…
One of the biggest issues I have with the idea of losing weight is not so much about myself and the pain I would endure emotionally by feeling like a traitor against my own body; rather, it is the fact that I do not want to deal with the comments that everyone around me would feel the need to share about my body. For the most part, I do a pretty good job at ignoring what people say about my body, either by not giving them the chance with my constantly annoyed expression or by telling people directly that I do not want to hear about it. But if there is ever a moment that I appear to have lost weight—either by me actually having lost some weight unknowingly or perhaps by the magic of wearing all black clothing—that is when the comments seem to be the most abundant for me.
“Oh wow, did you lose weight?” “You’re looking great!” “Are you on a diet?” “Have you been exercising?” “Keep up the good work!” “You must be so proud of yourself!” So on, so forth. While these comments are typically not intended to be hurtful or malicious, the underlying notion is the same across the board: you were fatter before, and you must have been lazy and probably never moved much before, but now that you look less fat, you must be happy and must love yourself more because being less fat means you are closer to having a “good,” “worthy” body.
As if I do not walk my dog on the weekends, as if I do not often work up a sweat at my job walking from building to building, as if I never move a muscle when I am at home, as if I must eat the worst possible things at every meal, as if I must be so unhappy to be fat, I must be so much closer to loving myself because you read me as being less fat, right? So when I think about losing weight, actively or not, I often come to this seemingly petty resolution: I will not lose weight, I will not put myself through the physical and emotional pain of losing weight, just so you—the people who feel the need to comment on my body—do not have the chance to satisfy your subconscious need to make one version of myself feel better than a previous version of myself. I will not give you the satisfaction of finding me more relatable, let alone more deserving of attention and praise, as a less-fat person.
So do I want to lose weight? I don’t really know. What I do know, though, is that I can be happy with myself, I can love my body, I can focus on my radical self love, and I can listen to my body’s needs, and I can say to hell with fatphobia, to hell with thinly-veiled hatred in the form of encouragement, to hell with anyone who thinks that I need to change for them.
***[Headline image: A person sits outdoors in nature wearing a denim jacket and fedora with their back to the camera. Pexels,com]