“Torch Bra Fat”, “Best Butt Workout EVER”, and the god-awful “BUSTED!” which is basically an account of ways you can work out in spite of your injury. My email account sometimes seems to be out to get me. Seriously, Bra Fat? I had no idea what that was and now I find myself striking contortionist-like poses in front of the mirror to see it. So yes, this is a post about body image.
I don’t know how many people out there watch HBO’s Girls so I’m going to take a moment to explain the reference of the picture I used here. I’ve been following the show since episode one of the first season, and I would say it’s a really weird but quite relatable and idealized but also exaggerated portrait of the fucking shitty time that it is to be a twenty-something girl living in an expensive city that doesn’t appreciate or plans to compensate your liberal arts degree in any sort of financial way. It’s also about love and lust and self-loathing and generally I would say it’s also about what all of this does to our mental health and well-being. I like the show a lot, but nothing quite stuck with me as much as an argument between main “girl” Hannah and her troubled boyfriend Adam where he is criticizing her by saying “You think because you’re, what? 11 pounds overweight you know struggle?”, to which she says: “I am 13 pounds overweight and it has been awful for me my whole life!”.
Now, I do realize how to most people that is the fucking epitome of white people problems. And they/you are probably right. However, as a former Weight Watchers client who has either been dieting or self-loathing her entire life, this is some real as shit, yo.
I go through these phases every couple of months where I attempt to live by the laws of health and fitness. I go to my 90-minute sweaty yoga class 4 times a week and I eliminate all sugar from my house and I tell bread to go take a hike and I even manage to convince myself that I love a flat stomach more than I love beer. I sign up to newsletters like the Women’s Health one that calls me a fat loser every single time I open my Gmail, and I start following YouTube fitness channels that make me feel inadequate and I pin things on Pinterest about workouts to banish those “embarrassing flabby arms” of mine. And at first, this is all very motivating.
Soon enough though, when I am tired of living by Kate Moss’ infamous quote that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (ugh, right?) , I have managed to surround myself with a plethora of media that reaches out to me from every corner to tell me how much of a lazy and shitty a person I actually am for being chubby.
As a feminist and an educated person and a sociologist who really analyses the shit out of this society that imposes unrealistic ideals on women’s – but more recently everybody’s – bodies, I really struggle to understand how I could fall victim to these insecurities. It would seem that if one recognized the bully and studied its powerful tactics – like the type of tactic that makes 15-year-old girls believe cellulite is a serious affliction in order to sell some weird magical cream – then one should be immune to it all. But it doesn’t quite work like that, now does it?
Let me just be clear for a moment that this is not exactly only a “health” issue. I’m a vegetarian and I eat plenty of “superfoods” – whatever the fuck those are. I don’t eat fast-food and I’m not dangerously overweight or anything. I do exercise regularly. But to be honest I really could afford to lose a good 10 kg to fit back into my favorite pair of jeans. So we’re really talking about aesthetics and the kind of fluctuation in weight that sounds really high to most people but is totally mundane to people like me. Trust me, when you’ve been losing the same bullshit 10 to 15 kg since you first hit puberty, those numbers don’t quite sound so terrifying.
How I got to the point where I constantly put on and lose a toddler’s body weight every couple of years is a very complicated affair. Literature on obesity would point to changes in lifestyle and availability of foods that we as human beings still crave in a very instinctive way because they help you fatten-up when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Evolutionarily speaking, we still get the same signals to go for that greasy piece of whatever until we next manage to hunt for something. Only now hunting consists of opening up the fridge. Besides food security, other theories about obesity point to the physical environment in urban areas and the problematic of walkability in many cities. This, of course, does not apply to the city I live in, but it’s worth mentioning that it takes an entire ecosystem of obesity-promoting qualities to cause for so many people to be carrying extra weight. So much for the epidemiology lesson.
The bigger point to be made here is that I’m not bashing on fitness or even trying to look your best. Fuck knows I wish I had the dedication that it takes to be skinny when you have the deadly combination that is my height, my tendency to pick up weight, my seated existence at university, my healthy appetite and my love for wine and beer. What I do think is fucked up is how much different media play on these insecurities to get people like me to buy subscriptions to fitness workouts and magazines and body lotions and Spanx and diet pills and protein shakes and all sorts of products that only remind us that there is no fucking way that we’re good enough just the way we are.
When I went home for Christmas last year my cousin who is a nutritionist gave me serious shit about the quantities of gluten and fats I eat, what I drink and how this will affect my cholesterol given our unfortunate DNA. She gave me some really good tips on how to avoid overeating and what food combinations to make to get my metabolism moving. But what I really loved about her general advice was how she ended it: “Lau, don’t think of this as a diet. Diets are hard to follow and that frame of mind won’t work for you. Think of this as a change in your eating habits for life so you can be healthy and your body will follow”. Like, wow.
Being talked to about weight in a sensible manner: I like that shit.