My best friend, an English professor at a UW school, recently posted this link on Facebook: Hello, I Am Fat by Lindy West. If you read the column, you can tell that it was prompted by something someone had said to Lindy. Along with this link, my friend V also posted that she'd recently made a list of the things in her life that would not change for the better if she were suddenly thin (it turned out to be a long list). What she found was that the only things that would change were those things linked to how others perceived her.
Why is this worth writing about? Because V has kidney disease. The disease is primary (not caused by something like cancer), and she's been dealing with it for a few years now. First she had three months on systemic steroids, where her chubby body got all puffy. Then six months off treatment with doctor visits to check if her numbers were staying down or going up. They went up. Then she had six months of the same treatment; numbers went back up. Finally, a few weeks before our annual Thanksgiving get-together, she emailed me to let me know she was going to be trying a new treatment that was sort of like chemo-therapy. Once a week, for four weeks, she would spend all day in the hospital, getting something infused into her. We postponed our trip to see them at Thanksgiving, since she wasn't going to feel much like eating and even less like cooking during this time. Her numbers went down during the treatment, but we'll have to wait and see if they stay down.
The fact that your body doesn't fit the social norm should seem less important when you find out you have a progressive disease that will impact your quality of life and maybe even kill you. And yet, V is still thinking about how her life might be better if she were thin.
Of course, V isn't obsessive about it. She's got a lot going on in her life, so I think that her concern about being fat is mostly associated with mornings and deciding what to wear that day. I have another very good friend, though, who is obsessive about it.
E went through a rough divorce (she was the one who wanted the divorce but it was still very rough), and then met up with a former male friend. This friend had always been infatuated with E, and they began a relationship. This would have been ideal, except that E has self-esteem problems (the reason she ended up in her first marriage), and her boyfriend was commitment-shy, the result of events in his past. During a particularly tumultuous period, E lost some weight. She was never fat, unless you're going by air-brushed, anorexic, model standards, and she's the most beautiful woman I've ever known. But she sees "unattractive" every time she looks in the mirror. She and her boyfriend are back together, and he has made a firm commitment, which is great. But since she lost the weight it seems like her only topic of conversation revolves around what she's eating, how she's going to keep the weight off, whether she's kept the weight off, and what other health problems might be causing the weight problem in the first place.
Personally, I don't care about any of that. The value I place on her friendship has never had anything to do with what she looks like or how much she weighs: she's a fascinating, intelligent, and witty woman. But when I run into her now, dieting and weight are the two topics that come up first. And I especially don't want this conversation to be happening in front of Emma --that kind of message gets easily internalized and I made (and kept) a promise to myself when she was born that I would never talk about dieting. Health, exercise, loving my body for what it can do: yes. Dieting and disliking the way my body looks: never.
I've spent WAY too many years yo-yo dieting. Take off 20, put on 30. Take off 30, put on 40, etc. It's gone that way my whole life --and while I've consciously exercised for health, severe calorie restriction was the only thing that ever decreased my weight. Two tablespoons of cereal in the morning, a dry bagel for lunch, a half cup of rice with spaghetti sauce for dinner. The problem is, severe calorie restriction was not sustainable for me, and each time, enjoying life eventually became more important than being thin. We also now know that this kind of dieting is extremely unhealthy, and I don't want to do anything that would influence Emma into that pattern of unhealthy eating.
One of the great things about getting older is that I care less and less about what I (or anyone else) looks like. I'm not trying to impress anyone, nor am I looking to hook up with anyone, so both my own appearance and that of other people is simply less important in my life. For health reasons, I should weigh less, but my weight hasn't actually changed up or down in five or six years, which I think might be a record for me.
So, this is how I feel about women and weight. And yet, when I see strangers out and about, the first thing I "see" with women is their weight. This thought process does not happen when I see men. I do not spontaneously think about their weight. We are absolutely our own worst enemies, and I wonder, is it possible to bring kids up without all this emphasis on how a certain appearance is "good" and another appearance is "bad"?