nightflight: (jeff || i raise an objection!)
[personal profile] nightflight
I had food poisoning the other day, as I mentioned in my last entry. I told two of my adult students about it today -- one a nurse, the other a middle-aged man I usually get on well with -- and he said, completely seriously, "well, at least it could help you start a diet and lose some weight!"

I ditched 'the customer is always right' and told him I completely disagreed with what he said, because you should never say something like that to someone, even as a joke (but he wasn't joking), but...

Guys, I really, really hate weight loss culture. I hate it. I probably hate it more than I hate anything else in this entire world, and nothing any of you could say or do would make me hate it even a little bit less.

I know a lot of people lose weight for health reasons, and that's fine. If you want to lose weight, that's fine. But I also know a lot of people lose weight using the excuse of health reasons to cover up what actually is a huge sort of understandable insecurity, thanks to society in general forcing the idea down our throats that FAT = BAD and WEIGHT = THE ENEMY.

Society says, you can't be attractive if you're what we consider overweight. So many people who are what society considers overweight go and lose weight because they draw the conclusion that their weight is the problem.

In this case, I completely feel, with all of my heart, that their weight is not the problem.

Society is the problem.

Any society that says that, in order for someone to be attractive they have to be skinny (and, in order for someone to be worthwhile, they have to be attractive!) is a HUGE problem. It's beyond a huge problem. And I can say this because I've BEEN there before, I KNOW what it's like, how it feels, and I absolutely know that if we were told from a young age to feel comfortable in our skin, if we weren't faced with charts of 'ideal' body/weight indexes full of incredible generalizations and oversimplifications, if we were taught from the start that people's bodies naturally will take on different shapes and sizes and that there is no ideal or "correct" form, the world would be a much better place and there would be many, many happier people out there.

Two years ago, I lost a lot of weight. My starting motivation was medical -- I wanted to rid myself of persistant acid reflux disease and stomach problems, and eating better and exercising more was a surefire way to do so. And it worked. I lost over fifty pounds, but in the midst of that losing, my mindset warped. I've always been very pro-body acceptance and very positive about different shapes and sizes, so I was able to at least critically analyze and regard my thoughts, but it was scary.

Because while I felt in my heart and knew in my mind that I looked great at size eight and that I was in no medical danger, something inside urged me to keep losing. Eat less. Exercise more. Exercise harder. Eight was too big. I had to go down. Six. Four. Ideally, two. If I couldn't, I was failing. If I ate something 'indulgent' that I loved, I had done something wrong. I should feel guilty. I had to count calories. I had to make sure I never went over this arbitrary number in my head. I had to crunch, I had to push myself, I had to make myself smaller and smaller and...

When I came to Japan, I weighed 128 pounds. I hadn't weighed that since before puberty. I looked sick. The BMI chart still labelled me as overweight and wanted me to lose twenty more pounds. This thought makes me sick. I would never be able to find another twenty pounds to LOSE. I wasn't all skin and bones, but I had muscle, a lot of muscle, and the fat that I did retain felt healthy and necessary. I see people who look amazing and healthy and vibrant going on about how they have to lose fifty pounds in order to be acceptable to BMI standards and it makes me so angry. Let your body set its standard for you! The BMI suggests that there is only ONE body type, that EVERYONE has the potential to look EXACTLY the same, with EXACTLY the same proportions and muscle mass and... it's bullshit. It's a Bullshit Measure Index. I've gained a bit of weight back since I came to Japan and my body is much happier with me now. I am not cold all the time. I have energy. I am no longer starving myself while simultaneously overworking myself.

I am no longer concerned with numbers. I don't want to weigh myself. I know when I feel good and when I don't. I listen to myself. If I feel like I haven't been taking care of myself, I change my patterns. But I never, ever, ever want to get into a place again where all I can think about, day in and day out, is calories, food, and GUILT. I want to eat chocolate when I feel the urge without having to feel sad afterwards. I want to enjoy my life. I don't want to trap myself in a prison of numbers anymore.

How many intelligent young people are wasting their youth and intellect on being more concerned with how many calories they're consuming than anything else? How many people of all ages are wasting their lives hating themselves just because they don't look exactly like they were told they should? I can't stand it. I'd spend my whole life combating this if I knew how.

But I'd come across such great opposition. Not just from the diet and "wellness" industries that want to capitalize on paranoia and insecurity, but from people who subscribe to the cult of diet. People just don't want to hear this. They want to believe that what they've been told is right. They want to believe that it's their own personal shortcomings if they can't fit an arbitrary mold. Even those who recognize that so much of it is complete bull don't want to hear it. Everyone wants to think that, if they just worked harder, dieted better, exercised more, they could somehow do it... and then what?

What losing weight taught me, and what watching other people lose weight taught me, is that if you're not enough for yourself before you lose weight, you're not going to be enough after. Buying a new case for a broken computer won't fix the computer. When I obsessed about losing weight, I was also obsessing, although on a different level, about a lot of other things, like my lack of control over my circumstances, my inability to relate to others my age, and my dissatisfaction with aspects of my personality and life. But losing weight didn't bring me any closer to being happy. I had to work on that seperately, and I actually couldn't do it if I was so busy worrying about numbers.

It's not just weight. Girls especially are told that they need to look a certain way in order to be acceptable and accepted. You have to have perfect skin, clear eyes, nice hair, good nails, and so on. And we buy into these things. I still buy into these things. I actively fight myself on these issues, every single day.

Because my skin and my hair and my eyes and my stomach have nothing to do with who I am. Perhaps the experiences they have brought me -- the scorn, admiration, disgust, etc. -- have helped shape me, but at the end of the day, I am Melissa, and my mind and my heart are not changed by the curl of my hair. I want people to see and respect me, hate me, love me, dislike me, remain apathetic to me, gain interest in me, whatever, based on the things I say, the things I do, how I say and do them... based on my personality and thoughts, rather than based on the packaging they come in.

I think most of us want this, don't we? I don't mean that there's anything wrong with an interest in fashion or makeup or anything like that -- God knows, coming here, I've fallen prey to the fashion bug -- but I want to be thought of, as a person, the same without my awesome leggings on as with them. I don't want to be defined, personally and seriously, by my outer form.

I want to one day be able to raise a daughter to be confident, intelligent, brave, and kind. I want her to be able to feel comfortable in her skin, whether it's clear, spotted, dark, light, thick or thin. I want her to realize -- and feel, more than realize, feel -- that what's inside of her head is much more important than what is in front of her peers' eyes. I want her to grow up in a world that will respect her for the things that constitute her personality and character rather than the sum of her superficial parts.

I'm sick of this world that's obsessed with telling people their bodies are wrong. And before I get a dozen comments about health... I get it. Some people lose weight for medical reasons and it's good. I agree with this. I did the same. But when people make fun of an overweight boy on the street, they're not doing so because they are concerned for his medical wellness. When a girl gets taunted on the way home from school that she should jog the rest of the way, it's not kind advice -- it's a manifestation of a mindset, governed and accepted by society, that it's okay to hate fatness and overweight people, that fat is inherently bad, disgusting, and hate-worthy. This is not okay, and there is nothing any of you can say, no medical arguments anybody can make, that will change my opinion on this at all.

And that's what it comes down to in the end. I will never change how anybody feels, because it's a very, very personal issue, a very private issue, and it's one that comes with so many caveats and circumstances and 'however' clauses. I get that. But nobody will ever be able to change how I feel, which is that people come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and varieties, none of which are naturally more right than any other.

And thank God. What a boring world this would be otherwise.

I'm also not trying to say that people have to especially LIKE any certain body shape or size or color, etc. Of course that's not the case. But I also think it's ridiculous and terrible to HATE any certain body shape or size or color.

Even when -- or especially when -- it's your own.

Anyway. Japan makes me hypersensitive about this stuff, because I have students who are so slender, so thin, so tiny that their arms are constantly bruised because there is nothing between the skin and the bone... and these girls are always talking to me about their desire to diet, their need to lose weight, and nobody ever tells them that, no, it's okay, they don't need to. People encourage it and celebrate it. I have an incredibly intelligent high school girl at one of my schools. She's in our highest adult level class, despite having only studied English in Japan and on her own. She is so bright and amazing and I am in such constant awe and amazement of her... but she has a round face and plump little arms, and lately all she can think about is how much weight she needs to lose. Her mother makes her keep her door open to make sure she isn't sneaking snacks. She looks so healthy, bright eyed, fiercely smart and interesting and brave. But none of that is beginning to matter, to her or to the people around her, because she betrays her society's underweight ideal.

But even in America, this drove me nuts. Anywhere I go, this drives me nuts. It makes me want to take a plane and write LOVE YOURSELF LOVE YOURSELF LOVE YOURSELF across the sky. I remember the first time I walked into my seventh grade English teacher's -- whom I disliked -- classroom and saw a poster with Eleanor Roosevelt's quote on it. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" is all it said, but it shook me deeply. I felt so grateful for that poster, for Mrs. Roosevelt, for her words. I want to paint them over ads for weight loss pills. I want to scribble them on plastic surgery posters.

I want people to feel that their default is fine. I want people to make the decision to lose weight, not lose weight, wear makeup, not wear makeup, get Lasik, wear glasses, wear high heels or street sneakers because they want to, not because they feel stigmatized or hated for not doing so. Notice that I am not saying it's wrong to want to lose weight. I just think it's wrong to feel pressured to do so.

I have lost my ability to write clearly and concisely. I'm sorry. Living here has warped my language. I can't believe I'm paid to teach English some days. This is long and rambly and... this is LiveJournal, not an academic journal, so I think it's all right. Anyway, if this offends you too much, just feel free to remove me from your Friends list. Like I said, we'll never be able to convince each other of anything.

But I still want all of you to love yourselves.

And avoid convenience store tamagoyaki. Please, learn from my mistake.

Date: 2010-01-23 10:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Since I read an awful lot of feminist blogs, and visit places that are interesting but have fucked up comments (hi, Digg) I'm feeling quite exhausted by all these issues (if I see another "get in the kitchen and make me a sammich" 'joke' I'm going to punch someone), so all I can really say is a resounding YES to this. I agree with you completely. I've always loved your posts on things like this. :)

Date: 2010-01-23 03:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Nicely said. I agree with practically all of this, I have always been very pro-health and pro-fitness, but for a while, it was for the wrong reasons, it was purely weight loss. Those were bad times (but fortunately, a few years behind me now). I agree with you that it's a horrible, horrible place and mindset to get trapped in.

Just wanted to add one thing, to give you some food for thought. You made a comment: ...and I absolutely know that if we were told from a young age to feel comfortable in our skin... the world would be a much better place and there would be many, many happier people out there.

There are a lot of ifs in that sentence, but as for that one, I was told that from a young age. I still ended up pretty messed up. Go figure.

Oh, and another thing, you mentioned, uhh, where is it: if you're not enough for yourself before you lose weight, you're not going to be enough after.

Wonderful point. I've heard others say that, too, about how if you really want to lose weight, then fine, but you need to love and accept yourself exactly as you are before you start to lose weight.

Anyway, good entry. I'm a pro-health person, and I do happen to calorie count and love calorie counting, but I certainly didn't find this offensive (probably because I do it for the right reasons, not for weight loss). I don't think anyone should find it offensive.

Date: 2010-01-23 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's really good for me to read this post right now. Four months out from having a baby, I'm still about ~17 pounds from where I started and I feel really self-conscious (sp?) and bad about it.

Especially when other mothers start to tell me how they lost all their baby weight by now, or US magazine tells us how Giselle is back to a size 2 after 2 weeks. I don't even have the energy to try as I'm in my final semester and have two jobs and my family, but like some crazy addiction, I check my weight everyday like it's magically going to go down without me having to do anything.

I guess I wouldn't mind but people can be so cruel. Coworkers (male and female) tease me constantly about my stomach. new boobs and hips which are very different from my old figure. I know that I should have self-confidence but I've never been the best on that front, perhaps one day.

Long comment short, I really hope one day I can just love myself no matter how I look. I really love that this means so much to you. You're such a wonderful person.

Date: 2010-01-23 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, yes, yes. I hate weight loss culture so much; I hate how it gives people the pass to be cruel to others and say it's for the sake of their health (and is there any other marginalized group that gets anywhere near as much verbal abuse, from all corners of society, as fat people?); I hate how people talk about one another's bodies as though it's any of their business.

In the past year, I've started to become aware of just how much we police one another's bodies: of how it's acceptable to insult someone's weight, clothing, body hair, and to demand that she change any or all of them, as though she somehow owes it to everyone else. I have it easy in a lot of respects -- I'm small enough that people don't talk to me about my weight (although they did in Japan, jesus host mom) -- but I do choose not to shave, and I get flak for it all the time not just from random strangers but from close friends, who tell me constantly that I would look really pretty if I shaved, that my reasons for not shaving aren't good enough, that (this is a creepy friend I no longer have) I should want to shave to make them happy. Newsflash: not all my fashion decisions are made for your benefit.

Date: 2010-01-23 08:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is a really good post, and very applicable to ~my life~ right now

I have recently been trying to get myself into better eating/exercise habits - I didn't exercise on a regular basis at all after I graduated high school and have put on about 50 pounds since then; I don't think that's healthy and I'm trying to get back to a place where my body feels healthy and I am less at-risk for the heart disease and diabetes that run in my family. Also, my sister got back from studying abroad about a month ago, and so now I am living in a house where there is someone making commentary on everything I put into my mouth. I love my sister, I do, but she is obsessed with fitness and healthy eating, and so even have decided on my own to embark on this weight-loss journey for my own reasons, and I have not asked for anyone's opinions or ideas regarding my eating or exercise habits, she thinks it's totally acceptable for her to comment at every given opportunity - if I grab a banana after the gym, "Oh, how healthy!"; if I get a bowl of ice cream to watch the football game with, "Do you really need that?" like my knowing she approves of my weight loss/disapproves of any setbacks in my weight loss will help and/or make me realize if I stick strictly to whatever diet plan then my weight loss will be a success and I will be a better person for it and oh my god it's driving me crazy. If you want to obsess over your own eating habits FEEL FREE but stay the fuck away from mine aklfjkasjnkdjka

Okay this is not all entirely related to your post but apparently I needed to rant a little myself. In short: Ri is great, society is dumb.

Date: 2010-01-23 08:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you, Ri. It can be a challenge to love one's own body when the world tells us that it should look a certain way. I hate the idea that we should all look this way or that way to be accepted or considered beautiful.

Convenience store tamagoyaki must be like convenience store hot dogs. NEVER AGAIN, I tell you.

Date: 2010-01-23 09:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you.

Date: 2010-01-24 01:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think you, more than most people, know about my history in this area. A few months ago I realized that I've spent the better part of two years hating myself, feeling guilty and disconnected with the world. Back in Albany, I started binge-eating to the point of physical sickness just to fill that void that I thought would be fixed once I had lost weight. From that September in 2007 to September of last year, all I thought about was losing the weight that I was slowly gaining back, filling journals with all this filth about what I needed to do to "buckle down and lose the weight." Finally I hit the breaking point, it was all rubbish.
I lost two years of my life, and I don't want to lose anymore.

Date: 2010-01-24 02:14 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-01-26 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Kudos on writing all that. I think that as long as YOU're happy with who you are, others will be too. And if they're not, then they're not worth your time.

Like you, I've been down the weight loss road before and know it all too well. Losing weight isn't going to change the way you feel about yourself -- that's a whole another issue that you have to deal with separately...


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