Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Diets and Weight Loss

[Trigger warning for discussion of disordered eating]

I tend to avoid conversations about weight, fat and weighing yourself because I have, and have since I was a teenager, thought that what really matters is whether you are healthy. Of course, I have the privilege of being able to avoid such conversations on account of my being thin without putting in constant effort.

However, it is impossible for me to avoid it completely, as occasionally a person who I am talking to will begin such a conversation.

So recently, I was having a conversation with one of my female coworkers. I think we had been talking about buying t-shirts or something, and thus got led onto the topic of weight and fat. At first, she was lamenting the fact that the t-shirt she would have to buy was a bigger size than me, so I was pointing out that it is because I have a very narrow ribcage and shoulders. Somehow we got onto the topic of one of her friends, who is fat. I don't think she was even particularly fat, at size 18 (in Australian women's), but she put tremendous effort into weight loss.

Apparently she stopped eating every second day, and ate reduced quantities on the days that she did eat. She did this until she starved her way down to a size 12.

I expressed my horror that she would do something like that to her body, just for an impossible aesthetic standard that society imposes. I expressed that starving herself is extremely unhealthy, and could have numerous side effects like vitamin deficiency, anaemia, difficulty concentrating, etc. I expressed that I thought that she would gain the weight back and more when she started eating normally again, since the body would interpret the deprivation as a famine, as what it really is, as starvation, and thus lower her metabolic rate to store more reserves for future famines.

I expressed these things, only to be told that "I don't understand because I'm thin", and "I don't understand what it's like to need to do this to attract a husband".

You're right, I don't fully understand the pressure that fat women get to loose weight in our society because I haven't experienced it. However, I believe I am qualified enough to speak about the unhealth of starvation, even though I haven't experienced that. I believe I am fully qualified to be horrified at our society that shames fat people so ruthlessly that people are driven to starvethemselves, that they are driven to harm their bodies in pursuit of an impossible ideal. I can also express my sadness at society for placing a woman's worth on her marital status, and on her physical appearance. I can express sadness that damaging ones body is seen as necessary in order to achieve that worth through the necessity of being thin.

How did society get this broken, and how do we fix it? Where can we start? What can I do as an individual?

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