“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” – Naomi Wolf
“An idea for you today. If we spend all of our time, money, energy, and thoughts on what we look LIKE, we won’t have any time, energy, money, or thoughts leftover to change what we’re looking AT. Wouldn’t that be convenient for the powers that be? Doesn’t self obsession render us powerless? BE DISOBEDIENT TODAY. LOVE YOURSELF AND GET ON WITH IT.” Glennon Doyle Melton
If these quotes didn’t just completely rock your world and shift your perspective, go ahead and stop reading here. Because nothing I write today is going to be as earth-shatteringly powerful as what these women have said.
When I have dieted in my life, the times I have been really serious about it, the rest of my life has sort of fallen away. In order to be successful I had to say no to a lot – no, I can’t hang out with friends because I need to go to the gym. No, I can’t go out to dinner with you because there is nothing on the menu that fits my calorie goals. I remember having to leave parties and get-togethers so I could go home and eat something “safe” rather than indulge in the delicious food and drink my friends were enjoying. And yes, this got me results. This self-discipline helped the pounds melt off, helped my stomach look flat as a board, helped me fit effortlessly into a previously snug wedding dress, etc. It also made my life, my mind one-focused. On me, on my body, on the number on my scale. It was a lifestyle that was completely and utterly unsustainable and incompatible with any level of joy outside of my physical appearance.
So maybe I am doing it wrong, but that was the only way I could be “successful”. And to say I was focused on “getting healthy” is the lie-iest lie ever. I gave not a single fuck about health. I wanted to be thin. And this could solely reflect my own specific neuroses, I am not insinuating every person on a diet and claims they are doing it to get healthy is lying. Its just I have met far more people like me in this regard than not. Our culture is set up that way – the REAL reward is thinness. The secondary benefit may be health, in some cases where weight loss is done in a healthy way. Which is another rarity.
A weird thing has been happening though, lately. I’m starting to get a little bored with this kind of talk. When people I love start the old familiar patterns of conversation, the talking about losing weight, the talking about fear of gaining weight, the talking about this or that product or technique or whatever, I start to feel like one of those people who is super drunk – their words start to jumble together and turn into mush and my brain starts traveling other, more interesting places. Because, pretty much everything is more interesting that dieting, in my opinion.
And its not that I don’t feel it. I totally feel it. This has been a topic of much work in counseling for me, this idea of body image, this idea that I must look perfect in order for people to like me. Which I know mentally is a bunch of complete garbage. But regardless of what I know is a bold-faced lie, my little ego is still back there chirping away at me. That voice is saying, “but it’s true …” In other words, I know it’s a lie rationally, but emotionally I can’t break away from these beliefs.
So I came to the realization its going to have to be a choice. I am going to have to choose my rational brain over my damaged little ego, over my irrational, unhealthy fear. And I am going to have to keep choosing it until its such a part of me that I don’t have to consciously choose it anymore.
And then I saw those quotes from Naomi Wolf and Glennon.
And a lightbulb went off in my head.
And I got it.
I’ve read similar things in the past but they haven’t made it past the iron-clenched jaws of my fear. But this time I got it.
I kind of really got it.
What if we became radicals and loved ourselves? What if I spent all the time and energy I spend analyzing my body composition into something ACTUALLY FUCKING PRODUCTIVE? What If I used that energy to make the world a better place? Or to bring actual JOY into my life?
When I was focused on skinny, I was laser focused on it. There wasn’t space for thinking about social issues. If you go scan my Facebook feed from my dieting days I can almost 100% guarantee that I wasn’t sharing anything inspirational or of social concern. I wasn’t getting mad about inequality or thinking critically about deeper issues. There wasn’t time to analyze why, exactly it even mattered if I was 10 lbs thinner. To spend that time thinking would have derailed my focus on skinny.
Body image issues are not going to suddenly disappear from my life, this I know is true. To be sure, reading a quote is not going to magically erase years of unhealthy thought patterns and messages. I’m going to have some work ahead of me. I know the feeling of inner horror and shame when you see yourself in a picture and suddenly realize you are much heavier than you thought. I also am aware of the time, energy, and brainpower I give such things – far, far longer than it deserves. What if I spent that time writing, or basically doing anything except spending any type of resources on hating myself?
And its not that we shouldn’t think about ourselves or care about ourselves or take care of ourselves. Its the obsession lined with shame, the obsession that steals our time, money, and energy that needs to go. And its not that body image is a “selfish” problem or that we shouldn’t spend any time or energy discussing it, or that it doesn’t cause real, actual pain in the lives of many, many people. All of that is still very, very true. I don’t take kindly to the suggestion to “worry about something more important”. Its always rubbed me the wrong way, irritated me that someone else gets to decide what should matter the most to you. No, that’s now what this is about. This is about making a choice.
This weekend my husband and I were staying up late having one of our several hours long chats that I love so much. He made a spontaneous comment about my appearance, he said, you have never looked better. And I sat with it a minute. He asked what I was thinking. I said it was weird, before getting pregnant this time around, I was the heaviest I have ever been. Objectively, based on the number on the scale I should absolutely hate the way I look. I have posts clogging up my Instagram and Facebook about how I can buy this wrap for a flatter tummy, drink this shake, put on this patch, I can join this program and take before and after pictures and “feel good about myself again!” But I feel better about myself than I ever have. It’s a little bit of a mindfuck. Everywhere I am being told, “you can look BETTER! Which means you will FEEL better, which means you will BE better!” And I read these posts, I scroll past them and I think – what a convenient, terribly, hugely profitable little lie.
Good girls care about the way they look. Good girls take care not to gain weight. Good wives make sure they stay thin for their husbands. Good mothers lose the baby weight. Good girls exercise and watch what they eat. Good girls spend their time, money, and energy trying to make themselves “better”, where a large chunk of the time “better”=”thinner”. If they are overweight, a girl can become a good girl by trying to “fix” herself.
FUCK BEING A GOOD GIRL.
Seriously, FUCK IT.
I’ve spent the better part of 30 years being the good girl. Now its time to be the rebel. Its time to be disobedient as fuck.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready for something in my life.