Lose 10 lbs in 365 Days by Smashing the Patriarchy!

Happy New Year! Was 2013 as difficult for you as it was for me? There were no big catastrophes to speak of but, starting from about April on, I began to suspect that I was being haunted by a gently malevolent pleasure-zapping demon. So WELCOME 2014! Please don’t suck.

I have made a less boring resolution this year. I’m a big fan of new beginnings, but in the last 2 years my resolutions have been downright dull. In 2013, it was sleep more (not sure I wholly succeeded there *yawn*). The year before that, I resolved to declutter (I did, but clutter appears to possess a Hydra-like talent for regeneration). In 2014, I shall dance more! Dance both expresses and generates feelings of joy. And with the dark cloud of less-than-perfect health hanging over my head, I had neither the energy to express or create anything resembling joy much of the time. This year, it’s a priority – exalting the spirit isn’t something we should put off until later.

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Starting 2014 off right with booty shaking

But right now, let’s talk about weight loss.

Uh-oh! Let me first acknowledge how truly annoying I find this topic. Sadly though, it can’t be ignored. After all, the most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, or “eat healthier”, or “get fit.” Well, look no further — I have found a miracle weight loss solution!!! JUST KIDDING. In 1978, Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist, wrote a still relevant book called Fat Is a Feminist Issue. Could she have imagined how amplified things would become over the next 35 years? Few issues are now more fraught: there’s the fitness and weight loss industries making a ton of profit from the success-failure cycle; there’s the barrage of health [mis]information (coffee causes weight gain, wait! no — coffee helps burn calories… um, actually coffee is planning to smother you in your sleep); and there’s the social pressure to be simultaneously thin, body confident, and to enjoy a wide variety of delicious foods.

Patriarchy smash is a great work out!

Patriarchy smash is a great work out!

A recent essay in Elle asked whether trying to be thin is inherently anti-feminist. Good question. It’s easy to understand why body image is an important topic for feminists. Women’s bodies are surveyed to such an insane extent in our world that it amounts to nothing less than pervasive patriarchal oppression. There appears to be, at this point, no acceptable female body. An extraterrestrial visiting our planet would notice the following:

  • Very thin bodies promote anorexia. Therefore, it’s okay tell that size zero to eat a sandwich.
  • Pregnant women belong to all of us. Their weight gain, or lack thereof, must be monitored for signs that they are endangering the health of the foetus, or that after the pooper is born they will no longer look as sexy as they once did.
  • Not only is fat the worst thing to be as a woman, but the extremely fat actually require invasive surgery in order to become normal again.
  • Women with healthy BMIs should nevertheless be chastised because it’s not enough to be slim, one must also be perfectly toned and not jiggle anywhere.
  • Dark-skinned women can purchase lightening creams in order to be more acceptable as potential mates while fair women should spray orange mist on themselves to achieve same.
  • Wearing little clothes brings a lot attention to a woman but also endangers her safety. However, keeping most of the body covered has the same effect.
  • There is no body part that can’t be improved in some way through artificial means.
  • Saggy flesh is almost as bad as fat. We hate old skin but we also mock older women who’ve had work done because they look strange.

And THAT is why fat is indeed a feminist issue — Our bodies should be our own but they aren’t.

Let's Get Physical with Olivia Newton John

Let’s Get Physical with Olivia Newton John

Have you noticed that weight loss is the new self-help? A prevalent pop culture message is that the overweight suffer from a sense of inferiority that prevents them from working to attain the “better” thinner state (right Oprah?). This idea is directly at odds with the sometimes feminist stance (not all feminists think this way) that it’s the desire to lose weight that signals self-hatred because it means women are rejecting their normal bodies. Losing weight? Why can’t you just be comfortable as you are? Can’t lose weight? You must think you’re not worth it. Either way, it seems to always come down to something being wrong with our psyches/bodies, rather than, say, society or the food supply.

That said, there has to be a difference between being totally consumed by one’s perceived flaws and a simple desire to shed the weight one has gained over the years. Every morning I start my day by trying to look better through makeup, hair, and flattering clothes. I do these things as part of self-care; I’m attempting to enhance my beauty not cover up flaws. If I also drink water instead of soda and take a weekly zumba class because I want to be healthy, but also because I wish to maintain an attractive body shape, does that make me a victim of patriarchy? I believe the answer is “no,” but only as long as these things do not become all-encompassing obsessions. Feminist ideology is right in pointing out that women often put so much energy into trying to modify their so-called unacceptable bodies that it robs them of their power… And we’re back to that ol’ oppression (see Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth for more on this).

Wonderful images of mothers: http://www.abeautifulbodyproject.com

Wonderful images of mothers: http://www.abeautifulbodyproject.com

It’s a hard balance to strike because the size at which each of us feels comfortable is extremely subjective and prone to being influenced by nefarious outside messages. I applaud attempts to insert more diverse representations of sexy bodies into our media landscape because I think there’s strength in celebrating many kinds of beauties. In an ideal world, nobody would starve themselves, or kill themselves at the gym, because of unattainable standards. And nobody would gain unwanted weight because of an industrial food supply that makes it extremely difficult to eat actual (i.e. not created in a lab or transformed beyond recognition) food, or because of a workaholic sedentary society that encourages sitting.

Now that I’ve experienced health troubles, I realize that there’s nothing more important than feeling good inside my body (I kind of “knew” that before, but now I KNOW it!). I’ve had to make very hard lifestyle choices and I’m feeling incrementally better. In this New Year, I want to encourage all who seek self-improvement to go ahead and make those difficult changes in pursuit of a more beautiful existence. I also urge anyone who is constantly self-criticizing to start being grateful. And seek help, whether from a trusted someone in your community or a professional helper. We always think no one will understand what we’re going through — many won’t, but others will and it’s so very validating.

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