Weight Double Standard

In my holistic health class, we were asked to discuss something about ourselves we would like to improve, and apparently, a lot of us mentioned weight.  This should come as no surprise to a professor of a health class, I would think.  We are living in the middle of what people are calling an obesity epidemic, and we live in a society in which people are always being told they need to work harder to perfect their bodies.  Somewhere, there is a disconnect, obviously.

But my holistic health professor reacted in a way that really irritates me.  He said he was disturbed by how many people said they wanted to lose weight, and went on to ask if we thought we had unrealistic expectations of what our bodies should be, and that we just need to learn to love ourselves, etc., etc.

Excuse me?  I’m 5’8 and 190 lbs, in what world is that a healthy weight?  Maybe if you’re a body builder, fine, but I’m not a body builder, and my problem is not that I don’t love myself enough or that I have unrealistic expectations.  My problem is that I am overweight.

There are few ideas I hate more than this one.  We live in a society where, really, fat is the last accepted prejudice.  In most circles, its uncool to say something bad about a person based on their age, their sex, their religion, their race and even their income, but just about everyone is cool with ragging on or making fun of fat people.  We are bombarded with media and cultural images telling us that we must be thin, petite and delicate if we are women, and muscular, fit and strong if we are men.  We are told again and again and again that the more we deviate from this norm, the less we are worth as human beings.

And then, when we express a desire to change our standards, people shake their heads and cluck their tongues and say “Oh how sad that this person has bought into what the media is telling them to be.  They should just accept who they are and love themselves like this.”  Which sounds very nice on the surface, until you look at it from the point of view of the oppressed person, and you realize that what the fat person is being told when someone tells them this is “You need to accept your place in society and stop trying to change it.  You are fat, and that’s all you’ll ever be, and as such, you are less than human in society’s eyes.”

I know, I know.  It is wrong that fat people are less than human in society’s eyes.  We need to change that.  But the way to change it is not to treat every overweight or obese person who expresses a desire to lose weight as if they have an eating disorder.  Imagine, just for a second, if we applied that same reasoning to a member of another oppressed group of people.

Imagine saying to a young, inner city, black kid who expresses a desire to go to college, “How sad that you have bought into what the media is telling you you should be like.  You shouldn’t be comparing yourself to rich white kids from the suburbs who can pay for college and go to good public schools.  That’s unrealistic.  You should love yourself for who you are and be content to be the person you are right now.”

This is exactly the same thing as telling a fat person that the answer to the oppression they feel as an overweight person is to love themselves.  Of course, it’s important to love and respect ones self, but it doesn’t address the real issue here.  The issue is that we live in a society that oppresses overweight people, and the issue is that being overweight is unhealthy and it is in a person’s best interest, regardless of what society says, to be in a healthy weight range.  Just like a poor kid from the city can and should love himself, but it doesn’t solve his real issues of not having access to quality education, and that not getting a good education dooms him to poverty, so it’s in his best interest to do what he can to get a good education, regardless of what society says.

Of course society pushes an unrealistic standard of weight and beauty, and of course that is damaging.  But we also have an epidemic of obesity taking place.  Clearly, a good portion of the people who say they want to lose weight are being very realistic.  Is it not equally as damaging to tell those of use who are working to lose weight that by doing so, we are destroying our self esteem?

I have news for these people.  All the things I’m doing to improve my health is not destroying my self esteem.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I just got back from the hardest weight training session I’ve ever done.  I couldn’t even do all the exercises, I hit muscle failure several times.  I FEEL FANTASTIC!!  Next weekend, I am running a marathon.  A FREAKING MARATHON!!  That’s 26.2 miles.  And I expect to finish in under six hours.

How does this all make me feel?  Amazing.  Invigorated.  Proud.  Confident.  Strong.  A little sore.  But my legs look fantastic.  Oh my god.  You should see them.  I mean, wow.  So don’t tell me that working to lose weight is about my poor self esteem, or me not loving myself.  I love myself more and more every day I do something amazing.

There is a balance we need to strive for.  We need to do away with unrealistic expectations of what weight people should be, of course.  But we also need to teach people to be healthy, strong, capable and confident.  For some people this will actually mean gaining weight (women in Hollywood, I’m looking at you), but for a great deal of people in this country, it’s going to mean losing weight.  Maybe even significant amounts of weight.  And for those people, we need to offer encouragement, not this weight double standard that makes them feel like shit for being overweight, and like shit for trying to change their weight.

Manifesto for those who want to lose weight

It’s about health.  No matter what society tells me I should or shouldn’t be doing with my body, I am focused on being the healthiest, strongest, happiest person I can be.

I determine what beauty is.  Not the media, not fashion designers, not my family, not my friends, not my boyfriend.  Beauty is mine.  I own it, I create it and I set it’s limits.

 

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About Rockingthehomestead

Badass feminist environmentalist.
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4 Responses to Weight Double Standard

  1. Jessica, What a motivating piece. There is such a double standard out there on how being fat is viewed. Right now it is not how being fat makes me look, it is how I’m feeling at this unhealthy weight. (Although, I’m looking forward to saying goodbye to the double chin and muffin top!) I just want to feel healthy again! Good luck on your journey to a healthier you, and on your marathon!

  2. Marshall says:

    I support pretty much this entire post.

    Honestly, half of our calorie intake could be slashed by simply replacing 2 meals a day with something home cooked. And I don’t mean corndogs out of a box in the freezer, I mean some fried rice, chopped onions, some fresh shrimp from the store, some beans, and a little soy sauce. Relatively low calorie meal that delivers many complete proteins and is pretty much delicious, especially if you add in a few ingredients of your own and customize.

    Drinking water instead of carbonated, sugar filled sodas would also have a major impact on our health. A cup of natural milk in the morning, and then drinking water for the rest of the day is something I’ve recently started doing. I’m actually surprisingly liking it. Don’t miss soda at all.

    I think it’d be especially interesting if the government took a totalitarian approach, and, say, banned High Fructose Corn Syrup. Soda, fast food, and junk food prices would soar as they scramble to replace HFCS with real sugar. This would give people initiative to finally purchase decent foods, HOPEFULLY, once they’re the same price on the store shelves.

    But yeah, home cooked meals form scratch, using natural ingredients; They do wonders for your health, and usually aren’t difficult to make.

  3. Mom says:

    You get those fabulous legs from your mom you know!

    Way to go Jessi! I am so proud of you!

  4. jessimonster says:

    Marshall,
    You are totally on the right track. There are many things that stand in the way of people eating healthy food. First, as you touched on, is High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the literally thousands of other additives and food-like-substances that make up junk food which are heavily subsidized by our government. The whole reason why junk food is so much cheaper than regular food is because our tax dollars are being used to pay farmers to sell corn and soy for less than what it costs to produce it. If we wanted to even the playing ground on the cost of food, we don’t need to ban any food-like-substances, what we need to do is end the corporate welfare and government handouts to the junk food industry. If we did that, then junk food would cost as much as, and in some cases more than, healthy food.
    The main argument you hear against this is that it would punish the poor by raising food costs, but there are ways to prevent that, as I will discuss later. Mainly I just want to say that when you hear a Republican say “We shouldn’t do ______ because it will punish the poor,” you have to suspect that something fishy is going on. As if Republicans give two shits about the poor. In all fairness though, you do hear small minded and ill educated Democrats saying the same thing.
    Another issue we face is what is called Food Desserts. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a drive or a walk around a more low income part of town, but if you do, you will notice something. There aren’t any grocery stores. If there are, they are very few and far between. There are, however, hundreds of fast food restaurants and convenience stores. People of certain economic backgrounds, therefore, are doomed to have access only to food which will make them less healthy.
    Now, in my mind, there are only three things we can do with the extra money we’ll have after ending junk food subsidies. We could give that money back to the tax payers in their paychecks, but this would do little to help with the increased cost of food. Even though it’s billions of dollars in the government’s pocket, divided up back to each tax payer, it would probably only be about $20 a month, and that’s not going to help you much if you’re a person who lives off pre processed food and you just saw the cost of 75% of what you buy in the grocery store double. It’s certainly not going to help you any if you are unemployed, and therefore don’t pay taxes, so you won’t see your income increase. We could use that money to subsidize healthy food, things like fresh produce, lean meat, whole grains and dairy, which would bring the cost of that food down and reverse the artificial price pyramid so that healthier food is cheaper. That way, if you continued to buy the cheapest food available, you’d be eating healthier. But that still doesn’t help someone with no car who lives 30 miles away from the closest grocery store. The third thing we could do would be to use that money as government incentives to bring grocery stores into food desserts. This would not only provide access to real food that some people have never had, but it would also expand small businesses and provide jobs in areas where jobs are much needed. It would be a huge step for community building in low income communities.
    An ideal solution, in my mind, would be a combination of the last two ideas. But I’m just a big socialist, so of course these ideas would never be considered. It’s okay to hand out welfare, as long as it’s to rich people and as long as it results in a slow poisoning of 99% of American citizens. That’s the patriotic mindset.
    Of course there are many other issues affecting our weight health in this country besides just food, including transportation, city planning, socially accepted leisure activities, and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our food, personal care and household items (not to mention our water and air).
    As far as soda goes, I haven’t drank it in years. When Joslyn and I were little, we went to go live with Grandmother for several months. Grandmother does not allow soda in her house, and when we came back, I lost my taste for it. I would only drink 7 Up and Sprite for several years, because all the other sodas were just too sugary for me. Eventually, I wouldn’t even drink those anymore. By the time I was a teenager, I just didn’t like soda anymore. With the exception of a random ginger ale when I have a stomach ache, I never drink soda. I just don’t like it.

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