So much of life as a woman revolves around appearance. We live in a time where imagery surrounds us and much of this visual stimulation is focused on the nude or nearly nude female body. The bodies we see on every magazine cover and in every television commercial are idealized to the point that they no longer represent a real female body. Both plastic surgery and the magic of photo-manipulation make it possible to expose skin without exposing “flaws”. We rarely see each other naked outside of this media bombardment and the true nature of the female body is obscured by the barrage of impossible images.
The only place I see real naked women other than myself is at the gym. And none of them, even the most fit, are “flawless”. Even that really in-shape girl with the attention-grabbing breast implants- she has stretch marks on her stomach. Were she to pose for a fitness magazine cover, which she certainly could with her body, they would airbrush the “imperfections” away. They are lying to us.
Fat women daily encounter hostility and discrimination. If we are fat, health practitioners often attribute our health problems to “obesity,” postpone treatment until we lose weight, accuse us of cheating if we don’t, make us so ashamed of our size that we don’t go for help, and make all kinds of assumptions about our emotional and psychological state (“She must have emotional problems to be so fat”).
Yet, as many of us have long suspected, it is now being acknowledged that it is cardiovascular fitness and not fatness we need to look at if we are concerned about health. Some of our ill health as fat women results from the stress of living with fat-hatred–social ridicule and hostility, isolation, financial pressures resulting from job discrimination, lack of exercise because of harassment, and, perhaps most important, the hazards of repeated dieting. Low-calorie dieting has become a national obsession. Many of us are convinced that making women afraid to be fat is a form of social control. Fear of fat keeps women preoccupied, robs us of our pride and energy, keeps us from taking up space. I don’t like myself heavy, I want to feel thin, streamlined and spare, and not like a toad. I have taken antifat thinking into myself so deeply that I hate myself when I am even ten pounds “overweight,” whatever that means. We can be more relaxed about our weight
- By experimenting with what weight feels comfortable to us rather than trying primarily to be thin.
- By being more accepting of weight variations through the life cycle.
- By developing a clearer understanding of which health problems are truly associated with weight.
- By exercising and eating nutritious food to feel healthy, and letting our body weight set itself accordingly.
Accepting and loving your body, as a real, human, imperfect organism and not some kind of machine, is possibly the most feminist act a woman can undertake. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the journey to self-improvement should end. As a feminist woman who has lost a lot of weight, I cringe a little at certain comments that make it seem like I lost the weight to be “skinny” or to look like some celebrity or to attract a man. Some of the gossipy women at work say things like “Girl, you look better than Valerie Bertanelli! your boyfriend must be so happy!”
I lost the weight because I was unhealthy. I had poor cardio-vascular health, poor endurance, and I was gaining weight at a rapid pace. I was unhappy with my appearance. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to be “fat and happy” but I was too fat and unhappy. And I do think there is a difference between a plump mature woman and being 100 pounds overweight. I did not do this to fit into some societal standard of beauty. I never will and I know that. I am not a photograph in a magazine. I am a living, breathing human being and my body reflects my life experiences. One of those experiences has been a struggle with weight and with overeating. The scars are there, plain as day. A stretch mark here, a ripple there. And I am okay with that. In fact, I celebrate it. This is my body. This is me. I never really understood the title of the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” but I understand it now. Taking care of my body has nurtured my mind and changed me as a person overall.
And I took control of my own health without cruelty or destructive intentions toward myself. It wasn’t that I hated myself for being fat. It was that I learned to love myself and therefore wanted to take better care of myself and lose the excess fat and improve my physical health.
As women, we often find ourselves care-givers for others and we often neglect to care fully for ourselves. Losing weight through healthy eating and exercise means demanding time for yourself- time to procure and prepare meals, time to exercise, and time to relax. By insisting on this time for ourselves, we can not only improve our own lives, but we can be better care-takers, better professionals, and better partners. We can empower ourselves to be the best women we can be in all aspects of our lives.