Well, it’s officially pants season in Charlottesville, which brings with it the dubious pleasure of getting reacquainted with my thighs. They aren’t a problem in the summer, what with shorts and skirts letting me forget their existence. Also, one of the perks of working during the summer is having no bikini season. But Autumn comes, and brings with it the Return of the Thighs.
I’m joking, but I did want to write about something that I never, ever talk about (so naturally the logical thing is to share it on the internet). Why? Well, it’s vaguely embarrassing, and it makes me seem petty and insecure. Like facebook stalking your ex. Or even worse, your ex’s new girlfriend. Everyone does it, but it’s not something you want to get caught doing.
I know–what the heck am I talking about, before you get too bored and go back to Facebook?
I’m talking about losing weight. Or rather, thinking about losing weight, or thinking about exercising, or estimating my calorie intake for the day before I get fro-yo (and no matter what the number is, I usually get the fro-yo anyway. I said thinking about losing weight, after all). I am not alone in this, either. Almost 80% of college-age women in this study said they wanted to lose some weight, despite the fact that most of them were at a normal BMI. I did a snap poll of my girlfriends, and almost every single one said that they’d like to lose a pound or two, or that they’d been on a diet once or more in their life, or that they think about the calories in what they’re eating at least some, if not most, of the time.
But is it just me, or does no one talk about this?? It’s so counterintuitive, because we’re inundated with weight-loss/diet ads and skinny people every time we get online, watch TV, or open a magazine–but in conversation, it doesn’t come up much. I’ll be frank and say: I’d like to look the way I do with Spanx on. Being 4’11″ means that my frame shows jiggle rather unforgivingly, especially after a weekend of indulgence or that sort of thing. To stay the same (let alone lose), I count calories on my iPhone with a handy app (MyFitnessPal! I recommend it to my patients), I try to eat a balanced diet blah blah…and I woefully neglect exercising. Oops.
But I’ll also tell you I never talk about my own efforts to lose weight with anyone. As evidence, I’ve tried to write this post for at least three weeks, and it’s sat in the Drafts folder unfinished for that long. Also, once a friend found the aforementioned MyFitnessPal app on my phone, and I felt as though he’d caught me with compromising photos. If I’m like many women and would like to tone off a few pounds, why is admitting it so embarrassing? I’ve thought about all the reasons I feel weird talking about it, and this is what I came up with:
1) It’s vain.
Yeah, it’s embarrassing to have people know that I’m preoccupied with my appearance. Especially after posting about how Beauty is overrated and you can love everyone without taking their looks into account. Shouldn’t I be worrying about my mind/learning/morality/helping others/any of the myriad other things that are more important than what I look like?
Yes! There are so many more important things. But here’s my point: having some vanity doesn’t reduce me to just being a vain person. Devoting some of my mental energy to my body doesn’t take away from those other thoughts–just because I watch what I eat doesn’t mean I can’t also think about deeper subjects. A happy, well-adjusted, well-rounded person can have lofty thoughts of bettering their mind or society while also aiming for superficial goals. One of my favorite Walt Whitman quotes is, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” I…don’t think he was talking about weight loss, but it applies here–I can believe that having a good personality trumps being beautiful, while continuing to use makeup/watch my weight/be a little vain, from time to time. I can worry about what I eat and whether people can pay for healthcare at the same time–I’ve got plenty of neuroticism to spread around, don’t fret.
2) It sounds judgmental…of myself. And accordingly, of others.
And if I’m already normal-sized and -shaped, and I’d like to lose some weight, what kind of message does that send to other people? Am I judging them, too? This is actually what I most fear while writing this post–that it’ll make you think I judge people who are overweight and think everyone should be striving to be unrealistically attractive. Please don’t think that. I don’t know how to explain, but I guess we always hold ourselves to much higher standards than we expect of others. Also, we tend to be much less forgiving of our own flaws than of other people’s.
3) It smacks of poor body-image.
Before I started this post I talked to Emily A (the queen of having good body image) and asked her, “I want to post about losing weight, but how do I talk about it without making it sound like I’m completely unhappy with myself?”
It’s hard, because we’re at a time in our lives when we’re trying to broadcast confidence. And admitting something like “I watch my weight” feels vulnerable. It’s a little embarrassing to come out and say, yeah, there are some things I’d change about myself–because I’m worried that it’ll sound like I’m insecure or that I hate the way I look. I’m usually spewing positivity and self-love, etc., but I think it’s okay to look in the mirror and want to change something. It’s completely possible to love your body as it is, while still shooting for a goal. Like Emily said to me: it’s like having a six-year-old. You think she’s amazing as is, but you still want what’s best for her; same thing when it comes to food, health, nutrition, weight. You want her to be healthy and happy, and sometimes that involves pushing for a change, even though you can love her the whole time.
I spend a fair amount of time counseling patients about weight loss, so I have all these thoughts about it that would be good in completely unrelated posts–like how you develop disordered relationships with food, or forming bad eating habits. Anyway, I’ve agonized over posting this for too many weeks, so I’m just going to wrap it up here and say: trying to lose weight shouldn’t be embarrassing! If more people our age talked about it, maybe we all would feel less alone on those days where we have terrible body image. Plus, all this maintenance is hard work, and we’re not doing each other any favors by pretending we nonchalantly look like this without trying. Try! And take pride in the trying.