Cultural Comment

Weight Loss – It Shouldn’t Matter So Much

Something I read about on Twitter and in the general populace a fair bit is about weight loss. Lots of discussions about methods, ways, schemes, what to eat, what not to eat and so on. Eat more protein, eat less protein, carbo-free, no sugar. You know the ones. And there are people in our community who are on them swear they work – and are happy to tell everyone else to follow that same method, way, scheme so they can just be as happy losing weight as they are.

Good for them. Personally, it doesn’t matter that much.

I was married to a weight loss consultant (not a full time job for her) and from what I could see, what she was offering worked for people who were prepared to think about what they ate and committed to a more balanced approach. It was long term, lifestyle based discussions with like minded people trying to change their approach to eating and life in general. It seemed pretty reasonable to me.  So does the balanced approach to weight loss and reflecting on it conducted by Bec Pobjie on her blog. Much better than these schemes that require you to completely cut yourself off from a particular food group because it happened to work for one person.

But that isn’t my point, really. My point is that I think the meetings that company offered meant that the women (and it was almost exclusively women) who went could have a chance to share what worked and what didn’t as well as their feelings and fears about being excluded from society because of their weight.

What boggles my mind though is that it shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t be forever nattering about weight loss schemes in the outside world. Weight and people’s perception of weight shouldn’t matter to the self-esteem of women and men in our society.  Men are forever reassuring their female partners that “they aren’t fat” – settling a neurosis built into women by a society that is forever talking about weight loss schemes. Women are discussing weight loss over coffee and reading magazines packed with thin people telling them how they maintain their figure.

The problem comes with weight loss and talking about it when it becomes the main topic of conversation with people, dominating other aspects of their personality and psyche. They can’t read books or see films because they have to go to the gym again, or “no, I can’t drink that wine/beer/eat that food because it’s not in the diet” or “oooh, aren’t you lucky you can eat that piece of chocolate cake”. They become jealous of those who are seeming to be enjoying life, either by eating what they like, or by doing things that isn’t ruled by a focus on weight control. Such a focus on weight loss distorts people’s personalities and engagement with more important and interesting issues.

Ultimately, I’m sure that people who respond to this will say “you don’t understand, you’re a man” or “it’s ok for men, they can be any weight and it doesn’t matter”, or “men can lose weight so much easier than women”.  All true, though it is changing for men as well.  I will never understand why women judge each other on their weight. Nor why it becomes so important for a woman’s self esteem. Most men I know don’t really bother themselves that much about women’s weight, unless they are self-deluded fools or the men who are obsessively building their six pack instead of their mind. Any man who does urge their partner to lose weight clearly doesn’t have much of an interest in their partner’s personality or genuine engagement with their mind.  It should be the decision of the partner to do it if she wants to.

To those out there who feel empowered about controlling their weight – I admire that and congratulate you. But what are your views on the carbon tax? Asylum seekers? Occupy Wall Street? The glass ceiling? Empowerment of women in the workplace? Marriage equity? The representation of gender on TV and Films? I really want to talk about those things. Not whether you’ve lost 1 kilo on the No Milk Diet.

By prestontowers

I had been a teacher observing politics and the media from the outside for some time. I became a political insider, didn't like it much, and hightailed it back to watching it again. And still loving teaching.

5 replies on “Weight Loss – It Shouldn’t Matter So Much”

“I will never understand why women judge each other on their weight. Nor why it becomes so important for a woman’s self esteem.”

No, you won’t. So a post like this leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Not only do you not understand, you simultaneously acknowledge – to a small extent – that women are ultimately judged on weight, yet – YET – basically write off anyone who is concerned about how they are perceived through their weight as shallow, because you care more about their political opinions or whatever.

Well, bully for you. Fact of the matter is, I’m concerned about my weight AND about political issues. No one will EVER take me seriously on the latter whilst I am fat. There are also a bunch of assumptions about people who are fat – they are lazy, poor workers, no willpower, unhealthy, etc etc – you could call it a stigma. So I’m supposed to not care that people think of me that way? Continue pushing shit uphill about important issues in life when people don’t give a damn what I say because I’m fat? Gee, thanks! I’ll hang up my scales now, I’m glad it was so simple!

I really, really hate things like this written from such privilege – even as you acknowledge you are writing from that, it still comes off pretty appallingly.

If people don’t take you seriously because of your weight, then that is a poor reflection on the people who think that way. But I think people took Madeleine Albright seriously, admired Angela Merkel for her skills and elevated Joan Kirner to the top job in Victoria, despite their size – so I seriously doubt the assumption that people don’t take women seriously because of their weight. In fact, I’d suggest that’s completely incorrect. The same goes for the assumptions about “fat” people – plenty of women of all sizes have gained powerful positions. So, that’s not supported by fact either. This is a perception that has been bought into, not a reality.

As much as I appreciate your intention, I have to agree with Jo.

To say that women are taken seriously despite their weight and point to the likes of Joan Kerner or Madeleine Albright as proof is like stating that there’s no race discrimination and pointing to President Obama’s dark skin as proof or saying that there’s no such thing as homophobia and using Bob Brown to demonstrate. That there’s a handful of (relatively) powerful women carrying extra weight does not mean that blatant discrimination isn’t a fact of life for us fatties, *particularly* since, unlike the colour of one’s skin, being fat is seen as a choice. A choice of the lazy and stupid, mostly.

Should a woman’s weight matter so much? I agree with you, no it shouldn’t. But then again, a person’s skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation and/or religion also shouldn’t matter in our modern society either, and yet, they still do, and those who are not perceived as ‘normal’ (whatever that is) still suffer from discrimination.

To truly understand why fat women seem so obsessed with their weight, dare you to don a fat chick suit for a few days and see how people react to you (or, failing that, at least get a slim female friend to do the same). And more importantly, after wearing it for a few days, to see how you /feel/. I bet you won’t be able to wait to get it off, not because of how hot or how uncomfortable it is, or how difficult it is to do move in certain ways (just like fat) but because it utterly demoralizing to be a fat woman who is ignored, dismissed, considered lazy and stupid, unattractive, even ugly and ‘yuck’ because of that fat. When you do take all the ‘fat’ off in just a few moments, remember also that almost all fat people are very much aware of how to rid themselves of those extra kilos but just don’t seem to be able to keep with it for the length of time it takes (unlike removing the fat suit), and how much more demoralizing that must be.

And then perhaps consider why – once a person makes the decision to lose weight – they surround themselves with other like minded individuals focused on the same goal. A bunch of people trying to lose weight are really not that different from a bunch of people in a political movement. To outsiders, it seems thats all they ever talk about – to themselves, they are focused on something *important* and thats they only thing thats *worth* talking about.

I don’t disagree with you. I think some people become so obsessed with losing weight that it becomes their whole world, which isn’t healthy.

But I don’t think you can be dismissive of the effect being overweight has on individuals in their day to day life. I lost 40kgs about a decade ago and have kept it off. I know from personal experience there was a real difference in the way people responded to me before and after weight loss. After I lost weight strangers would acknowledge me in the street – in fact I found the increase in eye contact in general a bit confronting. I just wasn’t used to it. It took me a while to not feel self conscious, because I was used to being borderline invisible. Things like this seem small, but on a day-to-day basis when the world around you doesn’t acknowledge you it does play on your self esteem and damage your confidence.

You’re right, a person’s weight shouldn’t matter. But from personal experience it does. I know you’re speaking personally that it doesn’t change the way you deal with people, and that’s great. But not everyone is like you and it does influence what an overweight person sees as important.

It’s a matter of degree. Some people become so consumed with renovating their home they discuss little else, or the same with relationship break ups. It’s not just people who are overweight who obsess about things. In fact I know a health freak who is exactly the same. People trying to lose weight aren’t the only ones like this.

I hardly dare to wade into these treacherous waters, where sensitivities intense and so strongly tied to people’s self esteem, but here goes. My reading of @prestontowers’ intent here is an honest desire to make weight and body image unimportant – a project with which I agree wholeheartedly. What I also read was probably directed largely at people who would not be considered overweight by most measures, or only moderately so – the gatekeepers on this stuff, really. I think we can all agree that it is incredibly tedious to listen to a person of completely normative/healthy/thin (or of course, too thin) body size carry on endlessly about the need to diet/exercise/stay thin/get thin. Your final paragraphs in particular seemed to be speaking to that cohort.

As for those who fall into the ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ categories, I think the points made by Jo, Vicky and Melanie are important – the negative portrayal or invisibility of ‘fat people’ is unconscionable and should be contested constantly, and not by telling those who are overweight to simply forget about it – it’s broader society that needs to get over itself, not the individuals in question.

Having said all that, I tend to rely heavily on individual action and responsibility (I fall on the side of those who are intrinsically motivated and take a lot of responsibility for things I do or happen to me – whether these are successes or failures, all of which are general personality traits we usually gain from our own parenting), and what I like about your message PT is the encouragement to constantly tell yourself that you’re okay and it’s those who would judge on such shallow, bullshit grounds that have nothing to do with your achievements, desires, kindnesses and passions who are wrong – and not worth listening to. I don’t think it’s an easy task, and nor does it mean we should stop actively telling those who judge people on body image that they’re idiots, but it’s part of what I guess I think of as a holistic response package. 🙂

I’d also like to say I don’t really think in this case it’s fair to rage at PT for ‘not getting it’ because ‘he’s a man’ as I don’t really think that’s the issue at stake. I’m not a man either, and I’m not skinny – I am moderately overweight (and so totally unable to presume to speak from any experience of being obese, which I hope I have not done) – but I regularly tell people who carry on about image to get f*@ked. And over many years, I’ve come to believe it.

Thanks for this post and everyone’s comments. Important issues in constant need of airing – I’d be really interested if anyone reckons I’ve totally missed the mark here.

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