Trigger warning for weight-related issues
Walking through Sydney on my way back from summer school, I saw a billboard advertising the show “The Biggest Loser.” The ad showed a naked woman sitting on the ground, smiling, with the show’s title across the top. Across the bottom of the ad were the words “learn to love yourself.” (I couldn’t find an image of the ad online, but apparently there is a video on YouTube.)
Let me rephrase that:
Learn to love yourself (but only if your body is as “perfect” as this model’s)
Learn to love yourself (but get to a respectable weight first)
Learn to love yourself (once you’ve dropped those kilos you’ve always wanted to lose)
Learn to love yourself (once you’ve won a reality TV show centred around losing as much weight as possible in a short period of time)
Learn to love yourself (once you have a reason to love yourself, such as NOT BEING FAT)
Learn to love yourself (because who the hell would love themselves looking like you?)
This is the message that most people will get on reading this poster. Hidden behind the lovely facade of positivity is the message that there are conditions for loving ourselves. Lose weight, and you’ll have a reason to love yourself. Get to the perfect body shape of the naked model in this (probably even airbrushed) image, and you’ll be able to love yourself, because no-one one earth should love themselves if they look any different. This includes looking “too skinny,” because we can’t have that either.
I’ve had problems with the way I look, the shape of my body, the number that appears when I step onto a scale. I’m not fat. And yet I’ve spent hours looking at myself in the mirror sideways, sucking in my stomach so that my sisters won’t make jokes about me expecting a baby. Hurting inside when someone tells me, meaning well, that I could make more of an effort to look less fat. I’ve had to listen to remarks about going to the gym with someone instead of lazing around like a fat person, and other comments conflating weight and laziness in a way that’s absolutely horrible, but the dominant social perception.
Getting into the feminist community has really personally helped with this. The more I read the more I realise how narrow the standards of beauty are, the way that fatness isn’t about poor diet choices and lack of exercise as much as everyone makes it out to be. In some cases yes. In many others, no. I can see now that genetics have a lot to do with everything, maybe even in my own body issues. So I think my resolution for this year is to stop stressing about the way I look, and to stop thinking I have to suck my stomach in to look “presentable.”
It’s such a small thing, really, and yet it’s so hard. I completely recognise that when it comes to weight, I am still a thin (white, able-bodied) person. I recognise that I don’t belong to the group of people who experience a whole world of discrimination and snide comments about their weight. If I feel this bad about one part of my body that is deemed undesirable by society, then society can do a lot more damage to those whole are deemed even more unfit for sight.
So I’m trying to reboot the way I think about weight. I’m going to stop thinking about my diet more than necessary, because I already know that it’s good. I’m going to exercise because I want to, not because I feel I have to. I’m going to try to stop thinking that weight = health and focus more on the health side.
And I’m going to try and speak up more, which in a way is the hardest part. I’m not sure how I will start to explain that when my stepdad calls me or anyone in my family “dicke” (“fatty” in German) as a term of endearment, it’s not ok with me, even though I know he doesn’t mean to actually call me fat, and I know that he says it to everyone, even my little sister, who has an EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified – which makes it even more problematic, I guess). On a related note, I also want to learn to talk to her about eating better, how to be supportive without inadvertently saying something bad. I don’t know how I can change that without creating a family falling out when I’m at home. (Suggestions are always welcome!)
And it starts with calling bullshit when I see it blatantly advertised like this. The Biggest Loser has no right to tell anyone that learning to love yourself means changing who you are. If you want to lose weight for health reasons, then I would of course support that. But equating weight loss with loving yourself, as the source of loving yourself, is absolutely disgusting. And reality TV is just extra tacky.
As usual, your opinions are appreciated and valued – even if it’s only to point out something I need to think about some more.