I’ve been doing something lately that I’ve wanted to talk about, but not known how to approach. I’m trying to lose some weight. I’m also training for a 5K*, which has been helping with the losing weight thing, because it turns out that running burns a lot more calories than walking the dog. What I haven’t been doing is talking about it much, which is unusual for me. I talk a lot.
To me it has always felt somehow subversive to want to lose weight. I don’t define myself by what I look like, and I’ve always believed that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and that there’s nothing wrong with being fat. It felt like I would get booted out of the feminist positive body image club if I admitted (even to myself) that I wanted to be thinner. I didn’t see a middle ground between being the stereotype of the intellectual (geek) who doesn’t care what she looks like, and having my appearance be an all-consuming concern.
So in high school I became a vegetarian because I “thought it was healthier.” If I lost weight, that’s maybe a nice side benefit, right? During college, I occasionally thought to myself “I should get healthier” without really defining that or acting on it. I wanted to be thinner, but I didn’t want to be (what I saw as) the sort of person who wants to be thinner. In the meantime, I was unfairly associating being fat with being unhealthy (I was pretty healthy overall).
Sometime in the last year my outlook on my body has changed. I’ve never hated it, but never admitted to liking it. I was more concerned with my brains, right? But my body isn’t just a brain-transportation system. It’s how I experience the world. My legs take me where I want to go, my hands make things and show affection and bring food to my mouth, my skin absorbs the delicious rays of the sun. My body is part of me, and I like myself. I like my body.
I like my body, I just want it to be a little bit different. I want it to be able to function in a sort-of different way (running 5K without stopping), and I want it to look in a sort-of different way (thinner). I’ve already decided that I want it to have a few tattoos, and varied hair color, and short hair again. What make this decision so different? I have seized my bodily autonomy, and I am making my body the way I want it to be. Of course, getting in shape and losing weight are ongoing processes that take a lot longer than getting a haircut or a tattoo.
Recognizing that it’s essentially, ideologically, the same kind of choice has freed me from the shame I had associated with trying to lose weight. It has allowed me to really think about the process and consider things like “do I really want to eat all of this cake more than I want to keep losing weight steadily?” Sometimes, the answer is yes–I do want all of that cake. But sometimes it’s no, I’ll have some of the cake, because I’m proud of the progress I’m making and want to stay on track.
It’s my body, and my life. I wanted to change something, I realized it was within my power to make that change, and I’m doing it. I feel empowered.
(*This was originally posted some weeks back on my defunct cooking blog, because I don’t know how to Internet sometimes. I ran that 5K in under 45 minutes, which was my goal, & though I did stop a few times I feel good about it. It was a hilly course.)