Thursday, May 26, 2011

Define "happier"

On my way to work this morning, I was daydreaming about late fall/early winter, when I'll be able to run again.  I'm aware that when I run, my body becomes a running body; while I never managed to keep running long enough to see any dramatic changes, I did become more compact, more defined.  The difference between me in August 2008 and October 2008 is pretty obvious; I managed to lose all that awesome running-ness in about a month and a half, once my calves gave out.

I know a lot of folks have this suspicion that I only want to run to lose weight, that losing weight is one of my goals, and that I'm somehow lying when I say this isn't true, and that I'm happy in my body right now.  I've got some news for you folks.  I'm actually not lying.  Let's talk about this. 

You like how your body changes when you run, therefore you dislike your body now.

My body now is pretty great.  Yeah, I'm fat.  I've noticed.  But I also understand that my fat is from a combination of three things.  First, my metabolism: it's not "slow" so much as it's more efficient.  I can eat the same amount of calories as a person with a so-called "fast" metabolism, but still be fat.  It's because my body can make do with far fewer calories, and so it stores the rest of them.  There are advantages to having this kind of metabolism, and there's nothing actually WRONG with it.

Second, the pill: I've been on hormonal birth control for almost 10 years now.  From what I know from my own experience, and from speaking with other women who are or who have been on the pill, weight gain is the rule, not the exception.  I'm tired of doctors pooh-poohing that experience.  "It's just water retention," "It's not real, it's perception," or, "That's just an anecdote."  Yeah, just an anecdote from every single woman on the pill I've talked to.

It's really not that strange to attribute weight to the pill.  More importantly, it's fair to attribute difficulty losing weight to the pill; I have to do more than just limit calories and walk a couple miles a day to lose weight.  Medication plays a role.

Finally, I can't run.  I know there are other ways to lose weight, blah blah blah, but we're talking about reasons why I'm fat, not why people (generalization) are fat.  I can't run.  So I stay fat.  I have an invisible disability.  The end.

So do I dislike my body now?  I dislike my CALVES, that's for sure.  And not how they look, but how they function.  Because obsessing over how my body looks is pointless and exhausting.  I care much more about how my body functions.  Right now, it mostly functions well.  I'll be happier once my calves function properly, and once my body becomes a running body again.  If it's a fat running body, so be it.  As long as it's a running body! 

How can you be happy when your body is so repulsive?

Well, my body isn't repulsive, at least not to me.  So I guess I can be happy because I don't hate myself?  Does that work?  It's not really debatable that beauty standards are dynamic, so I'm not going to worry about whether or not I can have different perception and opinions. 

How could you claim that you wouldn't be happier if you lost weight?

This is generally the biggest question that people have that leads them to believe that I'm a lying liar who lies.  If I'm happy with my body now, they believe, it's only because I don't realize how much happier I would be if I had a "normal" body.  But that logic would only work in a world without thin privilege.

I am reminded every single day that my body is unacceptable in our society.  I'm fat.  I'm a burden because I'm fat.  I'm destroying America.  I'm repulsive.  I will never be loved (by a man).  There's something wrong with me.  I can't be happy in my body.  Etc.

I went shopping Tuesday night with a friend of mine, who has gained weight during her first year of graduate school.  I think she looks totally fine, but both of us were frustrated as we searched for flattering, appropriate* party dresses.  Sizing was a mess; I am by no means tiny, but I should be able to fit into a large or extra large; we found an "extra-large" dress that was almost too small on my friend, who typically wears a medium.  We found that the current most popular dress type, bandage, made both of us look ridiculous.

We ended up finding some clothes we liked, including a dress for her (I was thrilled to find a dress the next day on Modcloth, which is hit or miss with sizing, but it's the right cut and style, and the fabric is flexible enough that I should be fine).  But the whole trip was frustrating.  Neither of us hates her body, neither of us is worried about our health or our attractiveness (although I'm sure plenty of people think I should worry about both because I AM SIZE FOURTEEN OMGGGGG DEATH SENTENCE).  But I left the mall feeling like SOMEONE hated my body.  It's a strange feeling.

So I know that I will be happier if I lose weight.  Not because I hate my body, but because OTHER people hate it.  I live in a world where being thin is privileged, so of COURSE I would be happier with that privilege.  I would also be happier if that privilege ceased to exist.

Body weight and shape is one of the few things that I could change in order to gain or lose privilege.  I cannot become cis-male, for example.  My friends who are not white cannot become white.  My queer friends can usually pass if they choose, but cannot change their sexuality.  Etc.

I can lose weight and join the ranks of the privileged men and women (mostly women) whose bodies are deemed acceptable (not perfect, just acceptable).  But I could also fight back against thin privilege.  Part of that fight is loving my body.  Part of it is dropping the services of doctors who insist that I need to lose weight, without any actual reason besides, "Well, your BMI is high."  I can continue to speak out against the use of BMI as a measure of health.  I can wear sleeveless shirts and skinny jeans.

I would be happier if I were skinnier, not because there's something wrong with my body now, but because there's something wrong with the culture I live in.

I don't judge people for wanting to lose weight in order to gain thin privilege.  I don't think that losing weight, for whatever reason (life circumstances, actual effort, illness) is some sign of "giving in" to kyriarchy, or that it constitutes a loss.  While I believe that many people could do more to fight kyriarchy, often we can be more successful when we gain privilege.  We can still be allies.

When my calves have healed, and I can run again, I'm going to run like hell.  Not for my health, which is excellent, or to lose weight, since I like my body, but because I LOVE running.  Yes, I would be happy if running led to weight loss, only because my life would be happier if I didn't have to deal with other people hating my body for no reason.  But I would still insist that weight isn't an indicator of health.  I would still vehemently disagree with anyone who claimed that no one has an excuse not to exercise.  I would still pressure clothing stores, such as Modcloth, to include more sizes, or to standardize sizing for women.

I just wouldn't have to deal with my mom fretting over my weight.  I wouldn't have to scour the mall for party dresses and leave empty handed.  I wouldn't have to forgo impromptu sleepovers because I know I won't fit into my friends' pajamas.  Life would be happier, not because I hate my body now, but because our culture is designed to Other me, to deem my body abnormal, and to make it inconvenient for me to exist.

* By "appropriate" here, we mean "appropriately short and cleavage-y to wear to a club."

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