Pay No Attention to the Muffin Behind the Curtain

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I need to lose weight.

Oh, bludgeoning badgers. Did I actually type that? Here I am, a body positive sewing blogger and ardent feminist, talking about changing my body. Any moment, my office door will burst open, with members of the Cool Modern Women’s League demanding my membership card returned.

However, the jiggling fact remains true. In the last year, I have gained ten unwanted pounds, all of which are currently dancing around my stomach and thighs. Between getting married, stress eating my way through a dissertation, moving to blue collar city whose local delicacy is–I shit you not–jalapeno-and-cheese stuffed chicken nuggets, wrapped in bacon, then fried, my skinny jeans are now compression jeans. I don’t feel bad about myself, or even notice that often, but the scale doesn’t lie. One more ice cream bar and I’m going to need a new wardrobe.

It’s really not that big of deal. I’m going to do more yoga, moderate my potato intake, and walk the dog more often. In a couple of months, I’ll be back in my golden window. My real problem isn’t the losing of the weight, it’s talking about it. In America, we can’t just leave well enough alone, when it comes to women’s bodies. A woman loses weight and people come out of the woodwork, complimenting her “new body” and telling her how great she looks, without those shed pounds. People intimate that she’s a beautiful skinny butterfly, previously trapped inside a horrid, fatty cocoon. Successful weight loss, especially on a grand scale, is treated with more reverence than a presidential motorcade.

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If there’s one thing that binds America together, it’s the knowledge that skinny is always better. The closer a woman can come to a size 0, the happier she must be. It’s a foregone conclusion. When we tell someone she looks super skinny today, or that her Sexy Bob Dole costume makes her waist look tiny, it’s a compliment. Who would argue with looking skinnier? After all, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

Wrong. Cake is actually really fucking tasty, y’all. Especially Black Forest Cake, with all that whipped cream and kirsch. I’m firmly in Julia Child’s camp on this one: “A party without cake is just a meeting.” People who love to eat really are the best people. Food, especially delicious, decadent food, gives life beauty and texture. I look forward to dinner; I love trying new recipes. I’d rather eat really great food for the rest of my life than ever fit into size 2 jeans. Skinny is not my goal.

I’m losing a modicum of weight, because I’m not a moron. It’s a slippery slope from ten pounds in a year to fifty pounds in five years. I would like to keep eating cake for many, many years to come, so a bit of moderation and care is required. It’s not that I think I’ll look better as a size 10 or that I am inherently happier or better at a smaller size. I just know the numbers and my body, so I’d prefer to shed a few pounds. What’s more, I don’t want to discuss this. I don’t want compliments about how great I look or about how such an endeavor must have been so hard. You know what’s hard? Writing a novel. Let’s talk about that instead.

When other people lose weight and revel in the compliments, that’s fantastic. I’m all for doing what makes you happiest. If you want to dance a jig in the street, next to a life-size cut-out of your “before” body, that’s fine with me. Hell, I’ll make a t-shirt and cheer you on. However, that’s not the only option. Losing weight does not define my life. It will not be the pinnacle achievement of my twenty-nine years. I just want to keep eating cake, without worrying about long term health, okay? There’s nothing intrinsically noble about that. I’m only a woman, eating less potatoes. I’m neither a before nor an after.

Thank you, in advance, for the compliments. You are correct, I have lost weight. It is not a magic trick I’ve performed to awe the public, but a basic tenant of the human body: we can grow and shrink in size. This is me graciously accepting your support.

It’s just, let’s be honest, I’d rather have a piece of cake.

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29 thoughts on “Pay No Attention to the Muffin Behind the Curtain

  1. I recently lost quite a bit of weight that I had gained because of a medical condition. I always feel strange since I didn’t even do anything to lose it… I do enjoy it when people say I look good. But don’t tell me I did something good for myself or I didn’t look good when I was a bit bigger…

    • First off, I hope you’re doing better, Frenchie! Second, the medical question of weight loss and gain is always an interesting one. One of my best friends had a serious bout of intestinal malaria in our mid-twenties and people were always complimenting her on the weight loss. She was really polite, as a rule, but just wanted to say “I lost all that weight, because I’ve been sick as a dog. I’d rather be healthy again than skinny!” It drove her batty.

  2. Me too! Cheers for more cake! Seriously, you are absolutely correct both in what you say about the attitude of America (and Canada, too, for that matter, since I am Canadian) towards weight and our personal goals towards body acceptance. You are also absolutely correct in recognizing that it would be a good thing to get rid of those 10 pounds and you don’t need to justify or explain it to anyone. I’ve gained 30 pounds over the last three years for a variety of reasons. That’s 10 pounds per year, just like you said. What I notice (besides having had to buy a complete new wardrobe) is that my knees and feet hurt all the time and I’ve developed stomach troubles and things are hard to do that weren’t hard before I gained the weight. I am now embarking on returning to the healthy body I had before. Who cares what size it was (it was NOT a tiny size 2). When I was two sizes smaller than I am today, my knees didn’t hurt and I have all those lovely clothes in boxes and I want to wear them again! There is nothing wrong with making a practical decision for practical reasons. I’m still the same person. But you can’t say anything about it because what you’ll hear back is often something hurtful, insinuating you are a traitor to the body acceptance movement. Oh dear….sorry for the rant on your page, lol! Have fun with the yoga and what a beautiful time of year to take a walk!

    • Nita, that’s precisely what I’m worried about. Your so welcome rant is spot-on. People’s responses seem to fit into two camps: either I’m about to be a skinny butterfly or I’m giving in to societal pressure. In reality, it’s neither of those things! I just want to eat cake, without worry. So not a big deal, folks!

  3. I’ve finally set certain rules which kind of help my calorie intake. EX: If I’m going to blow calories on a cookie…it MUST have chocolate in it. If I’m going to eat bread…it must be really soft, fresh, and grainy. If I’m going to drink…it’s either hot water or low fat chocolate. It kind of helps me say no…which seems to be the big problem. Saying “No, thanks.” Best of luck.

  4. Amen to all this. It’s all so FRAUGHT! I read your opening line and my heart sunk, ‘oh no I thought: she has succumbed to all the shit thrown at women about their weight at last. There is no hope!’. And then I read on and thought about how messed up things are that losing weight for long term health reasons feels like a betrayal. I am also trying to lose weight so I can have a baby, because yes, being too fat does have some health repercussions, and I feel a little bit messed up about it. I feel like I am letting women down, even though I am doing it for health rather than vanity/societal pressure. I am aware this is ridiculous.I also don’t want to talk about it with anyone, but I know I will start getting lots of compliments and I will feel conflicted about it. What has society come to when you can’t do something positive for your health without feeling so anguished and political about it?! On the other hand, I’m finding health is so much a better motivator than any kind of desire to look skinny. It’s also more fun because I’m focussing on exercise rather than diet and cycling is super fun. Wheeeeeeeee!

    I wish you all the best with your ten pounds and hope you celebrate with plenty of cake xx

  5. But don’t you know that your weight indicates that you secretly hate yourself? Self-esteem can only come from weight loss and living as your most authentic self — Has Oprah taught you NOTHING?!
    Um, also I love the line about compression jeans. This is how I will now think of my pants: These navy pants used to be work appropriate, now they are compression slacks. And I’m still wearing them to the office, so deal [with my thighs].

  6. This is a refreshing read, that prompted two thoughts of agreement in my head:
    • sometimes I eat more cake than normal and then have to reign it in a bit. Not to get to some notional perfect state, but just because it feels more me. No comparison to anyone else, and that’s the bit some people don’t understand. Why should I give a hoot about someone else’s mass?
    • I’ve been following a style challenge which has a Facebook group. Almost every day someone will tell someone else “this outfit makes your waist look smaller/you look taller/slimmer…”; which i know is meant as a compliment… But it makes me so frustrated – who said that was the goal?!
    Maybe one day soon I’ll grow a pair and actually say it.

  7. Definitely a piece of cake is what I’d rather have! Out here in India, people wonder if I even eat because I’m what you’d call skinny thanks to my high rate of metabolism! So either ways, overweight or underweight, people are just going to say something.

  8. *CHEERS!* I love cake. I love fitting into my size 10 (or 12) jeans – because it depends on the brand I grabbed. I love having knees that don’t hurt like they did when I was 230#. But I love cake, too. And trying new recipes. And adult beverages. But you’re spot on – it’s a slippery slope and having been 70# heavier (I’ll leave that math to you) – I wasn’t psychologically unhappy then, but I was physically. I’ve been able to maintain myself in that “golden window” for the last 7 years, and sometimes it really sucks… and I miss cake. But, health-wise, it’s better to suffer without cake from time to time so I can enjoy it later!

    BTW – every time I’ve noticeably lost weight, people tell me I’m “too thin” and that I need to eat more. Seriously? I can’t win this game. LOL

  9. Yes. Currently being on the undesirable end of the jeans to skinny jeans to compression jeans transition myself, I couldn’t agree more. My weight has always fluctuated due to my love of eating delicious food – but the decision to rein it in has always come back to the fact that my clothes become uncomfortable as they attempt to accomodate the more rubenesque version of me. That, and I just can’t bear the thought of having to shop for a new wardrobe, or that a garment I’ve spent many hours lovingly sewing can no longer be worn. I’m looking at you, Style Arc Cyd top. So once again it seems it’s time to reacquaint myself with the feeling of hunger prior to a main meal… With the thought that I will be able to enjoy many many more years of cake and good health to come 🙂

  10. I know precisely this feeling, Grace. I’m there right now. Though, someone needs to come to my house and savagely pry the peanut M&Ms and hot cross buns out of my hands (“They’re seasonal,” she cries). Here is my number one problem with all of this: So often, we frame the weight issue as one of virtue and vice. “Oh, you’re passing up bread. You’re being so good.” Fuck that fucking shit. I am not good because I am eating less bread, nor do I consider doughnuts to be a vice. (Though, moderation is a key component of virtue, but this isn’t classical ethics, so imma keep my Aristotle to myself.)

    I was the skinniest I ever was when I was the most stressed and depressed I’d ever been in my entire life. Only one person saw that (an English professor), and told me to take care of myself. Everyone else? “You look amazing!” I refuse to say thank you when someone tells me I’ve lost weight. Refuse. I like being an 8/10, because *I* like it. An aunt, when I couldn’t zip up a size four skirt encouragingly told me that I’d get there. I almost took it off and smothered her with it.

    Though, I will say this: people treated me so much better when I was thinner. It’s like I was a person or something. That’s an exaggeration. I’m an attractive-enough, friendly woman—it’s not exactly Everest. But, I’d walk into a store and people would help me without explaining things to me in a patronizing tone as if I’d landed in from the planet Lepton with little idea about what a skirt is. I assume they thought I’d never been to a store before? Lord knows.

    When I was trying to figure out how to write about this on my blog, and whether or not it merited its own post, I found loads of articles about losing weight as a feminist, or losing weight without being subsumed by society’s narrative for the ever-shrinking woman. (This one was the most memorable: http://www.elle.com/beauty/health-fitness/advice/a13947/are-diets-the-enemy-of-feminism/) It’s nice and so refreshing to hear another feminist’s voice on the topic. Thanks for this.

    Oh, last point! My favorite bit of Tina Fey’s book was when she observed that back in the day, if someone were unattractive, they’d learn a trade. (Okay, didn’t love that part.) Now, you have to whittle yourself as small as possible, and keep adding on until you fit this ideal. If we all followed Glamour magazine’s advice, everyone would look the same—that’s the key to the dark arts of figure flattery and makeup tips. The most disturbing thing, for me, is how much of the narrative is about diminishment. Women have to get small, small, small.

    Okay, I have to stop typing now. Obviously, I have no feelings on this.

  11. What’s potatoes got to do with it? Surely fat and sugar are the ones to keep an eye on, if it’s only about ‘getting back to the safe to eat cake’ zone. Simply eat less and move more for a couple of months. Potatoes get a bad press on the subject of healthy diets – I believe that stems from Atkins, no?

  12. I’m terrible at dieting. I’ve been a diabetic for 23 years; you think I’d have figured out how to manage my appetite by now. Not so much. When I try to follow the diabetic diet, I end up with an eating disorder, so I pretty much eat whatever I want whenever I want and compensate with extra insulin. It’s not ideal, but I know how you feel about it. And as Charlotte says–the demand that women shrink just irks me to no end. Thankyouverymuch NO I will not shrink to make other people more comfortable with me. Compounded with the fact that I do like weights, and so flatter myself that under the soft stuff there is some muscle adding to the bulk. Take that, shrinkers.

    So, which brings me to my actual point, which is: Being Prettier/Smaller has never worked as a motivation for me to be active and maintain my physical health. Do you know what has? Finding out that 3 hrs of moderate cardio each week cuts the risk of age-related mental declines including dementia and alzheimer’s by approximately half. I may not care about being a size 0 but I am awfully fond of my brain.

  13. I dunno – I’m a size 0 and have what’s left of a Black Forest Gateau in my fridge. Not every thin person lives in a state of permanent self denial. Some of us are just made that way I guess. My problem, from the other end of the funnel, is people equating “thin” with “good”. I’m just as dreadful as the next person. I’m not snacking on virtue here, I’m snacking on Creme Eggs and Spanish hot chocolate.

  14. I arrived at this blog after coming across your sewing blog while looking for help online with sizing for pattern 6696. So now I have to say Thank You for this excellent blog as well as the other! I love them. I love your wry and witty version of feminism. I love your outstanding sewing skill and spirited sewing commentary. Also, you are an incredibly lovely model. And I agree with you wholeheartedly about the many-layered value of good food. The only thing that ever worked for me as a diet was not having anything pre-made in my house (i.e. fruits and vegetables, frozen cuts of meat, sticks of butter, eggs, sugar, flour, spices etc.). There I sat, surrounded by ingredients for making food each day which I had to make from scratch– bread, cookies, steak whatever. My inherent laziness as a cook made that into a “diet” for me. Pretty silly really… and if your cooking is as accomplished your sewing it sure won’t work for you…

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