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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You Are Not A Before

lucky-ad-2Are you a woman over the age of twelve? You should definitely be on a diet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or a size 20, there is always weight to lose or maintenance to be done. How will you ever find love and succeed in the world, if you don’t know your daily caloric intake? It’s not just about beauty, of course, it’s also about health. Everyone knows that health is a number on a scale. Today is the first step in a journey! You are a before now, but soon you will be an after!

We’ve all heard this message. As women, society expects us to be on a never-ending quest for perfection. If it’s not fat to vanquish, it’s wrinkles or cellulite. This message, this unyielding refrain of “Be prettier, already!”, makes me want to find the nearest dried up lake, fill it with full fat chocolate pudding, then wallow in its sugary goodness until I seize and/or drown. I am, it seems, alone in that. Lately, my Facebook feed has been overrun with women in their late twenties on a “journey.” Friends, of all shapes and sizes, are posting caloric counts and exercise logs and—worst of all—before and after photos.

You’ve all seen these pictures. On the left, there is a somewhat/slightly/vaguely chubby woman glowering into a mirror, while on the right is that same woman turned into a glowing, smiling health angel. The caption is, always, thus:

“I never thought I’d share this photo, friends, but it’s time for me to be brave. This was me three years ago: fat, depressed, and deeply out of touch with my health. Through hard work and hours of dedication, I’ve taken control of my life. If that girl can do it, so can you!”

Just last week, one of my old school friends posted an eerily similar photo-and-caption combination. When we were younger, she was always one of the chubbier girls in our class—not morbidly obese or anything, just somewhat out of the norm—which all changed when she went to college. She became a nutrition major, an avid runner, and is currently getting her physical training licence. That is all fantastic! She found her raison d’être and is super happy in life! What’s not fantastic, however, is that she completely disavowed the person she was before. By calling herself an after and raising up a picture of her teenage self as proof of what she had overcome, it turned that girl I loved into a negative. She’s now an after, not a before. 

girlancientprejudiceremovedLThere, right there! That’s my problem with before-and-after photos and the sensationalism of weight loss in this era. Losing weight doesn’t and shouldn’t make you a different person. More over, being overweight does not make you a before. A woman is not a butterfly, waiting to emerge from a cocoon of shame, with just a little diet and exercise. You are a real person, have always been a real person, and will continue to be a real person until you die…no matter what you weigh.

While I completely understand and support people wanting to lose weight, because of either happiness or health issues, a scale number shouldn’t be what defines someone as worthy. By framing our body image in terms of before-and-after shots, I worry that we internalize the narrative that after is always better. Weight loss doesn’t make you a better person and it certainly doesn’t make you a different one. You may be more confident, able to shrug off negativity more easily, or happier in your own skin, but you are still Odette. Losing weight is not a woman’s one great accomplishment. If we look at it as such, we are encouraging women who are not in perfect shape to hide away from the world, because conventional beauty is the sole characteristic of a successful woman. The message does not become one of inspiration, but one of shame.

I think it’s wonderful to share accomplishments, especially ones you’ve worked so hard for, but maybe we need to check which ones we’re assigning highest value to . It’s okay to be unhappy at a size 18, but it’s also alright to be happy as one. There are more important things to you than skinny or chubby or gaunt or fat. Are you kind to other people? Are you pursuing a long held dream? Do you make really awesome apple pie? All of these things make you more worthy than fitting into tiny pants. I wish there were more people posting before-and-after shots of academic success or pie baking attempts. If I’m going to be an after someday, I want to be the after of literary success and dressmaking skills.

In the end, however, I don’t want to be an after. I want to be Grace, living her life. I am not Before-Grace, just as you are not Before-Odette. This day, this person you are right now, is just as important as the one you will become. Neither one should be judged by the size of her pants.

-Grace