Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Valuing Thinness Over Health

Content note: weight talk


So I've been sick. I'm doing better today, but Sunday night through Monday afternoon was hell on earth for me. I'm pretty sure it was food poisoning.

Like I said, I'm feeling a lot better now, but after surviving my body purging every single thing in it for 24 hours, I got to thinking about how in moments like this, the temptation is to crack a joke about how I should be happy that I lost weight*. Even after all the work I have done to be more body positive and self accepting, that thought slips in my head. But then I check myself, because, let me assure you, there is absolutely NO silver lining to the experience of those 24 hours.

So often when a fat person looses weight--even under very unhealthy circumstances--s/he is applauded. Like this submission at the This is Thin Privilege blog: "Thin privilege is chronic vomiting and sudden weight loss (30 lbs) being treated like a good thing by your primary care physician." Experiences of this nature are all too common. Often when people develop eating disorders, the verbal affirmations they receive at their initial weight loss act as reinforcements of their unhealthy behaviors.

Jasmine Peterson at Gender Focus shares a similar story:
In recent months, I have been under a tremendous amount of stress, so much so that I had been unable to eat or sleep, and I turned to some pretty maladaptive coping mechanisms. During this period, I lost a great deal of weight. It wasn’t intentional, and it wasn’t desired. It was merely a side effect of the intense stress I was under. It is a signifier of my distress; it is not a signifier of beauty or health. 
What I began to notice, however, was that people were making a lot of comments about my weight loss, and my appearance. Their valuations of my body were positive; they were reinforcing my unhealthy weight loss through their positive comments about my body: “You’re so skinny” or “You look so good”. And even when I explained how this weight loss came about, people would make comments like “Well depression looks good on you” or “I wish I had what you had”.
Did you see that? "I wish I had what you had" even when what thing is extremely unhealthy and dangerous. All in the name of thinness.

It's just a reminder that being skinny is the most important thing. Fat people are body and food policed under the guise that others are "just concerned about our health" but that whole facade falls away when a fat person gets sick and loses a few pounds. Suddenly the talk turns to how wonderful it is that we slimmed down through the illness. What happened to health?

It's a disturbing trend and a reminder that using weight as a short hand for health can be not only inaccurate but also be very dangerous. 

*This is an assumption on my part. I've long scorned scales.


  1. I had that experience when I developed an eating disorder (though at the time I thought it was a "diet and fitness plan") and got tons of compliments on my looks, yeah, but just as many on my "will power & discipline." There really is a warped perception that eating disorders are manifestations of supreme self-control, when they are actually diseases of the mind and body (more fatal than any other mental illness, btw!) that take over your entire life. The disease has the control, not the person. But I still all the time hear people saying "I would kill to have the kind of will power it takes to be anorexic," and they're not even joking. They actually think they want an eating disorder.

  2. What bugs me is how this means that there's tons of advice on how to lose weight in (hopefully) healthy ways, but it's rather difficult to find advice on how to gain weight in healthy ways. "Healthy eating" usually translates to "nutritious with few calories", so while we all know what are unhealthy ways to gain weight are, if you're looking for good HIGH calories food, good luck. My usual body weight is pretty low, so when I get sick for any period of time I can drop into worrisome territory quite easily, and it's hard to know how to get myself back where I want to be without relying on junk food because I mentally associate everything else with weight loss.

    And yeah, totally can't complain to my friends about it--not the female ones anyways--because they're all looking to lose weight and if nothing else I don't want to feel like I'm rubbing it in their faces.


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