"What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?"
When I came across these 20 words on page 137 of Roxane Gay's new book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, I had to pause and and put the book down.
(Sidebar: If you haven't read Hunger yet, I highly recommend it. I will warn you though: parts of it are intense. But Roxane's writing is open, honest, and full of truth.)
Anyway, back to this question.
What DOES it say about our culture?
I think it says a lot and none of it is good. It says we live in a culture that:
- hates women...or at a minimum, doesn't value them as full human beings
- fears the power of women, which is why they're given the daunting task of trying to achieve the perfect body
- hates fat people, especially fat women
- dehumanizes and punishes people for having the 'wrong' body
And most of all I think it says that our bodies and our lives do not belong to us.
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. My exploration into the ways that diet culture disregards our humanity has forced me to see things very differently.
The more I explore the layers of diet culture, the more I see how we're socialized to accept that our bodies are not our own and are intended for the consumption of others. At times it feels like simply existing is an invitation for unsolicited commentary and unwanted touch.
The message that comes across to me is loud and clear:
Other people's experience of my body is more important than my own.
Just think about the lengths that we go to so that our bodies can be pleasing to other people. Every time we put in the work to "get in shape" for summer or a party or some other special event, we prioritize someone else's experience of our bodies.
This huge goal of attaining (and maintaining) a smaller body has been placed at our feet as if it's our life's work. As if our bodies are masterpieces for us to sculpt and for the world to enjoy.
The desire for weight loss IS considered a default feature of being a woman. I have evidence of it in my own life.
I, like many women, have spent decades living to be thin. Dieting was more than a hobby or a side job, at times it felt like a full-time career, but with no pay and shitty benefits. When I was in my early twenties and on my second week of the Atkins diet, I can remember sucking on Splenda packets (because sugar was off-limits), asking "Why am I doing this to myself?"
At the time I thought it was normal..it's just what you do as a woman. But the part of me who asked the question knew better.
We don't do this because it's fun. We do it because it's a cultural expectation. We do it because we've been told that being smaller is our true desire. Diet culture has done a good job of convincing us that it's a personal choice and that spending our time, money and emotional energy on becoming a smaller version of ourselves is baked into our DNA.
If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's this: the more time and life energy spent on undermining our bodily autonomy, the faster our lives slip through our fingers.
"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive".
This quote by Audre Lorde reminds me that defining myself must be an essential part of my life. I'm reminded to give myself permission to hear and listen to my own voice.
Losing ourselves in a lifelong struggle to be smaller is NOT our true desire. It's a desire that has been planted deep within us and even passed down through generations.
When I heard my friend Kelly Diels say, "We have to reject the weight loss frame as being the essential preoccupation of our lives", I thought:
Hell yes! We have better things to do in this lifetime.
We can't let the world tell us who we are and who we should be. We have the right to reclaim our lives and define ourselves.
I don't know about you, but I won't be eaten alive.