Over the last year I’ve lost some weight.
Yup, despite living in Italy and eating a steady diet of carbs and gelato it happened.
Unfortunately this isn’t a ‘How to Lose Weight While Eating Pizza Three Times a Week’ article. (Note to editors, I’m always up for that!)
Rather, this is about what happened when everyone else suddenly felt entitled to comment on, and question me about, my weight loss.
I was always a curvy girl — for the record, I still am. I remember even in elementary school hearing a ballet teacher saying I was too big, and feeling afterwards like I was bigger than all my beautiful skinny friends. I was never really big, mind you. I just never felt like I had any control over what was happening with my body.
Later in life this would eventually lead me to the path of healing and wellness, and even after arming myself with knowledge and health, I would find myself crying on my closet floor because a pair of jeans that fit the week prior didn’t fit that day. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 40 and realized that my constant battle with my body was really a battle against a malfunctioning — and never diagnosed — thyroid disease… one that eventually became cancer.
Two-and-a-half years later, I have finally gotten to a place where I can relax. I am on the correct dose of medication and my body is finally performing like it ought to have been all those years I struggled. The end result is right now I am thinner than most people knew me to be.
Comments on my photos quickly went from “You look so happy!” to “OMG, you’re so skinny!” Then came the not-so-subtle questions about eating disorders over dinners with friends as I was literally shoveling heaping forks of pasta into my mouth.
Whenever I got together with people, the subject of my weight and how I looked became the first topic of conversation. There was a shift in the tone of people’s voices when they told me how thin I looked — from compliment to jealousy to concern.
The sad irony is that now that I finally feel free in my body, I find myself constantly defending and explaining and apologizing.
I started wondering if there was a better way to deal with this. Having gone up and down in size my whole life, I tried to remember if there was ever a time when anyone had commented on my weight gain. There wasn’t.
In speaking to a few friends who themselves are quite small and thin, I found myself privy to a secret conversation that I was never before a part of. They shared with me how frustrating it was to them that people — women in particular — felt entitled to comment on their appearance.
I turned to one of my oldest and best friends whom I had long ago supported as she battled a brutal eating disorder. I immediately apologized to her, now realizing that I had been guilty of judging and commenting on her weight, always telling her it was out of concern.
“Why do women feel they have the right to comment on another woman’s body?” I asked her, and, “What am I supposed to say to someone when they do it to me?”
She told me that I should politely thank people for their concern, assure them that I was healthy and okay, and try to change the subject.
Her advice lent to what I already understood from decades of struggling with my body image.
As far as we’ve come in women’s rights, we are still slaves to the image machine. How many times do we scroll through feeds and mentally pick apart the picture of a woman we secretly want to look like? It’s so ingrained in ourselves that we don’t even know we’re doing it… until it happens out loud.
It’s time to call ourselves out so we can change.
I won’t pretend there isn’t a small part of me that relishes these skinny comments as a compliment, even when it isn’t meant as one. But a larger part of me is very much aware that the fixation on my weight loss is just as harmful as the fixation on my weight gain was. And, now it’s matched with a fear that if I do put weight back on, it will be noticed.
The difference is we tend to comment on weight loss out loud, and weight gain in private. Both of these actions continuously feed the machine that keeps us locked in feeling like our self-worth is dependent on our dress size and external approval or disapproval.
One way to move forward from this is to call it out for what it truly is: fat shaming, thin shaming, body shaming — women judging other women the way we judge ourselves for what we see in the mirror, what we think we see, or what we wished we saw.
What we still need to work on is loving ourselves exactly how we are — loving all the bits that function, and healing the bits that don’t… until they do.
Most of all, we must support each other in that process. It’s a lofty goal in our image-obsessed, FaceTuned society — but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable. Maybe it means the next time we see a friend whose appearance has changed we focus on something else we love about them. If they bring it up, then talk about it. If they don’t, keep it to yourself.
Part of the growing evolution of feminism today needs to be about raising each other up for who we are, not what we look like. The more we shift our focus away from what we weigh and how we look, the less pressure we will feel to be something other than what we are in that moment.
We will begin to accept ourselves… starting with a little more gelato!