Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Weighty Issue

It amazes me, the amount of time my friends and I spend thinking about and talking about weight. We are strong, educated feminists. Most of us do not read fashion magazines. Most of our mothers didn’t pressure us about weight loss. And yet, how much time do we spend thinking about, talking about, lamenting, our weight, caloric intake, exercise regimens? Do less-educated or non-feminist or fashion-mag-reading women worry about it more, or less? Well, as I see it, the problem has many layers:

1-The mate-snagging thing/the media

People don’t want to be lonely. They want to…well, snag a mate. And because we find people on TV shows and in the movies attractive, we think we’ll be more attractive if we look like them. (Do we remember that the people we are attracted to in real life don’t often look like The Desirable Men of stage and screen? Not often enough.) TV and Movie chicks tend to be tall and thin, yet improbably also have slamming curves. If you move into the realm of models, the degree to which The Desirable Women are genetic freaks only increases. Genetic freakiness aside, we know that their appearances are also a product of dieticians, personal trainers, and in some cases drugs and plastic surgery. Does that stop us from trying to look like them and feeling inferior when we do not succeed? No, it does not.

2- The shared-vulnerability bonding thing

In the movie Mean Girls, there’s a scene where The Plastics are all discussing their bodies. Each girl complains about one of her body parts. If she’s lucky, her friends quickly reassure her that she’s wrong. It quickly becomes clear to Kady that she must find something to hate about her body if she wants to fit in.

It was that way when I was in high school, too. I never liked playing that game, so I didn’t, and alienated me from a lot of my classmates. Now I find myself playing the game from both sides. It’s a surprisingly cozy ritual. You confess a weakness. A friend responds by telling you you’re wrong or confessing a similar weakness. You end up feeling closer.

The same conversation gets played out over and over: L-“I want to lose ten pounds.” M-“Why? You look fabulous!” L-“I don’t like my tummy.” E-“Shut up! Your tummy is adorable.” M- “And if you’re too big, what about me? I’ve been trying to lose all this weight FOREVER. I’m all…crumbly. I just…I really used to love my body, you know?” E- “I know what you mean, but I actually think you look nice with the weight. I think you’re actually prettier. I on the other hand keep inexplicably losing weight. I’m getting kind of…gaunt. I eat! You guys see me eat.” L-“You are kind of skinny. Maybe you should eat more.” E-“I eat a ton already.” M-“Shut up, Slim.” E- “Sorry.” Over and over, as comforting as Mr. Rogers’ ritual changing from jacket and tennis shoes to cardigan and house shoes.

So it turns out…

There are actually only two layers. Okay, three if you count health. We always say its about health, but I don’t really believe it. “Health and physical fitness” is the same excuse beauty pageants use to defend the bathing suit competition. We’re just embarrassed to admit that we all want to look like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition hotties. Well, health is important and our nation has an epidemic of obesity, so we should consider our health when forming our diet and exercise choices. I’m just don’t think most people really do. All I know is we all keep trying to improve ourselves. We eat healthier and exercise more. We accept ourselves more and support one another.

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