Diet culture is extremely pervasive in the developed world.
This idea that to be happy and successful women have to look a certain way–that way being thin–takes center stage in films, television, advertising and every corner of mass media at which you could shake a stick.
Kellogg’s “What will you gain when you lose?” campaign for their Special K cereal featured thin women telling us that, when they lost weight, every part of their lives got better. This is also interesting because Special K cereal is pretty sugary and maybe not the best choice for breakfast. Just a thought.
(Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Kellogg’s also advertised that one should eat Special K cereal if they can “pinch an inch” of fat. Which is a whole mess of fat-phobia but I won’t get too into that now, it’s old news.)
In the hit comedy (and pretty awesome) show Friends, flashbacks and home videos from the ’80s show “Fat Monica,” simply played by Courtney Cox in a badly designed fat suit. Fat Monica was a lot like ’90s thin Monica; loud and obsessed with control. But thin Monica gets to have a career as a chef and date lots of men, including her dad’s friend Richard (played by Tom Selleck) who had known her as a (fat) child.
When characters in TV shows “lose” after a breakup, they’ve probably gotten fat. If they’re fat, their career goes down the tubes along with their love life.
The media portrays gaining weight as a social death sentence and losing weight as the ticket to success and happiness. So gaining wight should have ruined my life… right?
See, even I thought my life was over for a second there. It was the beginning of 2018, I was single for the first time in over two years and, thanks to my newly recovered ability to digest my food, I was no longer rail thin.
I was kind of… medium. By February, I couldn’t fit into most of my old pants (sizes 0 and 2) and I was miserable. After spending seven years as an athlete and another three years struggling with digestion, it had been a while since I’d been anything but skinny. I was used to it. It was part of my identity in a way it shouldn’t have been.
But at some point, it clicked that I was just making it worse. I thought, “Fuck it,” and decided to embrace my new body.
So I went out and bought pants that were big enough to fit over my thighs. I started gravitating toward high waisted pants and shorts that accentuated the tiny bit of hourglass shape I’d started to develop.
I stopped caring if people would notice my weight gain. I went to the beach and wore a swimsuit. I wore crop tops and showed everyone my stomach (which I affectionately refer to as my Mom Belly).
A friend of mine said, “This summer, we’re getting our bodies back. We’re losing all the college weight.” I collected myself for a moment before responding, “I don’t think I ever want to be that thin again.”
My friend was, understandably, shocked. All women want to be thin, right? But the more used to my new frame I got, the more I liked it. I liked my Mom Belly and my thick thighs. Most of all, I liked the fact that it meant I wasn’t sick. I was healthy and I looked healthy.
There was one more thing: I was still conventionally attractive. Thanks to the new semi-widening view of an acceptable female frame, the way I looked was still something positive about me. I got compliments rather than the passive-aggressive comments I’d expected. It sounds shallow and petty, but knowing that other people were on board with how I looked made me feel even more comfortable in my body.
[Note: I recognize that as an able-bodied white woman, I meet lots of the beauty standards in our culture that many other women cannot. The way we view female bodies is still extremely skewed toward western ideals, which is one of the thousand things I’d love to change.]
I started feeling better about food. I was never one to obsessively count calories, but now I almost never think about calories at all. Like, as if they didn’t exist and there was no way to measure food other than how you feel after you eat it. I told my brother calories were fake, and I was only sort of kidding.
Kellogg’s cereal seems to think that you gain when you lose. But I feel like, when I gained, I gained things (confidence, insight and a few pairs of really nice thrifted mom jeans).