Why do we all have to lose weight?

January 4th, 2016

I suppose it is a silly question: here in the U.S., we do tend to the avoirdupois body-styles. But still, it is January 4, and I feel like I’m drowning in lose-weight-now TV/Internet/print media. The pleas to support the multi-billion-dollar/lie-ridden weight loss industry surround us.

“LOSE WEIGHT NOW!!!” they scream. “SPEND MONEY ON US!!!!” they holler. “WE’LL MAKE YOU THIN” they craftily promise.

The problem, of course, is that our bodies evolved to gain weight easily and lose it very, very slowly in order to survive times of famine, common to most of human history.

So, pretty well everything we do is doomed to fail because we are fighting the undefeatable foe. It’s our version of tilting at windmills, “To Dream the Impossible Dream,” so to speak.

Or, maybe our own Star Wars battle where we can imagine ourselves the magical Jedi who can transcend normal physical and mental realities.

I’m about to say, “let’s all lighten up here,” and then I realized that “lighten up” could be taken as code for “lose weight.” See, it’s all around us!

Last week, giving in to the pleadings of my new and sweet husband who has this thing about me being around for as long as possible, I went to see his physician for a checkup.

As usual, part of the checkup was the routine weigh-in. Sigh. The numbers always shock me, mainly because I simply refuse to ever get on a scale normally. I will not have my life defined by some number that someone else has decided is “good” or “bad.”

As the doctor performed the thorough new-patient physical exam, we chatted about my health history. I mentioned that I do not weigh myself.

“I just don’t worry about it as long as I can get comfortably into my favorite clothes,” I commented.

He looked genuinely startled — I am not sure he had heard before that a woman could be comfortable with her body. I also knew he put some pressure on my husband to keep his weight low.

He said, “I guess we just won’t worry about it then.”

Exactly. We won’t.

A number of years ago, I exercised regularly at a fitness facility near my place of work. When checking in, members would be asked for their locker preference. Those who wished could have a locker with a dressing room. Most lockers, however, provided little in the way of personal privacy for changing clothes.

In the actual locker room a few women, generally the very thin and more fit, comfortably undressed in the open. The majority, even those not requesting a more private spot, carefully concealed the “less acceptable” parts of their bodies as they changed.

This particular fitness center made no effort to appeal to the already fit. Its founders had a serious purpose: to provide a place for those facing critical health problems to get supportive help as they take steps to regain their health. Built near a major medical center, it attracted many elderly people and those with need for rehabilitative therapy.

One afternoon after I had finished my workout, I was reapplying my makeup when something caught my eye. A woman, clad only in a towel wrapped around her waist, prepared to weigh herself.

I was entranced by this woman’s complete comfort with her body. In our general view of bodies, she did not possess one that anyone would envy. An apparent victim of breast cancer, she at some time ago had undergone a double mastectomy. A large stomach, hunched-over back, and generally sagging flesh completed the picture. A couple of minutes later, she asked if I would help pull up the back of her bathing suit, as severe arthritis prevented adequate arm flexibility for that task.

No women’s magazine would picture her as an ideal to attain. Yet, her very attitude and comportment suggested a serenity with her body that most women would long to have.

A few minutes later, a tall and slender young woman stepped on the scale fully clothed and bemoaned the 127 pounds reflected there.

The contrast hit me hard. Later I found I could not escape those mental images.

The cult of thinness, of bodily dissatisfaction, of unhappiness with our shapes drains our mental, physical and emotional energy. We find we can’t enjoy the good gift of food for fear that “a moment on the lips means a lifetime on the hips.” We subject ourselves to stringent dieting and risk our health by the “yo-yo” weight-gain cycle. We put ourselves into a starvation mode in order to mold ourselves to some arbitrary fashion standards totally unrelated to a real woman’s body.

Instead of seeing stretch marks and less firm breasts as evidence of the joy of life-giving responsibilities, we treat them as shameful, as though they have marred us in some way.

We hold the airbrushed, anorexic bodies of magazine supermodels or the underdeveloped thinness of 59-pound world-class gymnasts as our standards. But none can measure up.

The cult of dissatisfaction poisons our relationship with our bodies. Beauty becomes totally externalized, rather than the inner person, the development of character.

One rainy afternoon a long, long time ago, I took my then three preschool children to a nearby pizza parlor for lunch. Besides an inexpensive buffet lunch, the restaurant also offered a roped off section equipped with games for children, so I brought a book to read during playtime.

Shortly after our arrival, a woman walked in with a large number of school-age children in tow.

I confess to an immediately negative response. The woman in charge showed evidence of a hard life. She wore house slippers on her feet. An old velvet dress in an unattractive color worn down to the nub in several places covered her large body.

I envisioned the children with her quickly overrunning the place, making it difficult for my children to enjoy their playtime.

Then I saw these children sit quickly, closely spaced on the benches at each table. The woman handed a stack of well-worn bills to the cashier. Two by two, the young people went to the salad bar to begin their meals. When the soft drinks were ready, two of the young men got up and carried them carefully to the table.

Nothing was spilled; no one pushed or shoved or went out of turn.

Beginning to relax, I put down my book and continued to observe. When my own children showed signs of restlessness indicating that the time had come for their afternoon nap, I took a few minutes to talk with this woman.

In our short conversation, I discovered that she ran a private school for these young people. Most students lived in a nearby subsidized housing area. Demand was high to get into her school.

When I admired the exemplary behavior of the children, she replied, “I expect the best from them. They know that, and they give me their best in return.”

I looked into her lined face. No photographer’s model here — no outward standard to which we might aspire. Instead, she seemed to hold the same comfort with herself and her life as did that elderly lady in the locker room. They both reflect a beauty far beyond anything that the world affirms as beauty.

I’ve never forgotten her, this woman who is a forgotten hero in so many ways. She set a model for me, one that I’m not sure I will ever attain. But I’m trying. And I will not read or listen to or let my brain be invaded by one more “lose weight now” snippet of noise.

I think it's time to defund the weight-loss industry and to fund our own souls with joy and delight in who we are. Indeed, let us “lighten up here!” and love, not hate or dislike, our bodies.

Christy blogs at ChristyThomas.com.

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