BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change. The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.
A little over a year ago, I started to gain weight. It was slow at first, a half-pound here and a quarter pound there. Until the acceleration of the upward crawl picked up, and I was gaining a few pounds every month.
My body was changing, and I watched as my belly swelled. My face, round and soft to start, became even fuller as the days marched on. I still looked like me, but the pounds changed the body I once knew as my own. I was taking up more space in the world, having to turn myself at just the right angle to make it between chairs at the crowded restaurant. My clothes, no longer fitting over my wider thighs and hips, piled high on my closet floor.
Others noticed my obvious weight gain, and the feedback started trickling in. In the course of a day, I’d be assured I still looked “fabulous!”, told you could barely tell I’d gained weight, and be asked how much weight I had gained, exactly, in the last month.
I was pregnant, and suddenly my weight became the topic of every brunch outing and happy hour I attended.
Everyone seemed to have something to say about my weight. My mom asked if I was eating enough. My doctor gave me a serious look at told me that my condition didn’t warrant ice cream sundaes every night. My friends asked me how I planned to get my pre-baby body back. Strangers asked how much I had gained since becoming pregnant (None of your damn business, thankyouverymuch). A homeless man on the street told me I was having a boy – he could tell because my face wasn’t fat enough for a girl.
The commentary was steeped in a mixture of curiosity, wonder, haughtiness, and fear. Fear, I think, was the overarching theme. Not mine, but theirs. They watched as my body shifted and changed, and their own culturally-bound anxieties about weight were triggered.
I’ve fortunately prided myself on caring very little about my weight for many years. My weight goes up and it goes down – at least I assume it does, as I stopped weighing myself a long time ago. But while pregnant I found myself monthly, and then weekly, on a scale. My doctor seemed to think it was extremely important to monitor my every ounce (until I fired her, that is).
As soon as I was done being pregnant, the comments changed form, but they were just as targeted and just as personal. You don’t really look like you had a baby! (Um, thanks, I’m pretty sure I did…) How many pounds to go until you’re back in your old jeans? (Hmm, let me check. Oh wait, why do you care?).
My experience as a pregnant and then post-partum woman gave me an uncomfortable vantage point from which to observe our weight-focused, or, rather, weight-obsessed world. As hard as I had tried to divorce weight from emotion and worth over the years, I was being sucked back into in to the vortex at every turn. Everyone had an opinion on my size, and I had to find a way to resume my weight-neutrality.
I found that I was better able to do this when I recognized that others’ commentary was a reflection of their own concerns, interests, and, as I mentioned, fears – not mine. I realized that my response to their inquires could play a powerful role in the way that they thought about weight. Namely, I wanted to communicate that my weight was my own, and that others didn’t have a right – or, honestly, a need – to take ownership of that via their comments and questions. And I wanted to do so in a way that didn’t offend or shame the commenter. After all, they were usually well intentioned, a product of cultural programming.
This was not an easy task, but it was an important one. So I learned to say things like, “That’s interesting you ask about how much I’ve gained. There seems to be so much fascination with weight gain, don’t you think?” Or, “I think I’ll be too sleep-deprived to care much about a pre-baby body!” Or, as I told my doctor, “I appreciate your concern, as I know you think my weight is an important marker of my health, but I’d rather us focus on more specific indicators. How’s my blood pressure?”
Weight stigma isn’t always in the form of dirty looks, insurance discrimination, or denial of employment opportunities (though it certainly can be, and often is). It frequently starts with an expression of concern here or a seemingly innocent remark there. If we’re going to create a weight-neutral world, it starts with challenging all of the manifestations of weight-obsessions.
My son is now six months old. The most common question I’m asked about him is what he weighs – or the familiar variation, “What percentile is he in?” My response? “I’m not sure. But he’s just the right size to fit perfectly in my arms.”