Two events happened on Thursday evening that have me thinking and navel-gazing about my own reactions, actions, behaviors, and impulses. As an aside, my own gym adventures were cut somewhat short today with a hip tweaking pain that made me eliminate a couple of lower body things from the List in order to return and exercise in future days. Not sure what I did or why it was giving me so much grief, but I believe it was the right call.
Lately I have been particularly focused on the “beautiful at any size” message. It is not something I talk about a lot in casual conversation, but my stronger feelings on the topic came out in discussion with a friend last night.
Having never been a thin or small woman, I remain clueless as to what it’s like to be very slender or have anyone express concern about my not eating enough. Knowing ladies of that particular body type, I understand it can be annoying to be questioned about how much they are eating and if they weigh enough to be healthy. Thin shaming is apparently not the social taboo that fat shaming remains.
I have been overweight, obese, fat, heavy – however you describe weighing more than a realistic ideal weight for my frame, I am it. I have spent several years treating type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol with medication and feeling depressed and helplessly hopeless about the impact my sedentary lifestyle and crappy eating habits had on my health. Having never been someone who identifies as beautiful or with any potential for that standard, my only desire has been to remain invisible to mean people, the casually cruel (but with good intentions) who would suggest that I would be so much prettier if I just lost the weight or some other silly, pointless sentiment. Fuck good intentions – that sort of conversation is and was humiliating to me and everyone else I know who has struggled with maintaining a healthy weight.
If I am being charitable, I can see that there is good intention behind the “beautiful at any size” messages. Again, fuck good intention. Sorry, but beauty is a superficial standard and only skin deep. Putting forth an “empowering” message like that should include the warning labels of all the risks and chronic conditions carrying too much fat and extra weight present.
From this evolving mindset, conversation with a friend last night. Early 40s, divorced, she has gained about 40-plus pounds in the last few years, a combination of aging and hormones, ongoing sedentary lifestyle, food choices. Having never really had much of an issue with her weight, though, she’s having a hard time adjusting to this new reality, where she has to work at maintaining a healthy weight. We have talked about it many, many times through the years, and she has even joked for every pound I lose through exercise and improving my eating habits she picks it up and adds one of her own. Shortly after I started working with J, her physician had just diagnosed type 2 diabetes in addition to high blood pressure and high cholesterol and put her on the first step oral medication in addition to what she was already taking to treat her other preventable conditions. She chalked it up to stress – tax season had just ended, she was eating a lot of crap, now that the stress storm had passed it would level out. The weight gain had started, but it was just a few pounds. Fast forward to now, her medication dosages have steadily increased every few months when her numbers continue to go up instead of down. Diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, treating all with mediation, doing nothing to modify her diet or increase her activity. Her diabetes is advancing quickly enough that her doc is making noise about insulin injections.
I wince every time we discuss it. I talk about my own journey – I can painfully recall pretty much the exact same conversations with my own doctor and the steady increase in medication to treat what I refused to try and help myself with. I have invited her to join me at the gym, introduce her to trainer J to see if she can work with him, talked to her about resources I have found that are helping me with adjusting my own eating habits. No interest at all. I get it; she’s not ready.
Understand I do not do this with the zealotry of the born again; I am not that type of person. However, when she is complaining about limitations to clothing choices – she hates shopping in the plus size department – or pain in her knees/back/body in general, I offer the things that have helped me. I recognize her unwillingness to own her problems, though, and I recognize the limitations of influence and her readiness to hear the harder truths. The matter drops until the next time we’re hanging out and I’m eating a salad and drinking water and she’s having fully loaded pizza and drinking beers. No judgment, but I also grow weary of the whining and am not shy about calling her out on contradictory behavior in a kind and caring manner.
Apparently no one likes to be called out on contradictory behavior, especially by someone who up until recently always outweighed her by at least 20 lbs.
But unlike many other friendships, our relationship has weathered these storms. Last night she called me very upset about a first date experience. While I am sympathetic and sorry to hear it did not go well and left her feeling this upset, I was alarmed by the double standard she was employing based on her recent adoption of “beautiful at any size” empowerment.
No one I know is an outright fat shamer, or we would not be associating much at all. However, I judge no one too harshly for their preferences. The single and dating people I know – each of them has qualities he seeks out in dating partners and physical appearance does play into those choices. People in my tribe tend to be really honest about what is politically incorrect to admit, and I don’t think any of us should have to apologize for desiring a partner that meets our minimum standard requirements. Just don’t be an unnecessarily harsh dick about it when someone you meet falls short.
My friend met this guy through an online dating site and were both seeking a relationship partner. They had been talking and chatting a couple of weeks, had exchanged pictures, seemed to have a lot in common and got along really well. My friend is bright, accomplished, vivacious, and caring; she is a quality person worth knowing and gives her all when she involved with someone. Anyway, last night was their first date, and she says she could tell by his reaction to her appearance when he walked into the restaurant that he was turned off. They had dinner, but there was a lot more formality and distance to their in-person interaction than she perceived when they were talking and chatting online and on the phone. They parted after the meal and she called me shortly after getting home.
In her mind, her weight and appearance should matter less; he had never said a word about seeking “Barbie” or a “Victoria’s Secret model.” I called her out on those very bitter descriptions. Most reasonable men know that Barbie is made or plastic and VS models are less than 1% of the female population and probably not seeking an attorney working for the state of California. I could practially hear her waving her hand around dismissing my practical reply; point of fact, he didn’t openly state he wanted someone small. I rephrased it: you mean he did not say he wanted a woman who was less fat.
Yep, used the dreaded F word. I am a terrible friend.
Because this is an ongoing problem for me and all such “I am [insert wants to be a protected class of people here] hear me roar.” He was not interviewing her for an accounting job and rejecting her because she’s overweight. IF her weight was the issue – and we do not know for sure that it is – it is well within his right to have that preference. He’s an active, outdoorsy kind of guy that likes to hike and cycle and do all sorts of physical stuff. Probably he would like a height/weight proportional partner to share in such activities with him. The photo she has posted is a few years old; she looks similar but her face (and body) are both 40 lbs. fuller. That in itself is an issue for me, one we have discussed numerous times. If we are talking honesty and truth in advertising, she needs to update her profile and be a lot more realistic about who she is today. She’s still bright and funny and interesting, but she does not hike or cycle or even walk much at all anyone. “Too busy” she says to exercise or pursue a healthier diet. My average client fillability is 50 hours per week and I still make it to the gym nearly every day and have somehow learned to restrain my fork most of the time. Stop making excuses for your lifestyle choices.
Tough love girl was most definitely in the wheelhouse.
My friend is technically part of the BBW ranks now, and I am sorry to be the realist in her life pointing that out. She still thinks and has the same attractiveness preferences as she did when she was lighter, and I do not condemn her for that either. But I think her preference bias has great impact on her level of disappointment when the men she finds attractive do not reciprocate her interest. While in her mind it should not matter, reality is that it does matter. And the men she desires that would prefer a woman that is height/weight proportionate are not necessarily douchebags for having that preference. Unless they are unnecessarily harsh dicks about it, then all bets are off.
Her hereforeto unwillingness to update her profile to reflect present-day reality is telling about that issue as well. Intellectually she understands the disconnect. Emotionally she’s unwilling to accept responsibility for her choices.
Maybe I am the terrible friend to be practical and pragmatic when she was so upset. Perhaps I could have avoided expressing the obvious. But to trash a man who treated you nicely and politely during your time together because he did not seem attracted to you is just plain wrong. When I was single I was rejected more often than not, and yeah, it smarted. But then as now, I would always prefer a guy be honest about it than try to lead me on and fake it.
She agrees I am probably correct in my assessment, then complained that I don’t have her back. I do, but empowering delusions about the evils of the common man because he has his own attraction points for a dating partner is not in my life’s job description.
Now, as I write that, I recognize that when I met M, he was a reigning ultra marathon champion and I outweighed him (at that time 136 lbs. on a 5’11” frame) by at least 40 or 50 lbs. I was not grossly overweight, but I was not fit nor was I slender/skinny. At that time the diabetes had not yet manifested, so I was in pretty good overall health.
Time, marriage, stress, life – I’ve added more weight to my frame and so has he. M has never told me that I need to lose weight or even that I should, but he has known when I have been unhappy and my self-esteem in the toilet and quietly encouraged me in whatever effort I would put forth. He is delighted that I am as active and engaged as I am in my gym pursuits, and he compliments me lavishly (for M) on the evolving shape of my body. Does he like me better, love me more now that I’m in better physical condition? Hardly. But he’s far happier that I am healthier, more confident, more competent physically. While I do not really want to go hiking with him every weekend, I will enjoy it more when we do. Our interests and fitness pursuits are different, and we have long accepted and learned to celebrate and enjoy our differences as well as our commonalities.
I suppose that’s what bothers me most about the fat empowerment movement, its inherent demand that we not only accept obesity as a lifestyle choice but we embrace it and not hold it against those who choose to let it be a ruling priority in their life. Physically and emotionally – it’s unhealthy. Change is hard. I know it and live it every day. But enabling unhealthy choices is not the answer either. Demonizing people of any gender who have different preferences and priorities from your own is wrong as well. I hate to lose another friend to delusional craziness of the only right answer is her poor choices, but I also refuse to try and be someone I am not. We can agree to disagree, or she can grow tired of my pragmatism in the face of her complaints and distance herself. Time will tell.