Anatomy/Physiology / Body Image / Gender / media / sexuality education / Stress

How NOT to Talk About Weight Loss

Hey, SWT Friends, It’s Throw Back Thursday. This column originally ran in September of 2011. 

So, on a scale of 1-10, 1 being “not at all, I’d rather watch my spouse have sex with one of my parents” and 10 being “totally, I’d throw a puppy in front of a bus to have the chance,” how much do you want to talk to kids about sex?

The fact that you’re on this site, as opposed to say, The Family Research Council, might mean that you’re more comfortable with having the talk with children than others. But for many parents, it’s a real problem keeping their shit together while they do their best to explain the values they hope to instill and hope the kids don’t ask technical questions about Eiffel Towers.

But there is a chat even more arduous than the conversation about sex. A new survey indicates parents would rather discuss sex or drugs with their kids than being overweight. Fears of damaging their growing senses of self and propelling them towards an eating disorder stymie many folks from having very necessary, very helpful dialogues about serious, lifelong health concerns.

There are lots of helpful tools available for parents to teach healthy eating and exercise habits, especially in this age where childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in 4 decades. But the task of bringing it up is still a challenge. You don’t want to unnecessarily hurt feelings or associate weight with value as a person, and it’s important to emphasize that thinness is only one index of health.

And you’re trying to get this message across while surrounded in a sea of marketing and cultural norms that say being fat is just wrong or gross, a moral failing. You’re trying to stay steady for your kid as the tides whip you around with messages telling them their ambitions, their hopes for love, their expectations for career and very value as a being are directly connected to their body fat percentage.

Which brings me to this advertisement, brought to my attention by Sex with Timaree regular contributor, Dr. Martha Lee. It depicts a woman being fired (for her appearance) and then spiraling out of control in a series of weight-gain-related rages that cause her marital discord and an eventual collapse that lands her in the hospital. Her life is ruined, buried under her depression and actual weight. The key to her salvation and solution to all of her life’s problems? This weight loss place.

Now you have every right to be pissed at this ad for being, among other things: sexist and overly dramatic. Many have objected to it strongly. But others have argued that ads must appeal to existing emotion to sell products, based on things we already intrinsically believe, otherwise it wouldn’t be effective or provocative.

But in many ways it reminds me of another recent invented controversy of a dieting book for teen girls. People react immediately to these ideas, arguing that it’s fat-phobia and another tool of the patriarchy to keep women occupied with their internalized oppression.  And yes, fat phobia is real and yes, a lot of beauty standards are sexist as shit. But we still do need to have that chat about fat.

Recently, I posted about self esteem expert Jess Weiner having to cave on her be-proud-at-any-weight mantra to admit her health was in serious danger from carrying excess weight. She had to admit that part of loving herself was actually doing what was good for her body, not just coming to a place of self acceptance. And this is why I want to talk about reasonable discussions of body image.

  • We need to be able to honestly discuss the fact that we eat so we can do stuff well (not because we had a bad day and deserve a reward) and we need to move around regularly so our bodies work properly (not just to burn calories).
  • We need to be able to admit that getting in shape and losing weight can be the catalyst to a series of other major changes that make life way better because being healthy means more energy and confidence, in addition to social approval.
  • We need to agree that a fat person who works out regularly is healthier than a size 2 who can’t run a mile without stopping.
  • We have to acknowledge that while genetics play an important role in metabolism, body shape and fat distribution, that a healthy weight is entirely possible, no matter who you are.
  • We can all get on board with the notion that there is no one idea of a beautiful body and that it’s no more appropriate to talk shit on super thin people than it is to talk shit on fat people. Or anybody else!
  • We can love ourselves absolutely as we are and still have ambitions to do better.

A friend turned me on to this piece, the Ten Rules for Fat Girls, that includes so much awesome stuff about being positive and accepting of yourself, brushing off fat-phobia and making realistic choices when overweight. But the author is impeded in her awesomeness by her own reactiveness in her first rule, demanding the right to be completely unhealthy. She also cites the oft-used by heavily misunderstood “statistic” that the vast majority of long-term weight loss plans fail, rationalizing that if something is really, really hard, we probably ought to give up. We demand more of smokers, most of whom take several tries to quit.

So let’s be rational in our approach to this health issue, much as we should be towards sex or drugs. Talk to kids or yourself using the right paradigm and consider this a part of your life-long quest to live the best life you can, enjoying it to its greatest potential.

Questions? Comments? Violent reactions? Email sexwithtimaree@gmail.com or tweet @timaree_leigh See more at http://www.facebook.com/sexwithtimaree and http://tinyurl.com/swtpod

One thought on “How NOT to Talk About Weight Loss

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