Weight & Fat: Contradictions in Correctness

michelle-obamaI love the First Lady. I really do. But I read an interview in which she joins in doing something that I think creates an aspect of denial to the difficulty some of us endure in managing our weight. It’s a contradiction with roots in political correctness.

In an interview in Women’s Health magazine, Michelle Obama opened with this statement:

As women, we’re used to hearing about fitness in terms of inches and dress sizes. We may know better, but we’re up against near-constant reminders and pressures to look good and take shortcuts to get there.

The truth is, being a healthy woman isn’t about getting on a scale or measuring your waistline—and we can’t afford to think that way. Instead, we need to start focusing on what matters—on how we feel, and how we feel about ourselves.

This sort of statement is VERY common. It doesn’t matter what you weigh! What’s important is that you feel good about yourself! Forget that number on the scale! You’re not defined by a number! But Mrs. Obama goes on to talk about how she works out with weights and cardio every morning and how we should all “push ourselves a little harder at the gym.” Click here to read the article. When I read it, Women’s Health helpfully included a link to an article titled “15 Minutes to a Sexy Body.”

Essentially, it’s politically incorrect to admit that anyone is overweight or to say that weight matters. But this contradicts that OTHER national dialogue on our obesogenic culture and the impact of the obesity crisis on the health of our nation. The distinct difference is that the obesity crisis is usually discussed in the media in news reports. As news, it’s described in broad statistics, often accompanied by familiar images of fat people from the neck down, with the finger pointed at no one in particular.

The politically correct attitude is used in entertainment media and advertising. After all, offending consumers won’t sell anything. So a breakfast cereal runs a commercial where happy women stand on scales that display compliments instead of their weight. BUT another commercial for that same cereal recommends eating it twice a day for a few weeks to drop weight. Which is it? Just be happy and don’t worry about that number on the scale? Or work to lower that number? Either way, the idea is to sell cereal with one approach or the other, not bolster your self-image.

There’s a very persuasive mindset that’s been intensely promoted to women—the idea that if you love and accept yourself (and your fat body and your eating habits) that you’ll somehow make peace with food and you’ll lose weight. Or you won’t care about losing weight. It’s actually all quite nebulous and clearly aimed at political correctness. I see it as just the opposite. This “logic” assumes that you are fat because you hate yourself, you’re broken, and out of control and you won’t be “fixed” until you believe a mind trick and convince yourself you’re happy “just the way you are.” But women who turn to this are unhappy because they are fat. So how does this actually “fix” anything? It sells books and seminars because it’s designed to make people feel better about themselves but the results can only be temporary. This approach is based first on insulting and assigning a label to you (as self-loathing) and convincing you the answer is playing a mind trick on yourself. With wholly ineffectual “methods” like this, no wonder we are making little to no progress in taking control of our weight!

All this politically correct happy talk is a form of denial and it’s also unnecessary. We free ourselves from self-criticism when we separate our self-image and self-worth from this temporal condition of weight. Your weight is NOT who you are so why connect it to your self-worth? It’s an odd contradiction within a contradiction when you’re told to connect your happiness to an acceptance of your weight while also being told that your weight does not define you. Yeah, like WHAT???

Would you rather convince yourself you’re happy the way you are? Or would you like to lose some weight? Would losing weight make you feel genuinely good about yourself? Or would you rather look into the mirror and tell yourself you’re beautiful as you are until you sorta kinda believe it?

Many of us fail at losing weight because we buy into all the ineffectual methods that are marketed to us. We find ourselves trapped in cycles of failure that drive negative attitudes we use to direct blame inward. If you’re like me and you have a brain that loves to think about food and connects food to everything in your life, getting your weight under control is a tough job. Your adversary is no less than your own nature. No one does you any favors by telling you there’s some easy diet or quick results exercise program. Or that you’ll solve a lifelong weight problem by smiling into a mirror every day. It does not take accepting your body, it takes accepting your own behaviors and habits and working with them. Doing what it takes to start getting the weight off will change your thinking in a genuine way, not the least being the positive ways your body will respond physically.

Real change does not come from what you think and the deceptions we want to believe. Real change comes from what you do.


    • Holland Carney on January 20, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I like the position you take and the tone you use, a gentle, kind encouragement to stop blaming yourself, and still, take responsibility, more importantly, control of your health. Here I mean responsibility that fuels action, not responsibility that floods shame. In our culture, so often, “take responsibility” has come to mean “accept blame.”

    It’s a confusing hailstorm of messages we live in: love yourself, your curves are beautiful, get off your ass and exercise, eat a donut cheeseburger.

    Your core message that your self-worth isn’t your weight, that you have other attributes and qualities that define you is, at it’s core, so true. But I will have to side with the First Lady on the redefining beauty part. She epitomizes the idea of being defined by other qualities: intelligence, compassion, strength. Yet the media makes false icons of her arms. Is her strength of character based on muscle tone? If she were not First Lady, would she still be smokin hot, or just another slob who can’t fit in a size zero? (There’s a whole post somewhere about African American culture historically accepting a wider range of women’s body types, though I read that media culture is eroding that, as well.)

    I applaud her message because we need a mighty voice like hers to counter the advertising & media cacophony that only size zero stick figures are beautiful. That is how I see the message: not unlike yours: accept yourself, release blame and shame, feel & be beautiful, and take action toward a healthier, more sustainable body.

    I fear there is a dangerous false dichotomy in the notion that you cannot be beautiful and fat. If you, or someone you know, has ever been madly in love with someone who is overweight, it seems obvious that you can be beautiful, truly beautiful at whatever weight you are. And being beautiful at that weight doesn’t mean you should stay there, because of health and a host of other issues.

    Must we choose? Or can an overweight woman look in the mirror and see that yes, her self worth is defined by other things (work, school, character, personality, achievement, etc.) AND she is also beautiful, AND she has earned no shame AND she is taking responsibility (forget blame) for figuring out how to improve the health of her body?

    The “love your curves” party is not the enemy. Our common enemy is the airbrushed size zero model held before us as normal.

    Your blog is really, really good. Very topical and well written. Thank you for caring about people.

    1. First of all I want to say how EXACTLY RIGHT you are that “taking responsibility” in our culture has most definitely come to mean “accept blame” in the minds of many! I will need to qualify my own statements in the future but so many people would read them that way!

      I’ve actually tried to avoid jumping all the way into the discussion on the definitions of beauty. I tend to discuss aspects of it; there’s definitely some crossover to my message. The people who would read my book want to lose weight. They don’t want to surrender to the idea that it’s too difficult for them, maybe even impossible, though many go through periods when it feels like that, struggling through years and years of failure.

      I hold shame out as a reason for these cycles of failure that people can experience. The disgust with which our society views fat has created a paradigm that sends people off on weight loss attempts that will be wholly ineffectual—because they’re focused on perceived “causes” why people may be fat. We’re filled with self-loathing, we’re out of control addicts, we’re constantly self-medicating. It’s “what’s eating us” not what we’re eating. And we’ve bought into it!!

      I don’t believe that we can ever know any particular reason why any of us are fat for all or most of our lifetimes. It’s just the way we are. Plunk us down in the most obesogenic culture the world has ever known and every trigger in our bodies and brains will go into overdrive. Convince us it’s all about our own weaknesses and flaws and we’ll fight a never-ending battle forever.

      If someone is content to be large and has no health issues, it’s not for me to tell that person how to live. I wish them well. But if someone has been struggling and is overwhelmed with a need to feel in control of their body and their life, I hope I offer a fresh perspective. Realizing that the shame forced upon you has never been yours is a huge step toward recognizing your own truth and discovering how to use it.

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