Using My Words: The Other, Other Side of the Great Weight Debate
Part the First
Let me open by saying that I really like the concept of Health At Any Size, and that people are finally saying, “Screw you, ridiculous cultural norms, I’m this size and I’m happy and this is me and it’s fine.”
Let me also state that I realize that, at times, some of what I talk about here — particularly about my particular weight-loss goals — might appear to conflict with that concept, and might even lead to some people feeling bad about themselves sometimes.
I try to choose my phrasing carefully, and I try to frame my thoughts on the topic in “I language,” since they’re specific to me — but if some of what I say comes across as hurtful, I apologize, and I will work harder to make sure my language conveys what it’s supposed to convey and doesn’t inadvertently convey hurtful messages. Nobody needs that crap.
It’s a fact that there are people who are bigger than me who ride and dance better than I do (all the people bigger than I am who out-rode me on this year’s Death March and the amazing Ragen Chastain come to mind!).
It’s a fact that merely losing weight won’t automagically improve my performance or anyone else’s in any discipline.
Practice improves performance; cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength gains improve performance; skills acquisition improves performance.
Weight loss, meanwhile, is sometimes incidental to the process that lead to gains in athletic disciplines (including ballet, which is both a sport and an art), but it’s not the end-all be all. In cycling, it can improve weight-to-strength ratio; in ballet, it reduces joint strain and can make some movements easier to do.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be a powerful cyclist or a beautiful dancer just because you’re bigger than some (or even all!) of your peers.
Likewise, too much weight loss will make you weaker on the bike and more prone to ballet injuries. Bike-wise, people with a lot of muscle mass can sometimes eke out some gains on the climbs by losing a little muscle, but beyond that, all you’re doing is taking ammo out of your own aresenal. In ballet, fatigue — which can result from undereating — is a huge contributor to injury.
Likewise, if your body is cannabilizing itself to stay alive, you aren’t going to be a fierce rider or a strong and graceful dancer for long. This is why the weights of pro bike racers vary pretty widely across the course of the year (and why coaches of amateur racers say it’s okay to gain a bit of weight during the off-season); this is also one of the contributors to career-ending injuries in ballet.
That said, I don’t want to be the size I am now — and I think that’s okay, too. I don’t feel guilty or ashamed or whatever, it’s just not how I envision my own body. I’m working on putting my body back together the way I like it, and I’m succeeding, and I’m pretty happy about that, and I enjoy talking about my process. I just want to do it in ways that don’t hurt people’s feelings.
So, basically, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m pro-Health At Any Size, which includes being pro-supporting people who want to be smaller (or bigger) for healthy reasons (that is, reasons that don’t stem from shame or guilt). I’m totally anti-fat shaming, because fat shaming is both wrong and dumb.
Shame is an ineffective “tool” that does harm and does not do good. I don’t think real, long-lasting change ever comes from feeling ashamed. Nor do I think “real, long-lasting change” should be synonymous with “weight loss.”
“Real, long-lasting change” should mean moving from being unhappy to being less unhappy to being happy to being ZOMG REALLY HAPPY! Everyone deserves to roll that way, no matter what size they are or whether they want to be a different size. “Real, long-lasting change” should mean a life spent being the best you that you can be, social norms be damned — and that definitely doesn’t have to mean being the smallest you that you can be.
So, good people of the Innertubes, here’s my question:
What is the best way for people like me to talk about our journeys without contributing to the pain of others? When I talk about my weight-loss process, am I succeeding in doing so in ways that don’t sound judgmental?
And here’s one for myself, for reflection:
Am I in fact succeeding in doing what I’m doing in spite of, and not because of our unhealthy cultural relationship with weight and fat and all that jazz?
That’s one I’m going to have to think about. A lot.
Part the Second
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and I will do so at greater length later. I feel like now’s a good time to touch on it, though.
In light of a lot of the hard science out there, I’m inclined to say that my success in losing the weight I’ve gained isn’t all, or even mostly, the result of hard work and dedication.
There’s sound reason to believe that a good part of it is the result of genetics and the fact that I was a skinny kid and a skinny teenager and a skinny young adult for the vast majority of my life — not just average, skinny.
Sure, will and effort have a role, here — but part of the reason that my effort succeeds is that it’s easier for me. In short, I have a genetic and experiential head start in the race. It would not be fair for me to look at my own journey, my own success, and say, “You people should all be able to do this just as easily as I have.” (Feel free to imagine my Curmudgeonly Voice if you’ve heard me doing my Curmudgeon Impression.)
That would be both untrue and unfair. Moreover, it misses the point. People can be bigger than me and still be healthy. People can be less healthy than I am and more happy. People can be skinnier than I am and much, much less happy.
People can be any kind of size and be happier and healthier than I am — and the goal should be, first and foremost, to be happy. We are built for joy, and maximizing joy is probably the best thing we can do for the world.