I just got back from an early morning run. I hulled my ass as fast as my smoker lung and the 165 pounds allowed me to. I clocked in at a 10 minute/mile run. That’s 150 calories, according to the app MAP MY RUN anyway. I enjoyed listening to the sound of my heaving breath, the sound of my footsteps and the scenery of herons perching and flying off around the small make. The temperature was perfect. I tell myself that no matter what, this was a good practice for my mental health. That it’s the most important thing, and that losing weight was an extraneous thing.
I mean, I tell myself that and I think it’s partially true. But sometimes, I become much more fixated on losing weight–making exercising feel more like a burden and compulsion, rather than a necessary self-care routine. I suppose that losing weight is part of self-care, but I know I have the wrong attitude about it. It feels like it’s less about being healthy or confidence building, but more like a self-harming kind of practice in terms doing it out of some form self-hatred and punishment. I feel good about sweating because sometimes I think I’m somehow ridding myself of sins and becoming purer in the eyes of God (and this attitude itself is a sin according to my religion, because it comes from a place of pride, thinking that I can redeem myself instead of relying and trusting on my Lord and Savior—anyways, this is a topic for another day).
I wonder what triggered this sudden onslaught of (abnormally high amount) self-hatred and obsession with my body today. Maybe it was the lack of sleep thus intensifying my usual neuroticism. Maybe it’s the stress. But I have a sneaking suspicion that it has to do with seeing pictures of a friend’s new girlfriend. I saw that she was very thin and well proportioned and attractive–and my best girlfriend remarked that she looked like the type of Asian-American model that White people really like. Seeing a picture of her made me feel inferior, especially since I once competed for the affection and attention of my guy friend.
Stepping into the shower after the run, I began thinking why I had felt inferior and especially insecure. I worried that my motivation for exercise will change into a futile kind of mental competition and that it will contribute only to my self-hatred.
I want to stress that I do not at all resent or blame the girl’s fault for being thin and making me feel insecure. But I also want to say that I do not resent my guy friend for dating her (and having a history of only dating very small women). I do not resent them because we have all been programmed to consciously or sub-consciously associate bodies (especially and mostly female bodies) with social ranks. And when I talk about social ranks, I mean MONEY. ECONOMICS. (capitalism capitalism capitalism, etc). And yes, I’m aware that this is pretty ugly and uncomfortable topic. Bodies and Money, you know?
When I was in college, I had a friend who struggled with eating disorder and body dysmorphia. She had taken a medical leave but she was afraid to come back to school because she had gained back her weight. I admired her straightforwardness and sincerity when she said “I’m so scared that people won’t like me anymore. That I would lose my friends.”
At the time, I dismissed her very quickly. I tell her that such friends wouldn’t be friends anyway. I try to comfort her. But sometimes, comforting someone can feel dismissive of their concerns and pain.
But it makes sense. We all need and crave validation. When you’re young, you don’t understand what kind of validations are healthy and which kind if toxic. Whether it’s from Tinder or the loving support of friends and family. Having social validation often translates to higher self-esteem (at least temporarily so), having more “social capital”, which translates to power, which translates to a higher degree of power from being judged or looked down upon. It means having safety nets. Validation is everything—especially if you have feel already broken on the inside, and feel undeserving of love and compassion.
I mean, there’s a reason why Jane Austen is so fucking relevant today, isn’t it? Marriage and courtship is completely tied to anxieties about wealth.
Having an “ideal body” (as defined by mainstream celebrity culture) means attracting more partners. It means more options. It means winning the 8 seconds of the so-called first impression. Studies after studies have shown that having that thinness equals more economic mobility. Being deemed thin and attractive (and the perception of socialized attractiveness is closely associated with thinness) means higher-income. It means having a better chance of being a “trophy wife” more or less. It means better job opportunities. It also means that people are more likely to be nice to you. I remember this one time in second grade that a classmate got bullied by the teacher for being fat and eating the super-sized version of Lunchables. I saw the teacher practically shouting at her and telling her that it’s unacceptable for someone as fat as she is to be eating such fattening and unhealthy food. I understand the teacher’s intention to try and get the kid to eat healthier, but she was being really tactless and mean. There were a million ways she could’ve gone about it–like confronting her parents (who by the way, may or may not have had the money or time to prepare a better meal for their kid). But being thin also means people will think you are somehow smarter than fatter people. Your opinions are more likely to be heard.
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT IS ACTUALLY STOPPING THIS CONVERSATION FROM GOING FURTHER? BLAMING and ACCUSING PEOPLE of BEING SHALLOW, FOR EITHER CHOOSING THIN PARTNERS OR FOR WANTING A THINNER BODY.
We are porous individuals. Our identities and life narrative are dictated by the connections and the relationships we form with the people we love, the people we hate, and the world at large. When you think that someone is being shallow, you place the burden of such flaw on the individual. I think that it is the responsibility of individuals, certainly, to be very aware of these qualities, but as we know, that simple awareness doesn’t always translate into erasing years and years of societal programming and the continuous bombardment of it. It is an enormous effort. But we don’t have to do it alone. We can change the tide on this—furthering this conversation until we reach the goal of ending the commodification of human beings. Of trying to end the consumeristic model of how we relate to others. That’s why a lot of what I’m saying is a reminder, that what I am writing is repeating things you probably have read before. But these conversations are necessary and must be on-going
To Be Continued.