By Liz Massey, Jan. 29, 2015.
As I’ve been doing research for the “Building a Body Beautiful” series in Echo, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to look at what I had to say one of the last times I wrote in this magazine about matters pertaining to my own body. I had to ask Echo’s archivists to reach all the way back to June 2005, when I wrote a column addressing my struggles with my weight, entitled “My Big Fat Self-Acceptance.”
When I wrote the piece, I weighed more than 210 pounds (on a five-foot-seven frame) and was finally reaching some peace with the fact that, despite trying to eat healthfully and exercise diligently, I had been overweight for some time (about seven years at that point) and fully expected to remain at that size indefinitely. I didn’t really understand at that point how I could be so health conscious and still be overweight, although I realized that the metabolic condition that had kicked off my monumental weight gain at the beginning of this period probably played a role in keeping me pudgy.
It shocked me when I re-read the essay earlier this month when I realized how little has changed in our culture related to weight. Lesbians are still stigmatized if they are overweight (even within segments of our own community), fat people in general are considered fair game for stereotyping and belittling, and despite the weight of up to two-thirds of the American population registering above the so-called normal range, our society continues to value thinness as an end unto itself.
What had changed over the past decade, however, was me. I began a 60-pound weight loss journey in 2006, which profoundly altered my view of myself and my body. I have beaten the odds stacked against those who attempt to lose weight, to some degree, and maintained about two-thirds of my original loss.
But my smaller body has not been a cure-all. While the weight loss has helped me do things physically that I wanted to be able to do (like exercise without pain from creaky joints), focusing on weight as the sole arbiter of my success created an antagonistic relationship between my body’s needs and desires and my supposed “willpower.” Paying attention to what I ate
made me more mindful of the content and size of my meals, but I occasionally lost touch with my body’s natural signals and would have to stop and ask myself if I was eating (or not eating) because I was hungry (or full), or if I was doing whatever I was doing simply so I could fill out my food journal and bask in the satisfaction of meeting my “goal” for the day.
Although it has often seemed like a mixed blessing, my weight loss journey over the past 10 years has taught me a number of useful things.
1. I am far more motivated by food or fitness goals than I am about reaching a target weight.
The first two types of goals give me new things to look forward to – a new trail to hike or a healthy new dish to try. Weight goals are just a numbers on a scale to me.
2. Being slightly fat has its advantages.
Researchers are finding that those who fall just on the heavy side of “normal” actually live longer than normal-weight or extra-skinny people. Plus, not looking like a supermodel also can make you more approachable and relatable.
3. Self-confidence is what really drives sex appeal.
Some of the most attractive people I know are persons of substance who rock their clothes and revel in the upsides of their bigger bodies.
4. I treat my body better when I’m kind and forgiving to it.
A lot of traditional diet/fitness messaging relies on people hating the current state of their body. But I find I have fewer episodes of chucking caution to the winds and overindulging when I accept my size and don’t dwell on lapses in nutritional judgment.
LGBT people should pay attention to how weight is discussed in our culture, because many of the harshest approaches to weight change have an uncomfortable parallel with right-wing approaches to restricting same-sex desires. In both cases, taking a punitive approach to “policing” a natural body function does far more harm than good.
Linda Bacon, a nutrition/exercise science researcher and the author of “Health at Every Size,” has written that “maintaining the right weight for you is about respecting your hunger and trusting your body to guide you in doing what’s best.”
Most of us who have been out of the closet for a while can relate to this. We have learned to tune out society’s disapproval, to respect our desire for same-gender intimacy, and to trust our body, mind and spirit to tell us what’s best for us in terms of finding companionship.