Thoughts on (gaining) weight and diet culture

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October 27, 2019 by Cláudia

This is a story on how I’ve become much healthier, much happier, much stronger and much heavier. And how because of it, I’ve been made to feel insecure about my body (for the first time).

Although my teenage years were really tough, even in my most insecure times, I had always felt confident in my body. I’ve naturally had insecurities and I’ve compared myself to others, as I am a human being, and I don’t necessarily love every single part of my body, but overall I’d say I’ve always had a positive image of my body (and my weight). This is something that I have a lot of gratitude for, especially since our capitalist society is always telling us (humans in general and women in particular) that we are not perfect and valuable just the way we are.

Luckily, growing up I was not obsessed with my weight, I’ve never done a diet and whenever I gained weight because of natural fluctuation, it genuinely wouldn’t bother me.

On the contrary, while I had a healthy(ish) relationship with my body, I did not have a healthy relationship with food. As I’ve discussed before, I struggled with anxiety, depression and panic attacks for all of my teenage years. Because of that, my body would not tolerate food well – especially during anxiety peaks, it was a real struggle to hold down food. My stomach would tie into a knot, I would hardly ever feel hungry, it was physically uncomfortable to force myself to eat and if I forced myself too much I would vomit.

For a while, I thought I might have an eating disorder, but something was not adding up because I did not have body dysmorphia and I genuinely wanted to eat. My body was just so tense all the time that it wouldn’t allow me to.

When I started getting the psychiatric treatment that I needed, and my anxiety toned down to manageable levels, my eating habits improved immensely. I started to enjoy eating and I became capable of eating more often and in bigger quantities. I started to enjoy eating so much that there were times in which I was definitely overeating. But I didn’t care – I was just so happy that I felt healthier and happier overall. I felt the happiest that I had ever felt – confident, strong and proud. There was this new feeling that was unknown to me. The feeling of having a healthier body and mind.

Inevitably, I started gaining weight. This did not bother me at all because I always felt like my body was not healthy before and that my weight was not right for my body type. So it just felt like my body was readjusting to the new fuel it was being fed. And my body was happy to do so.

It was a very gradual yet very noticeable weight gain. And even though when I looked at my body I viewed it as a very healthy and comfortable body (it felt like my body in a way that it had never felt before), the response that I’ve got has put a strain on my self-confidence and on my unwavering positive body image.

Nothing very drastic happened, but some “subtle” changes have become very noticeable. While I used to get compliments on my body and people “envying” it, that has completely ceased. Seriously. In the past 5 years, I heard 0 compliments on my appearance (excluding from a partner). This may seem very shallow, but it was just an implicit message that society didn’t find my physical appearance attractive or worthy of being praised anymore.

But most of all, I started hearing unsolicited comments about my weight gain all. the. time. Whenever I would run into people that knew me before, they would often comment on it. And it was abundantly clear that it was not a compliment but a surprise to them, even with a hinge of pity. If I answered that I started enjoying food more and so I gained some weight, people immediately interpreted as me needing help and would start giving me nutritional advice or explaining their workout routines. And when I started being clear that I was not looking to lose weight, people would still sometimes give advice regardless, as if I should reconsider. So many people have commented on my weight gain that at some point I started expecting it when I met someone I hadn’t seen for a while. With varying degrees of (un)politeness, I’ve heard comments about my weight gain from close family members, distant family, former friends, estheticians, doctors, neighbours and many others that I could not keep track anymore.

Look at your hips! You need to work out more!

Oh my god, what happened?

You look so fat!

You used to have such a beautiful body.

I started dealing with this type of microagressions on a regular basis that implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) let me know that people didn’t think this was a change for the better. So naturally, it has taken a toll on my self-confidence. Swimwear and summer clothes have become something I hesitate about. I started sucking in my belly for pictures. I started wearing baggy tops. I don’t always love my body when I look at it in the mirror.

There is a huge disconnection between the way I feel about my new body – super proud and healthy – and the way the social world started to treat me – like I had slacked off and that I was suddenly less valuable than I was before. I felt so empowered for taking back control over my body that I wanted to receive compliments on how I was looking now. I wanted people to notice that now I had a healthy body that I loved more than ever. Yet, they never came. I got the opposite of what I feel like I deserve. People wanted me to go back to when I was less heavy yet I sometimes would only be able to keep liquids in my stomach. If people did not start to treat me differently, it wouldn’t even cross my mind that there was something that was worse than before.

And this is the point of my story. People were (are) advising me to go back to the most miserable time of my life just because I was skinnier. (Most) people didn’t even have bad intentions. They genuinely thought I needed help and that I would be better off. Somehow we’ve associated fatter with worse and skinnier (to a point) with better, so they thought I was worse than before. And wanted to help me to get back to it despite my mental health. Clearly, the most important thing is the body weight and it’s become increasingly obvious that health is not a genuine concern when it comes to judging people’s weight.

Ultimately, my experience was pretty mild. My body weight is still on a threshold that society considers appropriate, even if not valuable anymore. I deal mostly with people who comment on how my body has changed and people who didn’t know me before hardly ever comment on anything about my weight (although some have!). I can only imagine how much worse it is for body types that are no longer in this threshold.

In a nutshell, this has also been a learning experience. Even though society does not love my body, I do. I’m proud and I’m healthy. I am the strongest I’ve ever been both physically and mentally. I do not need to change my body. I am on my way to happy.

Deep breath. My body is strong. My body is healthy. My body is right just the way it is. No one needs to love my body other than me.

 

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