“What an accomplishment.” I hear that from a lot of folks. “That’s really quite an accomplishment.” They’re talking about my weight loss. I don’t mean to be ungracious, but I want to deflect that notion for some reason. I don’t think of this as accomplishment. I think of it as a necessary project that I’ve completed. Like finally cleaning out the basement after letting it go for years. A necessary evil.
I made weight loss a primary focus in my life for about a year. I’ve elevated weight and health maintenance among my priorities since then. Lots of aspects of my life have taken a dip so that I could do this. I changed jobs, my house isn’t as clean, my husband is neglected in so many ways, I don’t see as much of family or friends. But I have a much healthier body. It doesn’t feel like an accomplishment, it feels like a trade-off.
I traded one kind of living for another. But I am not a more accomplished person for living differently. I’m simply healthier than I was before.
I can point to actual accomplishments in my life. Things I’ve done or fought for, for which I truly am proud. Most of the time when I was caught up in doing these things, I wasn’t taking very good care of my body. When I accomplished things, my body kind of dwindled through malnutrition and lack of exercise. Because I never developed any habits for maintaining my body, accomplishment went hand-in-hand with wasting health.
That’s why the popular tendency to view overweight people as lazy has always baffled me. When I see an overweight person, I see a workaholic. I see somebody so absorbed with what they do that they never get out of their chair, too driven to do more than dive for the nearest vending machine or fast food drive-in for sustenance.
My prejudice works both ways. When I see extraordinarily fit people, I think, “Haven’t you anything better to do?” I forget that it’s possible to think and plan while on a treadmill (you can even take notes, draw models, sketch plans) or an exercise bike. It never before occurred to me that long runs are a great time to solve problems big and small, sort out the day’s plans, catch up on the news, strategize the next meeting. Skinny people always looked pretty and empty-headed. And I really need to work on that prejudice, still. It’s not fair.
The sad fact is, the personal is political. Bodies make all sorts of impressions. We have an innate tendency to size one another up, draw immediate conclusions. We are visual beings, and with every glance we make our sense of things on a subliminal level. We assign character and value to every sort of choice a person makes in their presentation from shoe leather to hairpins. And then we’re so surprised to learn when Mr. Pretty Bleached Blonde has a brain, Mr. Tassle Loafers has a heart, and Ms. Grunge has a trust fund. We may try to overcome these conclusions with reason, but the impression comes first.
We hate that. When we’re heavy we hate watching those conclusions happen, knowing we will have to find a way over the top of them. We’ll have to work to make a different impression.
People will compliment you for losing weight. And when that happens, you may flinch. Try to remember that people don’t know what to say. We all know the personal is political, and that has stopped us from saying anything when clearly, not noticing is not the right thing to do, either. So when people know that you’ve lost a lot of weight, it may feel they’re congratulating you for joining a different team, one you have no intention of playing for.
But stop and think: they know, probably, that you had to make trade-offs. They know, probably, that it was important to you to lose weight, for whatever reasons. It may not be that they like you better small than large, but that they recognize you had to work hard to accomplish a goal you set for yourself. It’s not fair to assume that they see fitness as something special, unless they’re your doctor. Your doctor does want you fit. No doubt about that. Take a breath, and take the compliment. As hard as that might be for you.
About the bias against thinness (Hmm.. still looking for a link)