If you think fat loss alone will make you happier, it won’t (thoughts on diet culture)
Two years ago, I went down the fat loss rabbit hole and over the course of a year and a half lost a bit of weight. I was never that “big” to begin with, but it was enough to go from a size that made me feel mostly invisible to one that garnered a lot of praise and comments, which I was unprepared for. It was like living in an alternate reality where people treated you better for an incredibly stupid reason.
The feedback didn’t just come from people who knew me. In fact, most of it came from strangers – namely women. A flight attendant made a comment about how fit I was. Random people at parties asked me for fitness advice before they even know what I did. People started treating me like an authority when I hadn’t actually learned anything new or presented anything different. I’d just eaten fewer calories and walked more for a sustained period of time.
While this was happening, all I could think was “This is SO fucked up.” It’s one thing to *know* that people treat you better if you fit into a certain box of the aesthetic ideal. It’s another to experience it. Like being let into an exclusive club and feeling like you’ve ended up there by mistake and shortly everyone will realize you don’t belong.
This is when I got into my head. At about this time, my career started to take off. I did the fishnets photoshoot. My Instagram doubled in followers. I made it into the top 10 for the Next Pilates Anytime Competition. I was invited on a bunch of podcasts. I started to wonder if weight loss was the only reason I’d been successful.
At first I was resentful. Then annoyed. Then a little scared. I started to wonder if I could sustain what I’d built and if for some reason my body changed again if it would all fall apart. I’ve come to realize while that this arguably influenced how people perceived me, it’s not why most of you are here and it certainly isn’t the only thing that built my business. 10 years of studying and teaching fitness + obsessively studying and refining my marketing did.
Did my copious amounts of privilege help? UNDENIABLY SO. Do I feel fucking weird about that? ABSOLUTELY. Do we need to change the landscape of how we view and treat people who don’t have thin/white/cisgender privilege? YES. It’s bullshit and I am so appreciative of all the people out there having this conversation knowing that they’ll get harassed simply, because they don’t fit an arbitrary aesthetic. Their work is beyond important
(And if you want to see the work of some of these incredible women that I’m referring to, I’d recommend checking out and following Lindy West, Roxane Gay, Amber Karnes, and Tess Holliday)
One more thing I gained in this experience.
Empathy for the beautiful, thin fitness chick who talked about her “struggle” with weight. I used to be the person who rolled her eyes when I saw these gorgeous women who went from being incredibly lean to slightly less lean, but still thin and beautiful talk about their struggle with body acceptance. I’d think “Psssssh, you look the same. People are still tripping over themselves to praise you and desperate to look like you. How can you be so vapid? Get over yourself.” Then I experienced a bit of it myself and realized what a mind fuck it is. Ya’ll this is a game where everyone loses and feels terrible (though some people lose more than others, because #privilege) and all I can say with confidence after this experience is that if it sucks for someone with my level of privilege, I can’t even imagine how rotten it feels for everyone else.
For the record, I think this conversation is nuanced and complicated. At the end of the day, I still believe in body autonomy. The choice to manipulate your body composition or stay exactly as you are is not a moral imperative. Discussing metabolism and fat loss doesn’t immediately equate to body shaming or diet culture. Neither choice makes you a better or worse person. What’s right for one individual won’t be right for another.
Does this shit come with a hornets nest of cultural and emotional baggage? Yep.
Might you experience new levels of privilege for doing it (and a mind fuck) along the way? Also, yes.
Is the answer that we ultimately work to change this fucked up culture instead of our bodies? I believe so.
Clearly, I don’t have any answers, so I’ll conclude on this note. If you think fat loss will make you happier, it won’t. If you think it’ll fix all of your insecurities, it won’t. In fact. it might even magnify them. At least that’s what happened to me, but I don’t regret it. I actually think I’m more empathetic than I was before, because I’ve seen another side of what it’s like to be in the industry. If anything it’s cemented my view that everyone is losing and the problem is the culture and not our bodies.
One more uncomfortable truth. I believe and advocate this for everyone else and yet I still care (arguably too much) about what I look like. I still do things for vanity. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t, but that’s not why I’m here and that’s why you don’t see me talk about this on a regular basis.
Like I said, it’s uncomfortable, and I wish I could scream self-acceptance from the rooftops, but I’m just not there. However, if you fill your life with people who love you for you, none of that shit matters nearly as much as you tell yourself it does. In fact, you might like me come to realize that the only person who cares is you and projecting an image is the least valuable thing you have to offer and that particular revelation is freeing.