As the Christmas season descends upon us, it is impossible to escape the fat and food shaming that has become such a pervasive aspect of our culture that even the holidays are apparently not immune.
Oh, I guess I’ll eat this cookie, but I’m going to be so fat thanks to Christmas. I’m definitely going to have to start going to the gym in January.
My body and I have a complicated relationship. Frankly, it’s been kind of an asshat to me for most of my life. An inconsistent asshat, to boot. I’ve had various health issues since I was a youngster, including but not limited to sinuses that almost killed me at age five*; a cholecystectomy at age seventeen (they took out my gallbladder, for those who don’t feel like clicking that link); a neck that started with some shenanigans at age eighteen, and those shenanigans are still going strong more than a decade later**; and going blind in one eye at age twenty-three.
That’s just the handful of big ones that popped into my head right then. I’ve also enjoyed all kinds of other ailments that I will probably write about sometime down the line. With the impending holidays, you undoubtedly have plenty to look forward to in the way of your family members over-sharing their health issues, so I’ll spare you mine for the time being. We’ll reconvene sometime in the spring.
My medical history reads like the disjointed novel of an English major on mescaline.
Oh! I know! Let’s give her shingles in her mid-twenties! She’ll never see that coming! It’s perfect!
But the thing about my body is that its appearance largely belies its underlying mess. To just look at me, one would assume that I am in great health, and even that I am in shape. I appear so in shape, in fact, that one of my ex boyfriends pursued me on the erroneous assumption that I was in shape. Except he had mono when we started dating, so the fact that my stamina for physical activity at that time matched his was a bit misleading.
Oh man! I ran a whole block! That warrants watching Grey’s Anatomy, supine on the couch for the next nine hours!
Not so long ago, I wrote a post about how I have gained some weight in the past couple of years. As the holidays loom and everybody and their brother is foisting upon their friends, family, and coworkers giant vats of baked goods, I have been reflecting more on this weight gain. See, I know exactly how I gained weight and I know why. I am almost positive that this is true of most people who are carrying any extra weight. Most people – especially most women – are acutely, painfully aware of their precise weight at any given moment.
We like to judge people for the things they can control, things we think they should control. We are especially vitriolic about weight, and we are eminently nasty to women. Yes, there is an obesity epidemic. Yes, being massively overweight is a problem. Yes, we all would be happier and healthier and more productive if we were more active and less sedentary and filled our bodies with less garbage.
That is all irrefutably factual, but that’s not the point. The point is that fat-shaming and food avoidance has become some deeply ingrained into our Western culture that we – especially as women – have begun doing the hard work of degradation all on our own. No need to have mean girls or a boyfriend or a trainer or a doctor or media or anyone else tell us how disgusting we are because we’ll do it ourselves.
I do not have a daughter or even nieces to worry about undervaluing themselves. But I do have three nephews, all of whom will likely date girls at some time or another in their lives. One of them has already started. And when I consider the nearly fifteen years he has spent listening to his mother and his aunts bemoan their imperfect bodies and debase themselves for being human, it makes my (splotchy, pasty) skin crawl. He is a smart kid, and I am certain that he is kind to the girls he dates. Still, I cannot help but wonder if he has internalized that it is common and even normal for women to discredit all the wonderful aspects of themselves in favor of indulging this particularly abhorrent brand of self-loathing.
One of my goals for the upcoming year is to get into better shape. But it has everything to do with the aches and pains of my body, and the fact that I am too cheap to buy a whole new wardrobe to accommodate this extra fifteen pounds, and the desire to feel more comfortable in my own skin. It has to do with trying to combat some of the depression that is a byproduct of my predilection for shucking my clothing the moment I arrive home from work and literally closing the curtains on the world for the next thirteen to sixty hours. I have very deliberately decided that part of this attempt to become more active will include pushing myself outside my comfort zone, but that I will studiously avoid being harsh or mean to myself. And when a cookie and/or a pizza happens to cross my path, far be it from me to turn down such a glorious gift.
* Who knew that was even a thing?! It is quite possibly the nerdiest, most asinine reason I can think of for someone to be hospitalized for two weeks.
** More specifically, spasmodic torticollis in my sternocleidomastoid. I like to use that phrase to pick up strangers in bars. It’s especially effective in conjunction with letting people touch the bizarrely erect muscle band in my neck, and referring to it as my erect muscle band.