We spend a lot of time on the blog talking about body positivity and self-acceptance. But sometimes we also talk about weight loss. Whether it be for performance reasons, as I’ve discussed (with some skepticism that it makes it “okay” to have it as a goal) and as Samantha thinks about re. her cycling or to get the blood pressure in check, as Natalie has done, there are reasons other than normative femininity to lose weight.
But some people think that as a feminist blog, we should never ever talk about weight loss as something to aim for. Weight loss is associated the the pressure to be thin, oppressive norms, and a generally negative opinion of fat, fat bodies, and fat people. I
Not only that, but we have always taken a strong anti-diet position on the blog. Diets don’t work. The staggering statistics in support of their inefficacy speak for themselves. Almost everyone who successfully loses weight with restrictive dieting gains most (often more) of it back over time. Sometimes it takes a few years, sometimes just a few weeks. It depends on the method — fad diets and highly restrictive approaches to weight loss have the worst outcomes.
And if diets don’t work, why are doctors always pushing us to lose weight anyway? They give all sorts of unsolicited advice, making body weight monitoring a regular part of ongoing medical care even for people who aren’t having any health issues at all.
We reject the whole BMI thing. And both Sam and I promote the idea of finding activities you enjoy and getting out and doing them, no matter what your size and without having weight loss as a focal point.
We care about metabolic health, and are more likely to encourage everyone to eat more, not less! In fact, I’m not sure we have any posts that encourage people to eat less.
We’ve written about all of this and more. And yet sometimes we talk about weight loss. And a few people have let us know that it disturbs them. That it indicates to them that we’re not “feminist enough.”
I’m not big on defending myself as a feminist, either to anti-feminists or to other feminists. But what I want to say here is that Sam and I aren’t just feminists. We’re actually feminist philosophers.
Now, not all feminist philosophers believe exactly the same things. But one of the things that makes us fairly compatible is that we’re both fairly moderate and open to other ways of seeing things. This means that on our Facebook page, for example, we’ll sometimes post content that we don’t agree with,. We might do that just because it makes an interesting point worthy of consideration OR because it’s clearly getting something wrong in an interesting way.
But the real question for me when we post about weight loss, at least where feminism is concerned, is: are their any legitimate reasons for wanting to lose weight, reasons that have nothing to do with hating our bodies, trying to fit normative ideals, or even worse, hating and punishing ourselves.
And I think the answer to that is pretty clearly “yes.”
I think we’re right to be skeptical about medical reasons even though in some cases it could make a difference. The fact is, so does getting active and developing healthy eating habits. Weight loss could be a by-product of that, but setting it as a primary goal is probably going to be self-defeating anyway.
Then there are the performance reasons that athletes obsess about. I blogged about racing weight not too long ago. And Sam has talked about wanting to weigh less so she can fly up hills more quickly. In my post, I worried that after a couple of years of liberating myself from weight loss as a goal, aiming for “racing weight” or any kind of weight-related performance improvement could take me back to old bad habits associated with dieting: poor body image, weight obsession, worrying about food all the time, berating myself for eating.
I also worried that you can dress it up anyway you like, but aiming for weight loss for whatever reason is going to have the same results. Wanting to perform better doesn’t mean your weight loss is going to be any more lasting than if you did it for other reasons. Athletes don’t even expect to maintain their race weight or the weight they will compete at on game day through the entire year. It’s seasonal.
So I guess I have my worries about that too. Yes, we can have non-body-hating reasons to want to lose weight. And in the end, I think those reasons can be consistent with feminist ideals. But having different reasons doesn’t change the facts about sustainable weight loss.
Sam has blogged about weight loss unicorns before. They’re the people, and we all know some of them, who lose weight and keep it off. They’re unicorns because they are rare.
And even if someone has reasons for wanting to lose weight that are consistent with feminism, I myself avoid entering into any conversation with anyone where my expected role is to praise them for their weight loss efforts. I pretty much never do that because, as I blogged about here, I do not believe “You’ve lost weight, you look great” is a compliment in polite society. Rather, it bespeaks a kind of body policing. It’s really hard to be explicit about noticing someone’s weight loss (or gain) and not be engaged in body policing.
Weight loss and dieting have long been considered as oppressive tools, contrary to the liberatory goals of feminism. Besides blogging about it a lot I’ve also done a bit of philosophical work on the topic. For me, I know weight loss is a dangerous goal. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why some people might want to lose a few pounds for reasons that are consistent with the aims of feminism, among which, of course, are the freedom to make our own choices without being condemned for them.