It’s been a long time coming, my personal prohibition against talking to people about food, diet, weight loss or gain–yours, mine, or someone else’s. Several years ago, in the early days of the blog, I wrote, “‘You’ve lost weight, you look great!’ isn’t a compliment.” I outlined a bunch of reasons, from the implicit insinuation that you used to look “not so great” to the association of losing weight and getting thinner with looking better to the reinforcement of the idea that it’s okay to police other people’s bodies.
I still believe all that, and along the way I’ve added a deeply aspirational commitment to body neutrality to the mix. It’s not only because loving my body is not a likely scenario for me, but also because, as I said in my post about body neutrality, “when I’m neutral I’m not passing judgement either way. It just is.”
So I’ve been pretty committed to cultivating a non-judgmental stance towards body/weight and food choice. And I’m realizing that it’s almost impossible to be non-judgmental and at the same time congratulate people on weight loss and “good” food choices. Praise about either makes it seem as if we’re keeping an eye on how the people around us look and monitoring their food choices.
But sometimes other people invite that kind of thing, right? They’re vocally and publicly trying to lose weight (maybe even keeping a blog about it) or make the “right” food choices (maybe even sharing their choices on social media). In those cases, is it okay to jump in and tell them how great they are?
I feel like I’m in a minority, but I want to say “no.” It’s still not okay because it perpetuates two ideas that I just can’t abide. First, it perpetuates the pernicious idea that we should associate weight loss with looking better. This is something that is drilled into our psyches to such a degree that I can already hear some people saying, “but doesn’t losing weight make people look better?” or “I know I would look better if I lost weight.”
People, that’s a social ideology that we’ve been indoctrinated into through years of conditioning. Thin, lean bodies are still the dominant aesthetic ideal in this part of the world. And that ideal is as harmful and oppressive as ever.
Not only don’t I want to applaud my friends for their weight loss efforts–and any friend of mine will tell you I really offer no comment on their bodies. I hardly even notice, to be quite honest. A co-worker of mine told me last week that she’s 7 months pregnant and I didn’t even notice she had a bump until she pointed it out.
Now, what about food? I like talking about good food that you or I enjoyed, sharing recipes, and trying new things. Also, I’m vegan (for ethical reasons), so if someone wants to engage me a conversation about why I choose to live a vegan lifestyle, I’m there. So it’s not that I will never talk about food.
But I do not talk about what I eat in relation to diet, weight loss, food restriction, and so forth. Awhile back I made the mistake of suggesting on the blog that I might experiment with sugar elimination. It was a mistake for all sorts of reasons and it opened me up to attack. Why? Because a feminist fitness blog has got to be the last place you expect to hear about food restriction or elimination, or any idea that hints of diet.
This came up in relation to the book Sam and I wrote (coming in Fall/Winter 2017). The publisher has mentioned a few times that they want me to include some detail about my food choices. But this feels seriously out of keeping with my values around this issue.
Not only that, I have come to see that when people talk about their diets as if following a specific way of eating is somehow virtuous, that attitude of self-righteousness annoys me. I’m probably not alone in that. Also, don’t we have better things to talk about than the fact that we ate a slice of pizza last night (gasp!) or that we declined a slice of key lime pie (so virtuous and strong!)?
Back when I was a graduate student, I spent a disproportionate amount of my time talking and thinking about diet, weight loss, weight gain, eating and cheating. I don’t know how I ever got my dissertation written considering how I obsessed about these things. And now I feel as if I’ve had my fill of it.
So if you want to talk about your diet or those pounds you want to lose, you’ll have to talk to someone else because I have chosen to “zip it” when those topics come up.
What about you? Do you engage in these conversations at all? Reluctantly? With relish?