I have gained weight of late. I am bigger now than I have been in perhaps a year. It’s not a huge change – most of my friends can’t notice the difference. But I notice it, and I don’t love it. It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling, when my jeans are tight and my favorite outfits don’t look the way they usually do. And it’s frustrating to know that just a few months ago – three, six, nine – I was slimmer than I am now. Because the slimmer I am, the better.
A few weeks ago, my roommate’s mother came to visit us. I hadn’t seen her since the last time she was in town, in April. During her April visit, as we walked to dinner, she asked me, seemingly concerned, if I had lost weight lately. I said that I hadn’t been trying to lose weight and that if I had lost any, I hadn’t noticed. On her most recent visit, the same woman noted that I looked really healthy, and that last time she had seen me, she had been worried about me.
What she was really saying was that she had noticed my recent weight gain. And she thought I looked better with a few extra pounds on my frame than I did in April, when I was the slimmest I’ve been in quite some time.
I mulled over her comment for a few days. It was hard to wrap my head around the concept that I looked better after gaining some weight than I did before. Because slimmer is better.
Slimmer is better. That’s the way we think about weight. Slimmer is better, and no matter how slim you get, you can always go further. You can always drop one more dress size. You can always lose one more pound. You can always look better, hotter, sexier, and you will, when you are skinnier than you are right now.
Except we know that’s not true. We know there is a limit to how much weight one can lose without compromising one’s health. And we know there is a point at which skinny starts to look bad – it’s the point at which it becomes and looks unhealthy. Even so, the doctrine of female beauty states that you can always do more be attractive. You can always exercise more and buy more makeup. You can never do enough. You can never be enough.
It had never occurred to me that I looked better after gaining weight than I did beforehand. The idea was totally foreign to me. Despite the fact that I spend my days thinking about, writing about and pushing back against the doctrine of female beauty, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around this concept, because it runs totally counter to the ideas that women are fed every day of our lives.
When I was about seventeen, during my freshman year of college, I wanted to lose a few pounds. So I emailed the campus nutritionist, who I had seen a few times before, to ask her advice on how to do it safely. Should I exercise more? How many times a week? Should I eat different foods? How much of each food group? She emailed me back that I could make those kinds of adjustments if I wanted to. And then she said something I’ll never forget (though I will have to paraphrase it, because the email has long since disappeared). She said, “just to challenge your thinking, it’s possible that if you are eating a balanced diet and exercising several times a week, you are already at your ideal weight. To lose any more would be fighting nature.”
That did challenge my thinking. A lot. The idea that my current weight was not just acceptable, but ideal – ideal, perfect, just what it was meant to be – was completely alien. The possibility that I was already at my ideal weight, that it wasn’t five pounds or half a dress size or an extra weekly workout away, had never occurred to me. That idea still challenges my thinking. On those days when I look in the mirror and take for granted that I need to lose a few pounds to reach my ideal weight, I have to remind myself of what that nutritionist told me. In a culture where women are told that they can always lose more weight, the idea that this weight right now is ideal, is a very challenging one indeed.
I have gained weight of late. I am bigger now than I have been in perhaps a year. But I eat a balanced diet and I exercise several times a week. This is what my ideal looks like.