Weight...This One is For the Girls
My mum came to visit me the other day. She lives five
hours drive away so we don't see each other as often
as we'd like. These past few weeks, I have had stomach
problems and have been unable to eat much in one go.
As a result, I've lost a lot of weight. After the usual
hug and kiss hello, she stood back and looked at me.
"Look at you," she said, "You're losing so much weight!
You're fading away!" At first, I felt hurt, but then
I looked at her and realised that the comment was meant
as a compliment.
In my mind, I can hear her exact words and see her
proud eyes clearly even now. I wonder at these words.
Why is it considered a compliment for me to be "fading
away?" Is "fading away" really such a desirable thing
for me to do? Why? I'm not simply coming down on my
mum. She meant no ill. But it has occurred to me that
whenever I see relatives that I haven't seen in a while,
their first reaction after the usual hug and kiss is
to step back and make some comment about how my appearance
is faring since the last time I saw them. Typically,
these comments relate to my weight (or lack thereof)
and my age, and to compare these qualities to how they
were the last time I saw them. I've also noticed something
else -- my brother doesn't receive this scrutiny. They
ask him, "How is school?" "Have you got a job?" and
things like that. Never "you've lost weight," or "I'll
have to fatten you up," or "you've put on a bit of weight
since the last time I saw you" or "aren't you looking
handsome these days."
Why is this placed first and foremost in the things
to say? I've spoken to several friends who can relate
to this. If you read Gina's relationships board on VegSource,
it's quite a common problem women have with their mothers
-- that their mothers nit-pick at their appearance every
time they meet.
We all know about the media and its unrealistically
thin (for many) images of women. And it's a reasonably
well documented and commonly known fact that the average
shop-front mannequin advertising women's clothing is
so underweight that if she were alive she probably wouldn't
menstruate. A fashion designer friend once told me that
the reason they use such thin models is because if they
used curvaceous women, the spectator would look at the
woman's body, not the clothes. Hence the ultra thin
model is employed.
But these media images alone don't create women who
are obsessed with looks. It is conditioned from the
moment we go into the world as little girls. From the
moment we go out in the world, people tell little girls
how pretty they are, how cute and pink and fluffy they
are. Mothers tie ribbons in their little girls' hair
and put them in little dresses that making climbing
and playing sport impossible without showing their undies
to the world. They compete with other mothers over who
has the prettiest baby, the prettiest most well behaved
little girl. In this way little girls are taught not
to participate in these things but instead to sit passively
in pretty dresses and play with pretty dolls. Girls
are given dolls with fashions and dolls with make up.
Why are girls dieting at ten years of age and younger?
Because they are taught that their looks are what they're
I am imploring to families and friends -- when you
see a female friend/relation, make sure she knows that
her looks are not the first thing about her of concern
to you. Let her know she is a valuable human being for
who she is inside, regardless of how fat, thin or otherwise
she may be in comparison to the "norm" (what is normal?).
Don't tell your little girl how pretty she is and nothing
else -- instead tell her how good she is at whatever
it is she does well. Tell her that her spirit is beautiful,
and that this is more important than anything. Forget
her looks. She's got enough of society focussing on
her looks as it is.
I'm tired of the focus of women's health being on
weight loss. Women are starving! Women are paying surgeons
thousands to actually cut chunks out of their bodies.
It is estimated that as many as eighty percent of women
in Australia will try to lose weight before they even
turn eighteen. And many of these women are losing weight
when they don't need to. I believe we need to stop thinking
in terms of weight loss and dieting. Instead, I believe
health professionals, media, and family members need
to shift the focus of women's health, appearance, and
weight to a more holistic approach, encompassing healthy
eating, moderate (but not obsessive) exercise, building
healthy relationships and a satisfying career, and a
healthy disregard of the "thin is beautiful" version
of health. There is too much emphasis on weight loss.
Instead of thinking "I need to diet and lose weight,"
I dream of a society in which women say instead "I wish
to optimise my health. And what steps do I need to take
to optimise that health?" This may mean exercising,
or including more of one kind of food, or less of another
kind. It may be self-esteem counseling or family therapy.
It may be community work of some kind. It may mean any
number of things.
Holistic health is more than just the body or the fat
on the body. In many cultures, holistic health is considered
to encompass the mind, body, and the spirit. Indigenous
Australians take this a step further, by saying that
it encompasses "mind, body, spirit, family, and land."
And if any of these is not working it affects all the
others, because chances are, it's something outside
of the eating disorder that is feeding it. I'll use
two famous examples -- Oprah Winfrey and Karen Carpenter.
Both women have said that their eating disorders were
more about coping with their life difficulties than
the food itself.
Trying to fix a food problem by just changing one's
diet is never going to work. Before it is possible,
other issues must be faced. Why the lack of control
with food? I believe that anyone who has a problem with
eating -- whether it be overeating, anorexia, or something
else, the problem needs to focus less on food and more
on the broader, more holistic level of health -- the
mind, body, spirit, family, and land.
This I believe: to achieve true health, we must stop
focussing so heavily on losing weight and dieting. Health
is so much more, it runs so much deeper. All the aspects
of holistic health must be looked at, from the inside
out. We need a healthy mind, a healthy body, and also
a healthy society, which promotes healthy media images
and supports healthy family and community systems. We
need to be able to eat healthy organic foods from healthy
well-maintained and nourished soil, or we need to eat
large quantities of food to get all the nutrients we
need. How do we gain that society? Well, that's another
I'd like to conclude by emphasising the importance
of looking past the fat on one's body to looking at
the deeper issues of health and well being, in order
to achieve and maximise true health. As someone who
has been through a private hell as a teenager, dieting
obsessively (along with half my friends, might I add)
and convinced my thighs were too big, I am only now,
several years later, starting to look at the bigger
picture -- eating well, looking after the environment,
building family relationships, working on my self esteem,
going for walks, eating organic food, and avoiding animal
products. And you know what? The more I work on these
things, the more my weight seems to take care of itself!
e x t e s s a y -
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