Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thoughts on Life, Death and the Culture of Weight Loss

Sunday was the memorial service for my friend Marie. I finally had a chance to talk with her husband and find out what happened. Turned out she had advanced stage colon cancer and didn't know it until the tumor perforated her colon and her entire body became engulfed in a massive infection. She lived less than 2 weeks from that point.

All I could think about was how thin she had looked when I saw her this summer, and how happy she was about her weight loss. It reminded me of another friend who died from colon cancer too. Her first symptom was also sudden unexpected weight loss, and her response was also joy. She was totally psyched that she was "finally" able to lose "the weight."

I'm not saying that the outcome would have been different in either of their cases had they sought medical treatment sooner, because I think that once you start losing weight like that, the cancer is probably already pretty advanced. But I just can't get it out of my brain that here were these two women who were both experiencing what should have been a massive red flag that something was wrong, yet both of them saw the weight loss as as sign that they were actually getting healthier - because our sick, sick, sick culture tells us that thinner is always better.

Now, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that I have plenty of "issues" in this department. As someone who struggled with eating disorders all through high school and college, I know that my vision is not crystal clear when it comes to issues of weight and body image.

But right now, I just feel angry.

I feel angry that we live in a world where one of the worst insults you can throw at a person... especially a woman, is that they're "fat." It's just a big code word that says you're selfish and greedy and entitled and can't control your "urges."

I am angry that we live in a world where soda pop and Happy Meals are government subsidized foods, while farmers who grow organic vegetables have to pay extra to certify their crops to ensure that they are "safe."

I am angry that we live in a world where half of the corporations are making a fortune selling us fake food, chemicals and other crap that is killing us, while the other half are making billions by convincing us all that we're inadequate and need to buy their stupid thigh buster machines so we'll be socially acceptable, or selling us this or that drug that we need to stay "healthy."

I am angry that we live in a world that gives lip service to "being healthy" while simultaneously making every single healthy choice either more expensive, or more inconvenient, or making it into evidence that you are weird, or lazy, or paranoid, or some sort of a fanatical "health freak". When did getting by on 4-5 hours of sleep per night start being viewed as a heroic act rather than the self-sabotaging stupidity that it really is?

I am angry that we live in a world where what's considered beautiful is some Photo-Shopped Barbie doll fantasy with no hips or thighs, huge tits, and a perfect little anatomically impossible face.  No real woman is really ever "good enough."

I am angry that society's image of beauty has gotten so far away from healthy that most of us can't even distinguish what a "normal" body size is!

I am angry that we live in a world where every woman is supposed to be "sexy," but they sure as hell aren't supposed to be sexual.

And mostly I am angry that we live in a world where we're all so totally effed up about our bodies, and our sexuality, and our diets and our health, that on some level we really can't even distinguish living from dying.

I guess I'm just angry.


  1. Oooooh.... I soooo want to wear that. T- shirt to my upcoming family reunion. Not that my relatives would let a shirt stop them from telling me how I need to diet. Nor, for that matter, how I should think/speak/move/breath.

    Wanna trade relatives? I think 'relative swap' would make for a gripping 'reality' show.

  2. Oh man... the relative swap is SOOOOO tempting. But ultimately I think it's like Aesop's fable where each man hangs his troubles on a tree like a coat, and then they all walk around the tree and each one has to take down someone's troubles and wear them... in the end each man ends up taking back his own.

    That being said, I don't think other people's relatives bother you as much as your own. Your own relatives know how to push all of your buttons REALLY well - because, of course, they installed them!

  3. You, miss, are a hero. I wish more people would listen to what you have to say.

  4. So sorry for the loss of your friend.

    It would be great if we lived in a society where healthy choices were easy and supported, where we could really focus on health rather than a number on the scale, and where a truly healthy lifestyle didn't require fighting all the forces you mention here. Wish I had the answer.

  5. Anger into Action: Well said. Very sorry for your loss.

    Ironic that Congress will allow schools to continue feeding the poor (i.e., children dependent on school lunches for their main meal) french fries and tomato sauce as vegetables ....

    There is no shame in the food industry.

    Don't know how my "girls" and I have escaped the obsession, but we have, and are always astonished to hear (southern in particular) relatives incorporate appearance snipes into every conversation. Bizarre. It's like a habit, part of the necessary conversation when near food for women. I doubt they're even aware of what they're saying half the time. Truly bizarre, especially when women have worked so hard to get past this.

  6. Good for you for putting this out there.

    I seriously need to put that little cross stitch sampler on some tea towels.

    Marilyn was beautiful -- as is Michelle Obama and a number of other women I can think of who are by no means "fat", but healthy with some curves.

    So rather than be obsessive about the numbers on the scale, let me just say that a couple of years ago I became about 75% of my former self and it was a very good thing for me. I feel much better and have more energy. I am active and no longer feel like I'm on the sidelines. I would say that I'm a healthy weight with some curves... I'm no waif. For whatever reasons I might choose to beat my body into submission and get much smaller... I just don't think it would work. My body would rebel, my metabolism would collapse, and I wouldn't have any fun. Life's too short to deny yourself real butter.

    I sometimes think the BMI charts are bollocks. I think there are people "at the margins," so to speak -- like Serena Williams -- who are obviously very fit and muscular who would be considered overweight by the BMI standard. A person shouldn't ignore them entirely, but it isn't the whole thing. I can also think of lots of super skinny people I know who have a certain metabolism but eat total crap and are malnourished. Or, who smoke to stay skinny. Here's to real beauty.

  7. @Jay
    I went back and read your comments and thought you struck on something about how often food creeps into conversation among women... I really tire of this. I have several friends who talk about it incessantly, feel the need to "justify" their choices, go on and on about "just having a taste..." blah, blah, blah... it totally takes the joy out of food. I'm all for balance and restraint but would tell anyone to "just do it" and don't talk about it. Serve up your own portion (whatever you're comfortable with) and don't demonize the food on your plate, the cook who made it, or discuss your latest diet battle. Basically, it bores people and takes joy out of eating and sucks the air right out of the room. Eat without analyzing everything out loud!

    I advocate "mindfulness" which need not be a verbal activity that you share with others:-)

  8. This is why I am a huge fan and supporter of the Health at Every Size movement. Also? We all have a right to exist exactly as we are. If that means fat and unhealthy--fine. Fat and healthy? Fine. Thin and unhealthy? Fine. Whatever. It's your body; your life. I have no interest in controlling strangers, but fuck all if I don't tire from dealing with strangers trying to tell me how I should live based on my appearance.

    ANYHOO, yeah. I feel you. As a fat woman, this issue is forcibly placed in my face on a daily basis. Well, it is for all of us. It's maddening.

    I'm so sorry about your friend. Stories like hers are why I really appreciate it when friends say, "And is that a good thing?" when someone comments on weight loss. 'Cuz it ain't always a good thing.

    Love to you and yours Ms. Cat. xoxo

  9. Wow, powerful post and excellent points. We are so fucked up. We should all be angry.

    I'm very sorry to hear about your friend.

  10. You never cease to amaze me. You can get your point across in such a concise and clear manner (with the perfect clip art, of course). You are a very wise woman - and you need to hear that every single day! A voice of reason and intelligence in a world filled with the exact opposite all too often. And much thanks to Jody for making it possible for our paths to cross, even if it's only on the internet.

  11. This also reminded me of my grandmother who had mighty health battles (various serious cancers) her whole life. To be honest, I don't think I ever knew her to be "well." Loved her to pieces. I remember being with her in the hospital when she was a month from death, on serious chemotherapy, and nothing tasted good, and yet she commented that she was "finally" skinny, or something like that. Very hard for me to talk about -- even 20+ years later. It was profoundly sad.

  12. ECL, I just read your post out loud to my eldest, and have to admit to getting teary eyed. Wow.
    Anger into action--

  13. Hi everybody. Just wanted to say thanks for all of your thoughtful comments.

    It's been a rough day around here. CatMan's kitty suffered a saddle thrombus... at least they think so... he doesn't appear to be in pain which is odd, but they're not getting a pulse in his legs and he can't move them. Anyhow, for those of you who aren't cat people, this is major bad news and poor little Fluffy will probably have to be put to sleep tomorrow. I know this is the price we pay for loving creatures who don't live as long as we do, but it never makes it any easier. Sigh.

    Anyhow, just wanted to thank you for your comments and hopefully I'll have time to respond in the next day or two once things settle down a bit.

  14. Having been thru this more than once: BE strong, do right by Fluffy, and do what a few years from now you'll look back on and know you did the best you could.

  15. Oh honey, I'm so sorry. Love to you and your sweet baby kitty. Wish there was something I could do.

  16. Thanks for your thoughts guys. Little Fluffers didn't make it through the night. I am very sad. The universe sure seems to be sending me a lot of reminders lately that life is short and shouldn't be wasted.

  17. So sorry for the loss of both of your friends, I am a plump over 60 baby boomer with type 2 diabetes..I have always been on the plump size, I walk until I can walk no more, my husband is thin and tall looks like he was about 10 years younger, the women are crazy for him, married 37 years and 1/2! He can eat anything, all I seem to be able to eat are veggies, fruits in moderation, fish and tiny amounts of beef, mostly chicken and lots of water and tea..I cannot handle sweets my body, I can eat them but I get sick if I don't watch what I eat..A life spent always refusing food to me is a life not worth living, our only child is like her dad, tall and thin, she eats well and often. To me our society is totally screwed up on body size, I am from short plump spanish and german people, no one made fun of them and they were adored, now gone to God..The larger they were the more loved and adored, they cooked really interesting delish foods, everyone ate at the table and wine was served always as a beverage to be eaten with food, my dad drank beer he made but not often, they thought people born here were way too concerned by body size and girth..they felt to eat good food, fresh and lots of fish to boot was a wonderful way to get one's nourishment, thanksgiving was not turkey in the home I grew up in, no we had fish and crab and shrimp..plus really yummeee breads and my dad roasted something I think pork with beer..The food lasted for a few days, many children and friends enjoyed the feast..but no one was talked about because of girth of size..It just was never talked about mind you my mother was petite and tiny then got big with 8 children and my dad about 5 feet 8 he was solid as a rock, neither paid any attention to girth and size, they are with the Lord and I thank god daily I had them for parents, for they really lived a good wholesome life with any hangups on race, religion, size, beauty, etc. they were grateful to become american cititzens, live in a free country, raise their family and eat the food from the sea and earth..not many appreciate that anymore..amen!

  18. I meant to say they did not have any hangups about people, gender, color, race, personal preference to who a person loved, income amount anything, all were welcome in the home I was raised, then my Mom fell ill and passed from cancer quickly, it was a horrible horrible thing to happen, my Dad became inconsolable and we were sent to family that were not like my Mom and or Dad, foster homes and scattered..it was tough, but her love and my Dad getting himself, mental and medical help saved us, my Grandmother from my Mom's side and my only aunt from my Mom's side was our salvation, we grew up quickly and moved to california to be with our Grandmother and our Aunt..my Dad never recovered never lived too much longer, I really believe he died of a broken heart and mind..We are still close my siblings, my Grandmother only lasted 7 years after my Mom passed and my Aunt is nearly 100 years old still knows us all and sharp as a tack, but lives in a place she co-owns that takes care of people in retirement..I like your blog, we have 4 cats, I know if something happens to them it will be very hard on me, animals love unconditionally and are so sweet, sorry about your cat, read your blog today, maybe God will send you another that you will love as much, not meaning to diminish the one cat who is injured in anyway..happy thanksgiving, remember when A Door closes a Window opens up! mary jane from the west coast..praying for your kitty and you tooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Eimear - Thanks for your vote of confidence, but I think if I were a real hero I'd be doing something more proactive than bitching about the status quo. But hey, you gotta start somewhere right? :)

    Melissa - My kingdom for a healthy society. My kingdom is very small, but still...

    Jay - Anger into action indeed! To that end, after we buried poor little Fluffers, I came home and ate an entire bowl of popcorn... WITH butter! Probably not the sort of action you had in mind, but all I could muster under the circumstances. :)

    Janeen - Yes... Life is too short to deny yourself real butter... see my comment to Jay above! :) But seriously, it's like we've gotten ourselves into a state where we women feel that we have to apologize for everything... including the basic stuff like eating! Your grandmother's story made me cry. How sick is this world when the "ideal" that we're all supposed to achieve is wasting away to nothing... literally.

    Demandra - Exactly. When did women's bodies become "public property" anyhow? I know this is a whole other nest of worms that we've sort of been over already, but to me the feigned concern that people have about other people's bodies/eating/etc, is very similar to the "concern" that some in the wacko wing of the Christian church have over the souls of the unconverted. What they're really saying is "something about you makes me really uncomfortable about myself, and since I can't deal with my own feelings, I have to control this abhorrent thing out of you so that I won't be forced to confront my own emotions." That's my take anyhow.

    Candi - We should all be angry indeed! And then we should refuse to buy into all of the crap.

    Connie - Awww... thanks for your kind words. I'm not sure how wise I am in practice, but I can talk a good game! :) I fear I haven't visited Jody's blog in a while... it always makes me so sad. I don't know how she can bear such heartbreak on a daily basis.

    Mary Jane - Thanks so much for sharing your family's story. With all the words you wrote, the one stands out to me is "nourishment". The whole concept seems to be missing in our modern society. Thanks again for your heartfelt comments.

    Thanks again one and all for your kind words and thoughts regarding little Fluffers. We buried him in the garden and had a nice little ceremony... and we cried and cried and cried. He had a good life, and while it was a shock for us to have him go so quickly, I'm so glad that he got to be happy and playful right up to the end. Thanks again...

  20. What a tragic story, ECL. I'm sorry to hear it. If it's any consolation there are journalists like me who are reporting on the Slow Food movement; I'm campaigning for good food, feminism and the economy. These three subjects are inextricable.

  21. JNU - Good food, feminism and the economy... worthy things to campaign for. So glad there are folks like you bringing these sorts of issues to a broader audience.

  22. This is a PSS:
    I went to the Twilight movie tonight (okay, flog me) but was shocked at how horribly anorexic Kristen Stewart looked! There were scenes where you could see her ribs sticking out. Truly horrifying given the popularity of the films and the fact that the audience was full of little girls.

  23. My granny always said "Just be yourself, dear". Wise words. I only we could all just be ourselves...... often not that simple as the media wages a very specific type of psychological warfare that causes hangups like body image. Just open a magazine and suddenly you are not good enough anymore.....suddenly one is "too fat" one can't cook, one is not entrepreneurial enough, one does not have the right capsule wardrobe, decor, the list goes on and on...

    It helps to turn off the TV or to just not have one. Hey everyone, I don't have a TV! Really, I don't and I am much happier for it. I am not fond of popular culture!

    1. Ah yes, television, the totally unrealistic societal measuring stick! I mostly use mine for news and sports... and, of course Netfix, I am a hopeless movie buff. I suppose it's not really TV that's the problem though, it's just a reflection of the craziness of our totally materialistic and anti-human society. Sigh.

  24. Indeed. If only we could blame it all on TV....


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