True Story: A Feminist Joins Weight Watchers
I used to feel like I was lucky for having zero body image issues. Those insecurities completely surpassed me well into adulthood, because up until about around age 25, I had a very conventionally attractive body: a slender frame with an hourglass figure. I could wear anything I wanted. No one — not my mother, not men, not random strangers — criticized my body. Body issues (too big! too small! too squishy!) were simply not something that crossed my mind.
But I was aware body insecurities concerned — even consumed — a lot of people, in particular women. A close friend struggled with anorexia. Family members were bullied for their size. I read fat acceptance blogs online and books like Lessons From The Fat-O-Sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby. As a feminist writer, I was keyed into the way our society privileges the skinny. Still, for a long time, it was not something I directly understood.
But body issues didn’t skip me entirely: they just came later in life.
A couple of things happened around the time that I was 24 and 25. One, I moved from an apartment in New York City far, far away from a subway and up six flights of stairs to one right next to a subway. Two, I became extremely depressed and began taking Lexapro, an antidepressant which can have a side effect of keeping on weight. And three, I started dating a guy who loved meat and stopped being a vegetarian after 11 years. Also, he loved to cook and not particularly healthy cooking either.
My body changed. Instead of an hour-glass figure, I became pear-shaped. I got a butt (which I welcomed) and I started to carry weight on my belly (which I loathed). Because I have a slender frame, weight on my stomach has the “Buddha belly” effect. I have been asked a couple of times while wearing clingy clothing whether I am pregnant.
For truly the first time in my life, I had the kind of looking-in-the-mirror-and-not-liking-what-I-see experiences that other women had. I remember putting on a tight, sparkly dress for my 24th birthday party and starting to cry because I thought I looked fat. I love clothing and fashion, so getting rid of clothes that don’t fit because they don’t fit anymore is traumatic for me. Yet at the same time, I also loved my “new” hips and butt and the attention my curves got from men. As a feminist who truly believes in encouraging people to accept their bodies and “Health At Any Size,” I felt like a hypocrite. To say I felt conflicted is an understatement.
I halfheartedly tried to address my “new” body. I joined not one, but two gyms. Planet Fitness was near my apartment and had simple workout equipment, while Equinox had tons of fun dance and yoga classes. I started cooking some more healthful dinners and keeping track of my meals in a food journal. But to be honest, it was all very erratic and nothing really changed much. I just didn’t have the commitment, in part because I learned to accept that this was how my body looked now. To me, self-love and self-acceptance are radical acts of feminism.
I’ve always been a very self-accepting person. My boss Amelia once told me I’m one of the most self-accepting people she knows. But that changed these past few years: insecurities piled up following the biggest romantic rejection of my life thus far. My self-esteem about my body plunged in the shitter after a bad breakup, in which a parting shot from my now-ex — who used to cook pasta sauces with bacon grease as a main ingredient — had been to say he wished I were slimmer and wore cuter outfits. I couldn’t write him off as just a douche (although saying what he said was douchey) because what he said was true. I had put on weight. And I had done little to change it.
Mean Internet comments on “What Are We Wearing Today?” got to me as well. People can be vicious. Instead of commenting on outfits, some people comment on our bodies. Trolls, oftentimes trolls who only commented on the site just to make cruel comments about my appearance, would say that I looked pregnant or needed to lose weight. Other cruel comments about, say, my intelligence could be laughed off; the reason the body image comments hurt me was because they were reinforcing negatives beliefs about the way I looked that I already had about myself. The one and only time that I cried at work in front of my coworkers in the four years that I’ve been at The Frisky was when I started crying because I felt fat and ugly. It’s very, very hard, even as someone who truly believes that beauty on the inside is what counts, to not let repeated cruel comments get to you.
All of those insecurities altered after I went to an orgy. It radically changed how I felt about bodies! Seeing lots of other people naked and the collective, appreciative environment of the many iterations of human form twisted something that made me stop criticizing myself. After spending a whole evening with men and women who all appreciated various types of bodies in all kinds of shapes and sizes, I felt beautiful and desirable as my curvy self. And it probably sounds weird, but it was only after I truly felt comfortable with my body after that night that I got the internal ooomph to take serious, committed steps lose weight. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but psychologically, I needed to feel OK with myself in order to want to change myself.
I came to Weight Watchers on a bit of a whim. Most importantly, it came with positive recommendations: several girl friends whom I trust had used it. My gyno had used it. A family member had used it. At a recent doctor’s appointment when I complained of my low energy level, my doctor even recommended it. (He may or may not be getting kickbacks, though. Who knows?) While I understand that losing weight is simply about eating less and and exercising more, I felt like I needed discipline and structure. And to be honest, other than basic information about nutrition, I’ve never cared about nor paid attention to stuff like fat or carbs in my food. I had no idea how much butter is OK, how much sugar to consume, or whether pretzels and hummus were more or less a healthy snack than peanut butter on celery. The Weight Watchers points system, from what I heard about, could provide an easy structure for navigating the nutritional aspects.
But at the same time, I believe the diet industry is generally filled with charlatans. Diets like “the grapefruit diet!” don’t work. Extreme restrictions like juice fasts don’t work. In fact, some of that stuff just seems like dressing up eating disorders, if you want my honest opinion. I’m very well aware that the diet industry will only survive on convincing women and men and their products and plans work while simultaneously advertising that size-2-gym-bunny-in-Spandex ideal. I’ve written very critically in the past about the diet industry, including Weight Watchers. For instance, I felt like that episode of “Katie” where Jessica Simpson spent a whole hour talking about Weight Watchers was pretty grossly shilling for a brand that paid her a $4 million contract to do so. It felt like an Weight Watchers infomercial, not an interview with Jess.
And yet still? The proof is in the pudding. (No pun intended.) It’s been a couple of weeks of being on Weight Watchers and I can honestly say I really like it. To be completely honest, at the very beginning, I hated Weight Watchers. I felt like I was starving myself. My stomach growled for about two days straight and I felt weak. I didn’t know what I was doing with the points or how much I needed to eat in healthy foods to really feel filled up. My therapist expressed concern that I hated it so much initially but still wanted to do it. Was I punishing myself for having felt fat?, she wondered.
It took awhile to get a hang of the points system. Basically, each food is assigned a certain number of points and you are supposed to have a certain number each day; I have learned to fit those puzzle pieces together to be able to still eat what I want (i.e. enough to feel filled up and something for my sweet tooth at some point in the day). Since fruit and vegetables are zero points, I’ve been eating way more fruits and I’ve been having salads nearly every day for either lunch or dinner. That way there is room for a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie and my beloved Starbucks iced coffee. Both are two points, which is not a lot.
And I am allowing myself to be flexible: if I go over my daily allotment of points, I make sure it’s by eating something healthy-ish, not a bowl of ice cream. And I definitely did not follow the points system on either my birthday last week or at my birthday party, which were both occasions in which alcohol and high-caloric foods were consumed. Maybe that will set my weight loss goals back a little bit, but I don’t care, because it meant I had a kickass 29th birthday dinner at The Spotted Pig with two girl friends.
Unlike before, I can see myself committing to weight loss now by consciously eating more healthfully. I know that just changing my food intake will not keep weight off; I also need to exercise. My best friend recently moved to New York City from Europe and we’re planning to start exercising with each other more so I have a “buddy.” Girl friends and family who have been on Weight Watchers in the past or are still on it now are being supportive and helpful with tips. Having that general support in my goals, especially from other women, is really helping to encourage me.
I know I’ll probably never have my hourglass figure again, at least not without restricting a lot more, which means my bigger butt is here to stay. I will probably carry extra weight on my belly always. These are things, like lots of men and women, I’m just going to have to keep dealing with; remembering how naturally beautiful and great I felt at the orgy really helps. But eating more healthfully is here to stay and as winter turns to spring, exercise will be, too. With all that comes not only more energy and already-looser jeans, but I feeling of pride in my ability to see through my commitment.
And that makes me feel good about myself.