Recently I went to a clam shack for the first time ever. To those of you for whom a clam shack is about as exotic as an Old Town, this may not seem like a significant life milestone, but it was very exciting for me. I’m the sort of person who goes to Wikitravel and scrolls down to the “Eat” section when deciding whether a place is worth going to, so y’know—the sun was out, the sky was blue, and I’d ordered lobster clambake. I was feeling pretty good about myself.
Then my friend leaned over and said to me, “You’re fat now, by the way. I just thought you should know. Are you going to lose weight for your wedding?”
I finished my half of the lobster clambake, but my enjoyment was somewhat dampened.
To be fair, my friend wasn’t being any more impertinent than the numerous Facebook ads offering me weight loss programmes. I told her the same thing I would’ve told those ads (if ads had ears): I’ve got no plans to lose weight. My reasons aren’t terribly interesting; they mostly amount to “stupid WIC is stupid”. Why should I look unnaturally perfect on my wedding day? Does anyone expect Cephas to be preternaturally beautiful, and do up his hair, and whiten his teeth, and to have been working out seven days a week for the six months preceding his wedding? No, they do not. And I always object to societal standards which require me to do more work than dudes.
I also object to the idea that the less of me there is, the better it looks. Fat and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive. Beauty shouldn’t be an obligation.
Having said all that, I admit I’m not totally content with my body—who is? Body hatred almost seems like a condition of femininity. I’ve come out of this particular round of Society vs. Women relatively unscathed, if only because I had the good luck to more or less fall into the narrow bracket of permitted sizes in my culture. I’ve never been thin by that culture’s standards, though—except for once, and that just reinforced the fact that it’s all bullshit.
It was when I was at law school and walking for a cumulative hour a day to and from school. I dropped a dress size without really noticing it, and suddenly I was thin. And I’m not gonna lie, Planet Skinny was amazing. My friends envied me loudly. My family praised me. (Cephas, bless him, never remarked on it.) It changed my whole view of myself physically. I’d always felt a bit embarrassed in clothes shops before—I felt too geeky, too clueless, too funny-shaped to be there. But now it was as if the part of me that’d been scared said to itself, “The salespeople can’t really think I look like an idiot if I’m wearing a size S.”
But the privilege of being thin changed the way I thought and acted, in ways that surprised me. For the first time I understood Kate Moss’s inexplicable line that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” I mean, I still believe she said it ‘cos she’s probably never had chilli pan mee, but—unlike Kate Moss I hadn’t made a career out of being conventionally attractive, and yet I found myself checking myself when I was eating because I didn’t want to lose the ground I’d gained.
I knew it was all a scam, is the thing. The job of the patriarchy is to plant brainweasels in your head, yeah? The brainweasels are to distract you so you’re too busy worrying about stupid things like your waistline to object when dudes keep hogging all the money and power. Thinness is a total con job. It’s an impossible goal—you want to be thin because you want to feel beautiful, but as Meg points out in the book, pretty is not an emotion. And it’s a dumb reward. Being thinner didn’t make me better at anything except wearing size S clothes. It didn’t make me kinder to people, or more diligent about writing. It didn’t make anyone love me more.
And yet it made a difference. A completely fictitious, societally enforced, brainweasel-based difference—but a difference nonetheless. How freaky is that?
So then I finished law school and kept eating large bowls of chilli pan mee and returned to my normal size. I wish I could say I was totally above it all, that I didn’t care. But I totally cared! For a while I went around shaking Cephas down for compliments as if they were lunch money and he was a particularly weedy-looking kid at my school.
But I got over it. Now here I am, slightly squishier than I would like to be and about to get married in 3.5 months. I eat well and walk every day. I trust my body to know what it’s doing when it gets hungry, and that it’ll know when it wants to stop. I could be fitter, but let’s not kid ourselves. If I started working out now it would have nothing to do with my resting heart rate and everything to do with how my bum looks in a wedding dress. So I won’t.
I’m gonna be “fat” for my wedding. It will make no difference whatsoever.
Because it won’t. Strive to lose weight if that’s what floats your boat, but remind yourself, when you’re being bombarded by evil brainweasels bearing body image angst: it won’t make you smarter. It won’t make you kinder. It won’t make anyone love you more.