Feminism Doesn’t Mean You Love Your Body All the Time

And when you're planning a wedding? Girl, please

woman with her feet in a lake

I was hoping that by the time I got here—to the days leading up to my wedding—my deep-rooted obsession with being thin would have magically evaporated. It’s humiliating to admit that lately I spend hours every day dwelling on this topic. It’s my own self-consciousness over how pathetic that feels that’s kept me from writing about it—until now.

I’m keenly aware of the fact that I am a cliché: a white girl who grew up in the suburbs with no medical reason to worry about her weight, yet who is narrowly focused on bringing the number on the scale (and around her waist) down as low as possible. Many of my friends growing up shared the same preoccupation, all to varying degrees.

The many ways I internalized the belief that I’m not thin enough could be taken straight from a trite teen movie. I am not unique, I am not interesting, and there is no special snowflake quality to my struggles with diet, exercise, and body image. Now tack on the part about getting married, and I’ve become a caricature of myself. You can practically hear me about to ask if this font makes me look fat.

When I first got engaged, I knew I would be hit with messages about “looking my best.” I knew it might knock me off my game a little bit—I had been in a pretty good place with my body image, content with my physical health, and not meticulously tracking the inches or pounds. As I’m wont to do, I figured I was too smart to be affected by the occasional bridal weight loss message because I’m a savvy feminist consumer of media. Ha.

“how much weight do you want to lose before the wedding?”

The first person who asked me if I’d be losing weight for the wedding was a female coworker. I remember being floored that she would ask such a question (though she wouldn’t be the first), and I also remember quickly snapping back that, nope, I do plenty for my health already—what’s there to change before my wedding? (Feigning confidence is my second-favorite coping mechanism, right behind making jokes.)

Regardless of whether the confidence was feigned, I wasn’t wrong. I am (knock on wood) in relatively good health. When I’m at my most levelheaded, I maintain good habits—habits that don’t veer into obsession. When I’m at my best, I’ll eat a mostly healthy diet and allow the occasional fried cheese curd or margarita without spiraling into some dark abyss of guilt. I’ll miss a workout and shrug it off, because it’s not a big deal and I recognize that. The rational version of myself understands these things.

The neurotic version of myself, at her worst, treats every workout like a critical life-or-death mission. She mourns every half donut, or to use a recent example, punishes herself for drinking a ginger ale mere days before her wedding. That’s what finally pushed me to start typing away right now: a rogue ginger ale, 230 calories. That’s all it takes for me to fall down the rabbit hole.

A very good friend once posed the question: what happens when a person gets down to her “ideal” weight? Does she find happiness overnight because she’s lighter than she once was?

the origin story

It seems like a cop-out to blame my insecurities on ~the media~ when there is a plethora of reasons I’ve spent life since age twelve (as first documented in a long-lost online diary) wishing I could be slighter than I am. But I’m not immune to third-person effect, and I’ve performed my own little study to keep track of messages I’m served related to weight loss and body image. My methodology for this very scientific work was to, uh, take screenshots every time I was served a message related to weight loss or body image. But then I ran out of space on my phone and accidentally deleted a bunch of screenshots, including all the ridiculous bridal boot camp ads I was getting on Facebook, so this is all I have left. It’s some of Pinterest’s recommended content for me:

When I’m not seeing things clearly, one of these dumb promoted pins that pops up as I’m pinning can escalate quickly. Similarly, I might see a before-and-after side-by-side photo of a woman on Instagram and think, “But her ‘before’ looks like me now.” Next thing I know, my brain is running laps around itself in panic.

Or: A coworker laments how skinny she used to be. I look at her and think, “But you’re skinnier than me now.” Once again, I become a dog chasing its tail. I can’t let go of this notion that I am not thin enough, even if the idea sprung out of a comment someone else made—a comment that had nothing to do with me. I have an ugly habit of benchmarking myself against others when my only benchmark should be myself, my health, and my happiness.

the tools to outgrow my insecurities

Self-awareness is tricky—I’m reminded again of how silly I feel for writing about this, because as a vocal, self-proclaimed feminist, shouldn’t I know better? In my late twenties, shouldn’t I have graduated from obsessing over my weight to caring about something more substantial, especially at a time when I should be focusing on just about anything but my hip-to-waist ratio?

Wedding planning has been an unwelcome reminder that these insecurities continue to require time and effort to untangle, even though they first sprouted in adolescence, and even though I theoretically know better than to use meaningless measures like my weight as a gauge for self-worth. Unlike what those terrible ads on the sides of websites will have you believe, there is no One Amazing Trick This Feminist Used To Finally Move Past Her Body Image Issues! I’m not there yet. For all my feminism and for all my knowing better, this is where I am right now.

But I have the tools to start moving past this. Eventually. Slowly. I recognize that it’s useless to shame myself for my own insecurities—that’s not productive. But it is helpful to be able to recognize when I’m being destructive and to gently remind myself that the ginger ale calories are inconsequential, and the missed boxing class this week isn’t going to hurt anyone, least of all me. I may not fully believe these things yet, but I know them to be true, and I’m convinced that counts for something.

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