There was a lot of taking-things-personally going around the Fatosphere yesterday, in response to Kate’s post about how she does not judge dieters but feels that support of dieting is antithetical to support of HAES and unconditional body-positivity. So I feel that it’s very important to state, outright, this corollary: There is absolutely NO problem with acknowledging that not dieting is hard, that the urge to diet (or to relapse into disordered eating) is a constant companion, that there is massive pressure to diet, or that it’s so tempting to grasp for a little bit of societal acceptance by flagellating your fat self like you’re s’posta. If you want to be an activist — and maybe you don’t, maybe you want to be a supporter or an observer or a skeptical but open-minded inquirer and that’s fine — you are under no obligation to pretend like loving your body is natural or easy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
First of all, activism always involves sacrifices and challenges; that’s what sets it apart from support. Sweet Machine said in comments that she is a feminist but not a feminist activist, and I’m the same; I live feminism, but I do not, for instance, court violence and ridicule by shepherding women to abortion clinics. I would, but it’s fucking hard — it takes a lot of time and energy that I don’t have right now because I have to pick my battles, and also maybe I’m a coward. So okay, I’m not an activist. Even cowards have our roles to play. (And not everyone who declines to go through strife to fight for their cause is a coward! As it happens, I am. I’m also a journalist, so my activities, at least under my own name, are curtailed.) Part of what we give up when we contribute to fat activism is the safety and comfort of conforming to diet culture.
Second, we would be doing supporters, allies, and interested parties a huge disservice if we pretended this was easy. I made a post in a personal journal not too long ago, shortly after the “fat friends make you fat” debacle, saying that I was utterly fed up and researching gastric bypass. I wasn’t really considering it, but the point of the post was both “look what our culture will drive people to” and “see what a ninny I am.” I talked about my eating disorder history and how tempting it was to fall back into those habits. The result was that a (thin) friend with a history of ED said the following (quoted with permission):
I didn’t know that you once dealt with an ED until you mentioned it in your post yesterday; I had just assumed you came by your humble-yet-proud self-image naturally. I was really envious of that. Finding out that it’s still something that bothers you to a pretty significant extent makes me look up to you even more, because it makes me feel less ridiculous about my issues. I thought “if she can deal with it, why can’t I?”
We owe it to anyone who is reading with interest but who is not able to bust out of the diet mentality to make this very clear: it is so fucking hard, all the time. Nobody is saying that it should be easy. And certainly nobody is ever saying that we know what’s best for you or your health. What we’re saying is that it’s possible to care about your health MORE than you care about your weight, to care about your health independent of caring about your weight — but that it takes vigilance, and that you will constantly experience cognitive dissonance when you know you’re taking care of yourself but people tell you that losing weight is what you need for self-care. Learning to trust yourself and your body, learning to trust that taking care of yourself is taking care of yourself regardless of what size you might end up, is the only way to resist that cognitive dissonance, but you have to push through it first, and (especially at the beginning) that is very very hard.
But here’s how it works, once you decide you want to commit: you start to really believe that you can treat yourself well independent of weight, and that your body will do what’s best. Good with Cheese (have I mentioned how much I love Good With Cheese?) recently talked about losing weight because she’d moved to the next phase of demand eating: instead of eating junk because she could, she was eating nourishing food because she wanted to. She was freaking out a little and wondering if she was a traitor for losing weight, but of course she wasn’t any more a traitor for losing weight than she was for gaining it; her body was simply doing what it does when she eats and exercises in the best way possible for her. Sometimes that makes you lose weight. Sometimes it doesn’t. Whichever one happens, you have to trust your body that it’s the right one. That’s hard at first; it gets easier. I certainly don’t believe that GWC is any less pro-fat than she was before losing weight (whether she considers herself an activist is up to her). And I certainly do not believe that she’s any less pro-fat for having a hard time, psychologically, with sticking to self-care independent of loss or gain.
Like Hanne Blank, I have PCOS. I don’t metabolize sugars well, so I try not to overdo it, because I enjoy being awake and alert. I’m on a medication for this, which sometimes causes weight loss. I also have a lot of gut troubles, possibly ED-related, so I can’t eat anything too fatty or greasy, and I avoid dairy and meat. In an attempt to pin down what makes me sick (since it seems to be rather idiosyncratic), I’ve been keeping an intermittent food diary. Do I sometimes hope that the medication and the attention to food will make me lose weight? Sure. Do I sometimes hope they won’t? Again, sure; I don’t feel like buying all new clothes, and I really don’t feel like dealing with people going “you lost weight, you’re a good person now!” Am I doing these things because they might make me lose weight? Absolutely not. Will I be disappointed if I don’t lose weight, or if I do? No. Why? Because I am committed (most of the time; like I said, it’s still hard and will always be hard). I trust that if I’m treating my body well, then the weight it ends up at is the weight that my body ends up at when I’m treating it well, and will thus be a “healthy weight.” Might be higher, will probably be lower (since PCOS makes you gain weight you don’t need) — either one is okay. Getting over an ED, learning to stop dieting, has been all about learning NOT to second-guess my body. Why would I start now?