I’ve gained a few pounds recently. In most periods of my life, this would not affect me too much — we’re talking a small number, very much the kind of tiny fluctuation that happens as you, I don’t know, sweat less when the weather turns cooler — but right now it is cause for a mini-celebration with me and my doctor, because for the last year and a half I’ve been dealing with medical issues that caused drastic weight loss. The fact that my number has crept up on the scale, if ever so slightly, seems to indicate that my insides are working more normally than they were, and I’m happy about it. I must say, it’s also pleasantly subversive in a world-turned-upside-down kind of way to have my doctor get excited that my numbers have gone up. It’s a tiny antidote to the horrible stories we hear about doctors pushing weight loss at all costs.
I also moved apartments recently and am still getting used to the new (shared) washer and dryer. It costs less than my old place (yay!) but the settings are different and you can’t fine-tune the amount of time you run the dryer (boo!).
What do these two random pieces of Sweet Machine-related trivia have to do with anything? Well, I’ll tell you: my jeans are too tight. Not an earth-shattering event or even a surprise: slight weight gain + finicky dryer + stretch jeans = wiggling like Brooke Shields until these jeans go over my thighs. Most of us have had that experience at some point or another, and unless we deliberately bought them too tight a la Brooke Shields, shimmying into tight jeans can cause a major self-esteem derail. There’s nothing quite like too-tight clothes to bring back a flood of memories of other times you’ve felt too fat, or unpretty, or excluded, or unworthy.
I can feel some of those feelings floating back to me. We never fully break free from that kind of cultural programming and personal greatest-hits-of-shame, no matter how fully self-loving and fat-accepting we are. I mean, here I am, knowing that a) my dryer is set too high, b) weight gain is a positive sign in my life right now, and c) I’m still actually thin,* and I still am tempted to berate myself for the size of my thighs. But the great thing is, because of FA, that’s what that shaming voice is now: a temptation, not a mandate. I feel those thoughts trying out my brain, poking at me as I look in the mirror, and I think about whether I want to engage them. Is there any payoff to that temptation? The answer, of course, is no. I know that clearly now, but there was a time in my life — and it wasn’t that long ago — that I didn’t. I thought the answer was “maybe,” that if I gave into the temptation to shame myself, I might magically get thinner through the transitive power of bullshit.** What a knowledge of FA and a commitment to live it in my daily life give me is the certainty that saying “no” to the temptation of self-deprecation — rather than, say, the temptation of salad dressing or those fattening carrots — will be better for me today and tomorrow. Refusing to shame yourself will stop the negativity in the short term and make you stronger in the long term, so that next time your jeans are too tight or your shirt gaps in an odd way, you can say no to shame again.
There’s a whole world that wants you to disappear into nothing, and feeling too big for your clothes is a reminder of that impossibility. But once you are aware that, you can use that very awareness to defuse some of those shaming voices: Fuck it, I don’t want to disappear. And you can’t make me want to.
So as I sit here wiggling around so that my jeans stretch already, I know that the problem here is not me. The problem is not even my jeans, which after all fit perfectly well last month and might one day again. The problem is the cultural forces that work to convince us that the temptation of self-loathing is the only one we can say yes to, the only thing worth indulging in. There are big ways to combat that pressure, which we try to contribute to with discussion and analysis here — but there are lots of small ways, too, and one of them is getting rid of clothes that don’t fit, or, if you’re like me and you’re having some shape fluctuations, getting clothes in a range of sizes and styles so if your jeans are tight today you can put on something else instead.
You may have heard that Oscar Wilde quote “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” Here’s the thing about those witty Wilde quotes: they’re mostly not little bon mots that Oscar Wilde said at a party. They’re little bon mots said at parties by characters in books by Oscar Wilde. The guy who said that delightfully sinful thing about permission? (Spoiler!) Is an amoral man who essentially gives Dorian Gray permission to go on a spree of temptation-yielding that ends in murder. Don’t worry; I’m not going to write a dissertation on morality in Wilde. (Not here, at least!) I’m just saying that there are different kinds of temptation and different ways to respond to it. A lot of energy goes into convincing you that eating a cookie is a wicked temptation that will ruin your life. It’s not. But that temptation to give in to the cultural mandate of self-loathing and shame? That is, without doubt, one of the bad ones. You can turn that one down every damn time.
*NB: I originally typed, “I’m still actually thing.” Just thought you should know.
**Thanks, Stephen Colbert!