CONTENT WARNING: contains discussions of weight gain and loss, depression/mental ill health. Take care of yourself 🙂
It’s been written about countless times before — society teaches women that thinness is a better existence. Ever since the cheekbone-chic of the 1990s, with Kate Moss as the queen of cut-glass skinny, the pressure has been on for women to lose weight; before the 1990s, the policing of our bodies existed in multi-faceted ways across cultures and time periods alike. The party line was always this: men will find you more attractive, so lose weight. If you lose weight, you will be less embarrassed by the skin-sack you walk around in day-to-day. You must please lose weight, even after you’ve grown babies inside you and pushed them out for their fathers to hold, because that makes you more fuckable, and this is better, because… well, it just is better. Men want to fuck women who are slim, and women like being fuckable. Win-win for everyone, it seems.
Obviously this is false. I can’t even begin a discussion about the ways in which this argument, which I still hear daily from one source or another, ignores racist ideals that pioneer white women as the epitome of beauty. It completely disregards the sexual spectrum that most of us exist on — it’s hilarious for most people who spit these ridiculous lines to imagine that perhaps women want to fuck other women! Jesus! Who knew? It assumes a gender binary, and, as queer narratives are thankfully seen in the mainstream more frequently, it’s common knowledge that gender is not binary. I don’t assume that cisgender women have the biggest problems ever in the world, we don’t. But today I want to write about weight and mental health, the cross-section between the two, and hope that while the rhetoric is largely aimed at, and spewed by, heterosexual institutions and hierarchies, some of it can apply to everyone.
Let’s talk about Instagram for a second. Instagram is actually mental. The person who created Instagram, wherever they are, probably can’t believe what’s happened; the app was created as a photo-based alternative to Facebook, and has become a platform so huge that people make entire livings from posting on it (these people are known as ‘influencers’). The Kardashians rule the roost, with Kim Kardashian alone having 144 million followers. It’s a big deal, basically. But what nobody could ever see coming was the way bodies became a hot commodity for Instagram. Bodies on Instagram are artworks; they are your party piece, your asset, your money-maker, your like-inducer. That is, if your body is the right kind of body. This is where the Kardashian sisters come back in. Before I dive into speaking about them: I don’t really want to write about the Kardashians. They’re genuinely terrible. I say this not because I’m jealous of them, or because I hate that they show off their naked bodies all the time, or that they seem to have no talent. That’s fine with me — I couldn’t actually care less about those things. No, the insidiousness of the Kardashians’ appeal is that they actually believe they’re empowering women, and many of us believe it too. The Kardashian sisters, who are constantly performing modern day blackface, an issue which deserves its own article altogether, surgically enhance their bodies and faces, spend their millions of dollars and hours of time perfecting their sculpture-like physiques, and then try to tell you that you too can look like them, if you work hard at the gym and buy their products. Yuck!!! Get away from me with that bullshit. That is fucking criminal. If you want to have a perfect body that is more of an artistic statement than a body, go for it. I support you, spend your money, live your life. But don’t drag regular women into your conversation. Don’t drag us in and make even more money by selling us something we legitimately cannot have. Cue the self-loathing scrolling. Feel shitty about yourself, look at Kylie Jenner’s perfectly flat stomach, order flat-tummy tea, shit yourself for four days, self-loathe, repeat. They know they’re doing this to you and they do not care a single bit about you. Trust me.
Despite the cruelty of the Kardashian world, the complexities of today’s discussions around weight have brought some excellent and fruitful expressions of self-love to the fore. The account named @i_weigh on Instagram, begun by feminist activist Jameela Jamil, encourages people to describe the weight of their accomplishments, the life they lead, rather than focusing on their physical weight. I’m not trying to say it’s all doom and gloom and that nothing’s changed — of course it has, and hopefully will continue to do so. This is where my own story comes in (look, I’ve written almost a thousand words and barely even started this piece, I am a waffler, please get over it). Last year I suffered an immense blow to my mental health. I can’t really explain what happened; there wasn’t a huge event which sent me spiralling, but a slow burn of intense dissatisfaction with my choices and my life, which sent me downward. I neglected people I love, I attended university a humourless shell of myself, I fantasised about slashing my wrists. I sobbed in my doctor’s office, wordlessly and tirelessly, until he kindly and gently asked me to go home, because he was now behind on patients. I was also, incidentally, thinner than I’ve ever been in my life.
Now, I’ve never been extremely overweight. I was a chubby teen, and my weight has fluctuated up and down ever since. I’ve never crash dieted, I was always raised to love myself. And to be clear, when I was in the depths of my depression, I wasn’t intentionally losing weight. I was anxiety ridden, heart never at a steady beat; I was a ball of horrid energy that didn’t know where to go. I also didn’t realise I was thin until I gained some of the weight back. What shakes me now, now that I’m heavier and happier, is that I still look at photographs of myself at my thinnest and I want to be that way again. I’m fully aware of what it cost to get there and I still envy it. My friend sent me a lovely Instagram message the other day, saying, ‘I relate to what you are saying, worse times, thinner, and jealous of that unhealth.’ That’s what I am: jealous of the unhealthy girl in the photos, the one with a more drawn face, skinnier arms and less fat on her stomach. Scared and sad, but soooo beautiful.
It’s a process. I now routinely thank my body for the work it does, and I encourage you to do the same. I went through therapy, took medication, learned how to live in my body and not in my rattling brain, worked hard at my degree and achieved the top grade. In doing all that, I gained a little bit of weight. Fucking so what? Literally, so what? When you’re sold a lie your whole life, that thinner is always a better existence, that lie sits waiting to repeat itself at the back of your head forever and ever. It’s not perfect, it never will be, so don’t expect perfection to show up at the door someday. In the meantime, uplift each other, but first, uplift yourself. Look yourself in the mirror and say ‘FUCK YOU!’ to the lie, the lie we all still believe deep down, and walk out of the door.