Amongst the minefield of clipboards, fliers and CalPIRG-atory outside the CoHo last week, Delta Delta Delta sorority’s table caught my eye with a sign that read “Trash Fat Talk!”
Their philanthropy focuses on toning down the body talk. It’s pretty clear that “She looks fat in those jeans,” is inappropriate. Less clear is the more common “You look sooo good. Did you lose weight?” Both comments have the potential to spark body image issues because both reinforce the notion that your weight is directly related to your attractiveness. It’s a notion propelled by all the silly exercise accessories, pharmaceutical supplements, and celebrity diets out there. If you don’t look like Beyoncé or Brad Pitt, it’s not because you don’t have good genes and personal make-up artists, it’s because you’re fat.
In this column, I don’t write so much about body image as I do about health tips. Body image is tricky. Body image issues are much, much harder to improve than your health. But the bigger problem? They’re impossibly variable. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that everyone has body image issues. From the obese to the mildly overweight to the average to the diva to the gym rat. Everyone. Even you. Even me, and I lost 80 pounds. With that variation comes a million little differences in how we construct, maintain, and react to our image. Self-esteem isn’t physical, it’s mental.
Even though I don’t like to write about body image, it’s an undeniable part of the health equation. Counterproductive goals will not help you get in shape. Consider the following:
First, losing weight isn’t going to permanently boost your self-confidence. When I was several pant-sizes bigger in high school, I wasn’t exactly crying myself to sleep every night. And I didn’t suffer endless teasing and finger pointing. If anything, my active role on the debate team did more to taint my popularity than my weight.
When I lost all the weight I did, I didn’t become the world’s most confident Aggie (Read: Girls didn’t flock to me then, and they don’t now). This is partly because your body changes slowly, so slowly that you won’t notice it. Some months into my first year here, a couple friends remarked I looked better. And while that made me feel good for a little while, the high didn’t last forever. Positive psychology research suggests our happiness levels stabilize within six months. Some cases studied included becoming a paraplegic, losing a loved one, losing your job, and winning the lottery. Sure enough, I’m just as happy now as I was in high school.
If your goal is to become more attractive, you risk relapse and worse. Once again, the change is too incremental to make you feel as attractive as you want to be this instant. Couple this pressure with the heavy mental demand of eating healthy and exercising regularly, and you’re cooking a recipe for failure.
There’s a reason why studies show that 95 percent of dieters regain (at least) all the weight they lost within the year. When you put in the effort to look better and the results don’t measure up to your impossible expectations, it becomes just as impossible to keep at it. What’s worse is that 35 percent of dieters become “pathological” dieters. Among that 35 percent, 20 to 25 percent develop eating disorders. In other words, a noteworthy amount of people attempt to lose weight to feel better about themselves, only to end up feeling worse about themselves as they engage in behavior that actively harms them. Trust me, it’s not worth it.
I think the Tri-Delts are on to something here. All this fat talk blurs reality. Let’s trash it. The point to being healthy is just that – being healthy. It’s about feeling good more than it is looking good. I won’t pretend like the ‘looks factor’ is resolutely irrelevant. It’s not. You could look better. You might actually gain some more self-confidence as a result. Maybe you’ll be happier for it too. That’s awesome. But think about the resulting boost in attractiveness and all its perks as another side-affect of being healthy. Not the destination, but a good stop on the journey.
Too lazy to trash your fat talk? Send it to RAJIV NARAYAN at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will move it to the trash folder for you.