Saturday, July 14, 2007

do I really hate myself?

Do weight-loss blogs promote a negative body image? I recently chimed in on a discussion on BlogHer about what should/shouldn't be discussed at an "Our Bodies, Our Blogs" panel at the upcoming conference. The post that inspired the discussion complained of "Fat Negative" items in the BlogHer goodie bags last year, and a commenter expressed some skepticism over the inclusion of Wendy McClure, whose book chronicled her experiences with Weight Watchers, among other things:
Wendy may not have bought into the diet mantra as other women, but she’s still following a diet plan which has been shown to have a very, very low effectiveness rate for sustained weight loss.
Wendy responded saying that she doesn't do Weight Watchers anymore.

This begs the question -- if someone is still following Weight Watchers, or another weight-loss plan, are they not welcome to participate in the discussion? Considering the number of weight-loss blogs, including this one, I would think that a discussion of blogs and body image would be incomplete without a discussion of weight loss blogging, but when I asked my question, I only got one response:
there are times when people need to lose weight for health reasons but there are other times when people try to lose weight because they feel like they have to, because they don't like the way their bodies look, because they don't feel successful or happy because they aren't skinny.
I'd have to say in my own case that my initial weight loss, from 200+ pounds to around 170, was truly a health issue. My blood pressure was up, I was getting sweaty and shaky if I went too long without eating, and I just felt tired all the time. The amount I lost with Weight Watchers before, and am trying to lose now, really is because I didn't like the way my body looked. I think that's an okay reason to lose weight too. I'm not trying to starve myself until I look like a runway model. I'm just trying to achieve a weight where I feel comfortable and happy, including feeling happy with how I look.

I consider myself a feminist (no, I'm not one of those, "I'm not a feminist, but..." people), so this is an important issue to me: Whether you can honestly love yourself and other women just as they are, while still striving actively to lose weight, for whatever reason. I don't want to think I'm engaging in an inherently destructive activity by writing about my weight-loss efforts and my feelings about them.

I guess those of us who write weight-loss blogs have to provide the answer through what we write. We have a responsibility, not only to ourselves but to the people who read our blogs. We have to remember that one person's "Before" is another person's "After." We want to give our readers hope and encouragement, not make them feel sad by poking fun at our, and by extension their, bodies. I'm a regular reader of PastaQueen -- she has lost half her previous weight -- and my favorite thing about her blog is that she is respectful of her former self while enjoying all the new things she can do with her thinner body. Other blogs, including the now-defunct "Fat Bitch," don't do this as well. I can't prove it, but I believe pretty strongly that any effort undertaken in an attitude of self-loathing is doomed to failure. Yet another reason, if I'm right, to be kind to ourselves at all stages of the process.

To me a more salient criticism of the weight-loss blog is not that it is "fat negative" but that it is sort of a self-centered, shallow topic. I have another blog for discussing what I consider more serious, important issues, but I have to admit that I write and think about the weight-loss stuff more. I can't imagine what kinds of solutions we could find for issues like global warming if we all, including our media, put a third of the energy into looking for new ways to conserve energy as we do trying to perfect ourselves (or, in the case of the media, obsessively following the lives of ridiculous celebrities). My only defense in this case is that I do follow serious issues, but that I blog primarily as a form of entertainment for myself and an escape while working on my very serious dissertation. I'm not a news organization like MSNBC or even Fox.

Ultimately, I hope that my new habits will become as ingrained as some of my old, bad ones. Last night, I made the mistake of buying Cheez-Its and ate most of the box. This, thankfully, is not something I do often, and my body let me know it was not pleased. Today I enjoyed a meal made from mostly farmer's market finds -- sweet corn, salad with fresh tomatoes, a really ripe peach, a frittata made with locally-grown broccoli, and a whole-wheat blueberry muffin -- much more than I did the huge quanities of snack foods. I'm learning, albeit slowly. And if I judge from my own feelings, and not other people's ideas about what they should be, I'm loving myself more. I'll be interested to see what other BlogHers have to say in Chicago.

By the way, I am thrilled to report that I have a guest column coming out on Elastic Waist early next week. It gives my honest, no-holds-barred review of the Weight Watchers program. Hope you enjoy it.

14 comments:

  1. I was also quite baffled by that comment about Wendy too! I'm a WW refugee too, hope I'm not refused entry at the panel ;)

    will look forward to your column!

    shauna/dietgirl

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  2. I co-blog with Laurie at Body Impolitic.

    I can assure you that a) every member of BlogHer is welcome at all panels at BlogHer; b) all voices and opinions will be heard and respected; and c) the fat positive voices will be outnumbered by the dieters.

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  3. Debbie, what if you are fat positive and a dieter? Do you break even?

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  4. I guess that was the point of my post, Jeanette, whether we can be considered both. I'm not intending to ask the question cynically, and if my post came across that way, Debbie, I didn't mean it to.

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  5. As a member of Weight Watchers I must stand up and say that I do not hate myself...I dislike how I feel at certain weights. Who came up with 'fat-negative'? It's a bunch of hoopla if you ask me. As a professor I lecture from here and beyond about eating disorders...and they have nothing to do with hating oneself..they are a biological disease much like any addiction. I don't believe that Weight Watchers is anything more than an instructive method for those nutritionally challenged individuals (such as myself) to get and stay healthy. I really love this post and have bookmarked it for future reference!! You made some fantastic points. Is it okay if I reference it on my Weight Loss Wednesday post?

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  6. You make some great points... has given me something to think about.

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  7. When I responded to that commenter on Laurie's blog I think I wound up sounding like I was trying to dismiss the whole matter just by saying I wasn't doing Weight Watchers any more. For me, the issue was more that the person hadn't bothered to check my blog to see what I'd been up to lately. I don't mind talking about Weight Watchers at all or even being associated with it from my book, but I resented the presumption that doing WW means I completely endorse and represent Weight Watchers and have no critical distance from it whatsoever.

    It's true that I feel a lot differently about WW now, but the philsophy of my blog has always been to just focus on my own choices and to never make assumptions about the intelligence or self-esteem of others based on the things they choose for their own bodies.

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  8. Laurie can't sign in here from her computer, for completely incomprehensible reasons, so here's her response, followed by mine:

    I'm hoping that "Our Bodies and Our Blogs" will be a really inclusive body image conversation. There is so much we can talk about - fat/size, aging,ability/disability, color, ³right² facial features, class, children.

    And of course we'll talk about how all of this affects us as bloggers and what kind of vehicle blogging is for the conversation.

    As the mother of 2 daughters, I'm particularly appalled by the super photoshopped images of women in the magazines and on the web that teenagers believe are real.

    It's a big conversation and I'm hoping that lots of folks will participate in it.

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  9. Jen and pastaqueen, I do believe it's possible to be fat-positive and a dieter; I just think it's a difficult position. Humans are contradictory beings: there are certainly lots of areas where I hold contradictory beliefs.

    Samantha, like Laurie I want the panel (which I wish I could be at) to be a broad and inclusive body image conversation, not a narrow diet argument. I'm interested in your position that "eating disorders have nothing to do with hating oneself," which is not the analysis I'm most familiar with. The one point I do want to make is that the automatic connection of "thin = healthy" (and its converse, "fat = unhealthy") is a dangerous one for many reasons, including the ways thin people sometimes don't get the treatment they need for diseases associated with fat.

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  10. Jen,

    Thank you!

    I read the same thread and Laurie's entries and something just got under my skin in the wrong way. Is it really necessary to "divide the camps" and delineate between fat acceptance and weight loss supporters? Improved mental health relating to positive body image seems every bit as relevant as decreased blood pressure, etc.

    I'm excited to read your review on Elastic Waist...congratulations!

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  11. I'm interested in your position that "eating disorders have nothing to do with hating oneself," which is not the analysis I'm most familiar with.

    Debbie, I can't answer for Danielle, but I know there's growing evidence to suggest the causes for anorexia are biological. Harriet Brown has written a lot of about this on her blog and has spoken out about the tendency to view anorexia as a "control" issue or a metaphor for something else.

    I don't know if there's any similar evidence in regard to other eating disorders, but it's interesting to consider. And I know it's made me think a little more about the way we construct certain narratives about eating disorders (or just eating or dieting or bodies) that support whatever we happen to believe. Some people think that fat hides a "true self," others think that dieting is an expression of self-hate, and so on; we've all found stories to suit our own agendas...

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  12. I am really looking forward to this discussion -- I won't miss it. I think that there are more points on which Debbie, Laurie, and I probably agree than disagree. And I agree with Erin that there's no reason to start creating factions. I think we're all interested in a wider range of acceptable choices for women, not a narrower one.

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  13. Wendy rocks-I love her books. I didn't attend that session, and I would have gotten riled up if I did, that said the whole joint was filled with strong personalities, I guess some of this was bound to happen.

    I have been in and out of weight watchers for years, my mother was a lifetime member. I gave up on it personally because the meetings get on my nerves, but for those it works for I admire you!

    I wish I had known there were other diet bloggers there. I was there working for another company, not promoting my weight loss blog
    http://crazydiets.blogger.com

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  14. I can't thank you enough for putting in to words what I attempt to say on a daily basis. Yes, I was one of those WWers who lost a bunch of weight, developed an eating disorder, spiraled in to depression, gained all the weight back, got professional help, learned to respect and love my body, practice positive self-talk, and returned to weight watchers.

    How in the hell do I balance respecting my body as it is and the desire to lose weight? I don't love the SIZE I am today but I do love WHO I am today. Just because I am on a weight-loss journey does not mean that I am not allowed to cheer for body-positivity. I only want to feel comfortable in my size, I don't want to be a super model. What is so wrong with that?

    I've added your blog to my google reader and look forward to reading!

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07