Several bloggers lately have posted that as they lose weight, they feel scared and unsafe. Out of privacy concerns, I won't post links. Some people have specific memories of sexual assaults or other violations, and others just have a vague sense of dread. On the Style Network reality show "Ruby,"a major storyline is that her 700-plus pound weight stemmed from a need to protect herself from a sexual assault that she only vaguely remembers.
I don't necessarily think that something specific had to happen to you as a child or teenager to feel this way. There are plenty of messages out there that girls and women are not safe, and that sexual attractiveness is a double-edged sword. Parents fear for their girls as they grow up in a way that they don't fear for their boys, and they send that message loud and clear to their kids even if the kids don't fully understand. I know several tweens who are starting to look older, and people will say right in front of them that their fathers are "going to need a shotgun." This kind of stuff has to make an impact, as do the little micro-incidents of guys at the gas station leering at a woman as she walks in to pay, or other unwanted attention that crosses the line from admiring to creepy.
I have also seen several bloggers posting about the aging process and the accompanying feelings of loss. As I entered my forties, I had the feeling of time running out, of the feeling that what's left of my looks has a fast-approaching expiration date. When I go to movies now, I am closer to the age of the parents than to the young sexy people. Sometimes as a married woman with a normal husband who can get distracted and busy, I feel invisible. I was talking to another married woman recently, and she was talking about switching her antidepressant. "I just need something that makes me happy all the time, since my husband won't do it. If he would just have sex with me all the time..." She laughed but I sensed that there was some truth buried in this joke. She is also overweight, and I have heard similar "jokes" from enough overweight married women to wonder if that feeling of losing our mojo could be part of the story of why we gain weight. These are sometimes the same women who say that when they start to lose weight, the husband starts bringing home "treats" from the bakery or the pizza parlor.
I don't presume to know enough about men's psyches to speculate on what their weight-sex-gender connections might be, but I wouldn't be surprised if there is one.
As a group, Americans are the fattest people on the planet. We also seem to be one of the most sexually confused cultures on the planet. We have the largest porn industry in the world, but we are in such deep denial about birth control that half of all pregnancies here are unintended. Our media images of sexuality all seem to be so impossibly unattainable that there is a sense that all of us ordinary people should leave sex to the professionals. There are also plenty of images in movies and video games that link sexual images with violent ones.
I'm pretty convinced, from a purely anecdotal standpoint, that this ambivalence and fear surrounding sexuality may be one of the bigger factors in the stubbornness of weight issues. Yet most of the weight loss resources out there focus on the mechanics of calories and exercise. I think as long as there are deeper issues in the way, none of these solutions can work for long. What do you think?