I Am That Girl Now

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Anyone trying cross-party discussions before the 2004 election (or, for that matter, after it) has experienced a blank inability to grasp the other side's point of view-- from your side, or theirs, or both. There's a certain point at which one's brain just explodes because the other side just isn't grasping something SO OBVIOUS or the OBVIOUS IMPORTANCE of that thing, and that's usually when the defensive reactions begin: name-calling and blanket accusations.

If you've ever been fat and had to deal with thin people, particularly family, then you know how this goes, too. Under every weight-loss ploy, every carrot dangled, every quotation of statistics, every example held up, every glare over a second helping, every scathing remark, every plea, every intervention... under each of these is the same blank lack of understanding. The question is simple: Why? Why not lose weight? Why live with the social stigma, the uncomfortable body, the difficulty in buying clothes, the endless string of public embarrassments, the health problems, the shortened life span? Why not eat right and exercise and be done with it?

Oh, gee, I don't know. Why not get a new job? Why not run for public office? Why not learn a new language? Why not build a new house? Why not move to a different city? Why not get married? Why not get divorced? Why not start dating again? Why not have kids? Why not convert to a different religion-- or even a slightly different branch of the one you're in? Why not get a college degree?

There's a million answers to those, too, right? For all of them, including weight loss and fitness, it boils down to because it's a lot of work, because it would turn my life upside-down, and because I don't want it enough quite yet. None of these things are impossible, they just require a lot of effort, a lot of learning, a lot of time; they mean that you have to choose to sacrifice other dreams, other hobbies; they mean that you have to rethink all your priorities and the whole way you live your life. It means you're going to have to go through a period in which you're uncomfortable, when you don't know the answers and you have to learn things that are elementary for other people, when you're going to make an ass of yourself and grit your teeth to get through it. It means that things will get harder before they get easier. It means that you're going to dig down and change, in some way, who you are, and that's a big thing.

The fact that people bandy weight-loss around as if the process consisted of a few magic steps annoys the hell out of me. Yes, in the end it's just that simple, in the way that moving is simply a process of packing things, putting them in a truck to transport to a new destination, and then unpacking. And yet, because the vast majority of people has to hoss their belongings into a new home at some point in their lives, moving is a process that society holds in awe and dread. We all know from moving, and we all remember how complicated and never-ending and soul-sucking and infuritating it was. We all remember accidentally turning down the wrong street again and again and again and again, how it took us forever to find replacements for the stores and restaurants we loved in the old neighborhood, how it's so annoying to have to drive an extra twenty minutes to get to work or school, how long it took to pack and unpack and how much stuff got lost or damaged in the process. We all know that shit. Only the scarred veterans of the weight-loss wars know how hard the process of getting yourself into a new body is.

I have some family members who like to hold me up as an example to other people. "Meg did it, you should be able to, too!" MY GOD, THAT PISSES ME OFF.

Look, first of all, that trivializes what I did. I didn't "just stop eating junk", I had to learn to cook, I had to learn all about nutrition, I had to scour the supermarket for suitable replacements, I had to get the hang of portion control, I had to learn to navigate the myriad social obligations that food is involved with, hell, I had to re-work the very methods I use for putting food in my mouth at meals so that I don't eat it so goddamn fast. I didn't "just start exercising", I had to learn as I went, I had to learn a whole new skill set that I'd spent my whole life avoiding, I had to learn to like being dirty and sweaty, I had to fight myself every morning when the alarm clock went off, I had to deal with self-inflicted injury due to stupidity, I had to build endurance and strength and flexibility and grapple with the fact that it wasn't simple and instant to get this shit to improve. I had to uproot a lot of old stuff in my psyche, I had to build my self-confidence from nothing, I had to learn to take time for myself, I had to sacrifice sleep and time for other much-beloved hobbies and fight out what this meant to my marriage. Saying "just" in relation to what I went through is a goddamn insult, and when you use it to characterize my journey to someone else in order to get them to start on their own journey, you're involving me in a huge fucking lie, even if you're too damn ignorant to know it's a lie.

Second, I'm here to say that it's a lie that doesn't actually work. It's not motivating. It's not helpful. Nine times out of ten it comes out like a rich bastard giving advice on how to get out of debt-- dude, you've never been there, you have no idea what you're talking about, just shut up already. Yes, the advice might be applicable, but coming from somebody who hasn't been there? I don't think so. Fat folk know it's not actually as easy as you're making it out to be-- hell, the vast majority of us fail miserably at the first umpteen diet attempts before something finally clicks-- and so those helpful hints just breed distrust and resentment.

Third, you're not going to get much milage out of a second-hand story. You've removed yourself from this, elevated yourself above it, and it shows: clearly you have to talk about other people's success because clearly you've never had a problem with this yourself. You might have the best of intentions, but it's not gonna fly.

And fourth, here's the big thing: you are not showing respect for the enormity of this decision. This is, I tell you, a decision that's right up on the level of deciding to get married or to have kids, in terms of committment and in terms of work; it is a committment to yourself, and a huge adjustment, and most often people walk into this not only knowing that they've failed at this before, but that eighty percent of people who try this fail at it. I mean, marriage has taken a hell of a rap for a 50% divorce rate, so just imagine if it was at 80%. Yeah, those are some scary odds. Respect the courage it takes to start this sort of thing, knowing those odds. Respect that this is not something that people undertake frivolously. And respect that this is not easy, physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, or in how one deals with one's social setting.


Here's the truth of the matter: you can't do shit about a person's decision to lose weight. You can't force them, bully them, bribe them, convince them with statistics, or use the threat of disease and early death. Guilt doesn't work. Shame doesn't work. Logic doesn't work.

It doesn't work. It just plain DOES NOT WORK. It is one of those giant, deeply personal, life-changing decisions that epics are written about, and you don't make a giant, deeply personal, life-changing decision based on someone else's opinion of what your decision should be.

"So what CAN we do, Meg?" Hey, I'm glad you asked.

First, you have to ask yourself a hard question: has this become a power struggle between yourself and your overweight loved one? Is it more important that they lose weight, or that they do what you want?

Because here's the thing, my friend: if this has already become a power struggle, then you're too late to be of any help in an active sense. If your loved one feels that losing weight would mean that you "won", then they're much more likely to stubbornly stay at their current weight, if not put more weight on just to spite you.

What you have established at this point is that you will not accept them as they are. No matter if you yourself can see the difference between their identity and their weight: for your loved one, all that comes across is that you don't love them as they are, that you are ashamed of them, that you want them to change so that you feel better.

Get this through your head: it is their decision to make, and for every "yes, I will make the committment" decision there are hundreds of "no, I'm not ready yet" decisions that come beforehand. All the pushing you do will not change their current answer; if they're not ready, they're not ready. Hell, your pushing may actually be the reason they're not ready-- you may be the thing that's standing in their way.

So if you really want to do something, do this first: LET GO. Step back. Give your loved one enough respect to realize that they are not stupid and they are not children; they are grown folk in charge of their own life and deserve to be treated as such. If the decision is "no", then that's how it is right now.

Don't talk about this stuff. Don't hint. Don't beg. Don't make suggestions or little arch comments. Don't talk about how good they'd look "if". Love them just as they are, and make sure they know that your love is not dependent on good behavior or obedience or weight loss.

Yes, I realize you want some kind of action, some sort of pro-active forward movement. You're looking for the magic bullet. Sorry, folks: it doesn't exist. This is not something you can control. Your job, inasmuch as you get a job, is to remove as many obstacles from your loved one's path as possible. Including, if necessary, yourself.

How about this: learn about this stuff yourself. The greatest gift you can give is support, and since you don't have field knowledge, you'll have to get some book learnin'. Be prepared. Read up on nutrition. Read up on exercise. Read up, more than either of those, on weight loss and the issues involved.

Deal with your own problems first. Just because you don't have weight to lose doesn't mean that you're virtuous; there are a lot of nutritional sins that skinny folk commit, too. How are you with whole grains? Fruits and vegetables? Lean meats? What are your serving sizes like? Do you make an effort to learn cooking techniques that make nutritious food taste delicious? Do you make an effort to have balanced meals? Do you make an effort to expand your culinary horizons? Do you try new things, buy new foods and learn how to prepare them? Hell, do you know how to cook at all? And how about exercise? What are your habits like?

For one thing, this is a nice distraction. For another thing, you're setting an example-- and by getting in shape or changing your diet or changing your habits, you're also making a silent point that this isn't so much a weight thing as a health thing, that it's not about what you look like, but what you feel like. You're also showing how these things work.

Support isn't made of words. Support is made of actions. Put your money where your mouth is-- live the way you'd be asking them to live. Do it well; do it in such a way that it's a good lifestyle, it's an enjoyable experience, full of good food and fun actions. Do not, however, take this as license to preach about what you're doing: just because you're no longer a hypocrite doesn't make you a saint. You may have learned a part of what you're asking your loved one, but that doesn't mean you're experiencing all of it by any stretch of the imagination-- there are emotional and psychological issues that come with being fat and with weight loss that you'll never really grasp. Deal with that. Get it through your head.

You can't make anyone else lose weight. You can help, but not by pushing or nagging; you can help by clearing the way, learning all you can, fixing your own problems, being a good example, loving them the way they are, accepting their decisions in spite of your own preferences, and shutting up. Okay?

(End rant. Sorry, folks, but this one really bugged me.)

11 Comments:

  • Well said. I agree with everything you've said here. It is hard, and it is a personal decison that no one else can make, no matter how hard they push or prod you. I have a friend that I'd love to help, but in the end it is her decision.

    By Blogger ms ralph, at 11:11 PM  

  • another truly magnificent rant, meg. you are so damn smart and eloquent!

    By Anonymous dietgirl, at 7:27 AM  

  • Meg as usual, you nailed it. Man I got to print this one out to savor over and over.

    By Anonymous renee, at 9:11 AM  

  • This rant rocks! Thanks for taking the time to write it all out. :)

    By Anonymous Cathy, at 11:25 AM  

  • There's a lot I want to say, but mainly "AMEN!" So many people get self-righteous after losing weight and forget how complicated and difficult the struggle is. Your blog often moves me greatly and I enjoy your writing and voice a great deal.

    By Anonymous Laura, at 12:32 PM  

  • *clapping* You deserve a standing ovation for this one.

    By Blogger Candice, at 2:04 PM  

  • BRILLIANT!!

    By Blogger M@rla, at 6:17 PM  

  • Brava, brava!! Wow, you've totally nailed it. Yes! Thank you!

    By Blogger vj, at 8:11 AM  

  • Wow! All on point. Thanks for writing it.

    By Blogger Nikki, at 12:20 PM  

  • Excellent! Can't say it any better than that.

    ~Kyra

    By Blogger Savy, at 12:36 PM  

  • indeed indeed, a FANTASTIC post! I've printed it out and read and re-read it over and over.

    By Anonymous Cynthia, at 11:17 PM  

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