My Past Work: On Body Issues

Bodies! We all have them. Most people find their own to be a source of endless angst, and some people, also known as assholes, also find other people’s to be a source of angst, which they enthusiastically pass along to the body’s owners, and that’s why I have to write all this stuff.

 

 

I’m consistently shocked at how many of my perfectly healthy and beautiful friends have been called fat, have been raked over the coals for negligible or imaginary weight gain or who simply have been skewered with disappointed looks and declarations of “You haven’t lost any weight” when they went home to visit their families. Mothers seem to be the most common culprits, but fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles can also be guilty.

If this is the type of situation that awaits you at home, go in prepared with a list of affirmations you can use to brush off hurtful comments. If you can tell yourself, “My doctor says I’m healthy” or “I’ve gained muscle this semester,” you can keep rude remarks in perspective.

Remember that critics almost always have their own reasons for tearing you down. Maybe your mom is insecure about her own weight and taking it out on you. Maybe your dad feels weird about how much you’ve grown. These explanations don’t excuse poor behavior; making loved ones feel like crap during the holidays is inexcusable and any adult should know better. But noting the motives behind mean remarks — and how little they have to do with you — makes it easier to identify those remarks for what they are: bulls**t.

“Coping With Eating Anxiety During Thanksgiving,” November 2011.

 

The typical simplified response is that women shave to look attractive to men — but that might not be the case. Many women report that when they go without shaving, they only get grief about it from other women. Their boyfriends, husbands and one-night stands, overall, are totally unfazed.

Still, I’m frequently asked whether or not my boyfriend minds.  He doesn’t — my boyfriend is a great big hippie and prefers  that I not clog landfills with disposable razor waste — but is that really the point? In all the time we’ve been together, no one has ever asked him if I approve of his No-Shave November beard or the goatee he sported when we met. I like the beard just fine, but why am I expected to groom with his interests in mind, and not vice versa?

If my boyfriend has never cared and I don’t own stock in Gillette, why have I shaved since puberty? Until this October, I always insisted that I only did so because I wanted to. Superficially, that was true — aside from my mother, nobody ever told me that I had to shave. And I did — still do — like the look and feel of smooth legs. Yet when I considered going without shaving for more than a week, I was filled with inexplicable anxiety.

“No-Shave November Not Just For Men,” November 2011.

 

You don’t hate fat people, but of course you feel kind of judgmental when you see a fat person shoveling down high-calorie food. It’s like, totally disrespectful to their bodies. Interestingly, when you see someone thin put away three or four slices of pizza, you’re either indifferent or moved to congratulate, even though those four slices of pizza are wreaking the same havoc on their circulatory system they would on a fat person’s. You also don’t have the same gut reaction to people smoking, binge drinking or using energy drinks to pull all-nighters.

You — you the doctor, the school or the government agency — are only concerned about fat people’s health, which is why you evaluate their weight and risk factors based on Body Mass Index. BMI is a meaningless equation easily skewed by height, takes no account of body composition — many serious athletes are obese, according to BMI — and hasn’t been considered a legitimate health measurement in years.

But more reliable ways of determining whether a person is obese are just so much more expensive and time-consuming. Why spring for the latest technology when you’re evaluating whether to put a perfectly healthy person on a diet or deny him or her employment due to vague insurance concerns? It’s not like we’re talking about people’s lives and livelihoods here. Aren’t these all perfectly acceptable casualties in the very noble war on the Obesity Epidemic?

“Fat Shaming Misguided,” December 2011. FUN FACT: I wrote this one in response to the Pitt News running an editorial about how discriminating against fat people in the workplace is totally OK.

 

Though picking at our own flaws is already a year-round occupation for most of us, things really tend to deteriorate in the summer.

After all, nothing feels less sexy than sweating through all of your clothes. Maybe you love the pool or beach, and you’re feeling the pressure to get a “bikini body.” Maybe you’re home for the summer and your parents are critical of your body, or trying to pressure you to fad diet with them. Maybe you normally hide your insecurities behind layers of baggy clothing, and find yourself dismayed now that the temperature passed 90 degrees and it’s basically too hot to justify wearing anything at all. Or maybe you feel intimidated by those occasional perfect days, when the breeze and temperature are just right and everyone around you seems to have stepped out of an episode of MTV’s “Beautiful People Doing Stuff” — that’s a real show, right? — especially in Schenley Plaza.

“Avoid Social Pressures to ‘Get In Shape’ This Summer,” July 2012.

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