“Why are you trying to lose weight?”
“Oh, you know,” I say. “Need to lose a few pounds.”
Don’t tell me, I want to say. I know this one. It’s a joke, asking women why they want to lose weight.
I’m trying to lose weight because I’m fat and no longer comfortable in my body for a multitude of reasons you may or may not empathize with.
Because following the birth of my child, I stopped prioritizing my own health. I regained the 60 pounds I first gained during pregnancy, then lost while breastfeeding, then gained back.
Because my workload suddenly tripled, and I barely have the time to sleep let alone cook healthy meals.
Because my free time is spent playing with my son instead of going to the gym, because I will only have these precious and frustrating early years once.
Because I have developed an emotionally dependent relationship with food.
Because society has conditioned women to believe their value as a person can be measured by their weight far more than their contributions or character.
I don’t say any of this. I rarely do, because historically what I intend to be an honest statement that I hope will inspire or facilitate a deeper conversation is met with admonitions. It’s a bummer, or it’s “too serious.” These responses come almost exclusively from men — which I, for now, assume is at least somewhat related to the bullshit men* are raised with: emotions are a sign of weakness, boys don’t cry, and other assorted, inane nonsense. Women, by and large, nod appreciatively. In the broader sense, it doesn’t seem to matter how empathetic, funny, engaging, or socially minded we are. Ours is a world that makes snap judgments based on our appearances. When was the last time you looked at a stranger and thought “Oh yeah, look at the sense of social obligation on that one?”
My desire for help, for connection, for commiseration and support, is silenced before the things I want to say can surface. There’s a sense of being resigned, of having given up. I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable on my search for connection and understanding, because, don’t you know? Women don’t complain.
Many of the women I have known grew up aware of the same silent rule I’ve been unknowingly adhering to all my life: girls don’t complain. Women are expected to be caring, nurturing, loving, self-sacrificing. Is this unspoken rule an exploitation of the maternal instinct? Does the maternal instinct even exist? I don’t know. I have no idea. I can say, with certainty, that am not an instinctual parent. I parent by learning. I had no idea how to breastfeed or help a newborn latch on to a breast. I learned how to do so through many, many hours with a squirmy little leech attached to me. I didn’t suddenly know what his different cries meant, or even that he had different cries at first; I learned through paying attention.
Whether it’s nature or nurture, the end result is the same. On my list of priorities my mental and physical health hovers towards the bottom, because I have ended up in a place, mentally, that no longer sees the pursuit of better mental or physical health as something of value. I find myself spending a majority of my time at home cleaning. That’s it. Cleaning. Picking up, wiping down, rinsing off, changing over. Time I could be spending writing, or reading, or doing yoga or just… staring at the wall.
That’s pretty bleak, right?
It would be easy to let myself carry on like this, never growing, never moving out of this very uncomfortable comfort zone. But here’s an opinion you hear so often that you probably don’t believe it when you hear it anymore: being a parent makes me want to be a better person. I love my son, but my desire to be a better and healthier person stems from acknowledging how influential his father and I are in how he views and interacts with the world.
What kind of person will he grow up to be, if his first and biggest influence is depressed, unhappy, unhealthy? How will this influence his view of women? Of marriages? How can I hope to raise a well-rounded, empathetic, conscientious human if I can’t be those things myself? What will I do with myself and my life when he’s grown and left home? Do I want to be like this forever?
I always end up with more questions than answers. That’s okay, though. I like questions.
When it’s time for a I’m uncomfortable in the body I currently exist in, due the the limitations an excess 50 or so pounds puts on me. I’m unhappy with my energy levels and eating habits. I’m not okay with no longer being able to see myself for the breadth of who I am: engaged, attentive, passionate, and maybe more than a little difficult.
So, yeah, I’m doing it partly for my kid. Mostly, though, I’m doing it for me.
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*(or, more specifically: people assigned male at birth and raised with male gender roles and expectations)