Ms. Opinionated: I'm a Feminist But I Hate My Body.

 

ms opinionated logoWelcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Sydette Harry hears from a reader considering major weight-loss surgery.  

Hi,

I was hoping to gather some thoughts. I consider myself a feminist, I campaign for equal rights and I work in the field of sexual assault and family violence. I give thought to things like body shaming and I understand about socially constructed beauty ideas. I would like people to accept me for my thoughts, values and humor.

But 

I really dislike to the point of hating my body. I am overweight and, according to the BMI index, I am obese. I have to opportunity to have astomach sleeve operation, which I know is a drastic measure.

I know that women feel the need to shrink to be accepted. I know that women are forced into a life of less, less food, less space. I don't support women who are told they are less than by not fitting into stereotyped beauty standards. I feel like I went further in my career because I don't fit into standard body type. I wasn't sexualized by men, and I was listened to because of this.

But

I want to fit into stereotyped standards. I want to feel not different, I want to feel not chuckled about. I want to feel like I don't have to say I'm a "real" girl, because I have curves (which I hate), I don't have to rely on being a funny chick, or and I shall reverse the sexist paradigm, that I'm cool with being the girl in the friend zone!!

I don't want to compromise my ideals and my anger at beauty standards and objectification. But I want to be normal and fit into clothes at normal stores. I want to buy second hand clothes and have a chance in hell at fitting into them.

I would like to look in the mirror an not hate what I see. I would also like to not be a sell out to my feminist ideals.

What do you think? Can I balance a stomach sleeve operation and maintain feminist ideals?

Thanks in advance

Heart on My Stomach Sleeve

Oh heart.

I'm writing this to you as one fat girl to another. Whether you do it or not, this surgery will not in any way fix most of what ails you.

I know because I considered/am sometimes still considering it. Because it feels easier. Because it's one less battle, one less thing to have to fight. You'll get to be seen by people, you won't cry at meals anymore, or in dressing rooms. People will be nice to you. I once lost 40 pounds, then gained it all back and then some. I will verify that the difference even that little bit made in how people treated me was enormous. But the difference in how I saw myself, how I saw my body, and how I treated my body was not.

The way you’re asking about this makes me think altering your body won’t transform the way you see it, either.

The way you describe things is troublesome. The first thing that concerns is your concept of the “friend zone.” That definitely isn't feminist. I'm going to tell you (lovingly—hear this lovingly) but no one owes you sex, romance, or affection. Not for being awesome and funny, not for buying dinner, not for being a kind ear, not for being a good friend. The people we want don't always want us. That's life.

You can be tired of being in the friend zone, because it's a thing born of disappointment and entitlement. You're disappointed and really want something. But its just not a thing that really exists. You think you wind up without dates because you're fat. Some of it is that, maybe. But it could be because you're a blonde and not a brunette. It could be because you’re a little short. People are attracted to who they are attracted to and, yep, that’s influenced by society. But there are many, many gorgeous fat girls in happy relationships. And, of course, there’s the stereotypical beautiful women who never seem to get it right.

I'm willing to bet money that you don't like the people who are attracted to you AND that you are so used to being seen as unattractive that people who you would be attracted to could send up nothing short of a signal flare and you would miss it. I speak from experience:  you don't see yourself as attractive so you probably can't recognize when other people see you as attractive.

As for the "feminism" of this surgery? I truly don't care and wish you wouldn't either.

Your description of feminism focuses on other women, your romantic struggles focus on imaginary categorizations from other people, even your self validation is about your career and how people find you funny etcetera. Feminism isn't going to live in your body for you.

If you truly can not go on as you are? Have the surgery.

But are you prepared to have it not be the magical cure-all you imagine it to be? Are you prepared to still be uncomfortable in romantic situations? Are you prepared to be more conventionally beautiful and find that intimate partners may be open about just being around for your looks? On top of that, I'm not a medical doctor, but I know about four people who have had the surgery. There are real side affects of the surgery, ranging from diarrhea to vitamin malabsorption to fatigue to having the surgery just not work.

The way you feel about sex and love are going to be the same, with or without the surgery .

My immediate advice to you is to see a professional. Talk to someone about ALL of this and do what feels right. Whether you get the surgery or not, the work of how you feel will be on you.

Wishing you only the best,

Sydette

Read previous installments of our feminist advice column

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. 


Want the best of Bitch in your inbox? Sign up for our free weekly reader!

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I hear ya....

This column resonates with me on so many levels. I felt the same way as Heart on my Stomach Sleeve a few years ago, and in some ways still do. So I had the surgery.

I am also a proud feminist, but was ashamed by the hatred I felt for my body, which like you, I knew was unfair and unrealistic, and shaped by societal expectations. I thought I couldn't feel good about myself without losing weight. In addition to being obese, I was/am depressed and had/have anxiety disorder. I thought if I could at least address my weight problem, I could be closer to happy with myself.

So I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy two years ago. I lost +120 pounds. Since my lowest weight, I've gained back 12 pounds. It was an amazing feeling to lose all of that weight, to have this different body I have now.

But Ms. Opinionated is right, you still have the same problems you had prior to surgery. I still struggle with depression and anxiety, and with self-worth feelings in general. I still place a lot more importance than I think is healthy on my appearance. Importantly, I still struggle with my food addiction. While I can no longer binge eat the same way I did before, I can still overindulge and graze. I have gained 12 pounds back, and it is slowly moving up. My mother had the surgery two years before me and has gained almost all of her weight back. It's not a magic bullet. You can gain all of the weight back, and many people do.

I still have to work really hard in therapy to address these issues. I am constantly concerned by the prospect of gaining the weight back, and ever pound that creeps up on the scale is horrifying. Horrifying in a way that makes me want to drown my fears in food, a problem which didn't go away because of the surgery.

It's a tough road. I think the therapy and dealing with the underlying issues is what is most critical.

Good luck on your journey.

Oh, friend, let me give you a hug.

I've been there. I am there. I feel you. I will tell you my story and you can take or leave it, but above all else, know that I get it and am sending you a giant hug right now.

I weighed 210 pounds and hated my body. I had my thyroid checked; it was fine. There was no physical reason for me to be gaining weight. I recognized that my eating patterns were really unhealthy. I saw a therapist. I joined OA (Overeaters Anonymous). I began to figure out what triggered my compulsive eating. I lost 31 pounds.

And I still don't magically feel good about my body. I thought if I lost the weight I would love how I looked. But my body has shifted in some funny ways, and I still *feel* 210 even if I only weigh 179. I have more I want to lose but I'm slowly realizing that losing the weight won't magically fix how I feel about my looks.

It is work--accepting and loving and learning to care for your body. It is work for EVERYONE but especially for bigger gals. But not just for larger ladies; smaller women are often shamed for sharing body insecurities. We are all in this together.

Good for you for reaching out, for writing. Keep reaching out; keep talking about your feelings. Try therapy if there's any possible way you can afford it and/or access low or no cost services. Find a compassionate doctor and see if there are other health problems that are complicating your situation. Find out what foods make your body feel energetic and amazing and alive and eat more of them; eat less of what makes you feel sluggish and tired. Get involved in a faith community if that's your thing. Try a support group.

Don't give up on yourself or your body. Your body got you this far and, if nothing else, deserves some serious respect for that.

Hi. As a fellow (sister?)

Hi. As a fellow (sister?) fat girl, I echo everything Sydette says. Struggling with fully loving my body (cellulite and all) is something that has plagued me my entire life. I also want to let you know that BMI is not an accurate way of determining your body fat. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439).

I have no idea what you do for exercise, but I also want to suggest taking up yoga. It's the most positive fitness environment I've ever encountered . I've never felt fat shamed, or that the instructor thought that I was incapable of doing something simply because of my size. Also, at least for me, seeing the amazing things that my body can do has really helped improve our relationship. Here's a website that I really like: http://bodypositiveyoga.com/

I wish you the best of luck.

Use surgery as a last resort

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to lose the 100 extra pounds that I thought must have contributed to it. With the help of Weight Watchers and the YMCA, I did it in a year and a half. It wasn't easy, but I was stubborn and determined, and I've maintained my weight for five years. It was the best decision I ever made. HOWEVER, it brought with it a few results I hadn't thought of. Loose skin, for one. When you reach a certain age, say 40-ish, your skin doesn't snap back like it used to, so I still carry that "baggage." I could get surgery, but the idea of going under the knife for that kind of freaks me out. I also thought that losing the weight would cause me to "lose" other problems, that suddenly I would have love in my life and that the weight was the only thing holding me back from that. Wrong. I still have difficulty letting others get close to me or even letting them know that I'm interested. I think it's an issue with trust--not sure why except that most of the men in my life (like my father and brother) have let me down. So, no, losing weight won't solve all of your problems, but it's definitely worth it for the health benefits, such as no longer having arthritis in my knee or sleep apnea. I love going for walks and hikes, riding my bike, and even working out (or at least how I feel after I've worked out) and no longer have to rest the tray table on my stomach. Little things like that make a difference. Try doing it the old-fashioned way first, though. It's more difficult than surgery, but the feeling of accomplishment you'll have will help to keep you motivated to keep it up, and you'll be so proud of yourself that you won't care about what others think. That's something that no one will be able to take away from you.

WLS is dangerous; try HAES

Seconding & supporting what others have said here. Please be aware that weight loss surgery is dangerous, as well as (as others have said) no panacea. See here for more on problems with WLS: http://www.cswd.org/docs/opposewls.html. As Sydette says, it has side effects. It has killed people. I encourage you to look into the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement and intuitive eating. (See, e.g., https://www.sizediversityandhealth.org/sitemap.asp). Check out fatshion, and the fat acceptance movement, to find a more supportive community (and cute clothes you can wear). Best wishes on finding a professional who can help you work through this stuff.

Thank you for your feedback

Thankyou all so much for your feedback and for being so kind.

For ms opinionated and others who have lost weight and gained again. Do you think when you said that people treated you differently, if this had of continued you would have eventually changed the opinion of yourself?

I'm going to investigate my options further, I too have lost and gained. I have once lost 25kilos (not sure what this is in pounds). It was hard work and I was proud of my achievement but it was not enough to keep it off.

I'm sick of the struggle but know in the rational part of my brain that it will only add a new struggle.

Thanks for the support and the input, I have spoken to a psychologist (who I think was the wrong fit for me and this particular issue) but I may try to find another practioner to speak to.

Thanks for your input it is something I take on board and consider before making this choice

false choice

Hi there! Thank you for raising these questions, it's something I've thougth so much about myself. The first thing that struck me about your letter is what I think might be a false premise - that you were listened to more because of not adhering to the standard beauty norm, that you you advanced in your career because of that.

It's true that we are constantly rewarded and punished for how we look in this society. But - I think you advanced because of your brain and your work ethics. YES, if you had, for example, shown up at work totally dolled up, with big hair and false eye-lashes and very revealing clothes, THAT might have worked against you, but I think you are selling yourself short if you think your (higher) weight protected you against being objectified and that a lower weight would have worked against you. For the record I think you SHOULD be able to dress like Dolly Parton and be taken seriously - and indeed, Dolly herself is widely respected, but that is a different email. A family member of mine does look a bit like Dolly, and she is totally unapologetic and she kicks ASS at work.

My main point is, don't give anybody else power over your body. If you diet like a jockey and live in the gym to be as skinny as possible then you're playing into the patriarchy, yes. But similarly, if you gain weight to circumvent the patriarchy, well, then you're STILL making decisions about your body based on that. Thinking this way is a trap! You can't win! The patriarchy will always get you, as long as you respond by abdicating power over yourself. And I sense you know this, because it's not really about being a certain weight. It's nt about being skinnier or heavier, it's not about a surgery as much as it is about OWNING YOURSELF.

A surgery won't necessarily help you own yourself. Losing X amoutn of pounds won't necessarily help you own yourself. Being desired by someone else won't necessarily help you own yourself. Only you can take that radical step of issuing ownership over yourself.

How that happens is probably different for everyone. I can tell you how I did it, because maybe some of my experiences will be helpful (and maybe not, maybe you need a totally different path). For me, exercise helped. It helped me start to look at myself from the INSIDE instead of the outside. Not all exercise is equal, mind you, so I'd exercised before and never enjoyed it, it was just another chore that was supposed to be "healthy" but felt tainted because I really didn't do it from a place of joy or power, I did it to look better and I felt conflicted and weird about that.

Now, I don't do that anymore. I do stuff that makes me FEEL great. Bad-ass. STrong. For me, that's cross-fit and weights, with some yoga, for you it can be anything from tango lessons to tai+chi, it doesn't signify, as long as you get that feeling of truly living in your body. Being in awe of what you can do. Being surprised.

I ook at my arm and I don't judge it by how I think it would look to someone else, but instead of how it FELT this morning when I finally was able to do 3 push-ups, on my knees but with my boobs kissing hte floor. It felt awesome. I felt strong. I realize now that MY body is ME, and *I* am made for walking and jumping and running and kicking and bending and lifting and that it matters how I *feel*. Don't give you on finding out what YOU are made for!

The courage to put my own experience squarely in the center (where it belongs!) has not been easy to find, not at first. I found help, in the most unlikely of places, in a cross fit gym that at first seemed very intimidating and macho. But, the people there were the most supportive, generous and lovely feminist guys (and gals! Awesome role models). There were no mirrors. There were no assumptions about what I could do or not could not do. There was also no patronizing pity if I said that I could't possibly be expected to do something, because wow, that was for strong people, not people like me. . Turns out, everything is scaleable, the most important thing was that I try. NEver put myself in a corner, watching the other kids do the cool stuff.

Noone has EVER mentioned the words "weight loss" there, to anyone, and members who come there with that goal are gently being redirected to a goal of health and fitness and joy. Other people might laugh and laugh and laugh when I talk of my accomplishments, and it's true, ESPN won't be calling anytime soon for the girl who did 10 air squats thsi morning. But I used to be able to do NONE. And I am so fucking proud that I improved that I can't tell you.

I only met a serious, respectful interest in my own ability to do new stuff. The respect those guys showed my tiny, tiny progress actually demonstrated to me how *I* could treat myself. And I saw people of all sizes doing amazing things, and it rammed home the idea once and for all that weight does NOT equal fitness. Fitness = fitness. Work = health.

I've been "overweight" and blissfully unaware of it and felt like the hottest thing around..But I couldn't stop smoking and drinking, funnily enough. I've been underweight and aligned with some of the more extreme beauty standards out there and not thriving at all, medically unhealthy and unable to really process or appreciate the attention I got, because I just felt not at home in my own body at all. Also, I was in pain a lot, from medical issues. SO I've been both sides of the fence and it was actaully the same.

Now I'm sort of in the middle and I'm happy as a clam. My weight is my weight, it takes care of itself and I don't give a hoot. It's not important. The choices I make for myself every day are. To take the time to stretch. To take the time to sleep. To make myself a goddamn priority. I am militant about caring about how I feel, from the inside out. My body is mine-mine-mine, and now I want to claim it, and funnily enough, others want too. And NOW I can really enjoy that, because, hah, I agree!

I think it's a pretty fantastic body I have (actually, I AM my body, it's not an accessory to my mind and brain), NOT because of somebody else's opinion, but because of the joy I feel in moving. I put on a pair of pants today that I had designated as "fat pants" earlier. Guess what, they're still tight! I was surprised because I feel so good I subconsciously assumed that they ought to be really lose, right? *Because there is still a shadow of the stupid idea that feeling good = skinnier popping up in my brain sometimes.

But, lo and behold, my fat pants are still as tight as ever. tOnly now they're awesome-pants. I feel truly great, in them and out of them. That was such an eye-opener. It's so much less about the weight and so much more about the joy. Find your joy. Find the JOY and the pleasure only your body can give you, that only you can give you. Don't rent out your body to society's notion of what you ought to look like, because either way, you lose. It's a scam!

Your skinniness or your extra weight won't protect you against patriarchy, against bullshit. If someone wants to objectify you, oh, they'll find a way. Your own strenght (and those of your loved ones) will protect you.
'
There is no magical number where you are attractive enough to merit the admiration and attraction of those you desire but not SO attractive you'll be, you know, taken seriously at work. It's not as if a mysogonist takes a look at someone and goes "oh, better hold it with the bullshit, she's not a willowy size 0, I'm going to start really respecting her brain now". Just like there's no magical point of being, you know, sexy enough without veering into slutty. That is also a scam and a trap.

So whatever you do, start with taking your own bodily joy and pleasure seriously. It's not easy to switch to a new mindset but only you can do it. A surgeon can't do it for you and neither can an arbitrary number on the scale. But it's totally doable, if you have patience and perseverance, and put yourself first. Perhaps you need to spend some time looking for your perfect gym or trainer or activity but it's worth it. And you sidestep all those tautological, unwinnable issues about body-sizes and dating and giving in to the current notions of beauty and feeling bad or good abou tthat, because what becomes MORE important is your opinion about you!