By Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC
I’ve been hearing this recently:
“People want to be able to talk about losing weight and not be shamed because of it.”
It is a misconception to believe that everyone comes to a weight-neutral practitioner or organization on-board with body acceptance. Our offices are full of people who feel they must speak in whispers about how, underneath all their liberal feminism, they really still want to lose weight.
In fact, many of our clients over the years ABSOLUTELY want body liberation for everyone else but hesitate when it comes to themselves (this body acceptance stuff doesn’t come easy). The truth is, most people we work with at Be Nourished want to lose XX pounds before they work on accepting their bodies.
“Good feminists” aren’t required to love their bodies. If you feel bad about not loving your body you are actually in a big feminist club. But it also doesn’t make weight loss the answer.
Practitioners who offer weight loss may not understand the necessity to heal relationship with food and body in order to create the conditions that make body acceptance possible. Once you heal that stuff, the concept of weight loss is way too tiny to fit all the radical self-care you will employ to honor all that you are.
But, if you are anticipating shame from the Body Pos/HAES/Fat Liberation movement for desiring weight loss, let’s talk.
Some folks believe there is a problem with the Body Pos, Fat Liberation and HAES movements—they are just going too far! Why are they so extreme? So prickily? What’s the big deal if someone wants to lose a few pounds? Where truly is the liberation in this movement? Shouldn’t people have sovereignty over their own bodies, including wanting to lose weight?
If this has been your question then you have named what feels complicated to many about this movement. Some days I would rather not enter into this debate at all. These are tough conversations. I know folks are feeling alienated on both sides.
I do believe the shared desire for progress, safety, consent and liberation for people’s bodies requires us not to stop here but to go deeper and challenge ourselves in some of the places where we would like to rest and be comfortable. Frankly, for many, it is hard to believe that healing relationship with food and body will reap more rewards than the familiar hope for weight loss will. Weight is (inaccurately) implicated in almost all discomfort and disease in our bodies. Our understanding of what weight loss “cures” is shrouded in science that is steeped in weight bias. We have yet to untangle the sensation of feeling better when one loses weight from how we feel when weight stigma reduces.
Weight-inclusive approaches emphasize healing your relationship with food and body and reclaiming trust in a body that has been appropriated by diet and rape culture. This is a reason our approach moves away from weight loss language. Delineation is a must. The emphasis on healing relationship with food and body needs to be louder than the idea that losing a few pounds is an example of liberation.
The weight loss industry is what has made controlling the size of our bodies feel like a consistent and viable choice. This is an invented concept. These industries have created plans that do not work in the long term, and have made that your fault. Let’s take this a step further to assert that weight loss itself is not consistently and regularly accessible to those who “play their cards” right. Weight loss is an occasionally sustainable side effect of healing relationship with food and body for some people. Everything you have been told about what you should weigh is not scientific, true or accurate. The idea that weight loss is a choice is firmly imbedded in a dieting culture.
And, you still might feel bad because you really want to lose some weight? Why wouldn’t you given the culture we live in? Everything we’ve been taught about weight is inaccurate. Everything we’ve been taught about how much control we have over our size is also likely wrong. The dissonance this creates can certainly put us in touch with a feeling of shame. However, scapegoating Body Positivity, HAES and/or Fat Liberation discourse is not emotionally honest. Instead, name the shit storm of feelings that accompanies acknowledging that you have been duped by weight loss culture. Be frustrated by the way weight loss hope cyclically returns to your life and lets you down. Bang down the doors of all the “integrative weight loss approaches” and let them know they aren’t so different. Tell everyone to stop colluding with the part of your mind that believes that parts of you are unacceptable.
You do not have to agree on everything in the body liberation movement to be a part of it but if you are part of this movement, you must include all bodies. In order to include all bodies we must use language to question and denounce the levity we bring to weight loss conversations. Understand that living in a fat body in our society is significantly and consistently challenging and frequently harmful. When weight loss is casually laid on the table, weight bias continues and eating disorders persist. If your feminism is to be intersectional then know that our weight discussions have roots in racism, ableism, sizeism and a binary view of gender. If we tried to keep this light and easy it would only include white, cis-gendered, able-bodied women. We know this isn’t your fault or intention AND this isn’t light and easy no matter how you spin it. As with any other social justice issue, your stance has impact. And the middle path will not change the world.
So, how do you go forward and have this much needed conversation about weight? Find someone who is willing to listen deeply and de-center their own expertise and personal experience when they are with you. Tell them the whole story. Ask that person to gently, lovingly, and skillfully challenge your comfort zone. Let your body story remain complex – not easily solved with a plan to make you smaller. Ambivalence and fear will likely be along for the ride when you speak your truth. Don’t let them act as stop signs.