Your Weight is Not a Measure of Morality
I punished myself with a greasy bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich this morning.
Last night, I set the alarm an hour earlier than usual, planning to go on a refreshing run before heading to work. Instead, I hit snooze and slept in this morning.
I messed up today so every act of self-admonishment that perpetuates my self-enmity is well deserved. I deserve to be unhealthy, unattractive, and unhappy.
So eat the greasy fucking sandwich, sweetheart, because you deserve every ounce of that regret and shame.
Let me take a step back.
Hi, I have an eating disorder. Oh and body dysmorphia, which is a mental disorder characterized by an obsession with a perceived defect in one’s physical appearance.
It started in the high school locker room, where pretty and skinny girls commiserated over nonexistent deformities of their bodies, particularly over how they didn’t have tight curves that were cellulite-free like shrinkwrap. Meanwhile, poor dorky fatso me (I was overweight during my entire childhood) stood in the corner, wishing to melt into the ground so that those pretty girls with discerning eyes wouldn’t see the disgusting anomaly that I was.
I knew I was overweight, but I was never unhappy about it. Not until I overheard those girls in the locker room. And many girls thereafter. So for the rest of my high school years, I fell into the abyss of disordered eating and self-hatred. I went from a size 16 in jeans to a size 0 in less than a year. I skipped meals. I had fainting spells. Whenever I ate, I kept a vigilant eye on my thighs, belly, and arms, terrified that they would morph with every bite. I became smaller than those girls who triggered the spiral of weight loss, but in my mind I was always the poor and dorky fatso.
Almost a decade later, I no longer starve myself or have fainting spells.
But the mental programming remains.
Having awareness of my disorders may be a boon to differentiating the dysmorphic cognitions from reality, but I have an incredibly difficult time.
In my world, the relationships between food, body, and happiness are interlinked differently from how normal people experience them. Perhaps in the normal world, people treat themselves to greasy and sugary foods to reward themselves. But in my realm, it’s a masochistic punishment; a life-sentence to the dungeon of self hatred and disgrace. Vigorous exercise and restrictive eating are immaculate and holy acts of goodness, self-love, and strength. Laziness and terrible eating are sins; trespasses against ourselves and the society, and markers of gluttony and weakness.
When I hate myself (which is quite often), I indulge in the shittiest decisions, such as eating an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s in bed, eating multiple servings of dinner late at night, and skipping the gym, which further push me into this black hole of bitterness and I relish in the punishment.
Can you blame me when our media endorses this line of thought? Open any iconic novel – for example books authored by Heller, Vonnegut, Fitzgerald, and even Rand – and feast upon the succulent description of the dream girl (the male protagonist’s main squeeze) with tight curves, tiny waist, and trim body. The dream girl is a manic pixie goddess who is smart, self-reliant, and most importantly – skinny, skinny, skinny. Turn on the TV, stream a music video, flip open a magazine (even women’s magazines) and see that the male gaze (point of view highlighting women with male expectations and attitudes) is rampant across all media: sensual women with glistening and sculpted arms, deep clavicles, shapely bosoms and buttocks, concave and dimpled backs, and trim waists that can be held in one arm like trophies.
Even media written by, and for, women, perpetuate this damaging perspective. Tabloid headlines scream Oprah’s new weight loss trick, gossip viciously about a pop star’s sudden fall from skinny glory, and advertise new diet fads (try the Alkaline diet!) that promise sculpted beach bodies within a week. Online articles with titles like “How I Got My Body Back”, social media waves worshipping #thighgaps, and even marketing language such as “Guilt-free Chocolate Cake” add to the perception that skinny is the only acceptable and moral way to be.
Even without the influence of media, we perpetuate this among ourselves. It’s common for people to offer the prosaic response, “You’re not fat; you’re beautiful!” to a girl bemoaning about her weight. It’s a harmful response; it establishes a binary of beauty and non-beauty, shunning fatness to the realm of non-beauty.
The media and our social circles weave a harmful narrative that delineates skinniness and fatness to attributes of strength and weakness, beauty and nonbeauty, satisfaction and discontent, and good and bad.
The digits on our bathroom scales translate into our self-worth, happiness, and morality.
So I am conditioned to feel like the scum of the earth because I didn’t go for a stupid 2 mile run this morning. I am conditioned to feel like a lazy and terrible person because I had a greasy sandwich for breakfast. I am conditioned to view fellow women with the male gaze, eyeing them from head to toe while hating myself rancorously for every ounce of flesh I have that they do not have.
Maybe if I didn’t attribute physical appearance to character and morality, I would be empowered to make healthy decisions for the sake of improving my life, and not for the sake of molding myself to societal standards.
It all comes down to me, to us, (and maybe therapists) to reshape the significance of weight and appearance to something objective.
We could reduce and eventually eliminate, judgmental language revolving around our bodies.
We could work on accepting, loving, and respecting ourselves; broadening the foundations of our self-concept to more substantial factors such as our skills and accomplishments.
Because after all, weight is just a number, just another shape, and just another body.