On the Unfairness of it All

Kelly’s amazing post over at The Superbalanced Life has got me thinking today. It’s this sentence that was like a clanging claxon, speaking a truth I haven’t fully processed:

My big epiphany yesterday was that what I am most angry and sad about is the realization that I will have to be mindful about food for the rest of my life.

After a life time of being fat*–being a fat kid, an awkward fat teen, a fat young adult–all the pieces came together and I was at a great size/weight for myself, easily. I ate mostly what I wanted and exercised a ton because I’d just learned the joy of distance cycling and used my bike and my feet as my primary means of transportation.

And I stayed there for a good few years. Until I had a catastrophic year of everything you can imagine going wrong (two GI parasites, ibs, vertigo, a gallbladder that malfunctioned entirely and had to be removed, a devastating break-up, a high-stress, dysfunctional work environment) and I gained a bunch of weight. Twenty pounds after surgery that seemed about right after a year of not being able to eat (and losing too much weight quickly) due to GI shenanigans and being on bed-rest for two months. And then twenty more pounds that coincided/caused(?) the development of PCOS. Those second twenty pounds were thanks to a sedentary job and very slow recovery from surgery which left me very inactive, eating take-out because I was too beat to cook, and emotional eating because my work situation was slowly killing me.

As my weight stabilized and I got PCOS under control and I’ve slowly started to lose weight I’ve found myself faced with that anger: I’ll have to be mindful about food (and movement) for the rest of my life. But it’s so UNFAIR! *stomps feet*

Why do all my thin friends not have to worry about this? Why am I the only person that has to think about what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I’m moving? Why do I have to course-correct when I get too busy for a week to be as active as I’d like or I go out for dinner too many times in a week? IT’S NOT FAIR!!

But hold on…I’ve been spending lots of time with a friend who is very slim. And you know what? She thinks a lot about what she’s eating and how much she’s eating and how much she’s moving. And though she eats the things she loves, she eats small amounts. And I had lunch with another lovely friend who is both slim and petite. And she ordered a huge wrap and fries. Why can my lovely petite friend order a huge wrap and fries and be slim like that? Oh, it’s because she ate all her fries and just a little of her wrap. And then there’s my other dear friend who regularly takes half of what she orders home.

So maybe…it’s not that they can eat whatever, whenever, and as much as they want. Maybe it’s that they eat the things they love but in just-enough quantities. Maybe it’s that they are well attuned to their bodies’ needs and can, at this point, self-regulate quite easily. Maybe there’s all this other stuff happening behind the scenes that we don’t normally see. Maybe they’re stressed and so they’re not eating enough. Maybe they are a lot more active than we think.

And so maybe it’s not actually all that unfair. Maybe I just have some more work to do on heeding my body’s signals and being active and eating in a way that supports my goals.

But I did title this the Unfairness of It All, right? So if we’ve figured out that there isn’t actually some karmic injustice in which slim people can eat anything and everything they want whenever they want without thinking about it, where’s the unfairness?

The unfairness is in how our society has taught us to think of slim people versus fat people. The unconscious associations we make about worth and goodness and intelligence. The messages that tell us that someone above a certain size isn’t fuckable, no matter how gorgeous their face, how luscious their body, how sexy their brain. The ways that we, especially (but not solely) women, have internalized this toxic bullshit, often regardless of size. I am as happy (most days) in my body now than I was 40 pounds ago because what I was seeing 40 pounds ago was skewed by society’s bullshit. This is the body I’ve got now. I might as well love it and create sustainable change rather than trying to hate myself thin.

And the unfairness is in the subsidies agriculture conglomerates get to market and produce highly-palatable, nutritionally devoid play food to poor people and people of colour. The unfairness is in the inner city food deserts and the single mom working three jobs who doesn’t have time to cook. The unfairness is in the astronomical price for Crossfit when millions of people don’t even have a park where it’s safe enough to go walk and play. The unfairness is in a society that teaches us to strive to be thin while enticing and inducing rampant consumption.

It is unfair, it is terribly unfair, that we now live in a world so overrun with corporate greed and malfeasance that we must be on guard against the advertising and marketing and laws that make it a lot easier to eat 1000 calories of Doritos than 100 calories of broccoli. And it is unpleasant (at first) that we must go so out of our way to undo the effects of the sedentary North American lifestyle. But there is no injustice in being responsible for your own energy balance and activity if you have the privilege of time, safety, and access to attend to it. That is the piece we are each responsible for as we fight the broader systems that wage war against food security.

*I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat. If that is what your lifestyle and genetics team up for and you’re happy there, you go on with your bad self. I didn’t feel happy or healthy above that size.

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4 thoughts on “On the Unfairness of it All

  1. The bottom half of this also reminds me of this post over at Reembody (which I love, btw): A New Body Ethic

    We need to fight to make systemic change so that our environment supports our health. But also, you’re totally right, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. I’ve been so mad about that, all “wahhh not fair don’t wanna grow up wahhh!”, but it’s the damn truth.

    Wanna join me? It’s both a fight and a surrender, I think.

    1. Yes! It’s that always-already tension between structure and agency. And I think we are actively making change right this second! And have a lifetime to make more. Let’s go overthrow some shit!

  2. I love this post, thank you! I am constantly fighting against thinking about my weight struggles as being “unfair” in comparison to other people who I assume have it easier. It’s really frustrating for someone who spends time and energy thinking about *actual* injustice in the world (like the stuff you mention above plus other stuff) to waste time thinking about my *body* as unfair. Like, wtf.

    Anyway, yay for the fierce band of ladies LD has brought together!

    1. I totally hear you Raechel. I have been thinking, recently, though, about how so many of us feminist/social justice types seem to do this: feel guilt about x>feel feminist guilt about feeling guilt about x>feel guilt about feeling feminist guilt.

      I think it’s one more way we are taught that our feelings and experiences as women are wrong, and that we internalize guilt as one of our primary ways of experiencing the world. So I want to just suggest to you (and me!) that we take it easy on ourselves when our *stuff* doesn’t line perfectly up with our politics. (I might be projecting though. 🙂 )

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