Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thinner is not better

This time the victim wasn't me, but rather my husband. This past weekend, unfortunately, we had to take a trip to his home town in Pennsylvania to see a sick relative in the hospital (thankfully he's doing at least a little better and was moved out of the ICU into a regular room). While there, of course, we had to see a lot of people- he has a very large family and we had a very busy weekend! While I didn't have to really put up with any weight talk directed at me- he did. It wasn't what you would consider negative.. most people would consider it positive: praise for losing weight.

Now.. he didn't actually lose weight.. at least not as far as we know- his clothes still fit.. at least mostly since he's a bit in between sizes- 36 is too big and 34 is too small. Last time we saw them he either wore a 38 or a 36- I can't quite remember. But either way the difference was either none or very little.. but they couldn't help but tell him how good he looked since he lost weight. His grandmother made sure to assure him that he didn't look bad before, but we all know the implication- thinner is better so losing weight is good. Praising someone for losing weight  automatically makes them feel obligated to maintain that weight or lose more (we want to do what gets us praise- we're just wired that way) and it plants a more sinister message that gaining weight is bad bad bad.  I didn't lose weight.. so of course no one told me how great I looked.

Praise. Everyone wants it.. that little reward center of our brain that just lights up with praise makes us addicted to it. No matter what the behavior, idea, belief, or accomplishment- if someone is praised for it often enough they start to crave it and repeat the behavior in order to get it. Gee, no wonder people are obsessed with losing weight- we're addicted! Psychologists recognize that when this goes too far and we diet too excessively (excessive calorie restriction like anorexia for example) or exercise too much (compulsive exercise disorder) that it's a problem. But it's addiction nonetheless. It's one reason of many that we can't trust human beings to inherently know and do what is right- we're such complex creatures- our brains are impossibly complicated in such a beautiful way and yeah, we're trained animals. It takes a lot to overcome this training which his why so many FA activists talk about what a journey it is to get towards a place of acceptance. It's also why education is so important.

Luckily, even though my hubby isn't big on confrontation and he didn't really tell them why they were wrong to offer praise, he did steer the subject towards something different or outright deny any weight loss. He never said thank you- there was nothing to thank them for... because thinner isn't better.


  1. I've been on a road to better body acceptance, and I've worried about this myself. I know that in the past, I've always gotten praised for being thinner, which means when I gain weight, I feel ashamed, and that's just not right. However, I've been developing healthier habits lately, like exercising and eating healthier, in hopes to be HEALTHIER, not lose weight, but I'm sure I will inevitably lose weight. I know I'll encounter this kind of "praise" again, and I don't know what to do.

    You said your husband steered the conversation elsewhere, and I was just wondering what would you say or do if the same had happened to you?

  2. redoleander- well, some people do sometimes lose a small amount of weight through exercise and healthier eating, but usually not and not usually large amounts of weight either. Don't be disappointed if you don't lose weight because, remember, thinner isn't better ;-)

    if someone praised me for losing weight? Well, it depends on how well I knew the person as I'm not always up for engaging in FA talk with people I barely know.. but, knowing my body I'd probably say something like "oh, I'm sure I'll gain it back" (because my body naturally fluctuates about 10-15lbs) inevitably leading to the other person saying something negative about weight gain like "oh I hope not" or "try to stay positive" at which point I would say something like "well being fat isn't bad, gaining weight isn't bad and being thinner isn't inherently a good thing so I don't really mind". This may or may not open up a conversation which may or may not end up being really offensive to me, but hopefully it'll end up with enlightenment instead :-)

  3. You, Heather, are very wise. I am nearly 55 years of age and have not realized what you have at 25, at my point in my life. I have struggled, there isn't a word created that could describe the years of frustration that I have felt... Since coming online, I have guy friends that have tried so hard to help me see that my body and curves a very attractive and a turn on, but I negate their feelings because I can't see it; nor do I basically don't believe them i guess. How could they?? NO body likes big girls, fat rolls, big cheesy thighs, big tummys that have carried babies, etc... It's impossible to be attracted to anything that doesn't fit the Hollywood image of what they set up as the image icon. I'm being a bit facetious, but I think you know what I'm saying. I have been dammaged...I have bought into a bill of goods and believed 'their' belief system. I want to change it, but for every one step forward, i fall back 10. So thanks for your blog. I've heard of you before; also a guy friend pointing you out to me on flickr...and I came here to read this. I hope to become one of your groupies and learn from you so I can be helped after a life of struggling. Thanks so much Heather. ..Dani

  4. Dani- I know exactly what you're saying and it breaks my heart to hear how other women have been effected, so deeply, by sizism. I'm very lucky to have encountered the fat acceptance movement at a fairly young age thanks to the internet- I'm not sure the FA movement would have nearly as much momentum without it. The amount of information and encouragement that's available is amazing. I really hope that you'll come to love every bit of your body- and i hope that the FA community helps in that- FA forums are also really great- i'm a moderator on the body acceptance forum on reddit.com (linked to under "tools for loving yourself" on the side of my page there) and they're a wonderful community.

    I've learned that sizism is just another form of bigotry.. and it's not easy living in a sizist society.. and sometimes I get so tired of fighting and I feel like It's a losing battle.. but I remember that for every fight for human rights there were the people who fought even though they never saw their dream come to fruition (martin luther king comes to mind, of course). So hang in there- it may seem like an uphill battle.. but we're working for the good of future generations. *hugs*