Weighing In

Thanks to Amanda Hess at The Sexist for the inspiration on this one.

On Monday, The Sexist ran a great article about “Feminist Cognitive Dissonance:”

Embracing feminist cognitive dissonance can be a helpful tactic for continuing our theoretical work while still allowing ourselves to live normal lives. And a big part of living our lives includes working to receive the validation that comes with being a “good woman,” even when we know the idea of being a good woman is some fucked up shit.

This immediately struck a chord with me because recently, I’ve been trying to navigate the dissonance. One element of that has been my attempt to lose weight.

You can make the argument that there IS no dissonance: losing weight is good for my health, and being healthy is good in a feminist context. But come on: what twenty year old is losing weight just because it’s healthy?

No, my reasons for losing weight have a lot to do with things that are virulently anti-feminist – like the fact that I want to be thin because I think thin=pretty. I’m not going to go into a full analysis of what made up my decision, because I tried to discern the exact reasons while I was in the shower (I take REALLY long showers) and that wasn’t enough time to figure it out. Let it suffice to say that my motives aren’t entirely health related.

What I’ve realized recently, though, is that I feel significantly better about my body. Sure, I’m not 5’5″ and 120 pounds. I’m no supermodel. Actually, I’m still pretty overweight, according to the BMI calculator I keep Googling. But I suddenly have control over my body. I’ve lost over sixteen pounds in the last three months, which is more than I ever imagined I was capable of losing. Having control over my body and being able to make more intelligent decisions about what I’m eating are what’s making me feel better about myself, and isn’t that what feminism is about?

I’m not sure. What if I’m making the right decisions for the wrong reasons? What if I’m making these decisions that are leading me to be healthier and feel better because I would love to one day look like Angelina Jolie? Because that’s ultimately what it comes down to.

In theory, I rail against standards of physical beauty that employ weight. Queen Latifah should be all the evidence we need to understand that women who aren’t sticks can succeed and be considered gorgeous. But in practice, it seems like this doesn’t apply to me: I will be pretty when I’m skinny. This may be, in Amanda Hess’ words, “some fucked up shit,” but unfortunately, I can’t alter my entire emotional understanding with that logic. “A simple awareness of feminist issues can’t magically negate the power of the culture in which we live,” Hess notes. “Here, validation is still dispensed based on how well you conform to the ideal.”

Overweight people are not taken as seriously, etc. etc. lots of studies. Attractive people do better in life, etc. etc. more studies. So the cognitive dissonance remains. I want to be thin because I want to be pretty, and there are legitimate reasons for that – even when I know how fucked up it is.

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