Friday, February 3, 2012

Fitness & Feminism

Sometimes I kind of feel at odds with myself because of paying such close attention to calories, points, exercise, my weight, etc.  In some ways, this feels so anti-feminist to me.  I have always been a feminist and very proud of it.  When I went away to college, this provided the outlet I needed to “find myself” and discover what I was passionate about.  That’s when I discovered sociology and women’s studies.  My major was in sociology and I got a certificate (sort of like a minor) in women’s studies.  I took so many great classes in college and I learned so much about history, life, feminism, people, and myself.  It was an amazing experience.  I wish everyone had the opportunity to go off to college.  I was only an hour from my parents but that was just enough distance to really come into my own. 

(Have you ever read this book?  I just found it in my internet search for fitness and feminism.  I would like to check it out!)

When I really started learning about feminist theory and the history of women’s rights, I immediately felt drawn to this.  I identified with so many aspects of feminism including the ideal that we should love our bodies and accept ourselves as we are rather than trying to live up to some unrealistic societal expectation of what our bodies should look like.  This was very easy for me to identify with because I have always been overweight.  I would much rather hear that I should love myself for who I am instead of hearing that I should change.  That was convenient and easy for me at the time.  I always felt like I was destined to be overweight, I didn’t know that I was capable of losing a lot of weight and getting fit.  I remember weighing 224 pounds in the 7th grade when my mom and I went to the ladies gym in the town that we lived in.  7th grade…..224 pounds.  I felt hopeless about losing weight.  More on my weight loss journey here and here..... 

Then I remember going to a party with some friends in college and there was a guy who pretended to act interested in me.  I could tell it was a joke…..I was overweight, not stupid.  I don’t really know what he wanted to do.  I am not sure if he wanted to embarrass me or if he lost some kind of a bet with his friend, but I knew it was not for real.  If he wanted to embarrass me, he succeeded.  I was already so socially uncomfortable at parties in college, I didn’t need the help of some frat boy trying to play a joke on me.  Lucky for me, the party was in the same apartment complex I lived in so I was just able to leave and go home.  It was just a few days after that when I started my first “real” diet.  I say “real” because there were times I would try to not eat for a few days or take some kind of weight loss “vitamins” or something like that, but not really changing any of my eating habits.  So after this party, I started Sugar Busters—a diet that is designed for diabetics.  Because I was completely changing the way I was eating, I lost quite a bit of weight.  I dropped about 50 pounds on Sugar Busters and then hit a plateau.  Sugar Busters was a good diet for me at the time because it really urged me in the direction of healthier eating and I didn’t have to obsess over calories or points.  I just got to eat when I wanted to eat as long as I followed the Sugar Busters plan.  I never felt conflicted about my feminism either because I was still just eating what I wanted to eat and walking a lot for exercise.  Also, during the time of Sugar Busters, I never knew my BMI or what I should weigh.  I just ate healthier and lost weight initially. 

Then when I hit a plateau with Sugar Busters, I started Weight Watchers with a couple of friends I worked with at the time.  I started to obsess a little more over weight loss now because all of a sudden, I knew what I should weigh for my height and I also knew how many points I should be eating in a day.  I had to start measuring everything out and I had to stand in front of a Weight Watchers receptionist each week and “find out how I did.”  Even though this sort of ignited that OCD part of my brain, it still wasn’t terrible.  I didn’t really feel like I was less than because I gained weight that week or I didn’t feel guilty because I decided to go out to eat instead of preparing something healthier at home.  I don’t remember getting too hung up about my weight on Weight Watchers the first time around. 

I feel like my focus (what sometimes feels like an obsession) over my calories, points, and exercise has developed since losing weight this time around.  When I say “this time around,” I mean since July of 2009.  Losing weight this time has involved so much social media.  I read blogs, I use message boards, I watch old and new episodes of the Biggest Loser on the computer and on Netflix, I am “friends” with Biggest Loser contestants on Facebook and, recently, I have started looking at fitness inspiration on Pinterest.  I have to wonder if social media, what usually inspires me to work harder and stay on track, also hinders me.  It feels like I am constantly looking at food on blogs and looking at images of half starved women on Pinterest with quotes like, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  I hate these images on Pinterest but I love some of the other ones.  That’s the dilemma:  do I expose myself to these anorexic looking women who want to lose weight so their ass will look good for their boyfriend just so I can see the inspirational images of women working hard to achieve healthy goals for themselves?  Media affects people.  I know this.  I like to believe that I have a good filter in my brain that can edit these images out in order to be inspired by the good ones, but simply being exposed to this garbage affects me whether or not I want to admit to it or not.  This pushes my feminist buttons.  It bothers me that some parts of my weight loss/health journey make me feel like less of a feminist.  Why can’t I just be happy with my body instead of constantly trying to lose more weight?  Why can’t I just eat like a “normal” person and be a “normal” size?   I can’t imagine having a conversation with Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan about how many points are in Fiber One cereal or how I like to make a pot of decaf coffee at night because it keeps me from mindlessly snacking or how I need to tone my stomach and arms at the gym because they are flabby.  Nope….I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have these conversations with these strong feminist ladies.  But these are the thoughts taking up a lot of valuable real estate in my head.  Sometimes I wonder if R even finds me interesting anymore.  I wonder if she thinks I am just this superficial person who lacks substance.  I don’t want to be that person.  I want to be me but healthy.  That’s the dilemma.  I want to be healthy more than anything else.  I watch my mom and I am seeing her health rapidly deteriorate from the effects of obesity and I don’t want that for myself.  I don’t want to be in my 50s and not be able to walk because my knees hurt so bad.  I don’t want to take high blood pressure medication.  I don’t want to have uterine cancer and have a doctor tell me it probably could have been prevented if I wasn’t “so heavy.”  (Yes, the doctor really did say this to my mom in those words.)  I want health and that’s why I do what I do. 

So I guess that brings me to balance.  Everything in life always seems to go back to balance.  How do I continue to become the healthy person that I want to be without compromising my core feminist values?  How do I focus on health without obsessing over everything I eat?  One thing I know for sure about this journey is that I am always learning new things about myself.  I guess that will always be the case.  Even though it feels like I have been on this weight loss/health journey for a long time, it has been less than 3 years.  That’s really not a lot of time when you consider that I had about 28 years of unhealthy eating habits that I am working on overcoming. 

What are you thoughts on this?  Have you ever felt like your weight loss/health journey has compromised any of your values?  What do you do to find balance?  I would love to hear what you have to say! 


  1. Sam-if you come back to my blog, I want you to know that I received your comment. I respect your opinions but I feel like you do not respect mine so I am not going to publish your comment.

  2. Editing note: I changed the term "anorexic women" "anorexic looking women." I DO realize that anorexia is a true mental disorder. I was simply making the statement that these women look anorexic and often the images say comments like what I mentioned in the blog post.

  3. Hi Katy! This is a great topic, thanks for talking about it. Your post is really insightful, and I found myself nodding in agreement while reading. I totally get what you mean about Pinterest-- the body-shaming there makes me really sad sometimes. I do think that women are judged too often by their appearance to the exclusion of all else. I think the conflation of weight and health is to some extent a false one-- you don't necessarily need to be at a certain number on the scale or look like something out of a Dolce and Gabbana ad to be healthy. The thing that I've tried to focus on in my own experience is how it feels to follow healthy behaviors like exercising and eating well. I simply feel better when I am paying attention to and enjoying what I'm eating and fueling my body for running, yoga, weightlifting, etc. I can't say whether that is truly a feminist position, as it still takes me a fair bit of time and thought, but not finding my motivation in body-shaming is (dare I say?) empowering. My favorite pin on Pinterest says "Love your body, because you cannot take care of something you hate", and I try to remind myself of that in a world where everything screams that I must hate my body until it reaches some vague perfect state of being.

  4. Firstly enjoying your food, eating healthy desserts regularly and treating your body with the respect it deserves are the things I have found most beneficial in my weight loss journey (granted I'm still on it). Calorie counting and obsessing can drive you insane- be careful! I know when I get too OCD I have to stop counting/weighing and just focus on rewarding positive behaviours. If you focus on filling your day with exercise, smiles and fruit & veggies you can't go wrong.
    Hiding from the media is an enormous task but understand where you're coming from. I'm not sure where I stand on the whole feminist thing but having the goal of being healthy and happy with my body is my main focus. I very much doubt anyone would argue the opposite- however it is your right to do what you want with your body.... poisoning it and killing yourself slowly just seems like a really stupid thing to do. But each to their own I guess....

  5. I am right there with you. I've been thinking about this a lot lately too (and even linked to this post on my recent blog post). I struggle with letting "being healthy" be enough. That's my ultimate goal. To be HEALTHY. To not develop heart disease, or diabetes or arthritis. To live a long life for my kids and future grandkids. Why isn't it enough to be healthy? I see that stupid BMI scale and realize I am STILL obese, even after losing 35 pounds. I feel great--better than I have in a long time--but still I'm friggin' OBESE. The mood of my whole day can change after a simple 5 seconds on the scale in the morning. I hate it. I hate that I let the scale determine my worth for that day. It's something I need to work on. Thanks for blogging your thoughts. My blog is and you can read my most recent blog post on the same topic.

  6. the ultimate point (in my mind anyway) of being a feminist is to be empowered, educated and live beyond my own expectations. I don't want to be held back. My weight holds me back. So while I don't want to become so obsessed with my points etc that I forget all the interesting and beautiful things in the world around me, I also realize I have a problem with overeating. If I want to live a life that feels happy and beautiful to me, I need to lose this weight and be healthy. So ww and points are just tools to do that. Everyone has something about them that is unhealthy and they struggle with. We just wear ours on the outside. (: I think you're doing amazing.