Traditionally, women have been told that their main, if not only purpose in life, is to look ‘nice’ for men. Instead of our passions and talents being admired, it is in fact our bodies that are hyper focused on, with any fluctuations in our weight being rapidly picked up on and, often, commented on, much to our dismay. Because so much emphasis is placed on our appearance over all else, including our happiness, we are expected to maintain a certain slim size regardless of what doing such a thing can cost the ‘pursuer’, for whom such a size might not be healthy nor maintainable. The consequence of pursuing an unhealthy ‘ideal’ can see one developing eating disorders, an energy (both physical and mental) sapping illness that can, in extreme cases, lead to death or, at the very least, cause serious complications such as digestive issues, heart problems, kidney problems, etc.
Such objectification of women (as described above), which sees a woman’s appearance being considered the most important thing in the world- is a phenomenon that I have always known to be subliminally true, however it is something that I have never really taken a great deal of notice of, the reason being, perhaps shallowly, that it has never personally impacted upon me. That was until last week when, following an off-hand comment made by an older family member, I realised how prevalent the issue still is, despite women supposedly being equal to men in today’s society (I say ‘supposedly’ because, men and, sometimes even other women, feel its okay to comment on a woman’s weight, whereas men never get their weight commented on, because it is seen as being incredibly unimportant in the grand scheme of things.) So, why the double standard? Why is it the case that a woman’s achievements are considered secondary to her looks, when the same isn’t true of a man’s? This is a conundrum that feminists have been trying to solve for centuries (and are still trying to solve today.)
In terms of the experience that I mention having had last week with a family member (my great uncle), what happened was this… Upon getting out of the car, I was met with these six words; ‘lets have a look at you’ and then, ‘you’ve put a bit of weight on, haven’t you?’ (This being more of a statement than a question.)
At the time, in response to the question/statement as posed above, I just laughed it off and answered ‘yes’, because, other than breaking down crying, what else could I have (realistically) done? Inside though, of course I felt as far away from laughing as possible…
Having struggled for many years with an eating disorder and exercise addiction and, with that, body dysmorphia (with a particular ‘dislike’ for my legs), let’s just say that his comment wasn’t exactly ‘helpful.’ It was, to put it bluntly, triggering, not least because I had already been feeling quite uncomfortable in my body in the previous days/weeks leading up to his comment. And so, on top of the ‘uncomfortableness’ I was already feeling, his comment only served to intensify the familiar sense of preoccupation I felt with my body, weight, and overall appearance, as I convinced myself that I had put loads of weight on, and that I looked ‘disgusting’ and ‘fat’ in all my clothes. Luckily, having been in recovery from my eating disorder for almost 4 years, I didn’t let my feelings influence my behaviour. Don’t get me wrong though, I certainly felt like reverting back to the familiar disordered behaviour of restriction and excessive exercise, but I know that doing so would only make things 10000 times worse because, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from recovery, its that disordered behaviour breeds disordered behaviour, and that, once you get into the habit of engaging in such behaviour, it’s incredibly difficult to get out of it. With this knowledge then, I force myself to avoid restricting my food intake, or partaking in excessive exercise, even when, no, especially when, I feel ‘uncomfortable.’ Why? Because I know that doing so is a ‘slippery slope’, and one that I refuse to get back on.
It’s been hard though, don’t get me wrong. Catching sight of myself every time I pass a mirror and being disgusted about the way I look has been hard. Ignoring that niggling voice in my head telling me that I need to lose weight has been hard. These past few days have all been hard, and for what? For some stupid ‘off the hand’ remark, a remark that he won’t have thought twice about, yet it’s all that I’ve been thinking about, with his words; ‘you’ve put weight on’ going round and round in my head on a loop.
So, let this post be a reminder: a reminder to never comment on someone’s weight. You don’t know what insecurities they have, or what little it would take for them to be pushed ‘over the edge’, going from a simple dislike for their body, to a full-blown eating disorder. And anyway, even if someone presents themselves as the most confident person in the world with no insecurities whatsoever, you still shouldn’t comment on their weight. Why? Because 1) they were not born to be valued by your eyes, and 2) their body is actually the least interesting thing about them. So, don’t waste your time, or theirs, commenting on something as insignificant as their weight. Instead, comment on the things that are significant- the passion they show for the things they love, their adventurous spirit, their strength and all the good that they have achieved, all of which have nothing to do with their appearance (a.k.a. all the things that matter.)
Do this and know that you will be contributing to positive change, helping to put an end to the narrative that states that, as women and girls, what we look like is worth more than anything else that we have to offer,
Do it so that you can stand up tall in the face of ignorance and confidently say; ‘I wasn’t born to be valued by your eyes.’