You guys, I’m on a diet.
Yes: I, a fierce feminist who deplores obsession with thinness and all things superficial — who wants to make sure her daughter knows that the stick-thin image of female beauty perpetuated by commercial media is bullshit (see image above) — began the year by signing up for Weight Watchers.
And… it’s awesome.
I want to talk about why I’m doing it… and why the “I’m too cool to diet” stance is really a bunch of hooey, and doesn’t prove you’re a feminist or a renegade or anything other than someone trying to prove something, rather than someone making choices to improve your health and wellbeing.
This starts out as a pretty familiar story: I had a baby, and I gained weight. Specifically, I’ve been carrying an extra 15 pounds around post-pregnancy, and I finally came to terms with the fact (as my daughter nears her third birthday this spring) that this weight was not magically going to disappear due simply to my healthy diet and moderate level of physical activity. I made deals with myself: I’ll exercise more! I’ll become a super-yogi — and hey, that’ll be good for my soul, too! I’ll cut out booze! … but between running my company, raising my daughter, being married, being a friend, being a daughter, etc etc, as well as carving out time to write and perform… these “deals” were repeatedly broken, and the nagging sense that I didn’t look or feel like myself weighed me down even more.
It bugged me, looking in the mirror and feeling like, “Who IS that? That’s not what I look like!” “Maybe it’s because I grew my hair out,” I thought. When I chopped off my hair in December — colored it, too — and STILL didn’t feel like me, I finally came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t the hair, it was the weight…and I was done.
I wanted me back.
I think a lot of women hit this point sooner. They are obsessed, for whatever reason — societal pressure, an unhappy relationship where they doubt their partner will love them if they’re heavy — with getting their “pre-baby body” back. But I knew intuitively that my body would never be the same after the profound experience of gestating life inside me and then pushing my daughter out into the world. In fact, I didn’t need or want it to be the same. Asking it to be the same felt like disrespecting the incredible experience we’d had together, Body and I… and also meant letting go, once and for all, of any obvious physical connection to Pregnant Me. Nursing Me. New Mommy Me.
In other words, looking back — I think on some level, I held onto this weight on purpose, even as I fought hard in so many other areas of my life to reclaim space for myself outside the role of mother.
…Or not so weird. Completely understandable, in fact. Still, not the narrative we’re used to hearing. “Ooh, look at Mila Kunis, 4 months into motherhood and she’s rocking the red carpet!!” I read headlines like that and I think, “Poor Mila. She’s rushing through this precious time. It’s unnatural, to have rock-hard abs less than half a year after giving birth. Real power is getting to keep working and trust that your success does not relly on conforming to society’s expectations of what a ‘good body’ looks like.”
And yet… and yet. There is the nasty business of wanting to actually feel and look like yourself. I didn’t care what size pants I wore, or what number I saw on the scale, so much as I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror and not seeing the face I knew and loved. I looked at pictures of myself and felt like I was still in costume, but it became less and less clear when the costume was coming off.
And, ok, if I’m being really honest — the pants size was depressing. The number on the scale was depressing. Not because I’m obsessed with being a certain size or weight, but because I knew that these numbers meant I was carrying extra weight — and I know enough to know that weight isn’t just a matter of vanity, it’s a matter of health. I had back problems that I knew deep down would ease up if I shed some pounds (did I mention a lot of the weight I was carrying was in the boobal region? boobs and belly… still that stork-like shape I mentioned oh so many months ago). I knew it would only get harder to lose the weight as I got older, and I knew that the weight I was at was NOT an appropriate baseline.
So why didn’t I start Weight Watchers sooner?
I wanted to get there “organically” — to show myself and some undefined audience that eating nutritious food (albeit a whole lot of it), and walking a couple of miles daily (albeit kind of slowly), was the natural, non-fussy, non-superficial, feminist way to get your body into a healthy shape.
I wanted THAT to be my path, not some diet that women obsessed with looking good for their man subscribed to…not the diet that unthinking people used.
As I think about it, it was, in many ways, a matter of branding. If Weight Watchers had been dressed up as an alternative dieting option for unconventional, fiercely independent women drawn to holistic health approaches who lived in Brooklyn… if it was wghtwtchers.co instead of weightwatchers.com… if there were meet-ups at my neighborhood bar, with pre-measured pours of beer accompanied by low-point (Weight Watchers measures things by “points”), organic, locally-sourced snacks on hand… I probably would have signed up years ago.
I so do not relate to the woman in this ad. Also, there’s a typo.
If it was COOL to want to lose weight, among my demographic… if it was NORMAL… I probably would have made the healthy choice sooner. But my people, we like our brown liquor. We grew up with mothers who ate dry iceberg lettuce salads with grilled chicken, so when the waiter asks if we want salad or fries with that, we say fries, so as not to look like one of “those” women who is too obsessed with her weight. We order beer, not light beer. We might hike, or do yoga, but we don’t go slavishly off to the gym to waste prime creative hours on a treadmill. We are too busy changing the world.
One of my company’s clients is Aggregate, a strategy group out in Seattle. One of THEIR clients is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), whose vision it is to build a culture of health, where getting healthy and staying healthy are core social values. Through Aggregate, I do a lot of work with RWJF, which means I spend a lot of time thinking and communicating about pioneering ideas with the potential to transform health and health care. One of the things I’ve learned is that behavior change is easiest when you remove the decision-making process. For example, BJ Fogg out of Stanford wanted to do more push-ups or sit-ups (I forget which), so he decided to attach that behavior to something else he did all the time: pee. Now, every time he goes to the bathroom, he proceeds to immediately do, say, 10 push-ups (or sit-ups — you get the point). By eliminating the mental pressure to remind himself to do this new habit, or even to schedule it — by making it automatic — he was able to succeed.
So I’m taking a leaf from his book: I’m surrendering. Relenting. Fuck the artifice, fuck whatever it says about me, and just: Help me, Weight Watchers. Give me clear instructions, and I will follow them.
It’s working: I’ve lost 5.5 pounds so far. And it feels so good — I feel lighter, both physically and mentally. My face looks like my face again (next up: torso). It’s hard as shit sometimes not to just stuff my face with whatever I want, whenever I want, but I admitted I needed help…I needed someone else to be in charge… and it feels SO GOOD to relax into that, rather than trying to be some kind of fierce warrior, figuring it all out on my own.
I am tired of being a fierce warrior. I need to save my ferocity for the places it’s needed most.
I wanted to share this story because I think there are other women out there — other people, period — caught up in similar mental traps that are keeping them from making a change to their life that would make them feel better, and more like themselves. To these people, I say: Fuck whether it’s cool, fuck whether you thought of it yourself… if you know on some level that you need to lose the weight or change whatever other habit it is to improve your health and wellbeing… please just do it. Right now. Even if the brand feels lame. Even if your peers are ordering fries and old-fashioneds. Even if you wish you didn’t have to, even if you don’t wanna… just do it, and get on with your life, and feel better.
Incidentally, this Weight Watchers ad — so much smarter than the one above — caught my attention and really spoke to me, and is what got me to sign up: