Numbers mean something to me. Weight, calories, dress sizes — thanks to two decades of living in this body, each kind of number carries its own connotation. I’m sure they do for you, too.
Imagine, for a second, a woman looking in a mirror.
If I say she’s a size 2, what comes to mind?
What if I say she’s a size 22?
Those sizes probably conjure up specific images for you; not just of different bodies, but of different people. They are probably wearing different clothes, doing different things, or feeling differently about their reflections. For me, the size 2 woman is strong, beautiful, and confident. The size 22 woman is less secure, less healthy, and less happy.
Those are the messages that flash in my mind before I can correct myself; before I can remind myself that weight and size don’t dictate worth, wellness, or happiness. But the underlying images are still there, telling me, essentially, that size 2 means health, beauty, and confidence, and that size 22 does not.
I, by the way, am a size 22.
I’ve been struggling with messages like these for my entire life, and I’m not alone. Thanks to magazines, television, and #fitspo images social media, it’s impossible to exist in this world at any size without internalizing certain messages about weight and worth.
I’m not the only one who’s been talking about this issue lately. Weight Watchers’ new Beyond the Scale program has a promotional video that starts with a woman saying, “You’re more than just a number on the scale. We’re gonna help you discover that.” Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis campaign released a video of women weighing their accomplishments on a scale, in the form of textbooks, diplomas, and a world traveller’s backpack.
I appreciate those messages, I do. But I would appreciate them more if they weren’t coming from companies that had spent decades profiting on insecurity and shame about bodies; if Weight Watchers didn’t still have an explicit focus on weight loss on their site (meetings are “perfect if you like losing weight together,” says their front page), and if the models on Lean Cuisine’s site came in all sizes (their #WeighThis videos feature body diversity. Their homepage and advertisements do not). I’d appreciate it more if these male-owned companies weren’t still manipulating the language of the weight loss industry — scale, weight — to pull women into purchasing their services.
I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately because I’m currently trying to lose weight for health reasons. If you think it’s hard losing weight, try losing weight when you’re five years into recovery from an eating disorder; every day, every meal, every work out, I have to find the careful line between being under-motivated and obsessive. It’s exhausting, especially in a world allergic to nuance, in which my options in terms of support are either the aggressive world of #fitspo, which shames me for being heavy, and the Health at Every Size movement, which argues that there are no risks to being overweight, and says I shouldn’t be trying to lose weight. I’m between a rock and a hard place.
So when I focus on both self-love and gradual weight loss in spite of my eating disorder; in spite of my internalized messages about numbers; in spite of a hashtag that shames me for my size; and in spite of a movement that shames me for trying to lose weight; the last thing I need is a company exploiting that terrible tension for profit.
The truth of it is that the messages that these companies are spouting are valid. You are worth so much more than a number on a scale. You should be measured by your accomplishments, your character, and your contributions to the world, not by your body’s numeric relationship to gravity. But those messages should be used to build you up and support you, not to take your money.
Your body belongs to you, and you only. Your weight, your caloric intake, and your dress size are absolutely meaningless when it comes to determining anything about your value as a person.
So if you want to change your weight, change your weight. If you want to stay the same, stay the same. But do it for you; not for a company, a commercial, or a hashtag. Because you’re worth more than a number; whether that number is a dress size, a weight, or a monthly fee of $44.95.