How Comedy Helped Me Decide To End My Struggle To Lose Weight
The night I started taking a stand-up comedy class, we were given an exercise: talk about the thing that people will notice about you first, and make it funny. I made a joke about how I looked like an English teacher, but what I didn’t want to say — or couldn’t say — were the things that people likely noticed first: my soft belly, my wild curly hair, my round frame. As a new comic, I felt vulnerable enough just being on stage. Mentioning this sensitivity that is so obvious to other people yet so deeply private and painful felt like it was pushing me too far.
A few months later, as my confidence as a comedian on stage grew, I decided to throw in a few jokes about how I look. I watched people crack up when I referred to the size of my body and eluded to myself being a lazy person. By all accounts, I had a good set. The new jokes garnered easy laughs and I’d endeared myself to a tough audience.
When I got off stage, I could barely fight off my tears. I had viciously torn myself to shreds for the sake of making other people laugh — letting an entire audience believe that I saw my body as a cheap joke and worthy of mockery. It hurts me to recall how these jokes made me feel about myself; what hurts more is knowing that by lazily making jokes about my own body, I let people in that room think it was okay. Surely there were women in that audience who saw their own bodies that way, and were harmed by my words.
The thing about publicly acknowledging that you are fat is that people feel like your recognition gives them permission to comment on your body as well. Suddenly, conversations are steered in the direction of their elimination diet or the boot camp they went to or the sister that lost weight cutting out sugar and walking to work. I have had many conversations that have turned into my defending my nutritional knowledge or proof of exercise or simply listening to others describe in painful detail, with heavy condescension, words like “moderation” or “eating healthy.” What people don’t seem to realize is that knowledge of weight loss is not the issue for most people of any size. We know. We’ve tried it. We get it. But vocalizing that feels ridiculous and pathetic. Diet culture has convinced us all that with the right cleanse or diet or workout, weight loss is attainable. So why aren’t we just white knuckling our way through it and doing it already?
I don’t remember when I started hating my body. I remember my naturally thin childhood best friend, and how both she and her mother would slide in sly comments about how my friend was a bean pole, while I was clearly not, and danced around terms that clearly indicated that to them, I had weight to lose. I remember my grandmother looking for slim jeans for my brother among a pile in KMart. I asked if I needed slim jeans and she tsked and scoffed as if I had asked if my hair had suddenly turned hot pink, and the shame that flushed my cheeks. I remember being called “chunky monkey” by a girl in high school. I remember so many times that I have felt as if I just wasn’t enough while simultaneously feeling that my body was too much.
There are countless other incidents specific to my body, but even without those specific situations, it’s not hard to see how every human being is constantly assaulted by messages of our bodies not being acceptable or good, no matter our weight or look or body type.
To complicate things, I spent years hiding the fact that I am queer. My relationship to my body feels forever intertwined with my sexuality, because it’s such a primal thing. My struggle to get my body to look a certain way feels similar to my inability to be deeply attracted to men and be able to get that impulse “under control” — both remind me that my body is an animal that is both deeply familiar while simultaneously feeling like a betrayal. I have hated myself deeply for both my queerness and my curvy, soft body for so long that it’s often hard to determine where one feeling stops and one begins. When I came out, I felt an immediate freedom — a sense of being congruent with who I was inside — and yet, my nature was to focus even more intense hatred on my body.
I could regale you with a detailed history of my weights over the years, my exercise-related accomplishments, and every single diet I have tried — because I’ve tried them all. I have photos of times in my life when I felt strong and attractive and my jeans size was several numbers smaller than it is now. I could tell you how I long for those days and how I wish I could change it. I could tell you about the ways I have suffered as a queer person, at my own hand and those of others and society and a million other tales that could break your heart.
Recently, I started yet another diet. The outcome was a grand total of six pounds of weight loss, and having a reaction that included a full body blister-rash and a lingering kidney infection. I found myself rushing to sign up for a different dieting program, desperate to find “the one” that would work this time.
A few days into diligently tracking my food once again, I had a quiet but sudden realization: I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to record every food I ate, to worry about balancing my calories and macros, to “earn” my dessert, to view every accomplishment in my life as worthless because my body is not perfect according to some standard perpetuated by people who benefit from my feeling badly about myself.
I dug out the Intuitive Eating book gathering dust on my bookshelf, purchased when working with an intuitive eating food coach who was incredible and helped me immensely. Despite our months together, I still held the belief that if my work with her didn’t lead to weight loss, I wasn’t really successful. I’d assumed that if I worked on loving myself, I could cram a diet into that box as well: that I was depriving myself out of “self-love.”
When I get down to brass tacks, I am so lucky: I have a body that is deceptively strong. I have no severe allergies. My immune system is strong. I am able-bodied, white, middle-class, educated. I have rarely worried about where my food will come from. I’ve never had a serious injury. I can afford to eat what I want, when I want. I belong to a boutique fitness studio and teach and practice yoga. My body functions well, by all accounts. I know that I have privilege that is not afforded to all.
And for these reasons, and many more, this is why I have decided to be done with the struggle.
I was sharing this with a friend recently, and in my true fashion, was sharing with her all my plans and workbooks and challenges I was going to undertake to be done with this struggle. And in her quiet wisdom, she said, “What if you just chose to be done? Just stopped telling yourself that your relationship with your body was a struggle.”
With that quiet suggestion, things shifted for me. I am done. Is the work over? No. I am working through the principles of Intuitive Eating, educating myself about Health At Every Size, learning to embrace radical self-love rather than the body-tolerance I’d sought for so many years.
But in short, I am trying easy — I am replacing the iron fist of diet and exercise as punishment with the gentle softness of self-compassion. I am done denying myself my life due to my appearance. I think about all the pools I haven’t gotten into, how I hold myself back from the dance floor, how I admire Mary Lambert’s crop-top wearing body but would never consider myself worthy of such adornment, how much time I spend not-doing because I think I’ll have time or be more worthy of my own life once I am some arbitrary ever-shifting weight, about how many workout schedules and meal plans I have paid for in hopes that I will REALLY do it this time.
What do I want to do instead? To get on stage and make people laugh, secure in the knowledge that my body is good. To keep taking my body to spin class because I feel strong, to be fully present on my yoga mat, to dance freely without fear of what is jiggling or what others might think. To feed myself kale salad and french fries with an equal amount of joy because it’s what I want to eat, not what I think I should eat or because I’m “being bad.” I want to wear a high-waisted bikini instead of covering my body in the water, and to feel free and curvy and worthy of the joys this life has to offer. I want to wear a pair of shorts — something I haven’t allowed myself since childhood. I want to wear a red lipstick and find a crop top to wear. I want to stop waiting to buy things because I assume that someday, I will get to purchase it in a smaller size.
In her poem, “Wild Geese”, the incredible Mary Oliver writes:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
This time of my life feels as if I am finally standing all the way up, drinking cold water in a hot desert, and getting to know this soft animal I inhabit.
If this process were as easy as writing one thing and publishing it and being done, it would be a true delight; however, I am not naive enough to believe that will be the case. My goal is to start publishing weekly essays about intuitive eating, self-love, and shifting my view of my body as part of the process of doing so. I plan to publish them here on Medium, and I’d love it if you followed along.