Body politics

by Brianne Benness

I’m getting smaller. I’m getting smaller when I didn’t expect to and I don’t know what to do.

I stopped weighing myself when I moved to Toronto. At first it was incidental since I didn’t belong to a gym anymore, but it became intentional when I was faced with the prospect of sharing my body with somebody new. I decided that I had enough to worry about when navigating a new relationship without apologizing for my body. So I didn’t apologize for my body anymore. And I didn’t look at it, really, because I didn’t know how to do that without a spotlight that shines on everything that’s culturally wrong. At first I still thought the apologies. Mentally noted that my legs were stubbly or my pants had become too tight. But it became easier to let these go, to realize that partners never seemed to mind.

I’ve never really felt fat, but I haven’t felt self-rightiously skinny either. I’ve never had a body that I wanted to put in a bikini, although I can’t definitively say that anybody has. In high school I was really sick with mono and barely ate for a month. I wasn’t healthy but I came back to school much thinner than before. My clothes fit differently, people looked at me differently, I felt like I had done something right.

I levelled out by second year of university, when I found time to go to the gym almost everyday and still found myself bigger than all of my friends. I just was. I was bigger than my friends when I ate pizza every day and didn’t exercise at all and I was bigger than my friends when I spent the summer in Los Alamos working out every lunch hour and eating collard greens.

Some time after that, my feminism came to include a moratorium on discussions about weight. I was allowed to talk about loving your body, and how hard that could be in the face of our media and our culture. I was allowed to talk about fatness as identity, about health at any size, about what it means to occupy your body in a culture that wants you to hide it, to defeat it. I was allowed to talk about self care, which included eating vegetables and exercising in a way that felt good. But I didn’t want to talk about weight. I didn’t want to talk to people who were trying to change their bodies for its own sake. My sister talks about her weight more than anybody I know, and I feel implicated in this toxic culture whenever I listen to her.

So now, over three weeks into a radical diet change, I can see how silly it is that it didn’t occur to me that a radical diet change might cause my weight to change. I’d started to think of my weight as this number that was more or less fixed, and it might change a little when I cut gluten so my finger stopped peeling or when I started going to yoga so that my neck would stop hurting. But I expected little changes. The way my nails are always more or less the same length except for how sometimes one of them breaks and sometimes my pinky succeeds in growing out a sort of coke nail whose strength surprises me.

So far I’ve lost more than ten pounds when I wasn’t even trying. That statement is so loaded that I can barely allow myself to think it. It rings false, the way women in Hollywood say that they eat whatever they want and just happen to have fast metabolisms. In certain circles it begs congratulations. Like unintentional weight loss is a reward in itself. At Easter Dinner my stepdad commented immediately, said I looked great. Later he asked other dinner guests if they thought I’d lost weight.

Since cutting caffeine and sugar from my diet, I’ve found that I necessarily fall asleep earlier, wake up earlier. I’ve started jogging or swimming in the mornings to make use of that new hour before anybody else is awake. When I started this routine, it really didn’t occur to me that it would exacerbate any weight loss.

And the thing is, my body can stand to lose weight. I’m not worried that I will become emaciated, but I’m worried about liberating this poisonous part of my brain that I’d quarantined. The part of my brain that watches the number on the scale dropping and sees it as a challenge, as a victory. The part that thinks: at this rate, I can buy a new bikini for my week on the beach. At this rate, I can hit the number I used to call my target weight. At this rate, I’ll be satisfied with my body.

My emerging hip bones give me pride and then shame.

So now I’m watching myself get smaller in all of the ways that arrogant weight loss gurus tell you to get smaller. I’ve cut processed foods from my diet. I’m exercising for at least half an hour six days a week. And it’s working. In some ways, I’m mad that it’s working. I’m mad because I know health and weight loss aren’t that simple. We can’t just tell people who are living in poverty, or in the grips of the manufactured obesity epidemic, that it’s this simple. This isn’t simple. But this weight loss makes me feel complicit in a culture that tries to tell you that it is. My body is betraying my politics.

And maybe it will stop. Maybe I will stop shrinking somewhere well above my former target weight. Maybe my skin will finally clear and I can abandon the radical shifts I’ve made in my diet. Maybe I will stop exercising, to punish my body for its dissent. And maybe I will find myself at my old target weight, fighting to occupy my body even though it is smaller than before.