Weight loss fairy tales
Unless it’s “too much,” magazines and TV shows always portray weight loss as an inherent good. Weight loss makes you healthier, happier, and more attractive, able to do so much you couldn’t do before. We’ve all seen the beaming smiles on People Magazine’s cover, with text reading “Half Their Size!” or articles about “How I Got My Body Back” (back from whom?).
This sounds like a fairy tale to me. The happily-ever-after tale of the “after” side of weight-loss photos doesn’t give a very accurate picture of the challenges associated with losing a lot of weight.
Julia Kozerski explores those challenges in her photo series Changing Room and Half (warning: nude photos; not safe for school/work). In Changing Room, Kozerski charts her weight loss in clothing-store selfies – a project that would seem to fit the usual “before and after” narrative, but for two close-ups of her tear-stained face that show her struggle with her changing body.
Half is an even more confrontational project. It’s a series of somber nudes showing how a body that has undergone dramatic weight loss does not look the same as a body that has maintained a consistent weight for years – which, it sounds, is how Kozerski expected herself to look.
She created the photo series because, as she says in a New York Magazine article, “Everything starts sagging, and you’ve got stretch marks, and clothes fit differently…This isn’t what it’s supposed to look like.” Other people quoted in the article describe feeling confused in their bodies, too. They describe being surprised that the “happy” part of the happily-ever-after didn’t immediately follow – that losing unwanted weight didn’t also magically fix their other problems.
Fairy-tale media narratives of weight loss tell us that if we lose weight, our changed bodies will finally fit mainstream standards of attractiveness, and that all our problems will finally be gone.
The problem here is not weight loss itself, but the importance media attaches to it. It’s as if weight loss is the fairy godmother in Cinderella, with the ability to improve everything in one fell swoop. But it should not come as a surprise that you are still yourself after losing weight – flaws included.
So how do we avoid falling into the fairy tale trap?
One possibility is to remember that weight loss isn’t a one-way street of improvement. Professional trainer Kelly Coffey has a list of things she misses about weighing 300 pounds, from “the natural, organic strength” that came from being heavier to the understanding that, when heavier, “most weight changes are fleeting and insignificant.”
And Bevin at Queer Fat Femme has some great advice for how to think about weight loss. For starters, she suggests avoiding using what she calls the “nonpliment” of “you look so good!” Because “You look so good” implies that your friend didn’t look good before, or that looking good is only about weight. She also suggests thinking about what you’re really trying to compliment, and proposes, “You just seem extra YOU today. I love it!”
To be especially yourself? No matter your size (or whether you are in the process of changing your size), that’s what we should all be striving for!
Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and participates in reproductive health and justice activism in the Boston area.