First, the implication present in this question is that slender bodies are better and thus this question contributes significantly to the propagation of violent beauty myths that imprison what I imagine to be a majority of individuals. Asking “why don’t you just lose the weight” instead of asking why seats aren’t made larger, for example, illustrates a complacency with the ways in which bodies are surveilled and shamed through spatial organizing, media ideals, fashion policing, and the like. Through asking this question you are essentially stating that you think the suffocating ideal of thinness that is enforced in every public and most private places is not only apt but desirable. Instead we should be asking why our spaces are organized in the manner that they are, why large bodies intimidate folks, and what capital gains from forcing a size 6 down women’s throats … just to name a few.
Second, this question wholly supports a flawed and dangerous vision of ability that finds footing on the foundation of the meritocracy. It obscures the ways in which many folks can’t “just” lose weight due to ability, age, health issues, income, employment demands etc…
I lost my weight through diet and exercise. I lived off of protein bars, chicken, tuna, and green vegetables. I spent three times as much money on groceries doing this. To do this I had to sacrifice already scarce leisure activities, and ended up with credit card debt as well. Even so, I was privileged to have access to a credit card and a job that paid me enough to invest in my health through clean eating. Also, I worked only one job, so food preparation was possible. Before losing weight I often worked two and sometimes three jobs. I ate on the go and I ate what was fast and pre-packaged. I was poor, so when I made friends with fast food workers in the mall they would slip me free or discounted fried toxicity. When you are hungry, a processed sandwich that doesn’t mold is still far better than nothing at all. It also fills you more than an apple – and they cost the same. You figure out ways to satiate your hunger through spending less and obtaining quick meals.
I also had access to a kitchen with working appliances and pots and pans. Years before my weight loss I spent a few months living out of my car, which prevented any form of healthy eating. You can’t eat a salad for lunch or chicken for dinner without a refrigerator to store it in, a stove to cook it on, and a pan to cook it in. When I finally had enough for a place I was working all of the time, so again the temporal luxury of food preparation that is necessary for weight loss is something not available to all. If one also considers that most obese individuals are of poor or working classes we can begin the trace the ways in which systems of capital make it near impossible for vulnerable bodies to eat healthy let alone lose weight if they desire to.
I was also able to purchase a gym membership. Let us also consider that I am also largely able bodied, and while I was very large I was still able to nail an elliptical three or four times a week.
These are only some of the considerations that questions such as “why don’t you just lose weight” obscure. When we ask this questions we are erasing the complexities and vulnerabilities that folks navigate every day. When we ask this question we are assuming another human being exists in the same ways we do. I wish to stress that assuming this does not make someone a villain, as it is common to judge the world through our own experiences. Yet it is also comfortable to do that. What this question does is erase the discomfort necessary to learn, grow, and listen.
Third, this question further interrogates bodies that are shamed and humiliated on a daily basis. This question places blame on the individual who exists in particular, political circumstances instead of on systems of power and inequity that work to keep individuals in dire straits. This question, and those similar to it (such as why don’t you go on a diet, why don’t you get a surgery, why don’t you try walking an extra mile) propel conversations of inadequacy and ineptitude while simultaneously seeking to erase stories of great import.
Those questions contribute to moments where young girls are daydreaming of cutting away their flesh. They contribute to barnyard noises shouted out of car windows. They contribute to photos that are cruelly posted online with captions like “someone let the pig out of the barn.”
While they often come from a place of good intentions, they – like telling someone they are beautiful in “their own way” – are poison. They are implicated in the maintenance of pain and cruelty. They are implicated in a routine and toxic conversation that states some bodies are worth more than others. Furthermore, they have the potential to instill a sense of failure into people who desperately need encouragement. Each time this question is asked there is an air of judgment beneath it that cuts and burns.
I encourage people to consider that not every person who is deemed “large” wants to lose weight, and that’s ok. I have heard the argument about health and higher costs of health care (we healthy folks shouldn’t pay more for them). What of individuals who utilize tanning beds and further their risk of cancer? What of the folks who often wear heels and further their risks of damaged leg tendons and nerves?
My point is not that we should start interrogating those folks. My point is that we should stop judging others based on what they do or do not have on their body. My point is that we live in a society that is incredibly dangerous. From air pollutants, water contamination, GMO’s, and streams of radiation emanating from our various electronic devices – we are all going to need healthcare and there isn’t a single way to guarantee which body will need more or who will pay for it. Nor should that be our concern.
Our concern should be securing a system of ethical care that nurtures all bodies equally without reference to those who can pay. Our concern should be cultivating a kinder and more accepting world that doesn’t encourage humans to traumatize others with their cruelty. The various mechanisms of power in place are really quite adept at inflicting trauma – they don’t need assistance and we should, as socially conscious actors, resist the hell out of them. We should begin creating a better space where we talk to strangers instead of belittling them; where we help someone struggling instead of walking by; where we call out problematic statements, jokes, and questions instead of pretending we didn’t hear. We are all guilty, but we should release our guilt. Guilt serves no purpose other than keeping us frozen. Instead we should seek out the stories of others as opposed to assuming we know them. We should dig for the problematic questions and work to eradicate them. We should start a new conversation.