January is drawing to a close and yet still I am inundated with messages regarding the New Me that the New Year is bringing around, according to marketers.
You may have noticed that on diet shows and in the literature of weight loss and fitness journeys, people often use a language where they “other” themselves. In academic literature people talk about “othering” as a process: people distinguish themselves from those they perceive as being different or “other.” This is often used with regards to race, gender, sexuality, class, etc. but in a lot of ways, the pathos of the weight loss and fitness cults appeals to the idea that there will be the creation of a new, better, improved you through the physical and psychological metamorphosis that is weight loss.
I recall having a discussion with a professor as an undergrad about Americans’ fervent belief that one can fundamentally reinvent themselves, particularly by relocating themselves geographically and moving Westward. The American cult of weight loss offers a message very similar to that of westward travel: there is the understanding that through weight loss you’ll become a fundamentally different person.
Take, for example, the way fat/former fat people begin to lose weight and say, “I will never be That Person again.” They linguistically and psychologically begin to distances themselves from who they were, they engage in “othering” themselves and believe (whether genuinely or not) that they are a fundamentally different person from That Person. And on television shows like “My Diet is Better Than Your Diet,” trainers encourage this mentality by actively demonizing The Old, Unenlightened Fat Person.
This process of demonizing and othering yourself bothers me on a couple levels. The first is that I don’t think weight loss makes you a fundamentally different person. Lifelong fat girls like myself, I’ve found, don’t suddenly become different people when they lose the weight. I don’t even mean this in the sense that as a heavier person, I have bad habits like eating too much junk food and sitting on the couch too much, because surely there is and has always been more to me than that. Rather, I mean it like I liked the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream album when it first came out 20 years ago and I still like it. I still enjoy Murder, She Wrote and I’m still the same crotchety, cranky, in bed early kind of person. I have the same personality I’ve always had–I’m sarcastic and prone to lashing out verbally in a way that makes people uncomfortable. I still love mid-century modern furniture and style and would love to live in an Eichler. I love beach vacations and reading and still want to contribute something to a team-none of that has changed.
This continuity also raises something else I find problematic: the process of demonizing That Person.
If I take my understanding that I’m the same person I always was, why then do I have a right to hate my old self just for being fatter? For not running? For eating what she wanted? In some ways, I think it ends up being a process where you turn against your old self in an effort to join with the normative people who took issue with you in the first place. On My Diet is Better Than Your Diet, it seems like a way of saying to others “See? I’m being a Good Fat Person, I hate fat me, too.” This process also raises a lot of issues if you’re one of those people whose weight remains somewhat inconsistent. How are you going to feel about yourself if you regain the weight after going through this process of hating and shaming your fatter self?
Just something I’ve been thinking about.