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The Hidden Truths of Major Weight Loss

Content Note: Some images in this post may be considered NSFW

Julia Kozerski lost 160 pounds, exactly the way that fat people are encouraged to. She changed her diet, she built in exercise, she stayed constant. Her goal was to change her body, and she succeeded. She went from weighing 338 (fat women can always tell you the exact number) to about 180. She’s also a photographer, and she has documented the experience extensively.

Healing the Toxic Intoxication of Fat Hatred

I recently tried once again to read George Orwell’s 1984.

As always, I got a few chapters in and had to stop because it was so depressing that I couldn’t live in Orwell’s evocation of mind-controlled totalitarian world for a minute longer. One thing I did get out of the experience was adding one more time reading the early chapters including the Two Minutes Hate scene. Early in the book the hero, Winston Smith takes part in his office’s mandatory daily group hate ritual, an exercise in bonding and mind control.

Fighting bad health, not obesity

In the Guardian this week I’m writing about how advocates for healthy food and journalists covering addictive junk food should focus on the bad health outcomes of that food instead of body size. I differ with much of the Feministe commentariat on a lot of food issues, especially insofar as I think the government should absolutely incentivize healthy eating and exercise, and I’m fine with limiting sizes of nutritionally useless, almost-entirely-bad-for-you processed items like soda (I’m also fine leveling taxes on products like soda, alcohol, cigarettes, etc). I prefer positive incentives — letting food stamps count double at farmers’ markets, for example — but I’m fine with doing both. That’s because at a basic level, it is the government’s job to promote the public health. How we eat is central to our health. My issue comes in with the obesity justification. Promote everyone’s health, whether we’re fat or thin or somewhere in between — because bad food is damaging to all bodies, not just fat ones. A piece of the column:

Better that children are hungry than fat

New York City Council looks like it’s going to approve a resolution in that will provide for breakfast in NYC classrooms. NYC currently ranks last among cities that provide for free breakfast programs, with only 34% of kids who qualify for free/reduced lunch getting breakfast at school. Bloomberg, obesity-fighter extraordinaire, is opposed. He’s worried that having a bowl of cereal in the morning will further contribute to childhood obesity, especially those fatties who will eat two breakfasts, one at home and one at school.

Except that skipping breakfast has been linked to weight gain. And eating breakfast has been linked to better performance in school. And, of course, school performance contributes to to financial success later in life which is correlated with lower rates of obesity. So even if you *do* buy into the idea that we can make fat kids thinner, this is clearly a good thing.

So, basically, even though Bloomberg says that it’s all about making healthier and happier kids, ultimately it’s just about trying to make kids less fat. And, despite the rhetoric, those aren’t the same thing.

For what it’s worth, my high school provided breakfast (free for kids who qualified) and most of my teachers allowed food in the first period of the day. Because they realized that it’s important for kids to get proper nutrition in order to learn and grow.

Hair Part I: Legs

I’ve never been particularly consistent about shaving my legs. They were already pretty hairy when, at age 12, I asked my mother for my first razor. It was pink and disposable. After my evening shower, I grabbed it and the shaving cream, and attempted to de-hair my legs. It took a long time. The razor kept getting clogged and I nicked my heel. It gushed blood, as heel nicks do, and the bleeding took forever to stop. But, by the end, I managed to get most of the hair, save for a few random patches. I pretty much always miss a couple spots.

I never shaved my legs in the winter. Sure, I agreed with the commercials that “silky smooth” felt great, but I just couldn’t be bothered. I’d have fits of embarrassment in gym class because we had to wear shorts, but an extra five minutes of sleep trumped that embarrassment. Thus went my first experience as a hair nonconformist.

I maintained my non-diligence through college, shaving (mostly) during skirt season and covering my hairy legs with long skirts and tall boots through the winter.

Then I moved to Seattle, where pretty much every season is skirt season.

I started dating my soon-to-be-husband and gained my leg-shaving motivation. After all, why would a great guy like him stay with a fat, hairy woman like me? One strike or another might be OK, but tolerance of both just seemed like too much to ask for.

And, well, I couldn’t be less fat, so I would be less hairy.

For the first few months of our relationship, I shaved without fail. Then I started testing the waters. A day without shaving. 2 days. 3. A week.

The STBH didn’t say anything.

Finally, the secret came out: the STBH didn’t actually care about silky smooth legs. In fact, he thought the whole hair-removal thing was pretty weird.

I didn’t really understand. Didn’t he know that women were supposed to have smooth legs? Didn’t he know that I was supposed to be ashamed of my stubble? Didn’t he know that “hairy” is one of the worst things a woman could be?

I continued shaving regularly for a bit, but it became a less and less frequent regimen. I haven’t yet reached the point where I feel comfortable with my hairy legs all the time, but it’s a process. I haven’t replaced my razors in a while, though I did shave before the last wedding I went to. Sometimes I have a fit of wanting to feel feminine, and my brain still thinks that I can only do that with smooth legs.

Most of the time, my logic goes as follows:
1. “I should shave my legs! I will look prettier with shaved legs!”
2. “I have no razors. I need to get razors.”
3. “I totally don’t have time to get razors. Maybe on the way back from work…?”
4. “Wait, fuck this. Why should I go out of my way to shave my fucking legs? I’m no less of a woman when I have leg hair! Smash the patriarchy!”

As I said, it’s a process.

I really wanted this to be some story about how I made an enlightened decision that razors are tools of the patriarchy and cast them away in a fit of rebellion. But really it’s the story of claiming back a bit of time and money for myself.

I’ve been challenged on that, mostly by other women, even feminist ones. I’ve gotten side-eyes while in bathing suits and comments while in dresses. I’ve been asked whether I’m making a statement, and sometimes I feel like I am.

But most of the time, the statement is that I just don’t feel like it. And that’s OK.

In many ways, my resistance to shaving feels like my resistance to dieting. It’s work that I’m supposed to do in order to maintain patriarchal standards of beauty. Even if I’m not intending to be subversive, I am, simply by enjoying and living in my fat, hairy body. It’s selfishness, and women aren’t supposed to be selfish. It’s abstaining from a beauty requirement, and women are supposed to uphold a certain paradigm of beauty. It’s a challenge to what patriarchy says a woman should look like and it’s a challenge to women who buy into those standards to consider why they spend the time and money.

What’s sickening is that even something as simple as letting leg hair grow out has its consequences. I don’t wear skirts while on job interviews or while presenting at conferences, for instance. My clean, soft leg hair would be seen as unkempt at best, a sign that I neglect self-care at worst. But I think that’s just another reason to be more public about my hairy legs. An army of hairy-legged feminists sounds scary to a lot of people, other feminists included, but I think it’s just the thing we need. I hope that the more women are upfront about not wanting to shave their legs, the more accepted it will become to abstain completely.

Owning my food crazy

Trigger warning for discussion of dieting and food restriction.

I have a confession to make.

Over the last six months or so, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight.

It’s my first time that my weight has gone down since I jumped on board the fat acceptance train, and I feel great. I have more energy. My joints don’t hurt. I haven’t had a migraine in months or a back spasm in weeks. I can almost do a push-up and spent the weekend hiking up and down a mountain. I’m training for a large backpacking trip for next summer.

Oh yeah. And the reason I feel great is totally unrelated to the weight loss.

Here’s my story: about six months ago, I had a joint pain flare up that didn’t end. (Last year I wrote about the joint pain that I’ve been experiencing in my elbows, wrists, and shoulders since I was 18.) I was complaining about it to my physical therapist (I got a nasty ankle spring last October), and when I described the problem as tendonitis, he gave me a serious look.

“If you’re having bilateral joint pain in multiple joints, that’s not tendinitis. There’s either something systemic or something related to your spine. Go see a doctor.”

The doctor measured elevated inflammation markers in my blood. There was a scary period where we thought I might have a serious autoimmune disease (don’t worry! I don’t). I recruited a friend of mine who is a naturopath, and we started looking into diet-related options to explain the inflammation. I went on an elimination diet– the first time intentionally restricting my diet beyond keeping kosher and other Jewish dietary oddities, like fast days and avoiding wheat, beans, and rice on Passover.

It was pretty horrible. I became obsessed with everything I put in my mouth. The scary part was how easy it was for me to fall back into old dieting habits. I can’t have sugar. There’s nothing convenient to eat, so I’ll just skip this meal. How many calories am I eating? I’ll keep a food log. I was thinking about food all of the time.

I was still in pain.

The doctors still couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

I was so stressed, that I got a back spasm that didn’t respond to ibuprofen. The pain was so severe that I vomited.

I finished out the elimination diet completely exhausted and no closer to an answer than when I started. The rheumatologist had no answers. My naturopath friend had no answers. The only lead we had was that I’d felt better over Passover. So, as a last ditch effort, I tried following a “Passover diet”. No wheat. No rice. No beans. Mostly vegetables, eggs, meat, fruit, and fish.

Within three days my pain was gone. A nutritionist gave me a tentative diagnosis of SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. SIBO flares up with sugars, and starch in particular, so that explains why the Passover diet was so effective. Since starting it, I haven’t had any migranes or back spasms. I can wear a backpack for a day without pain. I can carry things up and down stairs. When I do a push-up, I feel my pectoral muscles working, not just pain in my elbows. I’ve had two periods in a row, after having maybe four or five natural periods over the last two years.

And I’ve lost weight.

I’m effectively following a low-carbohydrate diet, so it’s really no surprise. But that’s what people focus on. I bought new clothing and got a big “good for you!” from the saleswoman. I had an easier time hiking this year than last year, and my parents went on about how it must be the weight loss. When I order a salad instead of a sandwich, I get the side-eye from people who know that I’m pretty outspoken against weight-loss for its own benefit. Those haven’t been the hardest thing, though.

The hardest thing has been the re-emergence of my food crazy. I started weighing myself to make sure that I wasn’t losing weight too quickly, but the crazy that wants to know what my weight is every day, every hour, after I use the bathroom, after I work out. I don’t own a scale, so I can only weigh myself at the gym, but the thought floats into my head at random moments, for the first time in years. I started logging my food to make sure that I was eating enough, but I feel a compulsion to count calories. Every time I look for low carbohydrate recipes, I’m bombarded by dieting literature.

I’m not going to lie, the praise feels good. It feels sickeningly comfortable to be dieting, even if it’s unintentional. It’s so easy to wonder where my weight will settle out, and hope that it’s at a “normal” weight. It’s so easy to hope that I’ll fit into straight sizes. It’s so easy to feel like a “good fattie.”

So I’ve been trying to get comfortable with my food crazy. Instead of ignoring it, as I’ve been able to since I stopped weight-loss dieting, to identify it, look it in the eye, and say, “You lie.” To put it in a corner and check on it every now and then to make sure that it’s still there. Some times are harder than others. This weekend was particularly difficult, since my parents and brother have their fair share of food crazy. At one point, Mr. Shoshie pointed out that the two of us seemed to be the only ones who claimed to experience hunger. I checked up on the food crazy a lot this weekend.

But, as I get used to this new way of eating, it becomes easier. The food crazy is starting to get tired of yelling at me to count my calories and count my carbs and measure my waist. The food crazy is getting used to me leaving it in that corner. I can’t wait for the time when I can ignore it completely.

HuffPo Live, 2 pm Eastern

Hey all, I’ll be chatting at HuffPo Live in about 18 minutes to talk about the criticism four-time Olympic swimmer Leisel Jones has received about her weight. Because fat doesn’t float, or something.

You should be able to find the conversation hereabouts.

Never let it be said that the Kardashians don’t recognize an opportunity

I have been fortunate enough not to have actually seen an episode of one of the many Kardashian-related reality TV shows in existence. Yet I am unfortunate enough to still know who these people are.

That said, I have to commend (kommend?) the Kardashian sisters for recognizing that plus-size women need clothes and will spend real actual money to purchase them.

But, we’ll admit: the launch of their plus-size denim line, Kardashian Kurves, actually seems pretty kool. Sorry, cool.

The line will be sold in Sears, and in an effort to drum up some extra excitement there is an official contest, where one winner will pose with the Kardashian sisters on an official ad campaign. To enter on Facebook, submit a full-length photo of yourself “along with what being ‘kurvy’ and ‘konfident’ means to you.”

Do I hate that the name of the line is Kardashian Kurves? Yes. Does it irritate me that they are asking for models to show them how “konfident” they are with their “kurves”? You betcha. But I am going to give the sisters props for seeking out a market that so many other retailers are embarrassed to admit exists, even when they can (and often do, on the sly) make a lot of money selling to that market.

I give them credit for not being afraid to associate themselves with a plus-size line, for taking the measure (so to speak) of the clothing market and realizing that there’s a lot less competition for eyeballs and dollars in the plus department than there is in the junior department. I also give them credit for launching the line at Sears, which is accessible to a lot of the people who really could stand more choices in clothing.

Can’t say I’d wear it myself, but you never know.