Over the weekend, I was asked by a friend of mine: "How much weight do you need to lose?"
Now, she was three glasses of wine in, so perhaps not her most articulate. It was definitely not intended as the harsh question that it could seem from the outside--it was a genuine inquiry from a friend with whom weight is a not uncommon topic of discussion. I cocked my head and looked at her for a moment, trying to decide if this was a good time for honesty. I'm generally on the fence as to whether the lowered walls stemming from alcohol are useful opportunities for challenging beliefs. As is generally the case, honesty won out.
"How much weight do I need to lose until what?"
I watched the wheels spin as she processed the question. Because, of course, everyone is supposed to be trying to lose weight. I'm the largest of our group of friends, so if everyone else is trying to lose weight, then surely I must be, too. She stuttered through her answer:
"Lose until...until...until you are happy."
Ah, there we go.
We all have many reasons for wanting to change our bodies. I've spent most of my life on the "if I could just get to XXX pounds I'd be happy" bandwagon. Here, this beautiful, wonderful woman, a mother and daughter and friend with a generous heart and who never fails to make me laugh, wanted to understand how far she was from the happiness that is rightfully hers.
There are plenty of reasons to want to lose weight. I wouldn't mind losing weight because I think running would be a little easier on my ankles and I could probably jump a little higher in Jazzercise. It would be nice to easily find fun clothes, as my current 16/18/20 is the point where almost all stores have decided I'm not a woman worth clothing and the few who have do so in a typically boring fashion. I'm an academic in a world where my large size virtually always distinguishes me from others in the room. I'm by no means immune to the thin ideal in the world around me, but I answered her honestly:
"I'm already happy."
I said I was happy with my body as it is. That I use it to run and dance and enjoy food and house the brain that makes me who I am. That after spending years trying to change my body, I've decided to give it a go with the one I've got. And to be happy about it. It's an imperfect plan, and there are some bumps, but for the most part I'm succeeding.
She looked at me a bit wistfully, and all the unspoken pressures of being a woman in the world passed between us. My heart ached for what we as a society do to each other. That, under the guise of health and beauty and self-control and puritan perfectionism, we aren't allowed to simply own our happiness.
"Wow," she said. "I really wish I could feel that way."