Thursday, July 19, 2007

Body Conscious

As some readers know, I've been doing this diet-and-exercise thing this summer (I hesitate to call it weight loss, since that is only one goal), and I have good news and bad news on the results thus far. The good news is that even though the last three weeks involved a conference, a houseguest, and a trip to the West coast for a wedding--all opportunities to eat more and exercise less, I still lost a pound or two in that period, making a total of 16 over two and a half months. I take this to mean that I've changed my eating and exercise habits enough to actually alter my metabolism for the better, so my body can handle a hiatus from the concerted work of this body project. So good news.

The less comforting upshot seems to be the change in the way I am thinking unconsciously about bodies generally and discursively. As I pay attention to shaping my body to meet a more normative standard of beauty and ability, I find myself attending more to difference in other bodies, and not in a good way--that is, I find myself noticing beer guts and flabby arms, and most disturbingly, making snap judgments about those people.

I am well aware that the body-consciousness of US mainstream culture lies at the heart of a lot of the disciplining of normativity for larger discourses, but I had imagined that as someone who thinks about these issues (and against these trends) as part of my whole intellectual project, that I'd be resistant to some of these impulses.

But the impulse to look that gets internalized at the gym seems to have made its way outside of the gym, and this is something I want to pay attention to--how my own comparative success at remaking my body into something more normate (though less average, I note) has changed my impulse to judge those with different bodies.

Still, for reasons personal and private (the structures of culture always work on micro levels as well as macro), I'm continuing the project, and by the first day of school, I hope to weigh in consistently 20 pounds lighter than the last days of the spring semester (i.e. 4-5 more pounds in 5 weeks). Let's see if I can rework the shifts in mindset that have moved with the weights on the scale.


Flavia said...

I really struggle with this, too. My father, who is a kind and generous man, many of whose closest friends are women, nevertheless has always made casually unkind comments (out of their hearing, of course) about people--especially women--who are overweight. When I was a kid this came up all the time at the dinnertable as he was discussing coworkers, and I distinctly remember the day (age 12-14) when it first occurred to me: hey, *Mom* has been trying to lose 5-10 pounds since she had kids. Maybe this isn't. . . the most sensitive conversation to have?

I'm sure it never occurred to him that this might be hurtful to my mom, since I doubt he considered her "overweight." Likewise, I'm sure that it never occurred to him that making humorous oinking noises at me or my brother when we asked about dessert could be seen as unkind; I myself thought of it as just a slightly annoying joke--maybe because I inherited my my dad's slim build and low appetite.

Unfortunately, I did absorb the underlying message. I HATE the knee-jerk negative response I have to people who are overweight; I recognize it as a prejudice and I fight every judgmental thought that I have as it arises. . . but I wonder whether I'll ever get rid of them.

Sisyphus said...

Ick ... I bet being in cully-FORN-ya didn't help a bit, either. Socal may have a higher percentage of identical, skinny, personal-trainer-employing fake plastic blonde women, but the upscale malls of Norcal's Yuppietowns have their own restrictive notions of body type. It's also hugely bound up with class and education stereotypes.

Incidentally, my attempt to lose weight this summer has been canceled out by my attempts to learn to cook new things and I haven't gained or lost anything either direction. On the plus side, I'm eating a lot more healthy fresh vegetables, so it all probably works out for the best. The interview suit I bought for last year's MLA, however, still does not fit.