Tuesday, June 15, 2010


When I was a kid, I remember watching a television movie about an overweight, unattractive woman who was transformed into a beautiful woman. Before she had a car accident and plastic surgery, she was treated badly by all of the people around her. After plastic surgeons made her wrecked body and face gorgeous, she took her revenge on all of the people who harmed her.

This movie was written by Joan Rivers when she was an up and coming comedian known for her biting humor, before she became a joke herself. It starred Stockard Channing, before she became a well-known and well-respected actress. It's called “The Girl Most Likely To...” and has far more comments on IMDB than I would have expected for a movie that aired in 1973.

Perhaps I remembered this movie well because in 1973 I was 9 years old and just at the beginning of my life of torment as the “fat kid”. In fact, I started gaining weight in 4th grade of elementary school at that age. The idea of becoming a future beauty and heaping some pain back on the people who made me miserable everyday must have seemed irresistibly appealing at that time.

At 45, my reasons for losing weight have nothing to do with revenge. In fact, as of late I've been pondering expectations of life post-fatness as well as some of the reasons others have stated they are losing weight. Frankly, sometimes I'm really shocked at the type of things fat women say when they speak on this topic. I don't think that they are going to serve themselves well in the long run in many cases.

I am reluctant to frame any person's reason for losing weight as “good” or “bad”, or any euphemism thereof. Back when I worked in a mental health-related non-profit agency, it was drilled into our heads that such words suggested that people were “right” or “wrong” or that there was some moral judgment at play. We were instructed to talk about “appropriate” and “inappropriate” behavior rather than using other words. I don't think the mentally ill people we dealt with on a daily basis missed the fact that we were simply avoiding using other words. When a client would talk about a case worker's personal life, appearance, etc., we would say they were being “inappropriate”, but I'm sure they heard “bad”.

Frankly, I have little interest in judging people. That being said, I can't help but believe that there are reasons to lose weight which are conducive to long-term success and mental health and those which are conducive to disappointment, bitterness, and weight regaining. In this post, I'm going to consider those reasons. I would like to assert most strongly that these are NOT euphemisms for “bad” or “good”. That being said, any action which is based on vindictiveness, spite, or gratification of the id is likely to be pretty bad. No one needs me to tell them that, unless they are amoral children or psychopaths.

As I've been monitoring reasons that other people have offered, I have broken them down into the following categories based on my feelings and considerations:

Reasons that are conducive to possible future success and contentment:
  • health
  • mobility
  • fitness (average)
  • pain reduction
Reasons that are potentially conducive to future success and contentment or failure:
  • beauty
  • fitness (above average)
  • relief from depression
  • clothing preferences (either sizes or designs)
  • cessation of discriminatory behavior against overweight people
Reasons that are likely to lead to failure and discontent:
  • revenge against those who rejected you based on weight
  • desire to incur envy in others
  • acceptance by those who reject you based on weight
  • compliments or positive attention for your accomplishment
  • happiness (generalized)
  • better romantic or relationship potential
  • fitness (greatly above average, unrealistic for your body's capability) 
  • competitiveness with others (in regards to weight loss or appearance)

Any reason to lose weight based on external validation or that involves other people is going to greatly increase your chances of failing in the long run in my opinion. One of the reasons for this is that you cannot rely on the reactions of others to meet your expectations. Even if you initially receive praise and are validated during the weight loss process, you will have an increased chance of gaining back the weight you lost in the future once the compliments end and you reach your target. In other words, once life returns to "normal" and you no longer get those pats on the back, your reasons for losing the weight in the first place vanish.

By nature, most people, especially those who have little respect or regard for you, aren't paying enough attention to your internal struggles or the external manifestation of you conquering those struggles to even care about your weight loss. Contrary to popular belief, the weight loss of one fat person is not of paramount interest to every person around you, even when your fatness seemed to preoccupy them. Most people don't care, and only notice in the most cursory fashion. They don't envy you, though they may be threatened by the fact that you have succeeded when they have some sort of egoistic interest in your remaining fat. Even in such a case, their responses are about them, not you. People are far too self-centered to concern themselves deeply or at length with your weight loss or appearance. Therefore, any sort of desire for envy, revenge, etc. is going to provide extremely short-lived satisfaction at the very most, and nothing at all in the least.

To me, beauty is a dual-edge sword as a weight loss motivation. Many people expect beauty to be the ultimate reward for weight loss, but as I have said before, thin doesn't mean beautiful. Most people are average-looking and some are actually ugly, fat or thin. You aren't going to be Angelina Jolie once you shed layers of fat. In fact, you're likely to find that you look "different" but not necessarily "good", especially with the sagging skin, possible wrinkles that were smoothed out by body fat (something I'm experiencing), stretch marks, and other battle scars of obesity. There may be a minority of people who lose weight and actually have the skin elasticity, youth, or genetic potential to become great beauties, but such cases are rare.

Most people are unremarkable. And I don't buy into the idea that "fat = ugly" or that "thin = pretty" anyway, nor do most people (including men). Beauty is largely governed by factors related to symmetry, body ratios, and the size of body parts unconnected to weight (eyes, nose, mouth, height). You can be fat and gorgeous, though the body part ratios (like hip to waist) are often thrown off by excess weight. That being said, most people do look a bit better at lower weights because of improved body ratios and more appealing bone structure being revealed (particularly cleaner jawlines and better cheekbone definition, which are part of the symmetrical aspects which we favor genetically). In particular, most people look better in their clothing at lower weights. Whether or not beauty helps or hampers long-term weight loss depends on how realistic one's expectations are and how invested in beauty one is.

In regards to motivations that promote potential long-term loss, I think health is often the most potent one simply because fear of mortality, disability, or pain are enduring. You may get old and care less about beauty. You may grow mature enough not to be spiteful and vindictive. You may stop preoccupying yourself with something as arbitrary as numbers on clothing tags or styles. You will always have to concern yourself with health, pain, and mobility and the loss of them is potent.

While there is a certain logic behind everything I have said, I actually believe that no motivation is very solid or predictable. I lived for years with enduring physical pain and a lack of mobility. It was only the prospect of having to enter a new and unpredictable environment that pushed me to act. I was comfortable as long as I could operate within my limits in my current situation. Essentially, my feet being put to the fire was my main motivation to start to lose. It is merely my hope that the appreciation I have at present for my state of increased mobility and reduced pain will help me maintain after I lose everything. I just know though, that none of the other fantasy outcomes like those that were in the old movie I mentioned at the beginning of this post will serve any lasting good.


KyokoCake said...

I loved reading this!! I totally agree that depending on other people as motivation for anything is setting yourself up for a letdown. Change definitely sticks a lot easier when you are doing it just for yourself!

Sarah said...

I love Ms. Channing, I have never seen this movie, sounds like a must see for me.

I think you are pretty spot on with the motivators. But my own two cents. I was blown away by how beautiful I was underneath all the weight. I still am six years later. Took me a while to get used to it and grow into it... but my vanity is motivating. I know I will grow old and I will not always look like this, but right now. It suits me. And if it helps with my mobility and decreased pain then I am all for it. Health not exactly a motivator for me. A lot of the problems I was sold as being weight related, were in fact not. Just genetics. I eat well to hold off other things, but getting healthier... didn't turn out how I expected.

Lastly, I say often, things are never better or worse, nor good or bad. Simply different. (I am a twin) I have had to embrace this fully or I would have driven myself crazy with the comparisons to others. Growing up with a built in comparison... rough. Growing up and realizing that every one is their own individual each with their own different experiences was freeing.

screaming fatgirl said...

Greetings to both of you and thanks for commenting.

KyokoCake: I think "doing it for yourself" really is the crux of the situation, though we can't really escape the societal aspects. One of the biggest motivators for people is to stop facing weight-based discrimination, and that works up to a point. A lack of something negative is less motivating than the presence of something positive.

Sarah: When I lost weight in college, I came out the other side quite beautiful. There are pictures of me that still stun me to this day. I can't post them, because I don't want to be known, but needless to say, when I was in make-up and my hair was loose about my face (I had and still have very long, gorgeous hair and big eyes), I looked enviably good - in some pictures as beautiful as a movie star).

That being said, maintaining that beauty wasn't important enough to help me escape regaining weight. My susceptibility to eating under pressure and stress and my inability to really control my eating (which I could not do in any way at that time) could not be offset by a desire to maintain my beauty. The fact that I wasn't vain probably factored into that. I don't think that I ever internalized the idea that I could actually be perceived as beautiful in the least. I'm not sure that I ever will, but frankly, I'm just as happy not basing my choices on something that has to be validated externally and will definitely fade.

I'm only speaking personally here. What works for each person is highly individualized. I did place "beauty" as something that has potential to either help you maintain or not. It really does depend on the person when it comes to beauty, particularly their own expectations of what will happen when they lose weight. I had no expectations, and only realized in retrospect that I did come out the other side quite attractive, so it didn't end up mattering to me.