Body fat has become the new “opiate of the masses.”
Or at least, the modern day opiate of the female masses. Back in Karl Marx’s day, religion was what kept people quiet and afraid. It kept them docile, malleable, and controllable. But religion doesn’t really serve that purpose anymore, and while I wish I could say that’s because we’re finally free of oppression, the truth is we’ve simply acquired new sources.
Nowadays, the thing that keeps women controllable and afraid is the feeling that their bodies aren’t good enough. Specifically, the feeling that they have too much body fat, or the wrong kind, or in the wrong place. This preoccupation with our own fat keeps many women feeling powerless, insecure, and eager to hand over their power and money to anyone who offers them a quick solution.
Diet pills and workout plans have become our modern-day “reparations.”
Women often put their entire lives and happiness on hold; waiting until she has lost (or gained) the perfect amount of body fat. Until she has accomplished the mysterious and impossible goal of achieving physical “perfection,” she feels unable and unworthy of exploring her other interests, passions, gifts, or higher self. Thanks to the endlessly fluctuating nature of that goal however, even if she achieves it there is still more work to be done. There is no end to how much time, energy, and attention a woman can pour into the consideration of her own body fat. She can spend endless time worshipping at the alter of the “perfect body,” and endless energy self-flagellating for not living up to it. This makes it the absolute perfect opiate.
Much like religion, fixating on your body helps you numb or assuage the discomfort of feeling lonely, vulnerable, afraid, sad, angry, or meaningless. It helps distract you from feeling trapped in a life you didn’t consciously create, and gives you something that seems all-important to focus on. By offering you a mental focal point, your obsession with your body fat helps you avoid feeling existentially out of control.
Obsessively striving for physical perfection is a spectacular way to avoid the terrifying experience of being a person.
My comparison to opiates here is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but opiates are an addictive painkiller, and there is an addictive quality to obsessing about your body.
The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, as I mentioned, obsessing about the size and shape of your body provides an escape from yourself, a way of numbing and distracting from the deeper and darker experiences of being a human. (It’s certainly not the only way to numb yourself however; binging on Netflix, mindlessly shopping, or staying so busy you never have a moment to yourself can all be equally effective.) Numbing habits become addictive because after a while, it starts to feel like if you stopped and faced what you’ve been avoiding for long, it would absolutely swallow you whole.
The second reason it feels addictive is because obsessing over fat has become so normal that it’s an easy way to bond and connect with others. In fact, by refusing to participate in bodyfat-based conversations, you would have to really work very hard and probably make a lot of people very uncomfortable. Go ahead and try it for a month, I dare you.
We’re wired to crave feeling normal and accepted (seriously, it’s a survival mechanism). Right now, especially for women, caring about body fat is the most normal and accepted thing there is. The obsession with fat isn’t just in our own heads; it’s culturally sanctioned and socially supported. In eight years of doing this work, I’ve heard stories that make my skin crawl.
For example: one woman told me that her boyfriend made her stand still while he critiqued every inch of her body, and told her where she should lose weight, and how she could improve.
This is inexcusable emotional abuse.
While I think we can all agree that this woman’s boyfriend was an asshole, the bigger issue is that this isn’t an isolated incident. Women are inundated by different variations on that same message from family, doctors, co-workers, cat-callers, acquaintances, strangers, magazines, media, and everywhere else.
Our body-obsessed celebrity-culture feels like it has a right to notice, judge, and talk about other women’s bodies, 24/7. We bash our own or give excuses for it, we give give each other advice on what she just “needs to try,” and we size up the health and worth of strangers and celebrities based on how much fat she has, and where. Too much fat and she needs to “be careful.” Too little fat and she needs to “eat a cheeseburger.” Fat in the “wrong” places, and she needs to “learn how to dress for her body type.”
We can do so much better.
Why we should stop obsessing about body fat.
First of all, it doesn’t “work.” Thanks to some amazing stress-response hormones, stressing about losing fat actually makes it more difficult or even impossible to lose it. It’s like trying to grip a handful of sand. The tighter you grip, the less sand you have. But a nice, relaxed hand can easily hold the right amount of sand. The same goes for fat-loss: the tighter you cling to the idea that you “need to” lose fat, the harder it will be to do so.
Luckily the opposite is also true. Your body fat will more naturally regulate itself to a healthy and optimal place when you stop stressing and obsessing about it. So just to be clear: your body fat fixation is not actually useful for losing body fat.
The fixation is nothing but a wild goose chase; it’s designed, not to help you succeed, but to keep you occupied.
Whether you’re trying to lose your fat, accept your fat, or love your fat, you’re still talking about fat, and thus fat retains a power and status that it absolutely does not deserve. Fat is just something you body makes to protect and fuel you. It’s a survival mechanism, and when healthy, it’s beautiful and awesome. It’s a part of how your body regulates you and keeps you safe! But, and this is important, it’s nothing more than that. It’s neither worth worshipping, nor condemning. It’s not the key to happiness. It’s just… fat.
When you’re body-fat-focused, you don’t have much time and energy left over to spend on passion, adventure, pleasure, growth, service, or love. As a result, the world misses out on you being here. You get one life. Just one. Please don’t give fat the power to keep you away from the beautiful work of being fully you while you’re here.
Don’t spend your life obsessed with a meaningless and impossible status symbol. It would be like spending your entire life in pursuit of a unicorn, and refusing to be happy until you find one.
How much time and energy have you spent thinking about, or doing something about, your own body fat? How much time and energy have you spent thinking about the body fat of other people? Imagine what would happen if you had put that same time and energy toward something you feel passionately about.
You could have learned to salsa. Or planned and gone on a trip around the world. Or asked out that cute coffee guy and fallen in love. Or recorded an album. Or started a business.
What could you have created with all that extra time and energy, if it wasn’t spent focused on fat?
So how do we take our power back?
By refusing to allow fat to be so important.
Refuse to let your body, how much fat you hold and where, or the number on a scale, be more important than… literally anything else.
Consciously redirect your time, energy, money, and attention away from your fat and toward more deserving stuff.
I should mention here, letting go of your preoccupation with your fat does not mean you stop taking care of your body. Quite the opposite in fact. One of the most important things in life is (and should be) taking excellent care of your physical vessel. You only get one body, and when treated well that body holds the power to give you massive untapped pleasure, power, energy, and joy.
But don’t let it run your life. Don’t let it hold you back. Don’t let it be linked to your value. Don’t let body fat ruin your day, your week, or your decade.
Find shit that lights you up, gives you purpose, and makes you happy. Spend your resources there. Put those things first. Talk about those things at parties. Compliment those things in your friends. Read blogs and magazines about those things. Hire someone to help you achieve your goals in those areas. Give your time, energy, money, and power to those things.
When you notice that you attention has fallen back into the old habit of being fat-focused (as it totally will), gently re-direct it again, and remind yourself: I am not a person who thinks fat is important.
Of course, this takes time.
It’s much easier to wax poetic about the similarities between religion and body obsessions than it is to simply stop caring about your fat. It takes patience and practice and deep inner work to re-direct your time and attention. It takes courage and resilience to forgo the expected bonding rituals with others. But the rebellion starts with you.
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