Let’s make sure we stay body positive and aren’t feeding into the toxic diet culture when talking about our journey.
By Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins
A few months ago I was reminded of how much I missed working out. As someone who viewed the gym as one of the best stress relievers, I began to realize that my addiction to food and “rest” was now compromising my health. After gaining almost 75 pounds, dealing with issues related to my blood pressure and constantly being made to feel as if I should buy an additional seat on a plane (I fly often), I finally decided that I needed to get back to doing the one thing that made me feel my best: exercising.
Over the years, I have always struggled with my weight. After losing almost 150 pounds in college, I realized how beneficial exercising was to my physical and emotional health. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, going to the gym was always the one thing that helped me feel better about my outlook on life. Running gave me a moment to let my mind breath. Aerobic classes gave me a moment to just center myself with the music and the connections I made with others in the classes. The gym had always been my escape.
After contending with hating how I felt and hating how I looked, I re-committed myself to going to a local gym. A few weeks after being told by several of my friends that I was beginning to lose weight, I thought about posting a photo on social media to talk about how much weight I was losing and how important fitness was. But in that moment, it truly hit me: what I was about to post was not only problematic in the sense that the undertone of said post was fat-shamey, but the post was in turn telling other BIPOC that the only way they could be seen as worthy and beautiful was if they too decided to pick up a weight loss regime.
In this, I began thinking deeper about how BIPOC people can talk about their weight loss without it coming across as fat phobic and how we can hold others accountable when equating weight loss with beauty.
The first thing I always consider now, before I ever begin a conversation around my weight is that not everyone wants to hear about my journey — instead, I like to ask others for consent before I even begin the conversation. This consent isn’t always verbal either — it is making sure that you are mindful about what photos you post, where you check in and how folks interpret the undertones of conversations you may have related to weight loss. Sometimes telling your followers that they can block/unfollow your post because of weight loss post can truly show that you care about someone else’s wellness and wellbeing.
I often remind myself how conversations about weight loss can be triggering for others, especially for those who might not want to prioritize being at the gym. We also have to recognize that not everyone has the means or even the privilege to attend a gym, or may not feel comfortable in them. Most mainstream gyms often don’t create an inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ people being that there are rarely gender neutral restrooms or locker rooms and often toxic masculinity takes up a ton of space — cishet men grunting when they lift weights. Yeah, gross.
Something to consider before mentioning any form of weight loss is whether the other person (or people) are interested in the conversation and how to center the conversation on how one feels, versus how a person might look. Before making mention of your weight loss, discuss how you want to feel versus how you want to look. Keeping in mind that if we can avoid vanity in the conversation, we get away from the dangerous idea that someone’s worth is based on how they look.
It is important to understand that regardless of how you may feel about yourself and your journey, most people don’t feel comfortable or safe when talking about diet or exercise. Bringing up the conversation or telling someone to join you on your journey can often bring up very painful emotions and experiences. The goal is recognize that often, conversations around weight as a whole are usually centered on body bashing and fat shaming. If you can recognize that body bashing and fat shaming don’t inspire weight loss, you are doing the conversation right.
The most important thing to keep in mind when talking about weight loss is to note that your weight loss is not about being healthy, but about being centered holistically, because we often equate skinny to the idea of someone being healthy and there are several studies that show that this not always the case.
By emphasizing why wellness is important to me, I am taking away the stigma a thin body is a body that should be revered. I like to talk about how running helps me sleep better at night, or how yoga helps me connect to my inner thoughts. By centering wellness in most of your conversations, you are not only making other fat people feel safer around you, but you are helping them to reframe the ways they may think about exercise.
Any type of lifestyle change is about you and your personal connection to it. By making the conversation personal, you are breaking from the tired conversations we have around diet culture and exercise. By centering the conversation around the journey being personal, you are helping others to see the journey as one of self acceptance and healing. Remember, not everyone is at a place where they are able to talk about weight loss without feeling targeted. It takes time for some to see exercise as something fun and or liberating and it sometimes folks are just not in a headspace to where they can have a productive conversation around the topic.
Words mean things so do actions. Let’s make sure we aren’t feeding into the toxic diet culture when talking about our journey.
Author Bio: Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins is a speaker, writer and activist. His work focuses on the intersections of Black and queer identity and ways to eradicate systematic oppression. Follow him on Twitter: @DoctorJonPaul.