What a key message for all of us to hear. Weight gain is not inherently a sign of sickness, and can in fact be part of our healing.
This essay discusses eating disorders and fatphobia, and contains spoilers for season six of BoJack Horseman
By Gloria Oladipo
Oh, BoJack Horseman—how much will I miss you! The final series contained so many poignant, well-expressed moments: BoJack’s reckoning with death, the idea of what it means to be “changed”, and allowing us to follow along on the beautiful moments of self-discovery for our beloved characters. But one moment that I need to elevate is the show’s excellent handling of Diane’s weight gain.
After divorcing Mr. Peanutbutter, Diane is left a depressed burnout, crashing in BoJack’s house, drinking heavily, and engaging in other self-destructive behaviors. However, when she meets and starts dating a coworker, Guy, she assumes her bout of depression and self-loathing is behind her. But it’s not, and her depression is only exacerbated by the new kinds of stress she finds herself under. Even though she’s happily dating Guy and making moves in her career, she still finds herself facing depressive symptoms. She hears voices in her head telling her that she is a failure. She begins isolating herself and having crying spells. However, in the hopes of doing it differently, Guy convinces Diane to take antidepressants. Then comes the weight gain.
Oftentimes in the media, weight gain is depicted as a shameful process, something that comes because of a traumatic event. We are even told that we must lose the evidence of life post-pregnancy, as quick as possible. Weight gain is officially recognized as a sign of failure, a sign of suffering. In fact, the act of weight loss is seen as liberation. Shows like The Biggest Loser or Insatiable think of weight loss as freedom, referring to fat bodies as a trap; a wall preventing someone from being their truest self.
Diane’s weight gain is at the height of her happiness. It isn’t something that she fights or devalues herself over. It isn’t presented as a sign that something is “wrong” with her or something we are told to panic about. In fact, the show does not call attention to her weight change at all. All we know is that Diane is happy (for once) and she has also gained weight. Diane is her truest self—the loving Diane, the writer Diane, the Diane who thinks of herself as worthy—after she has gained weight. What a key message for all of us to hear, especially as fatphobia grips tightly on our world. Weight gain is not inherently a sign of sickness, and can in fact be part of our healing.
I am so grateful for this message because weight gain has always been presented to me as a pitfall rather than a sign of wellness. For me, weight gain came as a result of my recovery from an eating disorder, which I battled for over 5 years; finally seeking treatment when I couldn’t live such a hollow life anymore. My life had gotten too small and I wanted more. The irony, though, was that during treatment and the recovery process generally, instead of being encouraged to accept whatever the outcome of my body was, practitioners would try and “comfort” me with promises of “You won’t gain weight.” They even assured me that my metabolism would normalize, and that I might actually lose more weight. This rhetoric is so, so dangerous. It tells us, as people suffering from eating disorders, that we should seek weight loss. It affirms that all of our dangerous behaviors would be ok, if only we didn’t take it so far.
They used the framing of weight loss as freedom to persuade me into treatment. To some degree, I understand this strategy; for many eating disorder patients, recovery will save our lives, but our own fatphobia scares us out of getting help. However, I am disgusted and disappointed by the input so many practitioners chose to give in my recovery. Practitioners are using the belief systems that we eating disorder patients subscribe to, obsess over; it’s your job as someone guiding us in our wellness to help us break out of our toxic thinking. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I was told a different story. How much easier would my body neutrality journey be if I was told that my body needed to gain weight to heal? How many years of self-loathing could I save if I was prepared to accept my weight gain, encouraged to celebrate my weight gain, instead of running from it? I needed to hear someone say “Please gain weight. Your body needs to heal from what you have put it through. You aren’t any less worthy because you are heavier. Reclaim your joy this way. Save your life.”
Recommended: 10 Things BoJack Horseman Kept It Real About
For those of us who struggle to be okay with our new bodies, Diane is an inspiration, an aspiration. Have you ever said to yourself “I’d rather be skinny than happy?” How little we are taught to love life beyond aesthetics. Bodies change. Bodies grow. Our bodies keep the score of our life. Why shouldn’t we memorialize our greatest moments (like successfully coping with depression or beating back against an eating disorder)? Why do we try so hard to forget? My weight gain is a symbol of everything I’ve left behind: the restriction, the emptiness, the deafening self-hatred. I should celebrate that as opposed to reflecting on superficial weight loss.
Diane taught me that I can name my weight gain. Diane taught me that I don’t have to obsess over it or justify it. I can just say, “I gained weight because I was recovering from an eating disorder” and I still am valuable and lovable. I still deserve to take up space as a Black woman. Maybe instead of demonizing a change in body size, we can celebrate by allowing our bodies to grow, and our lives will grow too. Yes, I gained weight. I also laugh more than I cry. I feel more than numb. I gained weight so there is more room for joy.
Gloria Oladipo is a Black woman who is a sophomore at Cornell University and a permanent resident of Chicago, IL. She enjoys reading and writing on all things race, gender, mental health, and more. Follow her on Instagram at @glorels.