Jess Weiner has a new article at GLAMOUR about a recent weight loss for health reasons called “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me”. In it, she tells the story of how a heckler at a book reading prompts her to visit the doctor after years of avoiding it. The doctor is concerned about the borderline high levels of several stats and prescribes a regimen that involves losing some weight through adding more exercise and changing her nutrition. After following these tactics for eighteen months, Weiner was able to lower the stats that were a concern and feel better overall.
Sounds good right? I certainly sympathize. Both sides of my family suffer from serious heart-related problems, and these same levels are ones that I have to watch very carefully myself. After I found out at my annual physical this past year that my own numbers had ticked up a bit I had to change some of my habits to try to reduce the numbers and to avoid more drastic measures. Sometimes getting those numbers where you want them to be also means losing weight. Weiner highlights the emphasis on health over weight several times in the piece. For example, when Weiner gets stuck on the fact that she didn’t lose quite as much weight as she wanted, her own doctor reminds her that she’s “focusing on the wrong number. Health is more than just your weight.”
The problem here is that the message from the title and several other parts of the piece suggest that too much body acceptance is the problem. If you follow Weiner’s own story as she tells it here, the situation is actually caused more by body shame. As she writes in the first section, “I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to the doctor. And it had been 16 years since I had weighed myself. In fact I’d stopped completely when I began recovery from the eating disorder I’d suffered in my teens”. Thus her painful relationship to her body–and probably the medical field–caused her to avoid regular check-ups for an extended period, potentially over a decade. The pain and shame caused by the stigma over an eating disorder and body size are causing the problem. As she admits at one point, “(t)o truly love my body I had to treat it better”. That can mean increasing exercise and changing nutrition, as she intends here, but it can also mean appreciating it for what it is. But treating your body better can also mean making others–like medical professionals–treat it better too, so that you and others don’t live in the body shame that causes you to avoid getting the treatment the body needs and also avoid living the best life you can as a result.
I was glad to see the first comment posted is also challenging the main argument of “body appreciation” as the problem. As the contributer, goyston, notes,
“There is very little scientific evidence to show that weight loss can produce good health – fat people can be healthy with good diet and exercise, and thin people can be unhealthy with poor diet and exercise. Jess Weiner’s weight did not make her unhealthy – her relationship to food and lack of exercise did. Note that she is *still* overweight (by society’s standards) but now healthy. It’s also possible that she might not have lost any weight but still improved her health stats with positive changes. I’d like to invite Ms. Weiner to explore the Health at Every Size movement (HAES) which encourages healthy behaviors AND loving one’s body it (sic) its current state.”
While it’s disappointing to see a so-called “self-esteem expert” like Weiner sensationalize her story through negation of the body acceptance movement, it’s also very encouraging to see that there are plenty others who immediately see the problems with that thinking and step up to challenge it.
POSTSCRIPT: First of all, many people have continued to challenge the tenets of Weiner’s piece all over the place–in GLAMOUR’s comments, on Weiner’s Facebook page, in blog posts of their own, so brava! I’m so pleased that people aren’t taking the inaccuracies and mischaracterizations of this piece lying down.
Secondly, several writers have posted that Weiner is starting her own weight loss plan called Conscious Weight Wellness. I’ve read reports that the title is trademarked and will be sold in a book coming out sometime soon. However, Weiner has stated on her Facebook page that she is “NOT selling, hawking, creating, or promoting a diet or weight loss brand”, and indeed the only evidence I’ve found related to this is a conference co-presentation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Weiner did eventually unleash something like this, but there’s no concrete evidence to prove it. But note, she’s still profiting from the incorrect ideas in the piece, through speaking engagements and writing opportunities.
Thirdly, GLAMOUR has changed the title of the piece on the website from “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me” to “Did Loving My Body Almost Kill Me?”, and the original post appears not to have been cached. Many of the critiques did emphasize that the title was one of the main problems–and according to Weiner’s JEZEBEL interview with Kate Harding the title came from her, not GLAMOUR–but I gotta say, it’s a bandaid, and it pisses me off almost as much as MARIE CLAIRE ripping down Maura Kelly’s piece on MIKE AND MOLLY. However, I bought the GLAMOUR edition last night, and everything in the print magazine is the same as the original post, with an extra “info box” on the history of weight loss backlash against celebs like Crystal Renn, Jennifer Hudson, and Kelly Osborne.
Fourthly, I’ve decided to give it a rest. Weiner is misguided, and it’s a problem that she’s circulating these misguided ideas, but she’s a victim of the bigger issues, not the cause. Her views are wrong, but the focus needs to go further up.
Lastly, there have been MANY MANY MANY MANY people writing about this. It would be really hard to link to them all. But there are a few posts I want to make sure to remember. Some I support, like the reponses from Marianne Kirby at THE ROTUND and Deb Burgard at HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE; some I do not, like the response from Rosalind Wiseman in the HUFFINGTON POST. Nonetheless, I again remain encrouaged by all the responses that continue to surge aroud this article.