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...inspired by a comment in teal7's journal. Not an attempt at indirect communication with anyone.

Many people claim, when they choose something that maps to conventional social values, that it's their personal decision and conventional social values have little or nothing to do with it.

I apply a simple test for that. I believe that it's possible for something to be really a personal decision not intensely influenced by conventional social values when there's actually some variety in people's choices around the issue.

So for example I believe "I want to be monogamous" or "I want to be polyamorous" can be a personal decision, because I know people who think both ways. I believe "I want shorter hair" and "I want longer hair" can be a personal decision because I know people who want both.

But I almost never see people saying "I want to gain some weight" or "I like that my weight fluctuates." I only ever hear people say "I want to lose some weight" or "I hate that my weight isn't stable." Even the majority of the people I've spoken to about this who are in the fat-acceptance communities (myself included) would prefer to lose some weight, although they might not want to be actually thin, and although they may not make any actual attempts to lose weight.

So, based on my current anecdotal evidence, desires about weight fail my test for being personal decisions not influenced by social values.

I don't think it's horrible that people are influenced by social values around this (except insofar as such influences causes them to do things that are harmful to themselves or others). But I really wish more people were aware of and/or willing to admit the influence.

Note: I'm including the following notions in "conventional social values": being moderately fat is automatically unhealthy, a moderately fat person's losing weight improves their health in the long term, and weight loss per se (rather than exercise) is the best way to improve health problems correlated to fatness. In my opinion those beliefs are social values rather than facts or firmly supported theories because they aren't well substantiated scientifically. If asked, I'll provide some references to back up my opinion about this, but I'm not interested in debating it, nor in other people debating it among themselves in my journal.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 1st, 2003 05:26 pm (UTC)
Replied to in my own LJ, here.
Dec. 1st, 2003 05:55 pm (UTC)
Athletes and body builders often want to gain weight, but that's a special case.
Dec. 1st, 2003 05:59 pm (UTC)
further noodling
Interesting metric. I think it works pretty well. "I want to be taller" therefore isn't a personal choice, nor is "I want to be Caucasian*," though "I want to be tan" is.

There ARE people who want to gain weight, of course, but they are in the minority, and include mostly those who are sick or genetically programmed to be very thin. Either of which is still not a "personal choice." (Unless of course one gets into the whole "everything that happens to you is your choice" sort of thing. That's a bit extremist for my taste, though.) So although both options are available in general (some people might say "I want to gain weight" and some people might say "I want to lose weight"), both options are not universally available to all people at all times--and in fact the one usually precludes the other. Perhaps that's an important part of the metric? That both options be available to the person choosing?

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

*With the possible exception of Michael Jackson. ;^)
Dec. 1st, 2003 07:53 pm (UTC)
Purely a datapoint: I really like that my weight fluctuates, and that I am fat; losing weight steadily makes me nervous, because I fear I may be sick, since basically my weight/size has hovered and made gentle ups and downs (never anything drastic, never far from the same spot) for my entire healthy adult life. The weight loss I have experienced this year (about 65 pounds in ten months) was not a cause for celebration for me; it caused me to make a doctor's appointment. When I was reassured that I am doing well health-wise (my anemia is getting better, my hormones/cholesterol/bp are at their normal levels), then I just shrugged and said "cool; guess my weight is adjusting for reasons I don't necessarily understand (sorrow, activity, and just plain whatever were my three guess-theories)".

Oops, rambling. Basically, I have zero desire to lose weight, and haven't had the desire in years, except for brief periods that I ended up able to trace to some disapproval I received from the usual suspects (mom and advertising being the ones that get me the most often). I have often wished I would gain the weight back so my clothes would fit and my skin would feel like my skin again, but I'm happy that my body is taking care of whatever it needs to without getting unhealthy, so I set that desire of mine aside.
Dec. 1st, 2003 08:18 pm (UTC)
I actually am close to a person who dislikes certain parts of her body because they aren't fat enough. She thinks her ass isn't sexy because it's small, for example. This is a medium sized person who has a big belly and breasts, but is otherwise on what I'd consider the small side. She envies big butts & hips like you wouldn't believe.

Ok, it's anecdotal, and it's rare, but there you go.
Dec. 1st, 2003 11:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for such an interesting thing to think about. I've been having this dialog with myself for the last year or two. I've made changes to my diet as I am predisposed to diabetes on both sides of my family, and I've upped my exercise as I had reached a point where my body was no longer doing the things I wanted to do- a side result was weight loss, nearly 100 pounds in the last two years. I've fought with my Inner Fat Feminist Dyke - who yells in my ear that I'm selling out.
I find that I am uncomfortable when people complement me on my weight loss. Very few complement me on my increased activity level, or my better cardiovascular health, or my better insulin response. I realize that it's hard to see these things, and easy to see that my body is smaller than it used to be.
I'm very aware of the social influence and being a rebel, it's dang hard to do the things I know are good for my body in terms of activity and food management because one of the results looks like I've been reading Cosmo and buying into the societal *thin is in* mentality.

And now for the funny - losing weight means that I have less breast than before, so my son gave me some money he owed me Thanksgiving day and I was busy and just stuck it in my bra. If you have little ones, they don't hold stuff the same way - the money fell out in the kitchen and much later I freaked out when I couldn't find it. Fortunately one of my partners did find it so all was well.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 2nd, 2003 10:01 am (UTC)
But it doesn't mean that everyone in the world who wants to lose some weight is doing it for silly reasons

Yeah. Only I didn't say "doing it for silly reasons." I said "influenced by conventional social values."
Dec. 2nd, 2003 06:07 am (UTC)
My ideal is to stay the same shape I am now. I like it. I'm not sure whether that puts me on the side of convention (because I'm fairly thin) or nonconformity (because I don't want to be thinner and am very out about how much I weigh).

(I can't imagine wanting one's weight to fluctuate more than a little--I suspect that most people's does--because it would be a real PITA for clothes fitting.)
Dec. 2nd, 2003 07:04 am (UTC)
I've known a bunch of people who wanted to gain weight -- mostly lanky or tall/lanky men, but I've known a few women too who thought their figure too 'boyish' because of thinness. It's usually very thin people, of course -- I don't know many people who are average or larger-than-average who do. Nonetheless, it does seem to exist to some degree.

I can see practical reasons for not wanting it to *fluctuate* though that are outside the points you outlined -- for example, weight that fluctuates quite a bit can make having well-fitted clothing very difficult. My weight naturally fluctuates across a reasonably significant range because I love cycling, so I cycle constantly in the summer, but don't over the winter once I start seeing ice, for obvious reasons. It's a pain, and I wish I could stabilize it reasonably, but only because it means that I swim in my clothes in the summer and they're tight in the winter.
Dec. 2nd, 2003 10:14 am (UTC)
Noodling: A practical solution for weight that fluctuates within a stable but large range due to seasonal exercise might be to keep clothes in more than one size, just like having coats for the winter and shorts for the summer.
Dec. 2nd, 2003 10:22 am (UTC)
That would work, indeed, except that the portion of closet and clothing storage space devoted to males in our household is exceptionally tiny. :)
Dec. 2nd, 2003 10:30 am (UTC)
I'm sorry that males in your household are being mistreated in this manner. :-)
Dec. 2nd, 2003 07:54 am (UTC)
I'm interested in how much ferment this comment is causing (seems to be more ferment in other people's LJs and blogs than here) and also how important it seems to be to people to point out that yes, some people do want to gain weight.

Sure. As Elise Matthesen says, "There's at least one of everything." firecat is clearly right that people wanting to gain weight or like having fluctuations is a rare phenomenon and requires significant explanation (note that no one above said, "Oh, I know people who want to gain weight" and left it at that).

Makes me think, among other things, of the Delany essay on characterization where he says that if you have a tall girl character who hunches her shoulders and tries to look smaller, you don't have to explain her behavior, but if you have a tall girl character who walks big and proud, you need to build in a family history that explains why she does it.

I'm also interested (and saddened) at how many people (not so much here as in teal7's journal and elsewhere) seem to be responding to this thread with deep anger at the size acceptance movement, whom they are experiencing as no-weight-loss nazis. There are oversimplifiers and judgers everywhere, but as I read this post, firecat is making huge efforts not to join their ranks.

I offer kudos to the care and thoughtfulness of this post and its follow-ups, and I hope that everyone else is appreciating those things too.
Dec. 2nd, 2003 10:33 am (UTC)

I figured that I'd get a lot of responses of "I know folks who want to gain weight." People love providing contrary datapoints. (This may be a corollary of Aahz's Law: The best way to get information on Usenet is not to ask a question, but to post the wrong information.)
Dec. 7th, 2003 07:07 am (UTC)
I actually never used to care about my weight, because when I was at my skinniest, I was my sickest, and I associated on some level the "not feeling well" feeling with thinness. I remember being highly insulted when "well-meaning" people used to suggest I needed to get back to that earlier weight; since I so strongly associated it with my personal ill-health.

Now I am moving into the other direction, and actively seeking to lose weight -- not to the actuarial charts level, but to something less than what I am at now. I'm discovering there is an upper limit to where I feel good, weight wise, and that I've been there and want to find some reasonable intermediate. If it, my weight, wants to fluctuate within those bounds, I don't care.

(There's also the fact that it is very hard to find clothing for tall people above a certain size, whereas heavier people who are shorter seem to find it easier -- or maybe that's just the clothing sources I've found so far...)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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