Dear Insta-famous weight loss blogger,
It’s time to break up. You won’t notice, since I’m just one of the 750,000+ followers you don’t follow back. It’s not about you: you’re awesome and go on with your bad self and keep killing it in the gym with your husband every day.
The problem is me, and what I’ve discovered about my distorted body image. On several online body image sites I’ve viewed in the past, I always think that I am the second from the largest silhouette shown, even though I’m actually just slightly bigger than average and weigh less than 200 pounds. This is nothing new and I’ve dealt with it my whole life: I always think I’m much bigger than I am. And thanks to some very negative influences in my early adult years, I further internalized the view that being fat was itself a character issue, a measure of desirability or lack thereof.
Instagram is definitely not helping, even though I follow the supposedly inspirational success stories of people who have transformed their bodies with hard work and exercise. Many have lost more weight than I ever weighed in the first place. And truly, that’s so awesome and commendable for them. Period: no ifs, ands or buts.
Well, maybe there is one “but”: the inspirational weight loss stories end up serving the same function as the women’s fashion magazines I once read religiously and stopped doing so years ago. They promote this idea that I’ll be happier if only I look different. If only I transform myself through hard work and plastic surgery. Instagram has even made me start to wish for plastic surgery on my body, in addition to weight loss.
Some people have sexual fantasies or crushes on celebrities or daydreams about winning the lottery. I don’t have any of those and never really have. In general, I’m too much of a realist and my imagination sucked even when I was a kid.
But the one exception is the fantasy I fall into all too often: that I will become the next weight loss success story. People will be inspired by how much weight I lost. They will ooh and aah over how great I look now, the flip side of which is always the implicit comparison to how bad I looked when I was fat, which they always thought but politely never told me.
It truly wouldn’t matter how much I punished myself with exercise (while telling everyone I loved it, naturally), avoided any foods I remotely like, followed a very strict and regimented lifestyle that’s carefully calculated and monitored to achieve and maintain my results. The results are all that matters — and if I’m one of the majority who regains the weight in a few years, that equals personal failure.
It doesn’t matter that I have MS and do not have the strength and energy to keep it up with consistency. It doesn’t matter that I’ve also had a PCOS diagnosis for more than 20 years, which is another factor that makes weight loss much harder. I’ve seen all the “fitspo” quotes about how excuses just keep you fat and nothing tastes as good as thin feels and if you don’t put in the work you can’t expect the results. I once had a whole board of this kind of toxic mental garbage on Pinterest.
None of those factors mean that I can’t lose weight, maybe even major amounts of it. But they do mean that it would take really dedicated and focused physical and mental efforts to keep that up. Slow and steady is the only sustainable way, in which case the end goal can’t be my motivation anymore, because it would take way too long to see it.
And the reason pursuing an end goal of thinness is not a good idea is because my mindset and motives wouldn’t be right.
I’ve never been happy with my body, even when I weighed 94 pounds. Even then I was obsessed with the size of my stomach, when my best friend and I made the horrible jokes about fat people that I now think are causing my bad karma (except for the fact that I ‘m fat and she’s not.) She was much meaner about people’s specific body imperfections than I have ever was, but a lot of my views about myself come from her.
Even during all the years of reading fashion magazines and writing health articles that are essentially the same kind of one-size-fits-all prescription, I never once wanted to be thinner because I was motivated by self-love. If I’m honest, it was never because I wanted to be healthier, either.
It was always because I hated myself and thought I would only be worthy of love once I lost weight. A lot of weight. To be honest once again, I actually wanted to be significantly underweight, envied for my intense self-control. I loved stories about anorexia when I was a little kid, before puberty, when I was really tiny for my age. Even then, I wanted to be dangerously thin. I just unfortunately couldn’t fight the biological drive to eat.
You can’t shame yourself into doing anything. Nobody builds up things they hate and makes improvements to them.
After all these months of following them, none of these Instagram bloggers have actually inspired me to do better with my diet or exercise. Instead, they just reminded me every day of what I felt I should have been doing but failed to do.
Seeing sweaty gym selfies every day didn’t motivate me to work out. Trying to follow the keto diet last year led to the worst MS relapse I’ve ever had. I was so hopeful that it would help me lose tons of weight like it has for others, but it actually just made me sicker because it was the wrong thing for me.
But they also didn’t stop me from reaching the conclusion on my own that I deserved to eat better. I’ve given up alcohol, soda, and ice cream, none of which has changed my weight–but I do feel better, especially when I also drink more water, eat more vegetables and fewer carbs. I also reached the conclusion that exercise makes me feel better and, as a bonus, may prevent my MS from progressing as quickly.
It was only when I started to think that I would finally have something to help me value myself again–a job outside the home–that I got motivated again to eat well and exercise. And now that motivation to do better has nothing to do with weight loss. If I lose some, great. If I don’t lose any, well, I might be a little bit pissed off because it’s so hard for me to lose weight, but it won’t have any effect on my motivation.
I can’t guarantee that I’ll always be motivated to eat well and take care of myself, even if I have a job. Having struggled with depression off and on my whole life, it could come back at any time. So could another MS-related setback. But no amount of looking at other people’s before & after weight loss photos will get me out of depression when and if it does happen again.
So it’s time to stop following “inspirational” lifestyle bloggers who don’t inspire anything in me except a feeling of self-loathing. I don’t follow makeup bloggers or stores I like because they would just “inspire” me to spend money I don’t really have. That’s just another facet of the same idea that happiness always lies somewhere else, just out of reach, and it could be yours if you tried hard enough. It’s just not true.
Sooner or later, I have to be okay not just with what I have, but also with who I am.
It’s time to start loving myself before trying to change myself. I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet. But saying goodbye to the fantasy of making an astonishing transformation by becoming significantly underweight is a good first step.