You look less disgusting than previously!

[Editors Note: my friend Rachel recently shared this excellent  piece as a memory on Facebook. She had written it six years ago in 2011 and it felt relevant to her still. She has agreed to let me publish it here, with the caveat that I make it clear that the piece was written some time ago – JD ]

This morning at yoga, at the end of the hour, in the 7 seconds where I was still sitting cross-legged before standing, the woman next to me hustled over to me, her mat in arm, and confided, “You are looking so good these days, Rachel, you’ve lost… some weight!!”

I am not conveying this well. “Some weight” was said as though she was holding it away from her on a stick. As though she had said, “the growth on your face.”

“You look so good, you’ve lost that, well, that horrible growth on your face. I didn’t want to say anything before, but it was pretty awful for us all to look at. You must be so pleased. Well done.”

It had been a pretty good class, except that I have been pretty sick with some kind of coughy, gross, bronchial thing for the past few weeks. I have been pretty stressed and not taking the best care, so today and yesterday I have been making a point of hydrating and eating better – so it had actually occurred to me during the class when besieged by a tremendous headache lasting about twenty seconds, funny, these things happen when you least expect them. Headaches can happen in yoga class, especially as you turn yourself upside down or backwards and your blood rushes around. I have had classes where I know I am dehydrated and underfed, and the headaches as I change positions are absent. Go figure. Evidently unsolicited commentary also comes when you least expect it.

The woman’s name is Mary or Diane or something and she actually lives on my parents’ street where I grew up, which makes her Mrs. Something to me. She’s a very nice lady, probably in her sixties, always very pleasant to me. She certainly thought she was paying me a lovely compliment. I have, in fact, almost certainly not lost weight. My suspicion is that she produced her pleasantry based on a combination of the fact that I have lately been wearing tights to class rather than the baggier pants I normally wear, and, frankly, I probably look a little gaunt because I’m sick. Or maybe I’ll be more generous – perhaps I appear energetic and happy because I’m so stoked about my sister’s new babies. I’m also getting better at yoga. Also my complexion has improved, I’ve been taking care of my skin and thankfully some of the acne is gone. All these things are true. But because of this woman’s immersion in a culture where about the nicest thing you can say to another woman is “Have you lost weight?”, she seized on an opportunity to make my day. Thank goodness, Rachel, you’ve lost weight. Not knowing me very well, I can hardly hold against her the fact that the impact of her statement is no such jubilation, especially since I haven’t, and if I had, it isn’t a good thing. Why should it be?

Given my own knowledge that if my weight has indeed fluctuated downwards, it is certain that as my health improves and I remedy my behaviour back into my healthy, adequate diet, it will return to my ordinary set point, where it belongs, the implication that I have been rescued from ugliness by temporary weight loss is one I would prefer not to have received as I tried to revel in my zen.

But more than that: if I am “looking so good,” and you want to let me know, why attribute it to weight loss as though that must be my ultimate goal? How is that not inherently offensive to the slightly weightier person in her imagination – must I be trying to lose weight?

“You look great, you look healthy.” “You look great,  your skin is looking so clear.” “Are those new tights?” “Nice job earlier with the grabbing of your toes from behind!” “How is your sister?” “That was a nasty motherfucking cough earlier, hope you feel better.” Or you know what? If you want to focus on my appearance, and I appear to you in spite of my gross oily hair and exhaustion to look good, how’s “you look good?”

I realize I may be accused of making a big deal out of something. But leave aside any flurry of activity in my mind wondering whether it would be devastating were my weight to fluctuate against the lauded direction, wondering how it must have looked for a behemoth to attempt the splits before the removal of “some weight”, what it must mean that despite apparent weight loss I am still less than satisfied about my body shape if I give it much thought in a certain frame of mind so I must perhaps just be eking by at a terrible risk of unpalatable nastiness, and whatever else; these are absurd little problems that I own. But it offends me to the core that it is so ingrained that to lose weight must be a good thing; the hushed tone of “some weight”, as though it were perhaps “some cancer.”  Even if it was evident that my weight had changed, which again, it hasn’t, I can’t understand why focusing on that is at all the business of a near stranger. I appreciate that this woman was trying to make me feel good with her remarks, but it just makes me depressed about society. Don’t wince as you refer to what insulates my internal organs. It’s not moving us forward.  There’s a glorious world out there if we are all nourished and engaged enough to participate in it. That is my focus. If that causes me to look good to you, swell. But I certainly hope that physical fluctuations such as these are not what is remarkable about me.

Rachel Nolan

Rachel Nolan has just completed her Bachelor of Music Therapy degree from Capilano University. She's now back in Hamilton where she belongs.

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