I overhear a lot of absurd things while walking my dog up Runyon Canyon in Hollywood.
For instance, I saw a boy coaxing his tiny Yorkie puppy toward the entrance with the words, “Come on, Walter, it’s about time we hiked this bitch.” There was also the time a very fit dad badgered his three-year-old son into hiking a route that routinely kicks my ass with, “You want to get a good workout, don’t you?” One man I was listening to wanted to fill a studio with antique Mexican hardware and keep it closed from the public; his companion straightfacedly said, “That’s so vulnerable!” I’ve overhead way too many people recount everything they’ve eaten that day without the self-awareness to mimic Cher from Clueless.
But by far the most disconcerting thing I’ve overheard came from a girl describing her ‘goal weight’—that magic number at which everything falls into place and all your wishes come true. She fiddled with her water bottle while walking with a friend who carried a yoga mat tucked under her arm. They looked no different than any of the other beautiful girls I see hiking everyday. I believe they were talking about juice cleanses when the conversation started to get serious.
“Remember that summer?” she said, “When I broke up with that guy from New York?”
“Oh, yeah,” said her friend, “That was really devastating, right?”
“Oh my god, yeah, I was so depressed for, like, three months. I looked so thin then. I dropped down to, like, 125. So, my ideal weight is, like, my depressed weight.”
Her friend paused and thought about that. “Yeah, and if you got a little muscle, you might weigh a little more, but you’ll be toned…”
Am I the only one that finds something troubling about a goal weight coinciding with a depressed weight? Being thin has been glamourised to the point that some of us are associating beauty with the worst times in our lives. When the goal is for strangers to notice your thinness and wonder if you’re ill, I’m going to go ahead and say that’s a problem.
I can admit I’ve fallen into the same trap before. When I was at my thinnest, I was also having a miserable time as a freshman at college. During the first day of orientation, I realised that my father’s alma mater was the worst possible fit for me. They presented Elisabeth Hasselbeck as the only notable female alumni, but failed to mention Amy Poehler. I guess I should thank that ultra-conservative college for helping me realize how important women’s issues and diversity are to me.
As a result of feeling completely out of my element and very much alone, I lost quite a bit of weight. Though I wasn’t trying to lose weight, the stress of the experience whittled me down. Rather than focusing on myself, I spent most of my time preoccupied with staying out of my 8′x11’ dorm room shared with two other girls. When I transferred in the spring to the University of San Francisco and found my happy place, I gained back every pound. Looking back on that experience from a comfortable distance, I wondered what I’d done to get so skinny. Oh yeah – I spent a lot of time weeping on park benches. So, no, I wouldn’t go back to that for the sake of looking heroin chic.
I don’t think anyone makes a conscious choice to seek out miserable experiences for the sake of shedding a few pounds. Even in a supposedly image-obsessed city like L.A., there are plenty of people who enjoy the finer things in life like food and, y’know, happiness. If depression sounded remotely desirable, it would already be a celebrity-endorsed diet by now.
Despite our best efforts to be sensible human beings, however, I find that the message to get thin at any cost has a way of seeping into our subconscious. Being thin and depressed takes it a drastic step further; by becoming physically and mentally weak, women relinquish their power. On a related note—our brain uses 20% of our body’s energy, so you’ll have to eat something if you want it to work for you, not against you. It takes a determined shift of the mind to think about the relative importance of an elusive idea of beauty before orienting your life around it.
Hopefully, we’ve moved past the days when being as frail and helpless as a fawn were desirable qualities for a woman. Vulnerability is one thing—we all look for it when distinguishing humans from robots. But when female vulnerability gets fetishised, we disregard the necessity for self-love. I’ve made the mistake of marginalising my own needs in the hopes of gaining love and acceptance, and it didn’t do me any favours.
Forgive me for going New Age with this, but what’s the benefit of being loved if we can’t love ourselves first?