The Vagenda

Tales From Hollywood: “My Ideal Weight is My Depressed Weight”


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?

-Kate Ryan


11 thoughts on “Tales From Hollywood: “My Ideal Weight is My Depressed Weight”

  1. Weight is a complicated thing. Putting aside the command of trolls that say, “Just consume less calories than you burn” on body positive sites of plus size people’s posts.

    I’ve binge ate when depressed and troubled. I’ve made myself sick and exercised too much in the same situation. In hopes of tiring myself out. While being overweight. Bad.
    I’ve been on holiday with my family and the abuser my eldest sister was married too. My abuser. I lost lots of weight in that week. Got lots of compliments. Good?
    I put on weight when I got home, no longer terrified of being near him. Plus size again. Bad?
    Lost weight, happy with my boyfriend. Becoming less scared of male friends and male relationships. Losing weight because he had no food in the house and I was very hungry. Good?
    I started buying food, made sure he ate healthy meals. He lost weight. Good! I gained weight, eating healthy meals. Bad?
    He gained weight after I helped him stop smoking both normal cigs and £40 to £20 a week of weed. Bad? Good?
    He started drinking more. Losing weight. Good? Bad? He gained weight after I helped calm down his alcohol intake. bad? good? We both gained weight, despite joining the gym, and I was finally happy that my partner had quit alcohol and i was no longer likely to start smoking again happy that i didn’t have to see my sister/abusers wife, anymore, help stop the bad memories flooding back. good? bad?
    People have ideas about my (and his) size and how healthy my life might (or might not) be. They have ideas of how we should look slimmer. But they don’t know about my years of PTSD and social anxiety, his 15 years of addiction. It’s time for us to write a new page of the story, in which we’re happy and healthy. Not look back at a time when we were tormented by sadness, paranoia and depression, but thinner.

  2. Yep, totally get what you’re saying in the article. I have just moved abroad to my husband’s native country but our relationship is a disaster zone, and getting worse. I feel like a pile of shite but the shining light in all of this is that I am losing weight! I have inner battles with myself: one voice says I need to eat even though I have no appetite – I must take care of myself.. And the other voice coyly suggests that I take advantage of this loss in appetite to to shed a few pounds, and hell, I look good in those jeans now…
    I think for me, the losing-weight-thing is not so much about gaining approval – it’s more about gaining a sense of control over my life. At the moment, food seems to be the only thing in my life I have complete control over. I know this is not true, but it is difficult to gather the strength to fight these crazy engrained thoughts.

  3. Someone’s thinnest weight probably isn’t their ideal weight. Unless she thinks overeaters are at their best depressed too? I thank you for linking to an article with your brain claim.

  4. Such a weird compromise. After all, you’d think the desire to lose weight would (for them) be this kind of sequence:

    Lose weight -> get thinner -> feel more attractive -> happiness!

    Instead they’re saying:

    Lose weight = be depressed. No happiness!

    Yet somehow they still aspire to this? I can’t see the logic in this one.

  5. I totally get this. A lot of my friends hate it when people tell them they are looking well, because to them looking well means looking fat.

  6. I can actually completely relate to these girls. I’ve only successfully managed to lose a significant amount of weight was when I was depressed and completely lost my appetite. Every time I have tried to lose weight the healthy way it doesn’t work. I might lose 5kg over 15 weeks of calorie restriction and exercise, but I’m so sick of it at the end that I stop, and put it straight back on. My regular diet is also not unhealthy, I eat three meals a day and rarely snack. I think my body is just not meant to be a size 8. However, when you go shopping and the dress you want to buy makes you look horrible, or when you try on those shorts you wore last summer and they no longer fit, its pretty easy to have a moment of thinking “remember how skinny I was when I was depressed, wasn’t that great”

    I think the lesson I’ve learnt over the last few years though is that happiness trumps weight. I’d much rather be fat and happy than skinny and sad. There is also a lot of evidence that says from a health perspective, your actual weight does not lead to a significant increased risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to other risk factors like smoking, family history, high fat diet, diabetes and hypertension. So my new goal is staying healthy and forgetting about my weight :)

  7. Before I stopped eating gluten, I looked bloated all the time, and my mother and grandmother gave me rude comments regarding my body. I admit that I now sometimes take it as a compliment when they tell me that I look thinner than before, and that bothers me. But I do my best not to focus on weight and other people’s ideas of beauty, as I find that I look the best when my outside is in harmony with the inside, which means that I only do things that really make me happy. For example not shaving my hairy legs and eating good food. And exercising exactly when and if I feel like it.

  8. Thank you for writing this article. The only time in my life where I have been complimented on my figure by a frie was when I was recovering from a painful surgery. I have always been a healthy weight and enjoy exercise, yet the only time someone told me I had “lost a LOAD of weight :D” was when I was sick and run down. I feel such frustration when my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle go unnoticed and have to consciously remind myself not to aim towards my “sick weight” because, well how fucked up is that?

  9. Thank you so much for this. I had a similar exparience while studying abroad. My flatmates ate everything I brought into the flat while I was out all day on my work placement, meaning that I lost 2 stone because I was being starved against my will. Then I moved on site and the security guard kept trying to get into my room at night, which meant I was too scared to leave my room to get food.

    By the time I returned to the UK I was traumatised and had three rows of ribs visible, and my relationship with food was transformed – calories were my friend, not my enemy. Yet everyone kept telling me how amazing I looked, when all I had been able to think for weeks was “If that guy makes it through my door, I am too frail to fight him off”.

    I am now at a healthy weight, have overcome PTSD and love my tall, broad, Amazonian physique. Yet I am constantly told by the media that I fall short of the standard of beauty I “should” aspire to. So I made a collage for my computer desktop of women like Xena, Warrior Princess and Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones. I think I have the right to define my own body targets, and they include being strong enough to throw a decent punch should the need arise.

  10. My babygirl (21, but the youngest girl) came back from the US and was bemoaning her lack of money. We both said ‘Yay! Weightloss!’ at the same time. Its kind of an in-joke for us since we saw that Big Brother series with the very thin twins, who said that when BigBro put them on basic rations for failing a task. At the time we thought it hilarious that they could see a bright side to everything.

  11. Amen to this!! I lost a load of weight when I was depressed for about 3 months whilst feeling lonely at university, started to control my calorie intake a little too extremely – a classic case of wanting to control my weight and look ‘good’ when so many other things were outside of my control (never had so many compliments!). I found it a vicious circle – you feel depressed, you want to control your eating, your brain has no energy so feels depressed, so you control your eating…
    Luckily the darkness lifted, and I returned to maintaining a normal weight…although I still keep an eye on it much more than before..

    How sad that this article is clearly resonating with so many of us who have only had an unhealthy weight when in our darkest days!