Welcome to “Read This With That,” the new feature that pairs old and new, complementary pieces from the Internet like so much fine cheese and wine. In today’s installment: Taffy and Sugar.
In a culture where America Ferrera is “Ugly Betty”, Rebel Wilson is “Fat Amy,” and Jennifer Hudson’s next big role after winning an Oscar is poster girl for Weight Watchers, it can take guts to say that you feel just right, especially if you have a gut yourself. For years now, the Health at Every Size movement has inched closer to the mainstream, finding an audience in media outlets like Salon and Jezebel. At last, it has hit the big time, folks: the Ladies’ Home Journal ran an article called “How I Learned to Accept My Weight and Stop Hating My Body.”
I have always wanted to be thin. And I’ve lost weight often enough to occasionally glimpse what life is like for a thin person: to shop and find clothes you like rather than what fits; to buy the lighter color; to feel unembarrassed at the gym; to wear shorts with no apology. I know firsthand that the thin life can be the good life. So why is it so hard to achieve? I ask sincerely, on behalf of myself and the millions of other overweight women out there who’ve been dieting forever. Why do we keep at it if decades of research suggest that long-term ‘success’ is often unattainable?
The amazingly-named writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner has put together a moving and well-researched essay about coming to terms with herself, and it is currently the LHJ’s most recommended piece on Facebook. This is news.
The Ladies’ Home Journal, an august publication that dates back to 1883, is of the “FLATTEN YOUR BELLY WITHOUT DIETING” and “TURN A SIMPLE SALAD INTO A POWER MEAL” school. For a women’s magazine with the status of a Mrs. Manson Mingott to promote the message that we cannot Spin Cycle ourselves into perfection, and that we should instead redirect our energy to accepting ourselves as we are, is a surprising act.
The phrasing is key, too: Brodesser-Akner doesn’t claim that she now loves herself, which in a way would just be giving in to different TV commercials, ones for body wash and chocolate instead of Jenny Craig. What she does is infinitely simpler—and accessible to all of us:
I went shopping and bought clothes that were not placeholders for five pounds from now. I stopped peering at everyone around me to see who was hanging out of what. I stopped calling Lena Dunham brave and let her be.
In other words, don’t aim to “love” your body, aim to “stop hating” it. That’s a small, doable thing, right? Maybe if the Bible had said, “Stop hating your neighbor” instead of “love your neighbor,” more people would think it was worth a try.
I cannot say “Brava” loudly or intelligibly enough, but luckily Dear Sugar, the advice columnist also known as Cheryl Strayed, already has for me. In her column “Tiny Revolutions,” she sympathizes with a middle-aged woman who wants to put herself out there and yet fears taking off her clothes. Sugar tells her, tells all of us, that
We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts. … You don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be thin. You don’t have to be “hot” in a way that some dumbfuckedly narrow mindset has construed that word. You don’t have to have taut flesh or a tight ass or an eternally upright set of tits. You have to find a way to inhabit your body while enacting your deepest desires. You have to be brave enough to build the intimacy you deserve. You have to take off all of your clothes and say, I’m right here.
Indulge in some Taffy Brodesser-Akner and then treat yourself to some vintage Dear Sugar; come away with the beginnings of a resolution to stop hating yourself. You deserve it.
Ester Bloom, a known heroine addict, lives, reads, and writes in Brooklyn. Follow her @shorterstory.