I've Lost Weight, My Fiancée Hasn't - and People are Judging
When she was young, Victoria, my fiancée, wanted to be many things. A soccer star. A US Senator. A famous actor. A fashion model.
She doesn’t play on the same team as Alex Morgan, and she’s not yet serving alongside Alex Padilla, but for the last few years, Vic has been making increasingly good money as a model. Specifically, she’s a plus-size fit model, with weekly (if not daily) bookings with major clients (like Kohl’s) in L.A.’s garment district.
Victoria is a size 18, or as many plus-size fashion houses put it, a 2X. In the eyes of much of the rest of the world, she’s overweight. In my eyes, she’s perfect. In the eyes of her clients, she has the ideal proportions, and they bring her back again and again to model active wear, business attire, swimsuits and almost anything else you can imagine.
My beloved is more than just a breathing mannequin; Victoria is valued by her repeat clients for her insightful feedback on the clothes she tries on, and the invaluable suggestions she offers. There is more to being a fit model than just having the right size – you need to understand how the human body moves, and you need to be able to articulate exactly what alterations are required.
I am proud of Victoria, and she is proud of herself. Unfortunately, too many others notice only the weight she’s gained these past two to three years. The pressure to lose weight, even from her loved ones, is as relentless as it is unhelpful -- and as unkind as it is misplaced.
Vic has thyroid and autoimmune disorders that have led to a dramatic weight gain in the past three years. That shouldn’t matter, however. In a better world, one wouldn’t need to justify a weight gain by citing medical issues. Whether someone gains weight because their metabolism has changed, or they’ve decided they’re sick and tired of dieting and want to start eating to satiety, it isn’t the world’s place to judge. And yet, judge the world does.
As a culture, we have made great strides in pushing back against intolerance.. Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia – they persist, of course, but we are more comfortable calling them out than at any other point in American history. Another way to think about it, however, is that the less acceptable it is to judge someone’s immutable characteristics (like their skin color), the more that urge to condemn shifts to a focus on what we imagine to be within another’s control. The diet and fitness industries remind us constantly that every fat person has within them a skinny person, trying to get out – and too many of us who imagine ourselves to be both Woke and polite have no trouble imagining that heavy folks need our input as to how best to liberate their “true thin selves” from the prisons of flesh in which they are temporarily encased.
Prejudice against fat people remains one of our last enduring acceptable bigotries, and it thrives across the political spectrum. Like most prejudices, it dresses up discomfort in the language of concern: “I’m not judging you, I’m just worried about your health.” “I just think you’d be happier if you were thinner, don’t you? I so want you to be happy.” In a world where we are increasingly expected, even encouraged, to call out each other’s moral failings, those whose very bodies challenge our sense of what is acceptable are more likely than ever to be targets for what the folks online call “concern-trolling.”
In the past four months, I’ve dropped close to 40 pounds on the Noom diet. I’ve been going to the gym as well. I get lots of compliments. My weight loss, however, is not attributable to a sudden increase in self-esteem. For the most part, what’s driven me is not a sudden desire to be healthy, or the vanity of looking better. It’s that as I continue to deal with my ongoing trauma recovery, controlling what I put in my mouth and monitoring my body gives me a sense of stability and control. I cannot change the past, and I cannot know the future, but I can eat exactly 1770 calories and do four sets of lat pulldowns every Sunday and Thursday. My coping strategy is no more virtuous than anyone else’s – it’s just that it’s a strategy that leads to unmerited praise from friends and family.
“I feel powerless over many things, and I worry about many things, so counting calories and weighing myself gives me an illusion of stability. I have an unruly and fiery mind, and I cannot always manage my thoughts, but managing my weight and building my triceps gives me a small sense of temporary mastery.” At best, that deserves a shrug and a “Hey, well it’s better than hookers and blow.” It certainly doesn’t merit special admiration.
As our bodies diverge, I’ve become more aware than ever of the casual cruelty with which Victoria contends. Her weight gain has made her money. Her weight gain has brought her real success. She is comfortable in her own skin, and though my opinion is hardly determinative, my fiancée knows I support her, am attracted to her, and love her just as she is. Whether she gains, loses, or stays exactly at this weight, I adore her, and that adoration is unremarkable. What is remarkable is that others expect me to enlist Victoria in my weight loss efforts, as if I have embarked on something especially beneficial which she ought to join. To me, that makes no sense – it’s as if others expected Vic to start a Substack just because I have one. My personal weight loss journey, rooted as it is in my own need to control something (anything!), is neither advertisement nor invitation. A coping strategy is not a virtue; a capitulation to socially-constructed external pressures is not especially admirable.
I am a firm believer that one can be healthy at any size. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, and Google is your friend, so you can find plenty of experts who will explain that concept to you. I am a former teacher, who once lectured on the history of beauty, and I am keenly aware of the myriad ways in which our culture seeks to control and shame bodies that do not conform to a particular standard. In the case of my beloved, the fact that she accepts herself at her size, is thrilled to being making money with her size, and has no desire to become a smaller size is a scandal and a mystery to the shamers and the “health”-peddlers.
To be heavy and happy is defiance, not delusion. It is an excellent example to my children, it is an inspiration to me, and it deserves to be celebrated.
I finally subscribed to your substack so I could read this whole post, with which I agree wholeheartedly. At the start of the pandemic, I was also a 2X but NOT well-proportioned (my weight gain over the preceding 8 or 10 years was due to my nightly habit of drinking a bottle of wine and then some). Out of sheer terror over the virus, I stopped drinking in hopes of getting healthier and, in the process, I've lost about 50 pounds in the last 15 months. I feel so much better now, likely a function of not being constantly hungover, but tbh it's also a relief to feel less judged out in the world. You're not kidding when you point out that anti-fat bias is one of the last socially acceptable bases for intolerance and judgment (masquerading a "concern for your health" when it's really a visceral disgust over fat bodies). I don't know if you listen to podcasts, but you might enjoy Maintenance Phase by Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes. They deconstruct our fat-phobic diet culture in a nuanced way and are a joy to listen to. Anyhow, great post!