The Land of Looks

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

I’ve been so busy in the past few days that I forgot to post. While I didn’t have my traditional Thanksgiving dinner — in Massachusetts, with the parade on in the background, fighting for the seat at the table next to my Grandad, watching one cousin avoid vegetables and laughing at the other cousin’s fart jokes, and taking a walk to the beach before the food coma hits — I did have a pretty good time with my coworkers at work and friends at HMAC afterwards, doing improv and watching an all-girl version of Reservoir Dogs (appropriately titled “Reservoir Bitches”). But the most important thing I did this Thanksgiving was start my new diet.

Now, before this train runs off the tracks, I’ll reassure you: I’m trying to gain weight, not lose it. I eat all the time, but you wouldn’t be able to  tell; so now I’m tracking my calories and trying to push myself to eat more, with the goal of gaining one pound a week. My goal is to gain ten pounds, and the holidays just happen to be a perfect time to start.

I want to get one thing straight: this is not some bullshit first world problem that I’m lamenting about, or some backwards way of flaunting myself by criticizing myself. I’m gonna be real with you, because this is an issue that I have had to endure a lot of jokes about for years: it is incredibly hard for me to gain weight, and it’s not a good thing.

It’s bad enough that for the past ten years, I’ve struggled to maintain my scant 106 pounds — at times, I even vowed to bring myself up to 110, but willpower never prevailed — and I’ve got to say, it gets funnier and funnier every time someone cracks a joke about how my life must be so hard that I want to gain weight, or, “here, you can have some of mine.” Or when someone scoffs when I say I need to start working out, because “You don’t need to, you’re so skinny!” (News flash: that’s actually why I need to start working out.)

What people don’t take into consideration is that trying to gain weight is just as much a problem as trying to lose weight, if not worse. People are ready to jump on board with the concept of underweight people in third world countries, but as soon as it happens in America, it is treated as a trend. Welcome to the Land of Looks, where the less you exist physically, the more attractive you are. Most people want to lose a few pounds to look better, or fit into that pair of pants better, etc. I want to gain a few pounds so that I can do simple things, like give blood (that’s usually  a 110-lb limit), and have energy.  

It also becomes a serious issue any time I get sick. This has always been a worry for my sister and me:  as  much fun  as being sick  is, symptoms like a diminishing appetite  add a whole other layer of problems. Back when we were kids, we went on a trip to Guatemala. Becky got sick from the water, and lost weight. I remember getting mad one day after we came back because my mother let her eat ice cream for dinner — she was hungry, and she ate it, and that was good enough for my mom. I can only imagine the stress she went through, having two kids who couldn’t maintain their own weight.

Well, lo and behold: it’s ten years later, and it’s my turn to get sick.  It’s very frustrating to know that you need to eat something in order to function properly, but physically not be able to eat. I would stare at food that I’d just prepared or bought, and think, I’ve only eaten a few bites. There has to be more room in my stomach than that. I started drinking Ensure Plus drinks just to give myself some extra calories — just like my mom once tried to make me do in high school — though those are meant to be a supplement to the food you eat, not 50% of your daily intake.

These past few months I’ve lost 8 pounds. You do the math. For those of you who think the bathroom scale is only shameful to those who are overweight, that is so far from the truth. No one should be able to see their ribs when they’re not stretching.My question is this: why do we equate “skinny” with “healthy”? I mean, obviously there are naturally skinny people who are perfectly healthy, but why do we just assume that a person’s body weight is what defines their health? It’s actually more of a health risk to be underweight than it is to be overweight, but it seems that the only acceptable time to be concerned about one’s skinniness is when they’re anorexic.

I’m sick of being laughed at when I voice my concerns about my weight. I’m sick of being defined by how I look and not how I feel. If there’s one thing I’ve been thankful for this Thanksgiving, it is that I am able to recognize my body’s needs and take action, but unfortunately, that’s not always how the rest of this country views it. America needs to pull itself out of the Land of Looks and enter the real world.

I apologize for turning a Thanksgiving greeting into a health rant. But I think it’s important that we are thankful for the right things, and strive to do our bodies good. If someone decides to make an important life decision, our goal should be to encourage them, not disregard them. With all the crap that society already throws our way, it is at least good to be mindful of what really matters. So please, please think twice before you add to the pot and belittle someone’s health concerns.

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