An Open Letter to My Dieting Facebook Friends
I’m writing today to let you know that I get it.
I get your feelings about your body. I get how badly you want your body to change. I do.
I know those feelings. I know the curled-up-in-a-ball, choking-on-your-own-snot sobbing that can come with just wanting to finally (please — please-for-the-love-of-god) be beautiful. Or thin. Or, for fuck’s sake, just ok, just ok, so that when people size you up as they walk by, you know they’re not doing it because you’re wrong. Just ok enough to look in the mirror and not have that feeling — that shamed/ sick/ how-the-fuck-am-I-this-person feeling. To look like you look in your head, to look how you’re desperate to look. To be lovable and to have the fact that you’re lovable reflected in your skin and your shape and your size. To just be normal or desirable or — goddamnit — pretty.
I know what it’s like to want that so bad you ache, and what’s more, I know that wanting it – wanting it that badly – is not the sole province of those of us with eating disorders, with the diagnoses and treatments to attest to it. This want is the norm. It may not be universal, but it’s real and it’s constant for the vast majority.
So, I get it. I get it. And I’m not here to tell you that you’re being a shit feminist or a shit human when you express the desire to change your body. I’m not here to tell you the world is so much bigger than the size of your waistline. Because I know what it’s like to be curled up in that ball, feeling like you’ve been set on fire (or like you wish you had), because goddamnit, you just need your body to be right. And I know how absolutely not-helpful it is to have someone who claims to love you, however well-meaning they are, tell you that there are more important things than weight. It’s the “people out there are starving” to your “I’m allergic to Brussels sprouts.” It’s not relevant. It’s not helpful. And it’s not kind.
The reality is this: it’s human nature to desire love, to seek it out in every way we can. To try and assure its presence. And it’s the reality of a person – nearly any person – in our culture to have internalized the idea that being lovable means having a body that’s ‘right’, (where ‘right’ means attractive and thin and toned and symmetrical and unscarred by acne, and…) So, I’m not here to tell you to stop being affected by the culture that raised you and that lives in your head. I’m not here to tell you you’re shallow for desiring love and approval, or that you must be — should be — stronger than I am myself.
I’m not even here to tell you that you’re gorgeous (although I tend to think you are). Or that you’re already lovable (although I wouldn’t have you in my life if you weren’t). I’m not here to tell you that you’re already-pretty-already, that you’re already desirable, or that you don’t have to do anything else to be loved and good and kept. Because my knowing your body is just fine – fuh-ine even – does shit-all toward you feeling better about it, yourself. I know that too. I know that, even when you would cut off your arm (or stitch up your stomach, or run yourself sick, or eat rice-cakes like they’re edible) to hear someone say “da-amn, you look good” – hearing others praise your good looks does nada toward healing your body image. In the long-term, when you’re looking at your reflection in the mirror, the tag in your jeans, or the number on your scale, no amount of praise from others will change how you feel toward yourself.
I get that.
And I get that it’s not in my power to decide how you feel about your body. That me asking you to feel differently doesn’t do anything but make you feel how you feel this same way, without my support as your friend. I get that me asking you not to talk about how you feel is just me asking you to feel that way, silently. And I don’t want to do that.
I don’t want to ask you not to communicate because I really do care how you feel. And I care about your autonomy; it’s important to me that you live your life your way. What and how you eat, when and how you move — that’s your business, not mine. And if you want to share about those things on your Facebook page, you have every right to do so. If you want to share about changes to your weight (or the lack of them) and how that makes you feel, that is also your business. Personally, I like to post relentless cultural criticisms, political petitions, and schmoopy musings about my boo. No one has the right to tell me that I over-share or that I need to stop posting every cute thing my girlfriend says. After all, I have every right to post those things, and they have every right to defriend me or to hide my posts, as they prefer.
I have that same rights in regard to your diet, body, and food talk. I have the right to look away.
But, to my knowledge, there’s no Facebook app that blocks, simply, the posts about your exercise regime, your changing waistline, and your scale. I wish there was. I wish there was because I don’t actually want to de-friend you. I don’t want to hide your posts. I don’t want to stop knowing the things that you want to share with me. And still, at the same time — these are not the things I friended you to know.
Do you know that? Do you know that, while you have every right to post whatever the fuck you want, I don’t keep in touch with you online because I miss your diet talk?
I keep in touch with you online because I miss you.
I miss your impersonations of professors over coffee. I miss the way you talk freely about sex. I miss your anecdotes and the way that – in your hands – an awkward moment becomes sudden comedy gold. I miss the way you confide in me, the way you stumble about when you’re exhausted, the way you light up when you’re revived. I miss your love of that band only you have heard of, your art, and your outlandish plans. I miss the way you let your guard down when something hurt you, how you’re funny and also smart. I miss your pet peeves and your surprises.
Because I love that person. I miss hanging out with them.
And I get, intimately, that you are also this thing. This desire to be pretty or thin or fit or ok. I get how that is intricately wired into your feelings and I don’t expect it to be otherwise. But I don’t get to know that part — that pain and that triumph — any better, when you talk about the numbers on the scale or the food on your plate. I just know the numbers. I just know the meals. And while I care about every part of you, that part of your life is not what I miss.
This is my truth and I think it’s some other folks’ as well: the truth is, most of us know what the body stuff is like. Sometimes, when we read posts like yours, we feel our own body-shame creep back up. Sometimes we leave comments about how we wish we were losing weight too, or how we share your pain, or how we shouldn’t have eaten this, that, or the other thing. It is really, really easy for all of us to fall into this pattern. To bond with you over how crappy we feel about our bodies. Or to feel crappy and not say anything. Or to not bond with you because, in order to do so, we have to bond to diet talk. And some of us can’t do that. Me, for instance. Personally, I broke up with diet talk awhile ago, and I broke up with it, for good.
So, I don’t end up bonding with you through these posts. I end up missing you more.
I end up bored and hurt and missing you. I end up wondering if there are other things you wish you could share. Or things you don’t even think about sharing that I would love to know.
I would love to know if the air is starting to turn crisper where you are, whether you’re craving pumpkin lattes or missing the pool. I’d love to know what made you smile today and what made you groan. What you miss about college, what’s disappointing you these days, what’s better than you expected. I’d love to know about your other struggles, your other triumphs, your other frustrations and feats. I want to know, again, the person you are, beyond the diet.
We all choose which pieces of ourselves to share online, which posts, which photographs, which statuses. Sometimes we fall into patterns: We only post photos of our kid. We only vent about our boyfriend. We only share memes from George Takei.
Ok. Ok. You have every right.
But if you ever look at that pattern and think, “hey, this isn’t actually connecting me to folks” or “god, I don’t actually feel more known,” I want you to know you aren’t alone. I’m here. And I miss you.
At just this size.