The War On Our Bodies

Once “fat” becomes your marker for self-identification, obsession with weight and body image perhaps never leave you.

Sometimes, I desperately wish I was more like Alison Sweeney.

Alison Sweeney, for those unfamiliar, is the former host of The Biggest Loser and soap-opera actress who (relatively) famously struggled with her weight in her youth. She later lost this weight and has since become an ambassador for “healthy living.”

My sister used to watch Days of Our Lives, the show Alison was on, in high school. Sweeney’s character “Sammy,” like the actress who played her, also struggled with her weight. I, being my sister’s shadow, would often glance upon the television screen in the background while I (not-so-)quietly sang to myself and played with my Barbie dolls. I remember one time, Sammy hid a box of donuts in her closet or under her bed and when no one was watching, lunged for the box and proceeded to stuff her face.

I thought it was the coolest thing ever – and wished I could pull off something like that.

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Me, while the chubbiness was still (arguably) cute. It wouldn’t remain that way after puberty.

Today, Alison writes a monthly health column for Redbook magazine, which I read each month.

Please allow me to explain: Eons ago, I joined some freebies website. I still get offers for free 1-year magazine subscriptions. A couple of months ago, I got one for Redbook. Being a newlywed, I figured I might be able to make use of some of their articles – recipes, relationship advice, home tips, etc.

Anyway, Alison often gives advice on how to fit health and fitness into our busy schedules. Such gems as: “When you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, don’t forget to get in those lunges! No one will give you weird looks. In fact, they’ll admire you for making fitness a priority!” and my favorite, “Always keep a healthy and delicious snack like baby carrots (which BTW are disgusting) with you when you travel. That packet of 10 peanuts (though it will do nothing to allay your hunger) is LOADED with fat and calories.”

I obviously made those examples up. But you get what I mean. “Practical” tips that are anything but practical.

I must have had a momentary lapse of judgement when I signed up, because “women’s” magazines are worse than late-night infomercials, people. They’re loaded with craptastical platitudes that offer very little of any substance. But each month, I find myself allured by the cover and headlines and fool myself into thinking, “it won’t hurt if I just skim through.”

Except it does. It hurts a lot.

I can’t blame Redbook entirely. We live in a world saturated with unhealthy body expectations. Those little “helpful” tips and nonchalant comments whirling around in the atmosphere? They all add up.

My husband keeps saying he needs to lose weight, because according to him, he’s not the weight he used to be when he was in college. I just listen – I can never tell ANYONE they need to lose weight. I know first-hand that it does more harm than good. Besides, I like my husband just the way he is. He’s cuddly like a teddy bear.

But I can’t help but transfer his thoughts on to myself. “Does he think I need to lose weight, too?” This compounds onto the already tumultuous battle I’ve been fighting with myself for the past seven years.

7 years ago, as you may or may not know, I lost over 100 pounds. Alhamdullilah, I am grateful for being able to lose this weight, as I was pre-diabetic and nearing morbid obesity, but adjusting to my new body has been anything but easy.

I’ll spare you the 7-year history for now, but I’ve gained about 10 pounds since I’ve gotten married. 10 pounds in 9 months! That’s a lot. I’m thinking this might be due to the fact that we eat out at least once a week – I’m new to cooking and look forward to the weekend breaks… and trips to Cake Bake. And also, my meds. You know, I’m just gonna blame it ALL on the meds!

I’m not overweight by any means, but I am not happy about this weight gain. I see those 10 pounds as a failure – and a gateway to even more weight gain.

But I do not want to go on another diet. I refuse to. 

I’ve discovered enough about myself to know that the often-touted “lifestyle change” is just another diet in disguise for me. I’ve lived over a year of creating rigid, arbitrary rules, like not eating any foods with added sugar, for example. And I can’t do it anymore. I won’t do it.

Even though I’m done with dieting, I’m obviously not over the dieting mentality. Every comment I hear, even if it’s not directed toward me, I take as an indirect reproach for being unable to maintain my former, short-lived though it was, skinny self.

I don’t know how Alison does it.

But I am not Alison – and never will be. This reminds me of something that my sister once said: “It’s all about acceptance.” But self-acceptance is hardest of all.

15 thoughts on “The War On Our Bodies

  1. This is so true. Magazines among other mediums are loaded with unhealthy messages. Those messages make it difficult to practice self-acceptance. Your picture is very adorable. I’ve been told since I was younger how “fat” I was but now I’m the most I’ve ever weighed. I actually have found that when I tune out the criticism I lose weight easier I suppose it’s because I’m doing it for me rather than someone else.

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    • Thanks! I wish I had more confidence about my appearance. I look at the mirror and instantly focus on what I perceive to be my “problem areas.” Yeah, from my experience, I know that your intention is really important. What got me serious was my health and not my appearance. But slowly along the way, an obsession with appearance popped up and I need to deal with it, because it takes you away from what’s important. Thanks for your comment, Rabia? Are you happy with your weight at the moment?

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      • You’re welcome. I’ve also struggled with that. I do like to dress up and look fancy but because of the things said to me I’ve gotten used to wearing sweatpants and graphic tees. I’m pretty comfortable now but there’s still that struggle I can’t get past sometimes. At this very moment I can say I’m comfortable in my own skin. A couple years ago the answer would probably be a hesitant one with an eventual no.

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  2. You have physically and mentally experienced a lot around “weight” and I am not surprised that you don’t want to hear anything about diet. People do say you usually gain a little weight after marriage especially if you are very happy :) If you are healthy and happy , that is all counts right? :)

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  3. Wow first of all congrats on losing 100 lbs. That’s absolutely amazing and inspirational, mashaAllah! I think everyone struggles with self-acceptance, especially women. Society makes it near impossible to not compare yourself to the “ideal beauty” image. But sometimes we have a take a step back and remind ourselves of what’s really important. Being healthy and feeling good is so much better than look “perfect.” =)

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    • Thank you, Chelsea! How do you define healthy? I find the word to be so vague… but perhaps it’s meant to be subjective. I’m just curious. Perhaps I need to expand my definition of the word!

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  4. I don’t know what you’re on about because YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL AND IN PERFECT SHAPE. Weight is a number – even you’d know that by now. Sometimes weight gain doesn’t necessarily mean a gain in fat. It could be muscle mass. I’m giving you advice that I should take myself, but: Let go of the past and focus on how you can make yourself feel beautiful each day. Restricting yourself is never a good option. Our relationship with food and body image is unfortunately a never-ending battle, and your subscription is doing more than harm than good. I never read such articles anymore – they’re just crap. If anything, everyone’s read a million of these and then some. Therefore, everyone knows how to take care of their bodies: Clean, balanced eating, good sleep, exercise. The end. Its honestly up to each of us to find a way to fit that into our daily lives. That’s the hard part – balance. And then the hardest of all, as you said: acceptance, especially if things don’t go the way we planned. But we’ll get there eventually, won’t we? I have hope. :) #StayingPositive

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    • Awww, Naureen! I love you, you sweet, sweet human being! I know weight is just a number, but in my case, I KNOW it is not muscle. Balance is hard – it’s as much the mental as it is the physical. Thanks, love! *hug*

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  5. Weight is a very sensitive issue… I have always been on the wrong side of the scale all my life except for very few years of my life, and it has been a struggle for me… whatever I do, I don’t tend to lose weight fast despite not having any medical condition, Alhamdulillah, so I guess now I am slowly trying to tell myself to take it slowly and steadily and be happy in my body, while I slowly work on bringing down at least a part of it.. :)

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    • Awww, I’m really sorry to hear that. By “wrong side” do you mean people telling you it’s wrong or do you think so as well? Fast weight loss, as tough as it sounds, is not really advised. Healthy weight loss takes time. I think your current approach is the best way to go at it! May Allah (swt) give you the patience and success! If ever you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I can’t promise any quick fixes. But I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. It’s easy for people who’ve never known the struggle to give advice. Perhaps I can provide some insight and help for you!

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  6. I really love this post. I totally understand you – I have those thoughts myself sometimes. But we cannot let ourselves be defined by numbers. Plus, there’s always a new standard for what society thinks is beautiful – we can never really win so it’s just up to us to keep being positive and powering though. It’s amazing that you lost 100 pounds, masha Allah! :)

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