Saturday, July 29, 2006

Diets and Body Image

(First, this post is unusually short for me. In the effort of sparing you the relentless tide of verbiage I generally generate, I’m experimenting with a less circuitous style. I’m doing my best to squelch my impulses to lay background, examine each point in minute detail, to explain and apologize for myself at every opportunity. I wrote a first draft of this post which was very, very long. I think you’ll be glad not to have to read it. That said paranoid as I am that I will have left something out, I feel compelled to remind you that, as you well know, the comment button exists and can be used to ask questions.)

Feminists of the world: What do you do when female friends decide to diet? A (reasonably) close friend announced a month ago that she was going on the Atkins diet, forcing me to confront the issue. I found myself facing a tangle of priorities—wanting to tell her that she was as she was, I never thought of her as overweight (true), wanting to support her in her endeavors, wanting to prevent her from being victimized by America’s weight-stupidity while also trying to respect her right to make her own decisions.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. For the record, she *is* a little bit on the chubby side. She could afford to lose a few pounds. I always try to support my friends, I try not to criticize the choices women make about their bodies, and if dieting makes her happier about herself, I’d say it’s a good thing. But I have a few misgivings.

She’s not trying to lose just a few pounds. She’s decided to lose 30. And she hasn’t given herself much time to do it in. Plus, I have my doubts about the health and effectiveness of the Atkins diet.

Sadly, I don’t have all the information, nor am I likely to. She won’t tell me how much she weighs, only that according to her doctors it’s too high for her BMI. Her mother supports her in this, but knowing her mother as I do, it doesn’t reassure me much. I strongly doubt that she needs to lose 30 pounds.

I wouldn’t be surprised if her weight—the bald score, removed form context—sounded pretty high. But numbers and statistics don’t tell the whole story here. I don’t know what the BMI corrects for, but I think she’ll always tip the scales at an impressively high sum.

She’s a stocky girl—not outrageously so, but definitely with wider hips and broader shoulders than most girls I know. She competes in horse shows and raises farm animals, making her one of the most muscular girls I know. On top of that, she has enormously large breasts. Between the three, her weight, whatever it is, is undoubtedly much higher than average for her height. I can only hope she understands that. there may be quite more flesh on her bones than strictly necessary, but I can’t help bus suspect that it’s mostly muscle, and what fat there is congregating on her chest.

About a month into it, she’s lost 10 pounds, seems happy about it, and is being enormously responsible in keeping to the diet, going so far as to cook her own meals. She has yet to become rail-thin or anorexic, and it seems like a wonderful dieting success story. I just worry about how far she plans to take this…

Part of the problem, I guess, is that this is a new experience to me. It’s the first time a friend or relative of mine, which has me a little jumpy. So I guess I’m appealing to the collective wisdom of the Internets—do you have dieting success stories, your own, or for a friend? What makes a successful diet? What do you do when someone diets self-destructively? How can you tell the difference?

It’s times like these that I remember I’m only sixteen…
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