Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weight in the Western World

I woke up to the sound of an e-mail coming into my inbox. I open the e-mail to find a blog post from Jezebel, a feminist blog which I read religiously. The title? 'Shut the **** up about Lady Gaga's weight already'.

Apparently the tabloids are ablaze with headlines about how the beautiful, slender pop star has gained 25 pounds.

This makes me feel an anxious stiring in my (softer than when I left Canada) stomach. As my time in Malawi comes to a close, I have been thinking about what it will be like to go back to the Western World. There are many things that I'm looking forward to in Canada, at the top of the list being family, friends, consistent clean water, the light going on EVERY time you flick the switch, and (of course), cheese.

One thing that I'm not looking forward to is my culture's obsession with weight. Living in Malawi has been very liberating on this front. For the first time I can remember, I have let the weight thing go. In Canada, I learned at a very young age that thin = beautiful and grew up conscious about my weight. I'm sad to admit that I can not remember one day since I was 11 years old when it wasn't on my mind, how if only I was thinner, I would be more attractive. If I wasn't trying to loose weight, I was trying to accept my weight and not gain any.

Moving to Malawi and living in a culture where bigger is often considered more beautiful has given me a completely new perspective. It has allowed me to worry less about how people perceive the way I look and to feel more comfortable in my skin. This change in perspective, combined with a prevalence of carby foods and not having access to boot camp classes 3 mornings a week has caused me to put on a few kilos... and guess what?

The world hasn't ended!

I still enjoy going to the beach, have meaningful friendships and a lovely boyfriend who couldn't care less. The summation of my discomfort with gaining weight has come in the form of the waistbands on my pants. So why do I want to warn my friends and family that I've gained weight so that I feel less shame about it when I get home? I feel nauseated when I think about trying to reintegrate into a culture that holds narrow and oftentimes destructive ideals of beauty.

I recall with a new awareness the painful effects of idealizing thinness. There was a young woman a few years ahead of me in high school who died from anorexia and I have friends who were hospitalized as young as 13 from the same. I remember being 12 years old and lying in bed hungry by choice, fantasizing about food in my room directly above a fully stocked kitchen. Living in a place where over a quarter of the population is physically stunted due to malnourishment has given me some perspective on how messed up that really is.

I hope that I can go back to Canada with a positive perspective that will help heal this societal problem but I worry about how it will feel too. It is one thing to experience a shift in values, but another to hold onto those values in a place where every billboard tells you that you are wrong.

I suppose speaking out about it is a first step, and I feel grateful to have this blog as a forum to start doing so.

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