A friend and coworker of mine has been, for as long as I’ve known her, struggling with accepting her body. She diets all the time and is obsessed with the numbers associated with that; she counts calories, counts pounds, and micromanages every ounce of her diet.
Now, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being aware of the things that you’re putting into your body; to the contrary, that’s something I’ve got to start paying more attention to myself. But I have never really felt comfortable with the idea of purposefully withholding food from oneself when one is hungry. I understand why people do it (and we can thank the intersecting axes of sexism, ableism, and probably a whole hank of other oppressions for it), but when the people around me talk about forcing hunger onto themselves as if such behavior is desirable…I tend to tune them out, because nothing I have to say about it is anything close to what they want to hear.
Last week this friend told me about a new diet she was considering, called the hCG diet. For those of you who don’t know, hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone that is produced by a person when xie is pregnant. The hype is that if you take hCG and limit your daily caloric intake to no more than 500 calories per day, then the hormone will [supposedly] cause the fat to practically fall off of you while allowing your muscle tissue to remain intact.
My reaction to the news that she was considering this diet was pure horror. Even now, a week later, I can barely wrap my mind around the fact that “eat less than 500 calories a day and take this hormone extracted from the pee of pregnant folks” registers as a reasonable course of action for her. She told me a few days later at lunch that she has decided to do it, and I went quiet. She and another coworker went on to talk about diets and hormones and pregnancy, and I just quietly ate my lunch until it was time to get back to work.
After lunch, we talked. She thought that I was mad at her because she was “giving into society’s expectations” or something. I told her that I wasn’t mad at her, nor was I disappointed in her for “giving in” (which is something that we ALL do, anyway, so I’d be a hypocrite if I was). I told her that I just didn’t know what to say, and that I didn’t want to disrespect her by giving my unsolicited opinion on the subject.
Then I proceeded to give her my unsolicited opinion. I kept it short and sweet, and just said, “It’s your body and you have the right to do what you want. But this diet is dangerous, and you’re beautiful, and I wish you wouldn’t do it.”
She said, “My clothes don’t fit” and I responded, “Because your clothes are too small. There’s nothing wrong with your body. Your body is not too big. Your clothes are too small.”
The conversation ended with me looking sad and troubled, and with her looking apologetic. I wished that she wouldn’t look so guilty about it; I don’t want her to feel guilty. I want her to feel love for her body, for her figure. I want her to stop feeling inadequate about her body and to start feeling angry about the inadequacy of her clothing and rage towards the axes of oppression that have intersected to convince her that her body is “wrong” unless she starves herself.
But I can’t force that on anyone, and I can’t control what and how much she eats, and I can’t make her change her mind about anything. I’m not sure that I handled this situation the right way, in a way that respected her agency as a woman but still addressed the problematic nature of the diet she intends to follow.
I love her and I want her to be happy and unhurt. I just don’t know how to make that happen. What does a friend do in a situation like this?