So suppose you do lose that weight …

I mentioned recently that I had been given a prescription for medicine that has for many a welcome side-effect: weight loss. One of the interesting things about experiencing the loss is that you can be left with your obviously untenable old beliefs, along with some scary beliefs in something like magic that become more visible. I think that if I mentioned them all, I might sketch a picture of myself that I’d soon regret putting on the web. So I’ll mention a few, and invite others to join in with their own examples, if they want.

One I knew about, but I saw again how clearly false it is. This is the belief that if I just lost five pounds, I’d be happy. According to quite a few women at the central APA, this is a very common belief, and all of us with it know it is false. There I was, two weeks and five pounds after I started, not feeling any happier at all.

I have wondered if we do really believe that. Perhaps we believe instead that our body shape is really bad, and any loss would be good. But I don’t really think so. I think we tend to believe the false version. That seems to leave us in the paradoxical position of admitting a belief of the form “I believe that P though it is not true.” In fact, the belief may not be as paradoxical as it seems. It may be that we have mistakenly thought of our minds on the model of the revisable essay, with assertions that are eventually integrated into a consistent whole. But in fact, our minds might be more like an old sewing basket, with bits of fabric saved though they are probably useless. (What do you think?)

Then there are the magical beliefs, as I think of them. At least there are out of touch with the way the world actually works. One might be, “after a weekend in New Orleans, I will have gained the whole 15 pounds back.” Or even, it could happen that the weight comes back some night when I’m asleep.

The thing that is remarkable about these magical beliefs it that they probably don’t exist inert in some hidden recess of the mind. They are probably tied in with some behavior and some other beliefs. But it is hard to see how believing that one’s body is so vulnerable to mysterious workings of a magical world would be a very good thing. They may in fact mount up to a not very rational tendency to blame oneself. Clearly, if these changes can happen just out of the blue, one should try to figure out how to avoid them, perhaps by being especially good and forgoing desert. Or whatever.

Another big category of magical beliefs for me concerns clothes. But I’m going to stop now and see if anyone else wants to add some examples.

Feminist philosophy and weight loss

There’s a great new post on feminist philosophy and weight loss over at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty. Blogger Sam B sings the praises of philosopher Ann Cahill’s account of her experiences with weight loss in “Getting to My Fighting Weight” published in the Musings section of Hypatia (25 (2):485-492, 2010).

Cahill is a beautiful writer and I love her language when she talks about reconciling her decision to lose weight with her feminist values:

“I realized that maximizing my ability to move, quickly, effectively, strongly, was entirely conducive to my feminist aspirations and activities. I wasn’t aspiring to skinniness or frailty, just the opposite: I wanted to bring strength and vigor to whatever struggle I chose. I wanted to get to my fighting weight.”

It’s great to see the very fraught business of weight loss receiving philosophical attention. As a feminist who lost a good chunk of weight when I started running, I struggled with the experience. There are things about weight loss that I really enjoyed, but every time someone said “You look great!” I felt like a bad feminist. “It’s for health reasons, not aesthetic reasons,” I would sputter (even though I secretly, guiltily, enjoyed some of the aesthetic side-effects).

Here’s the link.


January 8 addendum: Alas, I’ve had to close comments on this thread following a series of unkind comments, which we have removed.

This is a group blog and each of the bloggers parses the blog’s policies a bit differently. (And, in general, the OP moderates the thread.) I lean to the more laissez-faire end of things. Although I support the blog’s approach of sometimes unapproving comments that lower the tone or make the blog feel less safe for contributors, I’ve never before tonight actually removed any comment myself. I’ve been wrestling with this thread from the start, though. I thought that one interlocutor’s initial comment was merely sarcastic. It made me sad to see it, but I decided, rightly or wrongly, to leave it up. Then, when that comment ended up leading to what seemed to me a thoughtful, interesting thread, I was glad I had. True, that thread included a couple of oblique jabs between some of the commenters, but these occurred within comments that were overall well worth reading. And then a comment appeared which engaged in name-calling against the interlocutor whose initial sarcasm had vexed me. Again, I struggled. I actually asked one or two colleagues whether to leave it up or take it down because I didn’t trust my own judgment. No one thought I should take it down. It was name-calling. It was uncharitable. On the other hand, I didn’t think that it was any worse that the initial sarcastic comment. Maybe I felt that way because I’d been on the receiving end of the first one.  In any event, the sniping has continued; so I’ve closed comments. It’s very saddening. What can I say? I hope that I’ll be a better moderator someday. It’s hard.