Last week, I asked a friend with type 2 diabetes if she planned to exercise in her new apartment’s swimming pool.
“No,” she said. “No way I’m getting into a bathing suit.”
Usually, when offered such a "fat-phobic" answer, I say little, but this time I had an answer.
“You know what makes a beach body?” I asked. “A beach and a body.”
“Can we change the subject?”
“No,” I said. “What if you had to remain the weight you are now forever? Would it change how you live your life? Would you wear a bathing suit?”
“I can’t talk about this,” she said. “I feel too fat.”
“Fat isn’t a feeling,” I said.
Unfortunately, my friend’s excuse didn’t take me by surprise. Like many of us with type 2, she’s struggled with her weight for years, dropping 10 or 15 or 20 pounds, then regaining it with ease.
She’s tried it all: nutritionists, carbo-counting, keto, intuitive eating. Her weight loss strategies work, but then something happens -- a recognition that the journey is too hard, that she’ll never reach her goal. Sometimes, it’s boredom that leads her to the Ben & Jerry’s; sometimes it’s joy.
But whatever it is, her good intentions unravel. Defeated, she waves a white flag to the weight loss gods until she decides -- urged by a problematic A1c, a difficult number on the scale, or a doctor’s stern advice -- to plunge back into the diet wars.
After we talked, I paced my living room. I felt guilty: I’m a few inches taller than my friend, and while my weight can fluctuate 3 to 4 pounds, it’s easier for me to ignore a gain. But it wasn’t only that. I hated that my friend felt too self-conscious to head to the pool. I hated that she was going to miss out on summer swimming (which I knew she enjoyed) because she felt ashamed to go into the world.
At my computer, I googled “beach body.” Up popped a number of entries lauding women with impossibly flat stomachs and men with pumped up pecs. The endless options seemed to imply that if you just adhere to a precisely designed nutrition and exercise plan, cellulite, flab, and dissatisfaction can be a thing of the past.
On our front table lay clothing catalogs that had recently arrived in the mail. Over COVID, the fashion industry had discovered a new market in plus-sized women: several covers featured larger than size 0 models wearing stylish bathing suits and yoga gear. I thought of taking a quick screenshot to send to my friend to show her that if she wanted a flattering bathing suit there were options, but I stopped before I clicked. Instead I thought: No wonder my friend feels so confused.
She didn’t need a bigger bathing suit. She didn’t need a 21-day quick fix to her bodily woes. What she needed was much deeper -- to believe that she deserved to take up space, no matter how much space that might be. Wherever: by the pool; in the doctor’s office; by herself. And maybe, just maybe, once she believed that, she might learn to eat for that person, the one who deserved to thrive. Who deserves to be healthy and happy, no matter what.
I picked up the phone.
“Hey,” I said. “Want to take a walk?”
“I promise not to talk,” I told her.
On the other end, she laughed.
“You’ll never manage that,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Photo Credit: Bablab/iStock via Getty Images