What Losing 35 Pounds Taught Me

Losing the weight was the easy part. Dealing with the billion-dollar brainwash is what really blew my mind.


Everyone plays the weight game. There are hundreds of articles on everything from the tendency towards obesity to weight-loss tips, eating disorders, how to dress to look thinner, and so on and so on. The weight issue is a big one in our society and just about everyone can relate.

What Losing 35 Pounds Taught Me

I can remember when I was maybe ten, that age when how you look starts to matter, and I couldn’t wear leggings because my legs were too skinny. Yes too skinny. I was at the other end of the weight spectrum. I was embarrassingly thin. That became my identity: I was the skinny girl. But it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t find clothes that fit and I had to get everything tailored because even a size zero was too big sometimes. I never thought much of it. It was just the way I was. I ate what I wanted but I was just built smaller.

As I entered high school I soon realized that my thinness was a commodity, and for the first time I became aware of the reality of weight: size matters and the thinner the better. Rather than reveling in my thinness, in an attempt to not be left out of the weight game, I joined my friends and declared that I was fat. I didn’t actually believe it, but I knew that if I told people that I liked the way I looked I would be an instant outcast.

Fast-forward to college and things began to change. I gained the freshman 15 and the sophomore 10, followed by the junior 5, and the senior 5. Grad school proved to be more fattening, so much so that when it was all said and done, I was 35 pounds heavier than when I was 17. I had “ballooned” to a size 10. But just like before, I liked the way I looked. I actually liked being a bit bigger. I liked the way clothes looked on me, even though I was now a size large in many of my favorite stores. But I soon realized, again, that what I thought had nothing to do with it.

People began asking me “what happened,” and “oh you better be careful, once you go down that road there’s no turning back” and of course, my grandmother’s: “Oh no, you’ve let yourself go”. I was suddenly the social outcast again, and just like when I was ten and had to avoid leggings, now, bright prints and horizontal stripes were my enemy, or so the magazines told me.

I never fully understood the absurdity of it all until I lost just ten pounds – after having my wisdom teeth removed. Suddenly everyone noticed and praised me for the weight loss, as if I’d just achieved something monumental. No one mentioned anything about my new job, or having undergone major dental surgery, it was all about those 10 pounds.

I didn’t care, I was just living my life, like I had been since I was a child. Sometimes thin, sometimes a bit bigger, but I was still the same person. Why couldn’t anyone else see this?

Shortly after, I was commissioned by a well-known women’s magazine to lose 35 pounds and document my weight loss. I managed to lose the weight in six months (thanks to a low-sugar vegan diet) but gained it all back (I couldn’t stay away from the cheese!) only to realize that the problem was much bigger than me. While researching for my article, which was meant to be about my experience as a heavier person in a thin-obsessed society, I came to the conclusion that what was actually going on was a “billion-dollar brainwash”. Corporations gain from making women think they are too heavy and set unreasonable standards for them to aim for and fail.

What Losing 35 Pounds Taught Me

Twiggy. I don’t get it either.

The starting point of this mass market strategy can be traced back to a 92 pound model named Twiggy. Since her debut in 1967, when she became the darling of the fashion world and the incongruous ideal of nearly everyone else, her image (and that of her latter-day clones like Kate Moss) has been milked for billions. During the first decade after Twiggy’s debut, the annual take from the labyrinthine American anti-fat industry soared to $10 billion, 95% of which was spent by women. And in the following decades, that total has quintupled.

Could it be that all that dieting, guilt, constant worrying, strategic dressing, and money spent has nothing to do with “health” and “beauty” at all, and instead is all about big corporations making a buck, or billion? Yes! And to prove it, we just need to look at examples of beauty ideals pre-Twiggy.

What Losing 35 Pounds Taught Me

Arguably one of the most desirable women of all time, and a beauty icon still, Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 (in today’s American ‘vanity’ sizing, she’d probably be a size 8). Even before her, the beauties of the late 1800’s like actress Lillian Russell, who was the most desirable woman of her time, weighed nearly 200 pounds.

What Losing 35 Pounds Taught Me

Clearly if these heavier women were beautiful then, women like them can’t possibly all of sudden be considered abhorred, and be discriminated against, without some catalyst to have changed our views. That catalyst is big-business. It’s a simple formula: the more insecure women are, the more products they buy in an attempt to make themselves feel better.

The only way to fight back is for women to accept their bodies as they are. Now, I’m not endorsing a life of obesity. I’m just bringing attention to the fact that women, thus far, have been driven less by their own concerns over health and more by their roles as consumers.

In an age of personal responsibility and a “no victims wanted” mentality, this theory of mass conspiracy isn’t an easy one to accept. But the facts are undeniable:

  • 53% of American girls age 13 are “unhappy with their bodies.” This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.
  • Over 70% of girls age 15 to 17 avoid normal daily activities, such as attending school, when they feel bad about their looks.
  • In the largest such survey to date, nearly 30,000 women stated that they’d rather lose weight than achieve ANY other goal, despite the fact that only 25% were overweight and 25% were actually underweight.
  • 75% of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative activities like cutting, bullying, smoking, drinking, or disordered eating. This compares to 25% of girls with high self-esteem.
  • 7 out of 10 girls in grades 5-12 said they get their idea of a “perfect body” from models in magazines.
  • There are now 50 times more women suffering from anorexia and bulimia than are living with AIDS.
  • 98% of girls feel there is an immense pressure from external sources to look a certain way.
  • 92% of teen girls would like to change something about the way they look, with body weight ranking the highest.
  • 90% of eating disorders are found in girls.

The bottom line? Women need to break free from what they are told they should look like. They need to only be concerned with what they know is best for them, based on their genes, health concerns, body type and lifestyle. It sounds easy, but it’s a challenge in a society that has one image and one image only to sell.

Avatar of Angela Davis

Originally from Denver and now living in NYC, Angie has been writing since she was small. She lives in the Flatiron district with her partner Tanya and their mutt Sparky (always adopt!) In her spare time she loves to paint (mostly abstract) and talk to random people on the street to find out what's interesting to them.

Reader Discussion: 196 Comments

  1. Avatar of Mona Conner

    Mona Conner

    There many ways on how you can lose weight, I prefer the safest and natural way. By jogging and eating healthy.

  2. Avatar of Kristina Ramsey

    Kristina Ramsey

    The weight issue is a big issue in the society and everyone can relate and attest to that.

  3. Avatar of Rosemarie Gibbs

    Rosemarie Gibbs

    Urbanette has all the topics that helps you overcome whatever you are going through, may it be about travel, beuauty and wellness tips, etc. I love this blog.

  4. Avatar of Irma Carson

    Irma Carson

    This article taught me two things. First, you can’t please everyone. Two, if you want to have /achieve something in general, you have to badly want it and work hard for it and know that it’s not gonna happen overnight and nothing’s impossible.

  5. Avatar of Doreen Carlson

    Doreen Carlson

    Women nowadays are so contious about how they look, that they sometimes overdue things, like working out too much, starving themselves, etc. Just appreciate what you have and learn how to do things in the right way.

  6. Avatar of Marilyn May

    Marilyn May

    Such an inspiring story. It’s not easy to lose weight, coming from a lady who used to weigh 200 lbs. I guess what I can advice to everyone who is in the process of changing their lifestyle or simply trying to lose weight is to basically just have that determination, patience, discipline and making sure that you’re actually following the right process in achieving your goal. There’s no shortcut for this, it’s just a matter of time, patience and hardwork and you’ll get there.

  7. Avatar of Jackie Chavez

    Jackie Chavez

    This article reminds me of someone dear to me. She experienced body shaming when we were still in college. I witnessed how she struggled and how she managed to overcome and become better. It wasn’t easy for her of course, but as her friend there’s only so much I can do for her, I just made sure that she had all the support and help she needed inorder for her to have a better life and a better version of herself by simply telling her that she can do it, and making her feel that she is not alone that I alway got her back and I think that’s the biggest help you can give to a friend.

  8. Avatar of Sonja Armstrong

    Sonja Armstrong

    Nobody wants to experience any of these things. But sometimes it’s too late because you also took your health for granted and you should blame yourself for that. People may be responsible for what they say, but you are responsible for your own health, your own life, how you look, how you weigh and the list goes on. I hope you get what I mean. ?

  9. Avatar of Erma Sparks

    Erma Sparks

    Great write up. People should realize that if you don’t take care of your body now, sooner or later it’ll catch up on you. So might as well, change your bad habits and start practicing a good lifestyle to prolong your life.

  10. Avatar of Victoria George

    Victoria George

    I feel for you. And I know there are a lot of people who can relate to this too. Physical appearance has been a big thing in the society nowadays. It’s up to you if you’ll be affected by this criticisms or stand up and do someting about your situation.

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