In high school, I became very thin because I was partying too much, smoking a lot, sleeping too little, and probably not eating enough to keep up with my restless energy expenditure. People who encountered me after having not seen me for a few months would remark with surprise and intended compliments on how great I looked, I looked so thin! But how I got that way? I'm probably still paying the price for it, decades later.
In my early twenties, several coinciding and very disruptive negative life events led to my buying and smoking cigarettes by the carton in an effort to manage my stress, accompanied by a 35-pound weight loss. Everyone had the same reaction: You're so small! So thin! You look great! How did you do it? I didn't do it. Intense stress and nicotine addiction did it for me. The price tag of that on my health is probably still being written.
Just after having my third child, I suddenly lost about 15 pounds. God, it was great. Three children in, and I was at a healthy BMI (don't get me started on BMI, but still, it was great to see that number), able to slip into jeans without feeling them grip my waist like a starving python. Then, I learned that I had autoimmune hyperthyroidism that was so intense and intractable, I had to have my thyroid completely removed. Not such a great reason for weight loss. But boy, did people notice and compliment me on it.
In fact, not once in my life has weight loss been healthy. The thing is, I'm generally not obviously overweight or unhealthy anyway. I am a pretty average-sized woman who wears a size 8 or 10 and who only recently really started having to think about my caloric intake to fight the battle of the menopausal midriff. When I lost weight effortlessly, I wasn't trying to do it, and not once did it happen for good or healthy reasons. It was always for bad reasons, for negative behaviors, some of which I am paying for today in ways that actually interfere with my being healthy now.
Yet, irrationally, I miss how it felt to be smaller. I miss how it felt to have people comment on how great I looked, even though I know exactly what it means for me to lose weight. If I were to suddenly drop some weight today, lose 10 or 15 pounds, I imagine that most people I know would say to me, "You look great! How did you do it?"
And I'd bask in that feeling all over again in spite of everything I know about how weight loss reflects negative influences on me. I'd enjoy how those jeans lightly encircle my no-longer-menopausal midriff, be pleased at the slender reflection of my profile in the mirror. Even though I know that for me, weight loss is a sign of poor health or unhealthy inputs, the positive feedback driven by cultural expectations about my waistline would carry more weight for me than all the threats to my health that those lost pounds imply. That says something about me and my own helpless enjoyment of personal compliments. But it also says something about our insistence on linking thinness with good health, even when evidence suggests a less-than-consistent relationship between the two.