- The internet is home to a battle over how we should react to Adele’s apparent weight loss.
- While many people, including other celebrities, quickly commented on the singer’s appearance in a rare Instagram post, others said complimenting Adele’s body implied that she wasn’t beautiful before.
- As someone who lost 50 pounds and feels proud of that choice — and of the hard work that came along with it — I’m well versed in the discourse around weight loss.
- It hurts to be told that my own weight loss journey makes me an enemy of the body-positivity movement. Nobody can fault me for working hard to improve myself.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The internet can’t handle Adele’s weight loss. While thousands of people celebrated her appearance in a rare photo she posted for her 32nd birthday, others had a different tune. “Don’t talk about Adele’s weight loss” was the overarching theme of the internet on Wednesday.
As someone who previously lost a lot of weight, that messaging — that it’s problematic to undergo weight loss, even when it has health implications — hurts me. It hurts especially when those messages come from thin people who don’t know the struggle of trying repeatedly to inhabit a smaller body. It hurts to be told that my own weight loss journey makes me an enemy of the body-positivity movement.
Adele has not spoken publicly about her weight loss, so we cannot speculate as to why or how she now appears to be smaller. And it goes without saying that a smaller body does not make someone healthier or happier — in many cases, weight loss is a symptom of health problems, and can be a sign of eating disorders. (In an email, Adele’s publicist told Insider she had no comment on the weight loss.)
I’m the first person to say size and beauty are unrelated. I’ve always loved myself, and that was why it took me so long to lose weight — I felt that I was beautiful the way I was. But for me, weight loss changed my life for the better.
I was six years old when I learned that I was fat. It was Valentine’s Day in the first grade, and I’d been waiting all week for the treats that would come with it. My mom took me out of school early for a special doctor’s appointment, and I brought a cupcake in the car. When we got to the children’s hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, I began to worry. It wasn’t my normal pediatrician just a few minutes from our home in a Hartford suburb. Why were we there?
In the doctor’s office, a nice man who looked to be about my father’s age asked me all kinds of odd questions. “Do you sneak into the kitchen at night for snacks? How much do you eat in a day?”
I didn’t understand what was going on until later that week, when my dad took me to another office for a blood test. My parents were worried I had something wrong with my thyroid or pituitary gland that was making me overweight. Since my mother had hyperthyroidism — the kind of problem that makes you too skinny — they assumed the endocrine work-up would show that something was wrong, and that my being in the 90th percentile for weight and 10th percentile for height had nothing to do with my own food intake.
They were wrong. The testing showed that my body was, well, perfectly healthy. Except for the fact that I was obese, according to the problematic Body Mass Index (BMI) scale, and I would soon become pre-diabetic if I didn’t do something about it.
And so began 12 years of dieting, gaining weight, losing weight, worrying about my weight, overcompensating with my boisterous personality, making jokes about being fat, trying the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, quitting the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, loving myself, and hating myself.
The first diet began soon after my appointment with the new doctor at the children’s hospital. I don’t remember how the food I ate changed, except for the fact that when I hung out with my best friend Jenny, her mom started to make us turkey roll-ups in lieu of mac and cheese. I lost two pounds and shared the news with my lunch table. “We’re so proud of you,” said one boy, who would flirt with me in a bar 15 years later, during Thanksgiving break, after I’d lost 50 pounds.
Eventually, I did lose the weight. I could say that it took more than a decade of trying, but that would be a lie. I had never really tried because I never really wanted to lose weight.
I didn’t care because I loved food, and I hated exercise. I had been a lacrosse goalie for years only after I’d asked the coach to let me try goalie in an effort to avoid sprints.
I still had boyfriends. One of those boyfriends had also struggled with his weight. One afternoon in high school, we watched “Juno” in my living room while eating pasta, and I told him I loved him. My weight didn’t matter, and I continued avoiding exercise and eating way beyond the point of fullness, every single day.
Finally, during winter break of my freshman year of college, something snapped.
My older brother Rob was driving me from our dad’s to our mom’s house, an hour apart.
“Do you think you’re healthy?” he asked.
Offended, insulted, appalled, disgusted, horrified, I replied: “Yes, what are you talking about?”
Rob told me he was worried about my health. I had recently hit a new high weight, and during that first semester, I kept having to buy new clothes every month. My eating habits had gotten out of control. One night, my roommate had gone out but left some rainbow cookies in our mini fridge. I remember the physical pain I felt of trying to stop myself from eating the entire box.
Still, I told Rob everything was fine. “Boys still want to make out with me, I think I’m beautiful, and I think my body is proportional.” At that moment, we pulled up to our mom’s house, and the conversation ended.
But my big brothers, Rob and Mike, were (and are) my heroes. While my mom’s concerns about my weight annoyed me, my brothers’ actually made me upset. Something about Rob’s comments stuck with me. Was I really happy with my body, or was it all a mask?
That question stayed in my mind when I returned to Binghamton weeks later. My friend Ilana, who was in my a capella group, had told me about her own weight loss experience. She’d gone from eating “kit-kat salads” — a bowl of crushed up kit-kats — to having a healthy lifestyle. I asked how she’d done it.
Maybe I could give healthy eating and exercise a try, I thought.
Once it finally hit me that I wanted to lose the weight for me — for the right reasons — it almost fell off my body.
It was probably the tenth time in my life that I said to myself (and my family and friends) that I would lose the weight. But it was the first time in my life that I actually believed it.
I traded cereal for eggs and bread for rice cakes. I ate massive salads with all the vegetables I could find. I learned to eat a healthy diet. I indulged on birthdays and big events, but stuck to my meal plan. I exercised six days a week and grew muscles I’d never seen before. I started to see my cheekbones for the first time in my life.
Within a year, I’d lost 50 pounds. On my 5’2 frame, it transformed my appearance. But learning how to take care of myself was the bigger accomplishment. I didn’t have panic attacks when I tried to stop myself from eating my roommate’s cookies. I stopped letting food run my life. I stopped rationalizing every choice.
I started actually living.
The hard part came after, when I had to keep up those habits. But I stuck with it, and I’ve been able to keep the weight off in the five years since.
Losing weight shouldn’t pit me against the body positivity movement.
Ever since I lost the weight, it’s been something I’ve felt proud of. Because it’s hard. It’s part of why many dieters who initially lose weight end up gaining it back.
But what bothers me most of all is feeling like I’m the enemy of the body positivity movement just because I decided to change my body. I know I’m not alone in this. As The New York Times wrote on Thursday, “the tension among fat-shamers and fat-accepters can be wrenching for the swath of people who are overweight and trying to figure out whether they need to strive for self-acceptance or start another diet.”
That tension was never clearer than when Adele posted her birthday Instagram on Wednesday. While many people (celebrities included) quickly commented on her new look — Adele glow-up memes have been circulating on Twitter — others were insulted by the discourse. One writer said that celebrating Adele’s body “tells your fat friends you think their bodies are a problem to be solved.”
—Audra Williams (@audrawilliams) December 24, 2019
I understand why the body positive movement discourages weight loss. Thanks to the diet-industrial complex, the idea that thin is always best has wormed its way into America’s collective psyche. At least 30 million people in the US suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. And a fixation on weight and appearance is often used as a tool to control women’s bodies, whether they’re famous or not.
But my weight loss was healthy. I didn’t have an eating disorder; I didn’t over-exercise. I just learned how to live a lifestyle that was healthiest for me, and with that, I lost weight. Just as I would never judge or fault someone for their own choices, I expect others to do the same with mine.
I love and accept my body. It shouldn’t make me less body-positive just because I took efforts to change it.
For me, it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. It’s worth it for the comfort that I’m doing what’s in my power to stay physically healthy, especially during a pandemic, when nothing feels in our control. It’s worth it for the future I’ll give to my children. It’s worth it for the way I feel when I walk, dress, shower, look at myself in the mirror. I am the person I grew up wishing I could become.