Galvan: Dieting not a tool of patriarchy

I am a woman, and I am on a diet. I am one of those “seven out of 10” women who knows how many calories she’s eating, one of those “seven out of 10” that Claire Gordon’s recent column (“For women, perfection by deprivation” 10/1) seems to criticize. I do not watch what I eat in the interest of pleasing others with my appearance, though I appreciate aesthetics in both men and women and do not discount the value of looking good. Instead, I pour over nutrition facts for — believe it or not — my own nutrition. I know the scoop of eggs at brunch will pack over 500 mg of cholesterol, and I know that if I go running, I’ll look forward to a heavier dinner. I stay away from sodas and juices that have too much sugar. I’ve started replacing a meal or two a day with salads.

But enough with my own routines.

Obesity rates in the United States — the highest in industrialized countries — are a sign not only of disordered (or perhaps emotional) eating, but also of ignorance. In considering the varieties of disordered eating in the Unites States as a whole, we cannot limit our consideration to Yale perfectionists, some of whom may be anorexic. What seems like the other end of the spectrum affects far more people in the United States, in all age groups and both sexes.

Most “normal” Americans consume calorie-dense foods several times a day, and their children fall prey to unhealthy habits based on what they observe. Most Americans do not understand the difference between good and bad choices, so they have no means to make better ones. Sexism, then, is not the root of all health issues, and anorexia is not the most pressing issue by far.

While maintaining a healthy weight – let’s say a BMI of around 19 to 25 — does not mean looking like an emaciated Hollywood star, falling into the upper range of that scale when we’re still young puts us at risks we should actually be afraid of: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Of the six leading causes of death in the United States these four are primarily attributed to obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Living as an obese person seems just as difficult and discouraging as living as a socially pressured woman. Having high cholesterol and high blood pressure do not necessarily imply obesity. Not all healthy eaters are skinny (take me, for example), and people who work out are technically healthy but have higher BMI counts because muscle is heavier than fat. What we eat directly governs our quality of life, but our reasons for eating healthily or poorly determine how happy we are about the choices we make.

We may choose to eat brownies at every meal, but complications from diabetes compensate for gluttonous indulgences enjoyed earlier in life. Or we may choose to starve ourselves to look beautiful, only to suffer from osteoporosis at age 40. The third option seems to be the best: moderation.

While we harp over our pet subjects — sexism, racism, religious intolerance — the fact remains that men and women of every race and creed ultimately desire a stable, happy life that ends only after they see their grandkids off to a relatively successful start. Living that long, fulfilled life comes not from fretting over that extra piece of bread you ate at lunch or from bingeing on Big Macs — it comes from living a moderate life with the occasional splurge and from accepting our imperfections as they come.

Like Claire Gordon, I attended a private, all-girls school; in fact, I attended the same Catholic girls’ school for 13 years. I feel no need to bemoan the oppression of women because, frankly, sexual tension will always exist between men and women, and I’m fine with the pace of social progress as it stands.

Should we really retrogress into an age where women satisfy themselves with being the happy housewife, a time when women strove only to fulfill the cookie-cutter achievements that were expected of them? Were they even as happy with themselves — the lives they led, not just their bodies — as we believe, or were humans always trying to keep up with the Joneses? In the end, both men and women will have to don clean-cut suits or fancy dresses in the interest of living up to others’ expectations. Even in a society consisting solely of women, I still had to wash my hair and brush my teeth. Shaving — a practice feminists claim is a product of a male-dominated society — was only marginally optional.

Humankind will never really be content if it always strives toward a higher perfection. No society will ever achieve true equality, and we will all continue to act based on our relationships with others, men and women alike. Obesity, ultimately, is a bigger threat to society and happiness than perfectionism; it affects more people and causes more complex health problems.

Of course, we should be watching what we eat. Once in a while, though, we ought to seize the day, eat a brownie and not feel guilty about it.

Eva Galvan is a sophomore in Branford College. She is a staff photographer for the News.

Comments

  • Ruth Hanson

    Good article Eva. I'm proud to have been your 4th grade teacher. I too am one of those "not so skinny" women who try to eat healthily. Unfortunately, with being only 5 ft. tall and a fairly slow metabolism and having genes from overweight parents, I will never be "skinny". But I am pretty healthy and enjoy life and am NOT a couch potato so I am happy with myself. Sometimes I tell people - Life is too short to be skinny! My father who was a doctor and a bit over weight himself always stressed moderation as well. He unfortunately had extremely bad genes and died of heart disease early - age 62. So - I try to eat healthy most of the time, indulge myself with ice cream now and then, exercise and love my job - I think life is pretty great!!

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