How psych med weight gain taught me to stop objectifying women

After I experienced a lot of psych med weight gain, I realized how I’ve been seeing myself and other women.

I’ve been looking at myself, I’ve been looking at other women, everywhere – on buses, in the streets, restaurants, stores, cinemas, you name it – and thinking that the thinner ones were prettier than me, more advantaged than me, and what’s more – on some level I am ashamed to admit I’ve sunk to – looking at the women bigger than me, and secretly congratulatiing myself and stroking my ego because I had a smaller body! But that was before all the psych med weight gain.

Corinna West by the Objectionable Material sign at the metal recycling place on the Missouri River. Both Corinna and Hannah had a lot of psych med weight gain.

Corinna West by the Objectionable Material sign at the metal recycling place on the Missouri River. Both Corinna and Hannah had a lot of psych med weight gain.

Only in the past few months have I recognized the complete insanity of this habit. Why does weight affect my women’s self-image so much?

My psych med weight gain made me stop looking at people as objects:

First I realized that I was only looking at women’s bodies, not men’s.  Why don’t I look at how big they are?  Why don’t I look at their breasts? I tried to look at men for a while, the way I was looking at women.  But it felt strange.  It felt like a violation, actually.  And suddenly I understood exactly what I was doing.

I was objectifying women.

I was looking at them as objects. I was looking at their surface.  I was looking purely at their bodies. I would make a comparison, then quickly move on.

“She’s so thin.”  Gosh, how jealous I’d feel.

“Oh, look at that fat one.  She’s bigger than me, right?”

“Oh, is she my size?  Is that how big I really am?”

It was a terrible, insidious, judgmental process, and I was doing it consistently through the day.  Maybe not always on the level of conscious awareness, maybe not always with words in my head, but it was happening. It was automatic, yet invisible to me.  Like a fish not realizing it was in water.

When I started thinking about it more critically, I realized that I’d been making these comparisons because clearly there was a psychological payoff.  When I found someone “fatter” than me, there was a satisfying sense of schauedenfraude that almost counterbalanced the self-hatred and sense of inferiority that arose when I compared myself to a thin woman.

And so it went, this repetitive, day-by-day, moment-by-moment criticism and distancing from other women. And it wasn’t anything new.  It didn’t start with the psych med weight gain.

Do we just look at the outer surface at what makes a person beautiful? And why is psych med weight gain ignored when it's so important?

Do we just look at the outer surface at what makes a person beautiful? And why is psych med weight gain ignored when it’s so important?

When I was a “normal” weight and thinner, I was able to carry on my comparisons mostly feeling proud of how I looked, and superior, in some twisted way, to my larger sisters.  I believe this attitude, although unspoken, came across and poisoned several potentially wonderful relationships.

Yet I could also keep it in the back of my head, at that time.  I was “okay” in the weight department.  I was passable.  It wasn’t something I needed to obsess about. I didn’t walk by buildings and check out how fat I was in the glass. I didn’t cringe when trying on clothes at a store. As painful as it has been getting heavier and having all this psych med weight gain, it has finally forced me to come face to face with my own prejudicial attitudes.

The struggles caused by psych med weight gain:

I have had to struggle immensely with women’s self-image issues.  I’ve had to deal with feeling “unacceptably” heavy.  I’ve had to deal with not being able to solve the problem just by eating better or exercising.  I’ve felt unattractive.  Invisible.  Like someone could judge me for being the size I am. The psych med weight gain was a huge blow to my self-esteem.

I’ve been to stores where I hated myself in every piece of clothing. I’ve learned to dress in a way that downplays my size. I’ve had to accept that I will look fat in a bathing suit, no matter what.  I am chubby and lumpy in my yoga clothes, and that’s just how I come.

I’ve recognized attitudes in myself that say that heavier people are somehow lacking on a personal level, that fat woman are passive, lazy, or even “cows”.  That somehow thin women have all the charisma and social power, while fat women are invisible.

And in that painful recognition, in the judgment turned on myself, in the despair at ever being an  “acceptable” weight again after this psych med weight gain, I reached a point where I said, “Holy crap, this is crazy.”

Think about it.  There are billions of women in this world.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  There will always be someone smaller than you and someone larger than you.  Everywhere you go, you have endless material for comparisons.  It’ll never stop, unless you realize how crazy it is to be caught up in the cycle of obsessive thoughts.

Business women at the Global Women's Summit on entrepreneurship in Kansas City. Women owned businesses outperform men owned businesses at every size except the largest.

Business women at the Global Women’s Summit on entrepreneurship in Kansas City. Women owned businesses outperform men owned businesses at every size except the largest.

But I didn’t see how truly wrong the comparisons were until that day I tried to look at men’s bodies. It was in that moment when I couldn’t do it, when I sensed I was violating them, that I realized just how grievous a harm I’d been doing to women – myself included. And that was how I realized that the psych med weight gain has a silver lining to all the clouds it brought into my life.

Why are women judged by weight and not men?

Every time you look at a woman and measure and weigh and assess her physique in isolation, you are examining her like a piece of meat.  Even though it’s just in your head, you are inviting yourself to poke and prod at her body, look through her clothes like airport security scanners.

Men are not subject to this scrutiny.

They are judged for what they say and do.  They are individuals.  They are presumed to have competence even if they’re carrying extra weight. How many times have you seen a movie where the male star was chubby but clever and lovable, while his female co-star was tall, thin, and the popular accepted notion of beautiful? It happens so often that it’s become a cliche. Ken Braiterman loves to say, “People listen to a man and if they like what he says, then they decide like the way he looks. But people look at a woman, and if they like the way she looks, they decide they like what she has to say.”

The men are the personalities.  The women are their one-night stands, strippers, whores, femmes fatale, girlfriends and mothers.  Or if women are bigger, they are “character actresses”.  They are types, or even stereotypes, like the black “Mammy” slave.

From Hollywood, from the thin TV anchors, from the models, we learn that the only women who are true center-stage stars are the thin ones.  So the script gets embedded inside of us: if you want to be somebody, be as thin as possible. Never mind that Hollywood and the modeling industry are full of disordered eating, or that some countries have even started banning ultra-skinny models. Or that any print images have been photoshopped beyond all reality.

We buy the garbage magazines at the checkout and absorb their visual messages telling us how we’re supposed to look.  And don’t question it.  And are poisoned by it, but never discuss the matter.

Slowly, slowly, I’ve reined in my bad habit.  Every time I start looking at a woman to judge her body shape, I say, “You’re objectifying her,” or I even reflect on how hurt I feel in that moment, and that I am a person, not a body, and so is she.  And as painful as it can be to give up the tiny rewards that come from such comparisons, being all this psych med weight gain reminds me that someone has to lose that game.

Janet Romero from Step by Step, Inc. in Pennsylvania referees their staff Olympic day team building. The agency works to minimize psych med weight gain.

Janet Romero from Step by Step, Inc. in Pennsylvania referees their staff Olympic day team building. The agency works to minimize psych med weight gain.

If I wasn’t having all this psych med weight gain, and I was still in the “healthy” BMI range, I may have never reached this moment.  I may have persisted in my hollow self-congratulations for something I didn’t really need to work my ass off to earn.  I certainly never would have questioned the idea that measuring a person by their outside appearance is unfair, unkind, and damaging.

How I change my thoughts when I start objectifying people now:

Whenever I look at other women now, I tell myself not to look too hard.  I tell myself that they deserve privacy, that I should not penetrate their space with my judgmental gaze.  I remind myself that they, like me, have thoughts, goals, dreams, passions, minds of their own.  They are individuals who I haven’t yet truly met.  They are undiscovered countries.

I also remind myself that I am my own person.  I try to stay based within myself, aware and sensitive to my own feelings and needs.  I try not to leak out of my own boundaries. When I see a woman smaller than me, I no longer stop to look, to be jealous.  I look away, focus back on the area right around me.  I literally don’t go there.  It’s none of my business, and shouldn’t be. I’ve had to do this in order to keep a good self-image despite my psych med weight gain.

It’s not my business to figure out why she’s thin – is it her metabolism, does she do a ton of yoga, is she into healthy food?  Or to say – gosh, she’s lucky, gosh, she’s gorgeous.

Just as it is not my business to do the same to someone heavier.  Or to explain or justify my own mass by telling people it’s due to “factors not under my control” or “psych med weight gain” (depending on how close a friend they are and whether they even know I take psych drugs).

Jill Davis sports here Bike for the Brain jersey in front of the Hmong people's mural in Kansas City, KS. Many of B4B's charity initiatives involve wellness strategies to ameliorate psych med weight gain.

Jill Davis sports here Bike for the Brain jersey in front of the Hmong people’s mural in Kansas City, KS. Many of B4B’s charity initiatives involve wellness strategies to ameliorate psych med weight gain.

I don’t think that women should have to publicly answer for and justify the shape and size of our bodies.  We have enough private agony, enough despair, we don’t need the world to force us to make public confession. We will never achieve equality as a society until we challenge the norms and practices that keep half the population imprisoned in cages of self-contempt.

What’s more, and what’s tragic, is that true sisterhood can’t exist where women are constantly divided and secretly judging one another.  Instead of learning to respect and understand each other, we are constantly distracted by trivial and belittling thoughts.  This dilutes our power.  It interferes with developing a group consciousness of our oppression.  It pits woman against woman in an ugly contest that no one really wins.  It spawns lots of pseudo-feminist movements that might call themselves “girl power”, but which should really be “brand power”.

I didn’t have to face this so directly until I was actually heavy.  So, as much as I hate psychiatry and hate what the drugs have done to me, they have forced me to grow into a person who is less shallow.  Even if I do get off these drugs eventually and get rid of the psych med weight gain, I will try to abide by the values I have learned so painfully.

Has psych med weight gain made you rethink your values?

Wordworks Blog Author: Hannah Cohen

Hannah Cohen writes under a pseudonym to avoid discrimination for her psychiatric history. She lives in Canada, where she was forcibly hospitalized and drugged for years, fighting against being labeled. In 2006, she was locked up so long and drugged so much that the system broke her will and convinced her she was disabled for life. After years on welfare and disability, she started working again and clawing her way back into a full and satisfying life. She is now weaning off psychiatric drugs and rediscovering her own mind and heart.

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