The Craigslist ad was simple:
“Two females in search of approximately 25 women to take part in a photography project that will culminate in a published book. Ideally, we would like to work with women of all ages, backgrounds and sizes. Fully clothed, all very tastefully done, but you must be willing to reveal your weight. The guiding force behind our project is to de-stigmatize that number that is our weight.”
We didn’t know what to expect, but we hoped that we would get responses. It was such a hard thing to predict, though – we were asking women we didn’t know yet to expose themselves in a way that they were not used to. Our competition running in the “gigs” section was an ad looking for “models that put out.” We thought we stood a slightly better chance than that guy.
But at the outset, at least, our aim was similar to his in that we were looking for female participants as a means to an end – to have them lend their time and their beauty, in order to promote a larger story. This story was about weight as a private issue that promotes a cycle of shame in our lives, leaving us vulnerable in a culture, which seeks to profit from our insecurities. One that is easily internalized because we know nothing of each other’s weight, even those closest to us.
And what we found, through each woman who answered the ad, is that there was so much more to the story than we’d ever considered. We had only been hoping that enough women would be interested in the project in order to see it through; we hadn’t considered how each of the models who came to our photo sessions would have her own deep and compelling reason for joining in.
So little universe by little universe, that “larger story” unfolded all by itself; beyond anything we had considered, and much larger than each individual model. It was a story that revealed deep regret over an anxiety surrounding our weight no matter what the scale read. A collective story. One that sprang easily from spending our whole lives not being able to talk about this stuff, wondering why no one else was talking about it either, and letting ourselves feel bad about it. And all alone in the bad.
And so, hands trembling, they showed up. Their eagerness to tear down the walls won over whatever inhibition they had. Their interest in the book’s purpose outweighing their apprehension about what kind of yahoos might be running the shoot. And here were their top five reasons why:
1. You’ve lived long enough to see a profound change in the dieting culture.
From a time when diets were something reserved for movie stars (and fashion was targeted to wealthy women of all sizes), to a time when the diet industry begins to target girls as young as six years old, and you’re happy to be able to do something just to stop the madness, already.
2. You’re weary of all the mixed messages that the media telegraphs out about how you should feel about your body.
If you pick up another magazine that has the back to back articles, “How to lose two dress sizes in four weeks” and “Love the body you have,” you are gonna scream.
3. You are proud of your body.
You look amazing. You are the picture of health. You are so strong, you could practically run a marathon. But even after your doctor gushes about your perfect cholesterol levels and blood pressure, he advises you to drop some of the weight. Even though you would have to sacrifice your good health to do so, as your body size is coded in your genes.
4. You feel awkward in your body.
You feel beautiful on the inside, but you feel that your outward appearance does not measure up, and as a result, you are depressed. You may have even been through eating disorders and self-injury on your path to acceptance.
5. You have daughters.
Maybe one, maybe seven. And you fear for them, growing up in this culture; that they will be expected to be beautiful, and shown impossible standards of what that beauty is supposed to look like. And hate themselves for not looking that way.
6. You are skinny.
Your weight is not much different than that of the Photoshopped models in the size zero jeans. You should be on top of the world, right? Saying something like, “Woo hooo! The world is awesome from up here, bitches!” But you don’t, because you can’t. Because your world looks pretty much like everyone else’s world, and to boot, people are always telling you to eat a sandwich.
So they said it loud, and said it proud. And we published it for the world to see.
How much do you weigh? Open that secret up!
Erin S. Nieto is a former instructor of Academic Writing and English as a Second Language at the University of Illinois. She lives in Urbana, IL with her husband and two sons, and just published her first book, “How Much Do You Weigh?” available at Amazon.com. She also writes a regular column at Chambanamoms.com and tends her own blog over at cheapisexpensive.com. This morning her scale read 129 pounds.