Feminism | Posted by Jessie W on 12/7/2010

Veganism, Dieting and Why I Felt Like I Had to Change

My sophomore year of high school, thinking I’d be healthier, skinnier, and for humane reasons, my parents coerced me into becoming vegan. I hardly ate – because of my dislike of beans and other vegan staple foods, I had basically the same food for every meal – and despite constantly exercising, my metabolism slowed and I gained twenty pounds over a five month period. Both of my parents’ cholesterol dropped by one hundred points and they were losing weight, so why wasn’t I? My doctor told me I was still growing, not getting necessary nutrients, and eating too little, therefore I had to return to eating meat and oil (which we were also avoiding).

In a way, I felt like a failure, but I decided to focus my energy on smaller goals, like writing down every meal I ate and exercising at least four times per week to accomplish my greater objective: to become healthier. I exercised harder and longer and I met with a nutritionist. The weight came off exceedingly slowly and my mom convinced me to try Weight Watchers with her. My cheeks burned at every weigh-in—I was the only person there under the age of thirty, but it was my goal to lose weight and to live a healthy lifestyle. I felt pathetic and embarrassed that I couldn’t lose weight on my own. It was too difficult to go to weigh-ins when school started; I stopped Weight Watchers but continued working out. Eventually, my weight and lifestyle improved.

In the end, what I realized is that food is an intrinsic part of our culture. It’s both a bonding experience when spending time with friends, family, or strangers and can either bring out love and desire or hatred and frustration. It’s not the meal that one eats that makes the food, its how one feels and interprets the food. Due to my own experience I interpreted veganism as a lifetime full of food I hated rather than a lifestyle that promotes humane eating habits and the consumption of nutritious vegetables.

The bigger question here, though, is why do we constantly feel the need to change ourselves? Sure I was intent on fulfilling my goals, but what exactly does it mean that my insecurities determine my life and actions more than my accomplishments? Our beliefs and our interactions with the outside world often define who we are, but if they consistently change, what exactly does it say about our society and identities?

My own answer is surprisingly obvious; we’re always changing because the world is changing. The idea of the survival of the fittest comes into play. In order to survive we must regularly adapt to what nature, or society, throws our way. I adapted because I’d live longer if I were healthier, I thought I’d feel better if I lost weight, and my family and friends would be proud and notice my new and improved body. I suppose I thought more of the benefits rather than the consequences and disadvantages because I consistently thought of my looks rather than the mental toll this “lifestyle change” would take. I was depressed and I was ashamed of my failure, so I attempted to hide it. I can’t change the past and, besides, one can’t learn without mistakes in their life.

To me, it appears that women in particular are expected to change more than men. As women gained more rights throughout history, our roles in society have changed. Women’s appearances have always been of great importance (whether that’s right or not), but now women have more and more physical standards that they’re expected to live up to.

I’d like to hear your answers. Why do you think we feel the need to change and do you think there’s even more emphasis on women to change?

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  • nomes @ at 11:39 am, December 7th, 2010

    You’re right, we live in a constant state of flux, and this is a good thing. We learn from experience and use those experiences to change ourselves for the better.

    Eating meat and cruelty to animals, however, is not only and ethical, environmental and health issue, it is also a feminist one.

    Please read the Sexual Politics of Meat.

    http://www.caroljadams.com/spom.html

  • Nano Muse @ at 3:44 pm, December 7th, 2010

    I think men have a large emphasis on changing their body, too – just for different reasons. For women, they prove their femininity by reaffirming their beauty. For men, they prove their masculinity by reaffirming their strength. Boys with security issues can resort to drastic means (i.e. unhealthy and crazy workout regimes and steroids) just to bulk up on muscle, especially guys in athletics. Both types of changes are rooted in a general insecurity – but because the two types of security are rooted in different origins (beauty for girls, strength for boys), people never make the connection between the two.

    As for food and culture – you’re right. Food is the most universal form of entertainment around the world. In any given celebration, there is a staple food that the culture surrounding it will associate with it (i.e. turkeys on Thanksgiving in America), and when people plan a celebration of any kind, food/catering is one of the first things considered. Any culture around the world, even if, for the celebration’s reasoning, the idea is “no food for [insert (usually religious) purpose here]“, it’s still one of the first things thought about.

    Because food is the staple of the human race, it adapts to fit society (i.e. a traditional Thanksgiving meal for a single middle-class family today would have been dinner for a whole middle-class neighborhood a century or two ago – the change came about as a reflection of American wealth).

    This applies to humans and their relationship to food, as well – a few centuries ago, obesity equated beauty in the Western world because only the rich would have enough food to be obese, thus upping their appeal. This is still present in some third world countries where food is scarce, and there are studies seeing incredibly similar forms of psychology and depression in women going nuts to make themselves skinny in the Western world and the ones going nuts to make themselves fat in these third world cultures (I know some famous celebrity here who was once anorexic was involved in one of these studies, somehow…). Today, because most in the West easily have enough food to be obese without wealth, the new standard is for something else not everyone can achieve, aka skinny – it takes time and effort in our culture to remain skinny, and so it is the new beauty standard. What we consider beautiful today would have been hideous in our very same culture a few centuries ago. (And yet would still be beautiful in even earlier times like the peek of the Roman civilization, when, again, food was abundant). Our definitions of beauty come largely from our relation to food. Second is resources (i.e. blatant, obvious make-up was once beautiful because make-up of any kind was hard to come by…today, multiple forms are available everywhere [even for kids!], so now the standard is natural-looking beauty where make-up isn’t obvious).

    …long comment is uber long. Sorry. \o/

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 6:53 pm, December 8th, 2010

    I’m an Orthodox Jew and I only eat kosher. Judaism in general has a lot of specific rules and traditions regarding food (the joke is that every Jewish holiday’s summary is “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat”).

    Another concept in Judaism is that we always need to be evolving and changing to reach a higher spiritual level, and I think this can be applied to your article too – we all feel the need to change because we want to have a goal, we want to attain something in life, that we can say we’ve gotten somewhere.

    I think women are usually expected to change in society because this is predominantly still a man’s world, and women are expected to change to conform to that world. We have to fight this double standard, since it really sucks.

  • Tessa @ at 6:29 am, December 9th, 2010

    I’ve always been a vegetarian, and I love it. People are constantly asking me if it’s because of my religion (I’m Hindu). It’s annoying that when I tell people I’m vegetarian, they automatically assume it’s because I’m Indian! No, it’s by choice! I’ve been vegetarian since I was six because I couldn’t stand the thought of eating an animal.

    Anyway, I think it’s a lifestyle choice that’s not for everyone. For example, I could never be a vegan. I love milk and chocolate too much! As long as you’re healthy and are at your own ideal weight, then you’re fine :)

  • Kiki @ at 7:53 am, December 9th, 2010

    Weird. For me it was the opposite – when I was younger my Mom tried to get me to do weight watchers with her and I felt suffocated, hating it. On my own, I became a vegan 2 years ago, and love it.

    But I guess that wasn’t your actual question, haha.

  • David @ at 1:15 am, January 8th, 2011

    I found this an interesting article, -there is a lot to balance in today’s world. I am mostly vegetarian but eat about four oz of meat a day; compromise is one of my favorite words.

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