My Life as a (Sort of) Gainer: Are Gainer Blogs Unhealthy, or About Body Image?
Recently someone sent me a link to an article about "gainer blogs" -- blogs by people who purposely try to gain weight. I find gainer blogs fascinating, because I spent the better part of ten years trying to gain weight and it was one of the hardest things that I've done.
Six or seven years ago, if I had known about gainer blogs, I would have flocked to them as I looked for information on how to gain weight. I found lots of medical information out there but not a lot of personal stuff, and I really needed the personal stories. You see, for a time when I was 21, I weighed just 104 pounds. On my 5'5" frame that didn't just make me thin, that made me scary thin. That made me 20 pounds lighter than when I had graduated high school three years before. I had to buy a new pair of pants, because all my other clothes were falling off me. The jeans I bought were a size 24. Today I wouldn't be able to get them past my knees, and for that, I am grateful.
To answer the usual questions: No, I didn't have anorexia. I didn't have bulimia. I didn't count calories. I didn't really exercise aside from walking to class and a once-a-month squash game with one of my professors (during which he kicked my ass quite soundly). So why did I weigh so little? In a word, stress. When I am stressed I don't eat, and college was one extended period of stress for me.
Ninety percent of that stress was about money. There never was enough money, or at least that's what it felt like. When I hit 104 pounds, I had more stress in my life than I knew what to do with. In the course of a month, I was homeless (thankfully a friend let me sleep on her floor for the month), broke (there was a mistake made with my student loans), sick (two different kinds of ear infection and a sinus infection at the same time), one of my cousins committed suicide (my "little" cousin), and I was suddenly single after breaking up with a long-distance boyfriend of two years when he didn't understand that I couldn't call him every day seeing as I was, you know, homeless (idiot).
Food quickly became about money -- money that I didn't have. Not that it really mattered, as stress played havoc with my digestive system, and each time I ate, I'd find myself running to the bathroom to be, as one my friends puts it, violently ill. The pounds dropped off.
It took me a couple of months to gain back the first 10 pounds, but longer before it was stable. I'd go up and down four pounds in a week, easily. It was close to a year before I considered myself stable and threw those skinny jeans away, a truly happy day. But all the stress didn't go away, and neither did the relationship between food and money. I remember times I stared at my well-stocked pantry, terrified to eat the food in it. I didn't have the money to buy more food. It would take me another seven years before I got to a point where my BMI did not list me as "underweight." I've managed to keep most of that weight on -- and carry enough on me now that when stress strikes me and I do lose a few pounds, I've got some buffer.
I know that some of you think that the instant weight loss that occurs when I'm stressed might be fantastic. I invite you into a scene of a 22-year-old me walking down a busy street, suddenly overcome with the feeling that I was going to pass out. Or the scene last month at the nursing home when I flew home to sit vigil with my grandmother. I couldn't eat without getting sick, and I sat by my grandmother hoping that no one else could see how badly I was shaking. I lost five pounds in almost as many days. In our society, people would applaud me and tell me that if I could market that diet, I'd be a millionaire. I looked at my hands and legs shaking and mostly wanted to cry, wishing that I could make it stop.
I didn't tell people that I was trying to gain weight all those years, at least not after the first few times. When people found out I was trying to gain weight, they would tell me I looked fine. Other women told me that they wanted my body. I was asked why on earth I wanted to gain weight. Thin is healthy; I was thin, and therefore I must be healthy and fit, because thin people are fit.
I sometimes wondered if people somehow felt threatened by my statement. We get messages all the time that being thinner will make us happier. If I was thinner and I wasn't happier and my life wasn't better, then maybe the message was wrong. If the message was wrong, what did that mean for them? No, no. That must not be contemplated. My wanting to gain weight must be dismissed as quickly as possible. I stopped telling people, and only those closest to me really knew. I can only imagine what the response would have been if at the time I'd had a gainer blog.
But I don't really have to imagine, because the gainers are out their blogging their stories. Based on my own experiences, it does not surprise me that gainers, who are trying to gain more weight than the 25 pounds I've gained, are met with lectures about their health -- or even revulsion. Thin is good and fat is bad, right? After being mentioned in the New York Times article "Can Girls Be Overweight and Not Be Overwrought, gainer blogger Peter of gitbigger.com closed comments on his blog, because so many people tried to tell him what he was doing was wrong.
While I do appreciate the opinions expressed on my blog throughout the day today, unfortunately I had to delete them (and disable commenting for a while). I know people who followed that link are compelled to try and talk some sense into me, but forgive me if I don't feel like being patronized. I try to give the impression that I'm not some yokel feasting on sticks of butter, so please don't assume I am.
Peter said that the New York Times writer didn't get what gainer blogs are about, that they didn't even try. One of the things that the author of that article stated is that gainer blogs are part of the fat acceptance movement. Not all gainer bloggers agree with that. DeeLeigh states difference between the gaining community and the fat acceptance community as she's seen it on Big Fat Blog:
Fat acceptance is not about trying to change your body. It's about taking joy in the body you already have. Fat acceptance isn't a rebellion against "The Biggest Loser." The movement has been around for forty years, and it's about social justice and about valuing human diversity. Fat acceptance is not about trying to be fat. It's about not hating our already fat bodies, and about fighting anti-fat stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
Everyone has individual reasons for wanting to gain weight. It's no different from people having different reasons to lose weight. If you take a basic view of things, there's not a lot of difference between blogs in which people talk of gaining weight and those that talk about losing it. They each talk about weight, their relationship with food and exercise and their ideal bodies. They talk about body image and society. Our society happens to value one side's view more than the other and paints the other side as shocking or freakish.
Peter has a background category on his blog, and I've read back through it for his personal back story. This is an excerpt from a post called "I love fat" that is one part of the reason why he's gaining weight.
But nothing is more satisfying and uplifting than being what you are so attracted to. That is why I am doing what I am doing. I am not yet much of a gainer, as I still don't eat nearly as much as I should, but I know that he's in there. I am a pig at heart. A man who would love nothing more than spend the rest of his life devoted to growing and crafting his body into what he considers to be the perfect man.
Peter is as conscious of what he is doing to his body as anyone on a weight loss program. So is Amy, who blogs at Amy's world.
350 pounds have gone by and I've dealt with my fair share of drawbacks, health concerns, relationship issues...if the pros didn't outweigh the cons for me, I wouldn't be doing it. And the reality is that over the years I've become all too acutely aware of what I'm buying into. Blog comments are encouraged from whatever perspective, but ultimately I'm the one who really lives my life and has (believe me) much bigger variables than that contributing to the decisions I make.
In our society, thinness is considered ideal. Thin is good, fat is bad. Thin is a compliment, fat is hurled as an insult. What the gaining community is doing by gaining weight in a public forum is a radical act. It takes courage to push back against these societal norms. People try to shame them and sensationalize them. The media says we should be shocked by them. You may not agree with them or what they are doing to their bodies; it may not be normal to you. By gaining weight, they are doing exactly what society tells us we shouldn't do. But they are not freaks. They are people trying to become their ideal selves.
Frances is the woman behind Corpulent, a self-described Australian fat blog. She strives to create a place for positive portrayals of large women. After the Daily Mail's article on Donna Simpson she reflected on the media's coverage of fat people.
The media’s portrayal of fat people forever feels like one step forward, two steps back. Just when it seemed like progress was being made – with plus size fashion and health at every size getting more and more attention - fat people are objectified as mentally ill sexual freaks that market their bodies to perverts. Spectacular.
The gainers in the articles like the ones the Daily Mail, ABC News, Globe and Mail, and Sydney Morning Herald try to sensationalize aren't doing it necessarily for the same reason I did. I gained weight because, for my health, I had to. I didn't have to gain as much as many of these people strive to. My life as a gainer was easier than theirs. My ideal body was still within the limits of what society considered normal. No one needed to know and no one really noticed, except to say that I looked good. (People often asked me if I lost weight when I had gained it.) Those that did notice my weight gain pointedly told me how much better I looked and how concerned they were about it when I was at my thinnest.
I know that I'm happier and healthier with these additional pounds on my body. I no longer worry that I'm going to pass out walking down the street. If I want to exercise, I have the energy for it (most days anyway). I don't tire as easily. I feel stronger. I feel sharper. I now weigh the most I ever have in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.