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Dear Anorexia,

Now that I've reached my goal weight, you are trying harder than ever to convince me that I need you in my life. You realize that one of my biggest fears is that I'll be rejected by others; that others won't care for me when I need care. To fuel that fear, you remind me that, in our society, people who are thin are not only considered more attractive but also more deserving of care, and you are right. I've been criticized by medical professionals and treated with disgust when I've been overweight, and I've been lauded (“It's so easy to do this ultrasound on you; you're so tiny!” or “Oh, honey, you're just a wisp of a thing!” said kindly) when I've been scarily thin. I have friends who've been denied jobs purely because of their (over)weight, and I've seen “anti-obesity” policies pass in state legislatures that continue a tradition of shaming people who are “fat.” Just at the supermarket checkout line this afternoon, tabloid headlines like “Get a Flat Belly Sooner!” and “Reality Star Gets Botox and Butt Lift” screamed at me in bold letters from the magazine racks. So yes, Anorexia, you are right; our society values people who are thin, toned, youthful; conversely, it wants to marginalize those who don't fit those criteria, especially the old and overweight.

But here's where you're wrong: society's values aren't based on some sort of “truth” about a person's worth. Just as I've been ill with your false promises of “control,” “beauty,” and “self-worth,” society is poisoned by your cousin Unattainable Beauty, which offers great wealth to those who can convince individuals that their bodies need fixing. I know that a lot of money goes to those who offer beauty--whether cosmetic surgeons, the makers of products like Slim-Fast, or even those supermarket tabloids that “inform” people about “beauty advances.” With so much profit to be made, doesn't it make sense that the standard of beauty should be something that most people cannot meet without altering their bodies in some way? If society's standard of beauty for women most valued those with big hips and breasts, those who fit into size 12-16 clothing (as is typical of most women in the U.S., at least), those who have some “laugh lines” and other wrinkles, then not so many women would feel the need to spend money to change their appearance.

The marketing of beauty isn't the sole reason that our society is as ill as someone in your clutches, but it's an extremely powerful factor AND one that people like me can change. I can choose not to “buy into” those appearance-altering products; I can talk in ways that celebrate my body and the bodies of ALL others; I can write letters to magazines and companies that promote unattainable beauty expressing my intent to boycott them. And every day, I can remind myself that my body is my oldest friend, one that has been through a lot but still allows me to do so much. I will refuse to fight my body.

Sincerely but coldly,
Alyson
 

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