Karl Marx famously called religion "the opium of the people" because it kept the masses docile, afraid, and controllable. Nowadays, we have a new opium: obsessing over fat.
What keeps people (especially women) controllable and afraid today is believing our bodies aren't good enough — that we have too much body fat, or too little, or the wrong kind.
Too much fat? You need to "be careful." Too little fat? "Eat a cheeseburger." Fat in the "wrong" places? "Dress for your body type." The message comes from family, doctors, co-workers, cat-callers, acquaintances, strangers, and the media, among others.
We're wired to crave acceptance, and since obsessing over fat is so "normal," we bond over it with others. We talk guiltily about our diets. We assign moral value to food, as if caloric intake determines our character.
We bash our bodies or give excuses for them. We size up the health and worth of strangers based on their fat. In fact, refusing to participate in body fat–based conversations makes people uncomfortable.
Because our obsession with fat isn't just in our own heads; it's culturally sanctioned and socially supported. Our culture feels entitled to judge bodies 24/7.
So we feel powerless, insecure, and eager to spend anything for a quick "solution." Making people feel inadequate is a brilliant way to get their attention and money, and we've made diet pills and workout plans our modern-day acts of reparation.
But because the "perfect body" is an ever-fluctuating goal, there is always more work to be done.
Unchecked, we can spend endless time worshipping at the altar of the "perfect body," and endless energy punishing ourselves for not living up to it. Which leaves us without time or energy to spend on passion, adventure, pleasure, growth, service, or love.
How much time and energy have you spent focused on your own body fat? How much time on the body fat of other people? Imagine what would happen if you had put that same time and energy toward something more important.
You could have learned to salsa. Or planned and gone on a trip around the world. Or asked out that cute coffee guy and fallen in love. Or recorded an album. Or started a business.
Stop giving fat the opiate-esque power to keep you from being fully you. Don't waste your entire life on a meaningless and impossible status symbol — that's like spending your life in pursuit of a unicorn, and refusing to be happy until you find one.
Let's reclaim our power. Let's stop being quiet and afraid. Let's refuse to let fat determine our value and keep us from really living. Let's not allow worries about fat to ruin our days, weeks, or decades.
Instead, find what lights you up, gives you purpose, and makes you happy. Replace talk of fat with talk of those things. Compliment your friends on those things. Read about those things. Give your time, energy, money, and power to those things.
You have been taught to obsess over fat, and it will take practice and hard work to redirect your time and attention. It will take courage and resilience to forgo the expected bonding rituals of putting yourself down. But the rebellion starts with you.
This essay was originally published in full on JessiKneeland.com.