Unless you wear inflatable clothes, you can’t get around the public nature of weight-management. We know people notice when we gain and lose weight because we notice when others gain or lose weight. We praise and revel when someone becomes slimmer, and we whisper and speculate when we notice new girth. You don’t have to be a contestant on The Biggest Loser to feel like your weight struggles are a spectator sport.
But I guarantee your weight hasn’t been as public as Wang Jun’s, a performance artist in China. According to China Hush, for a month earlier this year, Jun lived in a hotel room on a large scale displaying his weight, never leaving it (he set up a small curtained area on the scale to go to the bathroom). He abstained from hearty meals, sustaining himself on soup alone. His goal was to lose 15 jin, or 16.5 pounds, and the whole project was open to visitors and broadcast live over the internet.
Jun wasn’t only after a slimmer waistline or more twitter-followers; there was a deeper meaning to his performance. According to China Hush,
“Wang Jun’s weight loss program is closely linked to the social reality. [He commented,] ‘In this materialistic age, in the era of pleasure-seeking and greed, all things are inflated infinitely, slowly losing the beautiful and clear origins.’ Wang Jun told the reporter that his weight loss is also a metaphor of the current inflated era which should lose some weight.”
Jun thinks that in our era all things are “inflated infinitely,” and he offers his own weight loss as a metaphor for finding lives of greater simplicity and purity. But the more I thought of his performance, the more I saw it speaking to our society’s inflated interest in literal weight-loss itself, trapping and confining us to a life measured solely by a scale.
I imagine Linda Bacon might heartily agree. Bacon, author and nutrition professor at City College of San Francisco, believes we mistakenly conflate weight and health and that they really are two separate issues. She’s started the movement “Health at Every Size,” advocating that we appreciate bodily diversity and define health by mindful eating and joyful activity, not by where the needle settles on the scale. Jun’s performance embodies what many of us feel, that our lives are spent monitoring (and broadcasting) our weight, and Bacon believes this fixation gets in the way of living fully and healthily.
Jun lived a month on a scale because he believed our practices and pursuits have lost their “beautiful and clear origins.” Has weight-loss and -management supplanted the beautiful, clear reasons for health and well-being? If it’s not for an ideal size, then what do we want to be healthy for?
(See here for an article reporting midway through Jun’s performance.)