What does the phrase ‘letting yourself go’ mean to you?
As a child of the 2000s, this phrase brings up images of women’s magazines for me. Those magazines with bright yellow or pink headlines, red circles on celebrities’ bodies and claims that such-and-such had tragically ‘let herself go’ was inescapable for quite a long time as I was growing up and is still the first thing I think of whenever I hear this phrase again.
Even though the traditional women’s magazine is not as popular as it once was, we haven’t left the ideologies or even the language that was used by them behind. Whether the phrase letting yourself go is being shown on a magazine cover, in a TikTok or on in Instagram comments, the meaning continues to be the same:
Someone who has let themselves go is no longer attractive. And that’s a shame.
This is something usually directed at women, so that’s the kind of language I’ll be using throughout this post. Also as a woman myself, that is the experience I can provide but I’m aware that women are not the only kind of people subject to intense physical scrutiny or pressures when it comes to their appearance.
Have You Let Yourself Go?
I’m writing this post from the stand point of someone who has completely ‘let themselves go’ according to society.
Over the lockdowns I gained a significant amount of weight and that hasn’t changed since things are opening up again. I don’t wear makeup all the time, I never style my hair and nine times out of ten you can find me braless in an old, baggy t shirt. I work from home so the pressures are slightly different, but if you were to compare two images of me as a teenager and now you might come to the conclusion that I’ve ‘let myself go’.
While there are perhaps many ways that I have ‘ruined’ my appearance over the years, the biggest factor in my letting myself go is undeniably the weight gain.
This seems to be the biggest issue most people, both in terms of the wider societal opinions and those in my real life, have when it comes to my appearance and gaining weight is usually the main reason why someone is deemed to have ‘let themselves go’.
Now I could go on a whole rant about how weight has nothing to do with your attractiveness and is not an indicator of health, which I’m sure will get addressed at some point, but my main argument I want to put to you now is – why does this matter?
Being A Woman And Letting Yourself Go
Since gaining weight I have seen the change in how people talk to me and act around me.
Of course, my friends and partner still treat me the same because – as shocking as this may be to some people – I am. I’m just fatter. However, from strangers to distant family members there has been a change in the way I’m spoken about, addressed and even considered because I am now a fat woman.
There’s been many more unsolicited comments regarding my weight; more comments regarding what I’m eating and whether I’ve exercised today. There’s definitely been mentions of having ‘let myself go’ because I’ve gained weight.
Now depending on how you’re reading this, these comments could be seen as legitimate based on the concerns of those around me or it could be seen as time to cut some people out of my life. Whatever your stance is, the fact that people have actively changed the way they are around me because of the way my body now looks is strange.
After all, I am still the same person I was two stone ago. Sure, my clothes now come in a bigger size and I’ll admit I get out of breath more often these days which isn’t ideal. But at the core of who I am, it’s still me.
Yet people have changed because I look different. I’ve ‘let myself go’.
And as a fatter person, having a day off from wearing makeup or choosing loungewear over something pretty makes me feel even worse. Because I don’t have the right physique, I feel like any other ‘loosening’ of my appearance makes me look worse.
We all know the stereotypes associated with fat people – that they’re lazy and gross. Now as a fat woman, I feel like I have to work extra hard to prevent people seeing me as these things because of my weight and my gender. I need to be more on point with my appearance and grooming to avoid such claims.
Like I said, these stereotypes are there for fat people of all genders, but I think there’s additional stress to people who appear feminine or identify as a woman because of patriarchy and all that fun stuff. There is an obscene amount of pressure on women to appear a certain way and as this amazing article claims ‘make it seem effortless’ at the same time.
Women need to appear perfect all the time but cannot show that they’ve worked for it, otherwise they’ll be called high maintenance.
So what happens if you take a break from all that preening and pruning? Well, I’m sorry to say but you’ve simply let yourself go! God forbid giving yourself a break or taking up new hobbies or just not bothering with certain things anymore!
What This Really Means
There are many reasons why you may not put as much time or effort into your appearance these days or have changed the way you look over time. The things our bodies naturally go, such as grow hair or become soft with age, is considered an issue when a women or femme presenting person does it. These same complaints are rarely said to or about men.
While I am by no means saying men or those of other genders do not experience pressures regarding their appearance, ‘looking good’ has historically been a women’s issue and as a woman myself I’m just tired.
Letting yourself go is a way for people to comment on your changing appearance and show their distain without out rightly saying so. There are some ways you could truly let yourself go that do not see much comment or consideration, such as no longer cleaning yourself or showing an interest in your hobbies, which can be signs of mental health struggles.
However, as I’m not qualified to talk about these things let’s move swiftly onto what I do know.
When we talk about letting yourself go, especially in the context of women and their changing appearances, we are saying that we don’t like the way you look. That’s not pleasing to me and therefore you need to change.
What about talking about the things that really matter? Such as whether a person is taking care of their mental health, seeing a doctor, being creative and feeling content within themselves?
I know that commenting on appearances is not going away any time soon and I’m not perfect in this arena either, but I just felt like a rant today. As someone who has heard ‘you’ve let yourself go’ one too many times, I wanted to talk about what it means and ultimately why it doesn’t matter as long as you’re content within yourself.
There is so much that could be said about this topic, including branching off into self care and mental health, but right now I just wanted to vent. So thank you for being with me in this rant and I guess I apologies that there is no educational or intellectual conclusion to it – for now.
Have you been told you’ve ‘let yourself go’? What do you do to look after yourself, properly?
Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash