To the casual observer, the headline at the top of Sharee Hansen’s Tumblr blog might seem a bit zealous: “I wear black when I work out. It’s a funeral for my fat.” But for Hansen, a 24-year-old currently working toward her graduate degree at Central Washington University, the statement has been a guiding principle for the last five years of her life. In that time, she went from 256 pounds to 138—a total loss of 118 pounds.
Hansen said that her journey started when she was 17 and standing in a clothing store in the mall with her mother. Unable to fit into the same clothes as her friends, Hansen became so frustrated with the size of her body she broke down into tears. She and her mother joined Weight Watchers, lost 11 pounds and promptly gave up on exercising, thinking she had learned enough to stay healthy. When she returned at the end of her senior year, Hansen found out that she had gained the weight back plus some and experienced another breakdown with her mother in the car just outside the Weight Watchers facility.
Hansen discussed her life-changing choice in an interview with The Spectator.
“I was choosing to sabotage myself,” Hansen said. “I turned to my mom and said, ‘I’m done. I’m done feeling this way. I’m gonna do something about it and I’m gonna make it work.’”
Since then, Hansen’s blog—which tracks her own weight loss and provides tips for eating healthy and exercising—has blown up and her story has been covered by a number of publications, including People Magazine. She also appeared on “Good Morning America” to talk about losing so much weight, as well as how to maintain a healthy diet.
Hansen said that stories like hers are appealing to people because they remind them that they can achieve weight loss goals if they really want to.
“I think it appeals to people because so many times we’re told we can’t do something—’You can’t lose that much weight. You can’t accomplish that.’ So to see someone who was told they couldn’t, and does…I think that’s why people like it.”
Thanks to the new year, Seattle University’s gym has seen a surge of new gym-goers intent on realizing their resolutions to whittle their waistlines. And, like every year, as February approaches, this deluge is beginning to trickle out into the normal flow of regular customers.
“I’ve worked at a gym since I was in high school and [the New Year’s rush] happens every January…Most people don’t stick with it,” said Laura Hoffman, a Seattle U student who works the front desk of the fitness center.
And where does this obsession with weight loss come from?
American media’s relationship with obesity and weight loss isn’t particularly new. But, the pressures it often exerts on people who don’t feel they are the right size or shape can lead to some extremely unhealthy lifestyles. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 24 million people in the United States suffer from anorexia or related conditions, which have the “highest mortality rate of any mental illness.”
Moreover, in recent years “thinspiration” blogs have become wildly popular. At a glance they might seem benign enough, with pictures of thin models and inspirational quotes about keeping up on exercise routines. However, a quick scan of Tumblr’s “thinspiration” posts reveals a far darker picture. Over images of thin girls one finds quotes like “Your stomach isn’t grumbling, it’s applauding” or “You’re fat and ugly, stop eating.”
If these blogs are examples of what can go wrong with weight loss, though, Hansen’s own serves as a reminder of a positive way to look at weight. Her focus is on eating healthy and exercising as opposed to calorie counting, and she never resorts to body shaming.
“I never felt ugly,” Hansen said. “I just knew who I looked like wasn’t who I felt I should be. I just wanted to be healthier. I wanted to feel comfortable.”
For those who are hoping to change their bodies this year, people like Hansen can serve as a good example. Rather than emphasizing societal standards of beauty, Hansen inspires determination to feel good in your own skin. And as for maintaining that New Year’s goal?
“Definitely plan,” she said. “Plan your workouts. Plan your meals. If you leave working out to chance, you’re not going to do it.”