My wife was thin when I met her and had been all her life. Through her I discovered she'd received the same sort of treatment for being slender. We're both still bruised from these things.
Since I began working on my own weight I've thought a lot about the way society treats anyone who deviates from what is really just an arbitrary norm based in cultural stereotypes and sometimes grounded in questionable science. I realized that shaming me, either my inner voice doing it or others trying, was never, ever going to get me to lose weight. I wondered if that was just me being contrary. Perhaps it is. I just know at some point it became something I did for my own reasons, and those reasons were for the most part positive (some of my reasons are pretty neurotic, hence me saying, 'for the most part'). That kind of motivation tends to keep reinforcing itself.
Blogger Lucy's Football wrote a powerful post about fat-shaming (and thin-shaming) that everyone should read, particularly anyone into fitness and diet, because I don't think a lot of people, especially those who have never had to truly struggle with weight (losing 15 pounds of holiday weight doesn't count, sorry) really understand just how nasty western society in particular is toward The Fat, and how it really feels to be on the receiving end of this kind of thing.
I'm going to quote part of her post because it's concise and gives you a feel for the whole thing. She also says many things better than I could. Why? Because women bear much more of the brunt of this kind of bullshit:
I will leave you with some bullet points. Because, who doesn’t like bullet points, am I right?I couldn't agree more.
- Other people’s bodies are none of your business. Keep your words off them. Unless you’re telling them they’re beautiful. Everyone likes that shit. Even if they pretend they don’t.
- Pretending you’re “worried about someone’s health” is not an excuse for commenting on someone’s weight, whether they’re heavy or thin. Again, see the first bullet point. Even if they’re naked with you, their size is none of your business. Whose business is it then, Amy? THEIRS. No one’s but theirs.
- Making fat jokes is a., not funny, and b., lazy. There are actual funny things in the world to point out. Like misspellings. Who doesn’t like a good misplaced apostrophe or missing comma? The answer to that is NO ONE.
- To reiterate what we learned in the first bullet point: before making a comment about someone’s weight, please think the following quietly to yourself: “What is my least-favorite attribute. Now, would I like someone to loudly mention it and say it is ugly and/or unhealthy for me to have, and publicly shame me about it?” The answer to that question is always no. ALWAYS.
- Also: if you think you are too fat, and everyone’s judging you, and you’re ugly, and OMG I CANNOT LEAVE THE HOUSE, guess what. No, seriously, guess. Hardly anyone even notices. The only people that do are assholes. And who cares what assholes think? I hope you don’t.
We’ve become a culture of shaming. We’re rape-shaming and we’re slut-shaming and we’re thin-shaming and we’re fat-shaming. It’s repulsive and this shit’s gotta stop. Like, immediately.
- Finally: I’m going to tell you something I’ve learned in my old age. Ready? Shh, don’t share this one around, it’s kind of radical. WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL. I know! Every single last one of us. Fat. Thin. Tall. Short. We’re a lovely bunch of coconuts. Except – there is one thing that makes you ugly. Guess what that is? Hatefulness. Being hateful. You can’t be beautiful with hate in your mind, soul, or mouth. So get rid of that, and guess what? You’re gorgeous again. And everyone will see it. I can see it right now! Whoa, babe, dial that back, you’re blinding me with it.
I would add this--for many people who do want to lose weight, for whatever reason, fat-shaming has another side-effect. It turns every effort to make a change into something that feels a hell of a lot like punishment. It sets up a psychological construct in which taking a run around the block feels like penance. Going to the gym feels like swallowing bitter medicine. Taking care of your health feels like sheer drudgery and you begin to resent everyone who ever said anything about it. You hate how it's represented in pop culture, even in what some people blithely assume are positive ways (ask me sometime about my burning, irrational hatred of Biggest Loser). People with great senses of humor start losing the ability to keep that sense of humor about fat jokes. Put simply, it seems to me that fat-shaming is one of the worst things you can do if you actually believe physical fitness is a really good thing.
As I've noted before, you can't be a lifelong depressive like me and ever refer to yourself as a positive person. On the whole, I am not. But I've maintained the changes I made by working against feelings of shame and self-disgust regarding my body image. At first they were integral to what I was doing. Morning runs did feel like terrible slogs. I did feel like I was brutalizing myself. I was angry a lot.
Then--and I think this began to turn around on one lone wintry run through the Georgia woods--joy crept in. Running, working out, they became things I needed to do. My body and my brain wanted to.
If I could give others one thing out of what I've done, it would be that sense of joy. Body-shaming will never bring someone to that place.
If nothing else, fat-shamers should remember that sometimes heavy people lose weight and get in shape. Some of us have long memories and can move pretty fast. And WE MIGHT COME FOR YOU.
Nah, just kidding about that part. Or am I?