I am fat.
There is no getting around that fact.
Social “fat shaming” has reached an all time high. When I was growing up there were thin people in movies, TV shows and print media. The social ideal was everywhere. There were the occasional comments from mean spirited people but most never said anything directly to anyone’s face.
Now, with instant access to anything at any time, and the ability to sit behind a computer and not face those you are talking about, social shaming has become epidemic. And the last acceptable social shaming has yet to be addressed in a complete and understanding manner.
And let’s get this right out there and clear. Social shaming is a mental form of bullying. Harsh, damaging and forever.
I’m not proud to say I’m fat. I’m rather ashamed of the fact actually. I wear loose and baggy clothing – not just for physical comfort but also as a shield. I know being fat is unhealthy. It’s also uncomfortable. Crossing my legs isn’t comfortable for long. Tucking a leg under my butt or sitting cross-legged on the floor isn’t comfortable for long. Having flab in my mid-section makes almost all types of pants stretch uncomfortably tight. When I wear comfortable jams the flab (left over from carrying three children) hangs and or lays uncomfortably in my lap. It gets sweaty. It’s not fun. The flab on my arms keeps me from wearing sleeveless shirts. The flab down the sides of my torso bulge around my bra. And there are so many other places on my body that are uncomfortable because I’m fat.
I know this all sounds like complaining. In a way it is. But it’s not pity party complaining. It’s also EXPLAINING.
Fat people KNOW they are fat. Telling me I’m fat is like telling me I’m a woman and I’m white. I know that already. I don’t need you to point it out and I certainly don’t need to be shamed personally or socially either.
The thing you don’t realize is that by pointing out the obvious, by publically shaming fat people, is that it DOES NOT inspire most of us to do something about it. It’s SHAMING. NOT ENCOURAGING. Shaming invokes defeat, depression, pain, self-loathing to name a few destructive emotions. Rarely does it inspire, encourage, self-motivate. Rarely do you hear the story of how someone was shamed or berated into losing weight. Rarely do you hear about someone who thanks all those who shamed them, treated them poorly because of their weight, made fun of them, for giving them the drive to lose weight. It might happen – but it’s very, very rare.
But the shaming continues. And it continues with no shame on the shamer’s part. They see nothing wrong with telling the “fat-ass” that they are fat, disgusting, a drain on society, that it’s their fault they are fat (even if it IS no one ingests that and thinks it’s encouraging). There are hundreds if not thousands of the “people of Wal-mart” pictures out there. A picture someone took of someone else (90%+ are overweight) only to post it online and make fun of them. “Well, they went out in public looking like that! They are fair game!” is a comment frequently spoken. Thus, shaming fat people and insinuating that because they are fat, and they ventured outside their door, they deserve to be publically and socially shamed. What does that tell fat people? Stay home or you’re fair game! That’s what it tells fat people.
Let me tell you a little about the mind of a fat person. Having been overweight to some degree most of my life I can definitely speak on this. School was devistating. In first grade another student called me pregnant. I didn’t even know what that meant in first grade! When this other student poked me in my stomach and told me that my fat belly looked pregnant I started to cry (I still didn’t know what pregnant really meant but I got the jist of the idea that she was talking about me being fat and making fun of it). So, I went to the teacher. Know what happened? I was the one in trouble for “tattling” on the other student and I was the one that got spanked for it. Me. Not the other student. My first real memory of being “fat shamed”. Hell of a way for a six year old to learn a hard life lesson.
The rest of my school life wasn’t much better. I learned to “laugh” about it. Make fun of myself before others made fun of me. After all, if you can’t laugh at yourself… right? Wrong. The damage grew worse. I laughed instead of crying. I laughed as the pain cut deeper. I laughed because it was the only way to get through the day. Then I went home and cried where no one could make fun of the fat girl crying.
By college I had slimmed down a little. Not much. But there wasn’t as much fat shaming there. Too many people and no one really cared enough to take the time. Then I had my daughter at age 24. It was a few years later that my husband told me something that a close friend had asked him. “She was not bad looking when she didn’t weight so much… what happened to that person?” WHAT? I was still that person, just heavier. But that one question brought up years of pent up depression and disgust. And I did what now haunts me forever.
I became bulimic.
And no one cared.
At first you can hide it. You’re eating normally but occasionally, with the shower running, you make yourself vomit because you are disgusted with how much and what you ate. Then you start losing weight and the addiction part kicks in. You worry about the damage it’s doing to your stomach, throat and teeth, but it doesn’t concern you enough to stop.
Then every meal is a death sentence. You HAVE to get rid of that food. Not just because you are disgusted that you ate at all, and how much you ate, but your stomach is now programmed to expell violiently anything other than liquids pretty much immediately. And you find yourself in the bathroom, any bathroom, sticking your fingers down your throat.
And others now notice. Family, co-workers, people you don’t even know. Even my doctor knew what was going on. And NO ONE SAID A WORD.
But do you know who did say something? People who would comment on how great I looked now that I had started losing weight. The more appreciative looks I got from strangers because I looked socially acceptable. Not that I saw anything different in the mirror, mind you. I still saw fat. I always will. It’s part of the mental disorder that is an eating disorder. But the feedback from everyone around me encouraged me. Kept me going. I went from 220lbs to 113lbs in 18 months and I will be the first to admit I felt GREAT. I loved shopping for “normal” clothes. I loved the admiration in people’s eyes. I loved being comfortable in my own skin – literally. I loved every moment.
But I have daughters. I’m not so dilusional to not see that as my daughters grew up they would see what mom was doing and think it was okay. I knew I was doing more damage to my body than it could recover from. And so I made the conscious effort to stop. But don’t believe for a minute it was because I wanted to. It was for my daughters. 100%. I didn’t want them to think that there was only one way to look, that social pressure and idiots should dictate to them what they should look like. A lesson I didn’t learn but I hoped they would. No one suggested I go to counselling. Not one person. I did it on my own. And it was HARD. It still is. Every single day.
I am not 113lbs. Not even close. The thing is, when you eat again, you gain weight. And I had another daughter after I became a bit more healthy. And the stretched stomach and the weight came back. And now I am fat, again. 45 years old, 220lbs FAT.
And I don’t need you to tell me that I’m fat. I know it. I know it all too well. I don’t need mean, hurtful, compassionless, soulless people posting pictures of fat people online or anywhere else shaming all of us. I don’t need to hear how you feel all I have to do is just eat right and exercise and I wouldn’t be a blight in your eyesight. I don’t need anyone telling me what I already know. I stuggle with my eating disorder every single day. I remember how it felt to be that thin as if it was yesterday (even though it was 20 years ago). All those feelings of being ashamed, belittled, berated, teased, et al come back every time I hear someone say something that boils down to the following sentences – “That fat-ass needs to do something about their fatness! I shouldn’t have to look at them! Have they no shame??!??”
No, we don’t need to have any shame. You heap more upon us than we know what to do with.
Maybe, just maybe, approaching it from a different direction, with compassion, understanding and encouragement might help. Maybe, just maybe, not shaming someone for ANYTHING might be a start. Maybe, just maybe, looking at a person’s heart and not their skin (and what’s under it) might be all the encouragement someone needs to make positive changes.
And for those who say I just need to get over it and grow some thicker skin? Don’t ever believe you are perfect. You too have something someone can shame you for. But I won’t take that route because I know what it feels like. So I say to you, I encourage you to be a better person, I have compassion for you and understand life can be hard. I hope you find your peace so you don’t feel the need to bash and shame others.
And I hope I find my peace too.