I remember the days long ago when I felt guilty for being fat. So much so, that I also felt guilty when eating – no matter how much, how little or how healthy I was eating. Being fat meant I didn’t “deserve” a lot of things, but most especially enjoying my food. If it tasted good, I was sure that I wasn’t supposed to be eating it because I didn’t deserve the pleasure.
In fact, I didn’t deserve much. I punished myself by withholding most pleasures, telling myself I didn’t deserve any of them until I reached goal weight.
I’m very thankful that I gave up those beliefs in my 20’s when I found “Fat Acceptance.” A controversial movement, but I do credit it with teaching me not to waste my life with self hatred. Being obese since age 5, and having never reached my goal weight in all that time, I would have had a very miserable existence if I were still torturing myself for being overweight, and putting my life on hold until I was magically worthy when the scale hit an arbitrary number.
I vowed not to let obesity prevent me from doing anything it didn’t prevent me from doing. I can’t run up a flight of stairs and I accept that, but there’s no reason to avoid swimming or bicycling just because I “look ridiculous” doing it.
I’m finding though that I’m having less and less patient with folks who believe that they are evil, disgusting, and worthless because they do not weight what they’d like. It drives me craziest when the person has only a few pounds to lose (although anything under 50 lbs feels like “only a few” to me, but even if the person has 800 lbs to lose, I still find myself internally screaming when they bash on themselves.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that shame, guilt, and embarassment are always inappropriate, and it is natural to hold yourself to higher standards than you hold others, but when a person treats themselves more harshly than they would treat a violent criminal, something is seriously WRONG.
If guilt and self-punishment worked, maybe I’d have a different opinion. Then again, the cost still has to be considered. What are the consequences of hating yourself to a lower weight? Will you recognize a healthy weight when you see it? Will you be able to turn off the self-hatred switch or will it have become a habit that you find harder to break than overeating.
Replacing self-hatred and punishment of fat isn’t easy. It’s the social norm – so much so that women with not an ounce of body fat to spare, often call themselves “disgusting” over imagined curves. Magazines and other media criticise petite celebrities for “letting themselves go,” if so much as a dimple can be seen on their size-4 thigh.
Fat-bashing contributes more to the problem than it does to the solution, and we’ve got to find that solution. Obesity is becoming in reality the evil that we’ve to this point only imagined it to be – but obesity is the vilain – not the obese person. We can’t confuse fighting obesity with fighting the obese person. And I think that’s the distinction we are failing to make. Punishing a fat person (even if that person is ourselves) doesn’t do much to combat the obesity. It often does the opposite, by making the person feel hopeless, helpless, and worthless.
Without hope, nothing gets accomplished or even attempted because “what’s the use, it won’t work out anyway.” We end up creating in ourselves, the monster that we see.