We are not born hating our bodies. Rather, body-hate and fat-phobia is learned. From the time that we are children, we are surrounded by societal messages, which teach us to value “thinness” and to stereotype and stigmatize individuals in larger bodies.
Yesterday, a thin Facebook friend posted a status, which she indicated was meant to be a joke. In the status, she stated, “I feel fat. I know this is a fat thing to do, but all I want to do is sit in bed and eat Mexican food for the entire day, watch some films...”
I do believe that this person did not intentionally mean to cause harm by posting this status. However, it’s a way to demonstrate how fat-phobia is so intertwined into our culture that many don’t recognize how statements like this are actually a form of discrimination and oppression. Statements like this serve to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about individuals in larger bodies.
“I’m tired of a culture which promotes a fixation on “weight loss” and a fear of fat.”
People in larger bodies are often stigmatized in our society and seen as “lazy, unattractive, and unhappy.” However, the reality is that people of all shapes and sizes are worthy of love, compassion and respect (and everyone deserves to enjoy Mexican food and movies in bed).
Additionally, you can’t tell anything about a person’s health habits or happiness based on their weight. You can be “thin” and unhealthy. You can be “fat” and healthy. Further, you shouldn’t judge someone’s inherent value on the basis of their health status.
Frankly, I’m tired of a culture which promotes a fixation on “weight loss” and a fear of fat. For instance, studies have found that many 10-year-old girls are more afraid of “becoming fat” than they are of cancer, nuclear war, or losing their parents.
It’s Not Your Fault
For people who struggle with a fear of weight gain or a focus on “thinness,” it’s important to note that this is not your fault. You have been steeped in societal messaging, which promotes these values.
Further, there is a $60 billion diet industry, which makes profit off our belief that we aren’t “good enough.” Body-dissatisfaction is what helps diet companies continue to sell their products.
Additionally, body image issues impact both men and women. However, I think that particularly as women it’s important to note that a focus on these issues often keeps us from “playing big” in other areas of our lives. When women are fixed on dieting and attempting to change their bodies, they are not using their energy to change the world.
It’s also interesting to note that diet culture and a fixation on thinness rose in prominence around the time that women began to gain more political rights in our society.
“It’s far easier to talk about hating your thighs than to express how you are feeling lonely and unloved.”
As women we have been taught to criticize our bodies. Not only is this seen as socially acceptable, it’s also a more comfortable way for people to deal with other upsetting situations in their lives. For instance, it’s far easier to talk about hating your thighs than to express how you are feeling lonely and unloved.
However, just as this sense of body hatred has been learned, it can also be unlearned. There is hope! If you are struggling with body shame and hatred, please reach out for help from a treatment professional. Seeking help when you are struggling is a sign of true strength, not weakness.
Your Weight is Not Your Worth
Even if you loved your body, the reality is that our bodies are meant to change as we age. Tying your sense of self-worth to your external appearance is a recipe for discontent. Additionally, it’s important to note that your body is simply the vehicle, which enables you to live your amazing life. Work to practice gratitude for all that your body helps you to do, rather than focusing on how it looks.
Further, we all have a limited amount of mental energy. When you fixate on how your body looks it takes away valuable time in which you could be reflecting on other things. No one writes in someone’s obituary: “she was so thin” or “she was the perfect weight.” What would you like to be remembered for? Work to shift focus to the things and people in your life that truly matter.
“No one writes in someone’s obituary “she was so thin” or “she was the perfect weight.””
Despite what societal messages say, I know this to be true. You are not more valuable if you take up less space in this world. Further, your worth is not found in your body size or shape.
Your true value is found in the sparkle in your eyes when you laugh, the way that you pursue your passions, how you help others, and in your relationships. You are worthy of love and belonging, just as you are.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is a therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, and depression. Jennifer offers eating disorder therapy to individuals in Maryland, and eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype.