Fat Shaming: Weight Loss Culture
Who is fat in weight loss culture? There are many institutions that are eager to tell you that you're fat - government, health insurance, doctors, nurses, popular media, advertising, fashion, strangers, friends, family, lovers and of course the bathroom scale. How many of us weigh ourselves everyday? It wasn’t until i started measuring my worth in other ways that I was able to let go of the scale. I am so proud to say that I haven’t weighed myself for 7 years. But what do I do when I go to the doctor's office you ask? I tell them that I’m going to get on the scale backwards and ask that they don’t tell me the number. If they ask why - I say it is to protect my mental wellbeing and that I used to struggle with an eating disorder, so seeing my weight is really triggering. It felt really awkward at first but the more I did it, the more confident I felt about telling doctors that I don’t use weight as a measure of my health.
Ideal weight charts such as the BMI are used to collapse height and weight into categories so that government agencies or research institutions/ medical research can determine who is under, normal, “over - weight” or “obese”… I bet you didn’t know that the BMI cut of points were changed in the late 90’s and suddenly overnight millions of americans become “overweight” or “obese” and thought that something was wrong with them. Can you imagine? This system is archaic and alienates us from our bodies.
Over the last 40 years, the average american has gained 20 pounds or so, and the media has gone from mentioning “obesity” from 6 times a year to over 7,000 times a year - that’s almost 20 times a day! There have been a lot of “facts” about “obesity” and risk of death - but one of the biggest misconceptions is that obesity causes death. This is not true. Even though a researcher from the NIH at the CDC protested that “any associates of weight and mortality were not necessarily causal.” basically: simply being fat does not put you at risk for death. But did anyone really listen? No, you know why? Because a lot of companies stand to lose money if you feel good about your body. The weight loss industry revenues over 66 billion dollars a year. This includes weight watchers, jenny craig, diet pills, slim-fast, hydroxycut, the south beach diet, the garcinia, apple cider vinegar pills, naturewise, alli, burnXT, skinny gal, pure garcinia cambogia extract, evlution nutrition, diuretic pills, caltene bars.
I know what you might be thinking - well these diet pills and supplements help people lose weight - so what’s wrong with that? Well, 77% people gain back whatever weight they’ve lost in a year and 90-95% will gain it back after that… which of course no commercial weight loss company would ever tell yoU! No weight loss company has ever published their long term success rates because they are not good!!! So, out of 45 million americans who attempt to lose weight annally, 40 million will gain it back. 95% of people do not fail, it is the diet and lifestyle that fail people. It doesn’t seem ethical for doctors or anyone to prescribe “weight loss” knowing that prescription is ineffective and doesn’t lead to long term health. Weight loss will not help people live longer or healthier.
What does it mean to live in a weight loss culture?
In weight loss culture where fat is bad - this means everyone is fat and everyone needs to be in the process of managing fat. The thin are afraid of getting fat and the fat are afraid of getting fatter.
What does this mean for our bodies?
It means that we are obsessed with our bodies, the color- shape-size-texture-weight- incredibly judgemental and harsh to our own bodies and we are mean to and hurtful to people with fat bodies. It’s heartbreaking to see the statistics about eating disorders ad the increase of plastic surgeries.
Before we can accept our bodies, we have to reframe how we view health. How do we discuss health in a weight neutral way? by looking at health as a subjective experience with many influences. Getting on the scale does not prove health and I think many of us intuitively know this but we’ve been conditioned to think that fat=unhealthy. The only thing a person can diagnose by looking at a fat person is their own person level of stereotype and prejudice towards fat people.
So what do we need to do?! We need to claim our own embodiment in whatever size you are, reconnect with your body and it’s needs. If you’re fat. Own it. If you’re thin, own it. If you’re in between and chubby, own it! Claim your body, refuse to get on a scale, your weight, shape or body size is not a measure of your worth or health. And remember that how we view our bodies is a result of pressure to conform to socially constructed ideas of beauty. Happiness and beauty are not size specific.
Find what feels good to you, because it is different for everyone. And, this can take time because we have to experiment with different activities. For some maybe fishing makes them feel alive, for another it could be reading or painting their nails. If you haven't tried it, you don’t know if you’ll like it or not. I used to run as a way to lose weight and I hated it. It hurt my knees and shins but I did it because I thought that’s what life was - doing things you don’t want to because it’s “healthy”. Well, that is so wrong! I found out that I like riding a bike, lifting weights, drinking lots of water and stretching. Yep, sitting and stretching feels good to me and it is healthy. Claiming what feels good is a powerful shift - for you and our culture. A young woman who weighs 84 pounds because of her anorexia knows something about fat oppression and hating her body. So does a fat person who is expected to pay double for the privilege of sitting down on an airplane flight. We all, fat and thin in between, bring useful leverage and experience to help shift our cultural attitudes.
I understand if you’re feeling conflicted or think that I am wrong here - and that’s ok - I used to think that too. I used to think that if I, or anyone else, was overweight or looked fat, that they were unhealthy. This is wrong and it takes time to reflect on your implicit beliefs and to challenge them. The relationship we have with our bodies can be messy because, for as long as we can remember, the pressure to be thin is all we hear about health. And it comes from so many directions - we are exposed to advertisements, the media and medical establishments, too. We can’t get away from it. I think most people feel confused, conflicted, overwhelmed and defeated when talking about their diet/health/bodyweight/eating behaviors and most people are desperate to hear about “what actually works to be thin?” What works is to find what feels good to you and let go of thinness equating health.
Where do I start?
To start loving your body, first start being aware of your thoughts about other people's bodies. Notice when you think about someone else’s body - beautiful, thin, fat, or ugly - be aware of those thoughts and gently remind yourself that judgment of another is a reflection of your level of acceptance of others. Don’t be hard on yourself if you realize that you make a lot of judgements about other people - we all do and have been conditioned to - but that doesn’t make it right. Recognize those thoughts and if you’re ready- challenge them - ask yourself; is that thought true? Do I intimately know that person? Is it my place to give personal health advice? Do I know what they are going through or have been through? The answer is usually no - and once we get to that place we can start to reframe how we view others and ourselves.
Stop by next week for the next step and episode of Fat Shaming.
Let us know your thoughts, how do you feel challenged in our culture? Have you attempted a weight loss program? Do you struggle with accepting other people? Do you struggle to accept yourself? Let us know what;s on your mind and what you want to hear about next!
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