When I was thirteen years old, I weighed 189lbs. I’ll never forget that number. I was at my yearly checkup with my mom sitting next to me. The doctor told us my weight and then said that “I was perfectly healthy.” I smiled. I liked being healthy. I worried because I was bigger than all my friends. While they wore cute little dresses from the Junior section, I had to shop in the women’s.
And, apparently, my mom worried about my weight as well. Her response to the doctor: “I highly doubt that.” And, in that moment, I knew there was something wrong with me and that I was right to be worried. The kids at school were right to tease me for my weight. My family’s judgement of me was correct. I was fat, after all. How could I be perfectly healthy?
There is a truth that the diet companies don’t want us to know — you can be both fat and perfectly healthy. I know that it’s a revolutionary idea and one that I’m probably going to get a great deal of pushback for. We don’t want to admit that our latest diet fad isn’t going to work for 98% of us after all.
I have a friends who likes to post ‘carrots’ for themselves. When I lose weight, I’ll buy these shoes. When I lose weight, I’ll buy this dress. When I lose weight, I’ll take that vacation. When I lose weight, I’ll live my life. It’s pervasive throughout our culture — this idea that when we are fat, we are not worthy. And when I question them about it — those times that I just can’t read another ‘when I lose weight’ post — I’m told that it’s “for their health”. Can someone please explain to me how this form of self-punishment is at all healthy? Because I truly don’t understand.
I have other friends who have caved to the pressures to mutilate their bodies through surgery in order to make them smaller. They post pictures of themselves side by side — the before and the after. People congratulate them for their strength and their willpower. They say nothing about how they’ve increased their risk of death nor about the fact that their bodies will never function properly again. Because the message is clear: we must be thin at all costs.
And then there are those friends who have emerged during this pandemic who joke and lament about all the weight they’re going to gain during the social distancing. As if gaining weight during a crises is the exact thing we need to worry about. And, again, their message is clear — dying from an illness is better than looking like someone like me. My body is the worst they can imagine happening to them.
But why do I care? Why do I let it bother me? If I accept myself, then why do I listen to their judgements anyway? I hear the questions. It’s their lives. It’s their choice. And you’re absolutely right. But I ask you, is it really their choice? If everyone in our culture was given the permission to love themselves as they are right now in this moment, would we ever feel the need to cut ourselves open or starve ourselves smaller? I wonder.
Along with the desire to help people, there is also the clear fact that these ideas, beliefs, and actions hurt me and they hurt people who look like me. Study after study has shown that weight stigma and weight cycling are both more deadly than weight. When fat people feel judged and unaccepted, they hide themselves. We are less likely to see out medical treatment for illnesses.
I won’t forget when I went to my doctor for a thyroid check (many years after my diseased thyroid had been removed) and was left waiting in the room for twenty extra minutes with a copy of South Beach Diet sitting on the counter next to me. That doctor never asked me about my activity level. She never asked about my lifestyle — I was a busy mom of 2 young children. Never asked anything about me. The only thing she knew was that I was fat and that, in her mind, was the deadliest of sins.
These beliefs and these ideas hurt people — more than buying the shoes and celebrating the fact that you are an amazing and caring human being at the size you are right now. You are worthy at the size you are right now. You deserve to buy the shoes. You deserve to go on the vacation. You deserve to wear the bikini on the beach. And the rest of us need to stop the judgements. Weight stigma hurts us all. Weight stigma contributes to body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Weight stigma causes people to die from lack of treatment. Weight stigma makes it harder for people like me to exist and make a decent living. We are less likely to receive jobs and promotions. Look at the numbers and you’ll know I speak the truth.
During this time that we are locked down and social distancing, it is my hope that we will all take some time to reevaluate what is important in our lives. I hope that we are able to shut out the voices for just a little while and remind ourselves that we are all human beings and that all human beings deserve rights and respect. And, if you want the shoes, don’t wait! Live your life because you are human and are worth living a life you love.