Content warning: discusses weight issues, bullying, and put-downs; also mentions diets
Oh, let me tell you, I’ve had enough of this one. My fat shaming began at Day 1 of life when everyone apparently laughed and laughed when I drank two bottles of formula (not the modern stuff, either) right after birth. Well, you would have, too, if your bone-thin mother’s smoking and drinking had kept you deprived of delicious nutrients while you were in the womb listening to her puff away.
My first diet was in 6th grade, after getting sick of being called fatso, water buffalo, elephant, and such. I was always tall and sturdy for a child, so all those stick children* thought I was fat. I lost ten pounds on that early version of the Atkins diet, and since I was also going through puberty, I grew my final few inches, so I both appeared slimmer and became comparatively smaller, since all the other girls were growing. That was the last year I was second-tallest in the class. By seventh grade, I was short, because the boys started growing. I remain short and sturdy, just like my dad.
Yes, it’s genetic. I didn’t get my mother’s natural slimness, I got my dad’s natural roundness. And that leads me to my point, which you can learn a LOT more about in this fine Highline/Huffington Post article from 2018 that I read yesterday, Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong, by Michael Hobbes. I think I read it before, but yesterday, since I was still sort of steaming from thinking about ableism, I really started pondering how this bias against fat people has messed with my mind and my biases.
Because of all the labeling my family and friends did when I was little, I have always been fat in my mind, even when, looking back, I was pretty average. I blamed most of my problems on being fat (and ugly). I was sure that’s why I didn’t have boyfriends (never imagining it might have been how I acted or my personality).
And I went on diets and more diets, though thankfully I mostly did the “eat less, and eat healthy food, and get exercise” method, which is at least not harmful. I’ve only stopped with all that in the last year or two, and it is hard, hard, hard to just accept myself at the weight my body naturally stabilizes at. But, I’m close to being there! I’m me, and this is how I look! I am in good physical shape, can do lots of things, walk/ride horses/do chores a lot, and don’t eat too many things that are “empty calories.”
So, my attitude to myself is better, and I’ve stopped labeling myself. But, all that talk I heard growing up, all the put-downs I heard aimed at myself and others, and all the media pressure really got to me. I can still hear people calling a kid named Larry “Lardo.” I remember my high school boyfriend and his best friend making fun of all my chubby girlfriends (except the thin one, who they made fun of for something else). (Hmm, making fun is not actually fun, it turns out.)
I’m afraid I’ve had a pretty bad case of bias against fat people my whole life. Sure, I made lots of strides, and have even been in a relationship with a very large man. My current spouse has always been on the larger side. And of course, plenty of my friends are in various sizes. But still, somehow, my first impulse upon seeing a large person is that they are dirty and lazy. That’s my unconscious bias sneaking out, like if you can’t control your weight, you don’t care about yourself or anything else. ACK.
My intellectual self knows perfectly well that my biased reactions are unfounded, wrong, and quite unkind. I mean, how many clean, energetic, amazing fat people do I have to know to get this gone? I could name dozens of people I admire, look up to, think are beautiful, and even love that do not fit my stereotype. It makes me very disappointed in myself and angry at society to think of how deeply ingrained my unfounded bias is.
Oddly, once I get to know people, the weight issue disappears for me. I don’t put my friends into fat vs. not fat categories. I may assign labels, but they are more like kind, funny, grumpy, brilliant, talented, or annoying. None of those things correlate with size.
What can I do?
As with all the unconscious biases we don’t realize we have most of the time, a great first step is acknowledging the bias. Once I saw it was there, I could work on retraining my mind to not implicitly judge people based on their weight. I know, having retrained my mind on things in the past, that it will take a bit of conscious work to not ignore or pass over fat people when I first meet them, which is what I always tended to do. It will be worth it in the long run, though, because I’ll get to make friends with all kinds of great folks faster than I would have otherwise.
If you catch me putting people down because of their size, their appearance, or other external qualities, please point it out. It will help me remember that judging people by appearances is not helpful at all (see, I didn’t say it was dumb!).
Back to the theme of the article I read, it really helps to remind ourselves that fat does not mean unhealthy, nor does thin mean healthy. People’s heredity, social circumstances, and many other factors affect weight, not just whether they eat too much of the “wrong” things. We need calories to live and thrive, including fat. Like almost everything else, our weight is caused by lots of factors. It’s not a character flaw.
I am convinced that if we studied how to use moderation in everything, like food, exercise, sleep, and work, we’d all be healthier. And certainly, with all the stressors out there, we don’t need to pile on more.
We are all doing the best we can, unless we don’t care, and then that’s our business, right?
*Note that it was pointed out to me, correctly, that calling thin children “stick children” was thin shaming. I shall endeavor to do better in the future, and appreciate this being pointed out!