Sunday, April 13, 2014

Fat Shame

I happened to see a friend in passing the other day, one whom I hadn't seen in a few months.  I noticed that she had put on some weight.  And that realization made me feel better about myself.

Before you start casting stones in my direction, it isn't what you think. Honest.

When I noticed that this acquaintance had packed on some pounds, I felt sympathy.  I know she's under a lot of stress, and I can totally relate to stress eating my way through several pints of Phish Food.  I also know that getting to the gym is typically at the bottom of my long to-do list when kids, work and "Walking Dead" episodes are all competing for my attention.

As I considered her weight gain, I felt better because I realized I wasn't the only woman out there who struggles with her relationship with food.  My friend is a smart, kind, vibrant woman, who cares about people and is strong.  If she happens to struggle with emotional eating, I thought, then maybe it's not such a thing to be ashamed of.  I mean, really, who DOESN'T have some unhealthy habits?  If she, someone I genuinely admire, struggles with weight issues, then, I'm sure in good company.

Even more important, though, I noticed how I thought about her.  I didn't feel judgment or criticism bubbling to my lips.  Instead, I just felt compassion and understanding.  And the reason this was an epiphany was because I realized that I reacted to her weight gain exactly opposite to how I react to my own frequent slip-ups.

I didn't think, "Wow, Susy should really put down the Oreos, the fat pig!  She must be so lazy and disgusting.  How does she not learn her lesson?  All that ice cream always makes her sick, yet she still gorges on it when she's stressed.  I cannot believe her.  She's gotta be really, really stupid to keep make these same mistakes over and over and over again."

Nor did I think, "That woman needs to haul her fat rear end to the gym once in a while.  Why can't she just make time to exercise for once?"

And I definitely didn't think, "There is no hope for her.  She'll never lose the weight.  She'll never keep it off.  She will be a big, giant, fat pig for the rest of her life.  She disgusts me."

Yet, those are all things I have thought about myself.  To be honest, these are some of the tamer criticisms I have regularly hurled at myself.

Lately, I have been noticing how prevalent fat shaming is in our society.  What's more disturbing, however, is how much I have bought into that fat shaming.  I like to think of myself as relatively smart, someone who thinks about things and tries to be open-minded.  But when it comes to body issues, I catch myself thinking thoughts that I know are illogical or damaging, yet, they are so hard to control.

I have been working hard over the last few years at not talking negatively about my body.  I don't want to pass on my weight and body issues to my three kids.  The more I work on not saying negative things, the more I realize how often they pop into my head.

Everything I have read about emotional eating says that beating yourself up or shaming yourself about your body and eating only serves to exacerbate the problem.  If you beat yourself up for eating the three extra brownies on Saturday, you end up feeling guilty and miserable and hopeless.  Then, you find yourself gorging on about 10 more brownies to drown your feelings of guilt and misery.  At least this is what happens to me, on a semi-regular basis.

I know all that, yet, I still have difficulty NOT shaming myself for how I look or what I ate.

Seeing my friend, however, made me realize that all is not lost.  If I can feel sympathy and understanding for Susy's weight gain, then perhaps someday, I can offer myself the same level of caring, understanding and forgiveness.

That's my goal, anyway.