I am excited about what social media is doing to help people speak up and love their bodies. The Body Image Movement is gaining momentum, what with blogs of the voices of bigger men and women, photoshopping revealed in videos, and Facebook groups encouraging people to eat and love their food (see “Eating the Food!”). An especially powerful video was seen here.
But something jolted me after watching this video. I had expected to see comments full of joy and empowerment for a video like this, but most of what I saw was hate:
“To go from being dedicated and having good work ethic to being gluttonous, lazy, and satisfied with below mediocrity is not something that you should encourage on others. This woman compared losing a breast, for removal of breast cancer, and cerebral palsy, to being a lazy fat piece of shit. Absolutely disgusting and insulting.”
“This is fucking terrible, teach your kid healthy eating habits and make it a lifestyle for the poor girl. Shame on you you lazy bitch.”
“Lol at how stupid this video is. Not the idea cause everyone should love his/her body but changing the ‘body image’ isn’t the way to go. Hard work / healthy food is. Only retarded womyn can be sitting on their fat asses the whole day and expect to be seen as sexy ?
“I agree that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your body, but you should always strive to change it for the better. If you’re fat start dieting, go to the gym, don’t just sit around chugging food down your throat and then say “this is who I am and I am not ashamed”, that’s just bullshit to console the weak minded with. Same thing applies to every aspect of your life.”
Let me clue you in on something: hate does not lead to change. Body shaming makes us hide our food, makes us fear to be seen eating, and makes us silent. It does not empower us to “eat less and exercise more.” You could eat the healthiest food on the planet and still be unhealthy with a controlling, hateful mindset (see more on this with food psychologist Marc David). You could be eating the purest food on the planet and still not give your body exactly what it deserves and needs so desperately: love.
Hatred for others shows hatred for oneself. I know that when I was at my thinnest, I judged others more harshly out of discomfort and fear of weight gain. As we seem to have to learn time and time again, appearances do not tell the full story. Some people may be bigger because of genetics or environment, medication, hormones, and of course, past traumas such as abuse or depression.
I for one know that I am “bigger” because I denied myself food in the past. I know I am bigger because my body fears falling into “starvation” again. I know a craving so unbearable that it keeps me awake at night until I eat exactly what I crave. I know a body that resists the smallest bit of hunger by fighting back after so much past denial of food. And I know I am the one who chooses to eat when I do, but I also choose my freedom by doing so. And by learning to love my body, I sit down at last and enjoy my food.
The comments posted below the Body Image video suggest that once someone changes how they look, they will be happy. But clearly what the commenters fail to realize is that the woman who changed her body for the body competition still did not love her body. It was not about physically changing her body, but about learning to love herself as she was—no matter the number on the scale.
At a smaller weight, when I was eating “clean,” I would not receive ridicule because I “looked” the part, even though I hated my body, binged in secret, and felt worthless without being the fastest runner.
That, my friends, is not the definition of health.
When we face ourselves in the mirror, and hate what we see because of what has become of our bodies out of anger or abuse or hurt, we have to come to accept our past and the strong people we are today because of it. We may be bigger because yes, we may have binged or have eaten poorly, but if we learn why we did this, and how to love ourselves and find peace within, we might be more inclined to treat our bodies with healthy exercise and eating patterns Acceptance is not about saying “hell with it” and stuffing ourselves with junk all day because we now have an “excuse” to be “lazy”; it is allowing ourselves to accept where we are, and be willing to feel just as happy with ourselves if we always stay this way (physically) even if we do eat healthy food. But healthy eating habits and exercise routines will not come as easily until we are more forgiving of ourselves and loving of our bodies.
THIS is why we must love our bodies first. THIS is why we need the Body Image Movement. THIS is why it is not as simple as “eat less, exercise more, eat healthier.” The binger binges because she does not love herself. The purger purges because he does not love himself. The anorexia sufferer restricts food because she does not love herself. You want to tell these people to “just eat healthy” or “just eat less and exercise more”? The answer is not so simple. Because no matter who we are or what we look like, just as “just be happy” will not cure depression, “eat less and exercise more” will not fix our body image.
True health is not perfecting our food choices or embarking on a regimented exercise program; it is learning to love our bodies enough to enjoy and watch what we put into them without striving for perfection, and exercising because we desire to move and feel the burn of incoming strength.
The true disease that our nation faces is not obesity; it is the shame, hate, and ridicule that perpetuate it.