For the Skeptics and Naysayers of the Body Image Movement

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 stopped 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 ?
Oh and you think cause you went healthy for 1.5 years you know everything about diet and workouts ? Guys have to work out 3-5 years to look good and yet I don’t hear them complain.”
“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.”
What anger, what rage! It is the comments like these and the people like them who perpetuate the hate we have for ourselves—no matter how big or small we are. These are the voices that scream in the reflection when we look in the mirror. We let some angry person who thinks they know our lifestyle dictate our happiness.
But 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—
Hatred for others shows hatred for oneself. I know that when I was at my thinnest, I judged others because I thought myself superior and stronger; but this was out of discomfort and fear of weight gain. I grew up scorning larger people in my mind not only because I observed my own family doing it through their words (“they need to stop being so lazy.” “Just eat less and exercise more.”), but because deep down I feared becoming fat and being ridiculed just as harshly. I feared even the smallest amount of “fat” I saw on my body, feared it meant I was larger than I should be, and that I would be judged for it.
As we seem to have to learn time and time again, looks 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 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. I sit and listen to my body instead of bingeing in front of the TV—and that is because I love and respect myself enough to do so.
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 learning to love herself as she was—no matter where she was 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 ate poorly, but if we learn why we did this, and how to love ourselves and find peace within, we will want to eat healthier as well. 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, healthy 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 anorexic 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 respect what we put into them, cherish the food, and exercise because we desire to move and feel the burn of incoming strength. Who is to say these people cannot love their bodies here and now because they don’t fit what YOU say is healthy?
The true disease that our nation faces is not obesity; it is the shame, hate, and ridicule that perpetuate it.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.

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2 Responses to For the Skeptics and Naysayers of the Body Image Movement

  1. Tamara Steil says:

    I, too, was appalled at the comments after the video. Those who commented seemed to miss 98% of the points of the video. They just perpetuated the ignorance of the problem. Your rebuttal is wonderful. Thank you for expressing those feelings so well!

  2. Kelly says:

    You absolutely nailed it! Bravo!

    The comments on that video don’t surprise me. I had those comments or the type thrown at me in public for years and I was not even that pudgy!

    It’s a societal cultural issue.

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