PEOPLE OF WALMART…
When you see that hugely fat person walking around Walmart, more like lumbering actually, is your reaction empathetic? If you’re like most people, probably not. Our instinctive reaction is to either stare in horror or look away quickly as if it’s “catching.” But what are we thinking? After the first “Oh gross” would probably come “What are they doing to themselves?!” and “How can they do that” Both of those are versions of “They should be ashamed of themselves for abusing the body they were given.” There are several posts within this issue of shame but for today we will just stick with the question of does fat shaming work?
Picture this: I am morbidly obese. I am exhausted from carrying around 100 extra pounds. None of my clothes fit well so I’m generally uncomfortable all the time. I don’t think doing makeup and hair would make a difference to my appearance, after all it can’t hide that extra 100 pounds or make it pretty to look at, so why bother? It physically hurts me to walk the length of Walmart and if I’m really, really fat I’m probably sweating by the time I get to a register to check out. It has taken me a good hour’s pep talk to get myself out in public in the first place and I’m really just wishing I could have all my interactions with the world inside Harry’s Invisibility Cloak. But no – you see me. You give me THE LOOK (you know that up and down look that tells you exactly how repulsive you are?) and end up staring at me as I make my progress by you. I can FEEL what you are thinking as if you have spoken out loud. I feel ashamed for existing. I feel ashamed for treating my body this way even when I don’t know why I do. I feel ashamed for not having solved the problem since so many people think it’s as simple as “calories in, calories out.” I just feel shame. I want to curl up-if that was physically possible for me- and be invisible.
FAT SHAMING IS HELPFUL, RIGHT?
I’ve read that there are people who actually believe “fat shaming” is a good thing because it’ll give the fat person the proper motivation to change and get healthy. These people watch waaay too many movies. I think they really expect the fat person in question to all of a sudden affect an enlightened radiant demeanor and exclaim for all to hear,
“Oh Thank you! You have made me feel so bad about myself that I can no longer live like that. You have made me hate myself so much that I will now love myself back to health. Where is the nearest salad bar? Quick! I cannot control my newfound craving for health food!” Then we should be able to see a 40 second montage of the fat person eating healthy, working out (with a smile of course!) on a treadmill, jogging on a picturesque path and doing Pilates. Then will come the big reveal where the former fatty walks into the room and everyone is stunned by how beautiful and attractive they are. That’s how it’s done, right?
What actually happens is that fat person goes home, sits down and numbs the horror of that Walmart trip by escaping into the food that is killing them, but making them feel better. On top of that, there is almost nothing worse than feeling ashamed. It eats at a person’s soul. Feeling guilty is one thing. That means you feel bad about something you have done. Feeling ashamed means you ARE bad. (Thank you, Brene Brown, for showing me the difference!) People who are morbidly obese have plenty of shame heaped on them by themselves. Having it come from outside sources just makes it all worse, makes that downward spiral even more attractive.
CAN WE FIX THIS?
So how do we fix this one? I have some ideas, stick with me! Weight does have that element of self-control (nobody forces me to eat and be sedentary) it seems inevitable that it will somehow be wrapped up in shame and guilt. Talking about it will help. But talking about it isn’t something we do..yet. I have ideas though, so stick with me! That exchange in Walmart was completely without words. No fat person is actually going to stop and address the person giving THE LOOK. And no person giving THE LOOK, wants to even be seen talking to the morbidly obese person that has trouble just walking the length of the store. Maybe writing it out will help. If we can begin to talk about it in general, maybe that will eventually lead to talking about it when it’s actually happening.
I have learned to not live from a shamed perspective anymore. I refuse to let myself feel that I AM bad when really it’s that I feel bad. I refuse to let other’s views of me shape me anymore. Shame and guilt are not places I am willing to operate from nowadays.
TELL ME HOW!!!
But that is NOT an easy attitude to accomplish or maintain. Next post we can get into the daily nitty gritty of not letting shame overtake us. In the meantime, I’m here and I see you and I know what it’s like.