One of the strangest things I’ve learned about people along the way… is the fact that people feel judged simply because you do things differently from them.
You don’t have to say “Oh, I’d never order that.” in order to make someone feel judged about the decisions they’re making with their food. You don’t have to say “Oh, I’d never eat the office cookies” in order to make someone feel some kinda way about the fact that they did, in fact, eat more office cookies than they’d care to admit. All you have to do… is do something they didn’t.
I know that I’ve always noticed when someone chose to turn down the cupcake or the cookies. I’d always wonder “Who, on Earth, would do something like that?” (Of course, the answer is “Someone who has a sugar addiction, someone who doesn’t want the sugar, someone who isn’t turned on by cupcakes, someone who is watching their figure…” but I didn’t know that, then.)
But the interesting thing, then, is what I’d think next… which is “Is there something wrong with me for eating the cupcakes or cookies? Is there something wrong with the cupcakes?” And this line of questioning always brought me some kind of guilt and shame… causing me to feel bad for wanting the cupcakes, and compelling me to feel like my choice was wrong… thereby making me want to go hide in the corner and binge on ‘em by my damn self.
What can I say? I was young, I was weak, and I was emotionally vulnerable in ways I was unwilling to acknowledge. It happens.
I’ve written about food guilt and food shame before, but maybe we should revisit:
Let’s talk about guilt and shame here, for a minute – specifically “food guilt” and “food shame.” I am not a fan of either. Why? Because, quite frankly, they’re ideologies that come from a dieter’s lifestyle. Not the lifestyle of a human being, which makes allowances for error/slip-ups/occasional indulgences. (Note: this is also why I don’t believe in “moderation.” It’s dieter’s mentality. I’m not a dieter. I don’t “moderate” my intake of food. I use common sense.)
Guilt, defined by Merriam-Webster: “a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”
Shame, defined by Merriam-Webster: “(1) a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety b : the susceptibility to such emotion <have you no shame?>; (2) a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute <the shame of being arrested>”
I brought up these two different situations for a reason. Did I feel a little shame? Of course! No one likes to be wrong. No one likes to feel like they have a “shortcoming,” and no one like to feel like their knowledge of anything is subordinate to someone else.
Someone else who does not know me from a can of paint, however, trying to check me – in, almost, a mocking sense – about “what’s good for my diet?” Monumental fail.
This new third scenario, however, is different. It’s an implied judgment. It’s assumed that you’re trying to passive-aggressively imply that someone else shouldn’t be doing something simply by the virtue of you choosing to not do it. It’s a strange way for someone to put your choices on a pedestal and measure themselves up to you… but that’s exactly what it is.
I mean, think about it – when we hear a woman talk about how she doesn’t want “big thighs,” how many of us have looked at our own thighs and asked ourselves “What, is something wrong with big thighs? Do I have big thighs? She doesn’t like my thighs?” and it causes us to feel some kind of way about ourselves and the decisions we’ve made for ourselves.
It’s also a way to shoot down common wisdom about wellness and weight, to protect the idea that you can “eat what you want in moderation” and that you also can, in fact, “lose weight effortlessly… without all that ‘deprivation‘ and working out” There’s nothing effortless about what I’ve gone through, that’s for sure. But to see you making the hard decisions and, essentially, benefiting from them would serve as proof that people keep talking about the hard way because the hard way works. No one wants to hear (or see) all that, and it’s easier to question you than themselves… or that silly philosophy they cling to.
But why? Why do we feel implicitly judged by someone else’s choices? Why do we feel as though their choices for their own life are an indictment of how we choose to live? If someone decides to hit the gym during their lunch break instead of [insert franchise restaurant], why do we feel like we need to make ourselves feel better by clowning the gym-goer behind their backs over lunch? If someone decides to pass on the office pizza, why do we feel the need to put that person under the bright lights and give them the third degree over their choice?
If I decide that I don’t want to be a size 16, it’s not an indictment on size 16s. If I decide that I don’t want to eat the office cupcakes or the office pizza or the office potluck food, that’s not an indictment on (or judgment of) the people who do. It means that I don’t want it. What I decide for me and my body isn’t about you, so to make it about you is foolish on your part.
There are countless stories, shared by BGG2WL readers on this site, of how people have chastized them for doing what everyone else does – for goodness’ sakes, your “Black Card” can be revoked because of it – or do what they can to throw you off track… all because they feel judged by your choice to live differently.
So my friends take me out for sushi to celebrate (’cause we do go out to eat!). I’m enjoying an eel roll and seaweed salad when the friend of a good friend begins to go off about taking the fat girl out to eat, and that I should go on a water fast for 2 weeks, then a colonic, then vegetarian diet. I told her she know didn’t a thing about diabetes and uncontrolled low sugar levels. She told me that she knew that eating too much brought it on, therefore not eating would take care of it. So I said the only thing I could think of:
“I may be fat today, but I’m loosing weight and getting healthier every day. A year from now, I’ll be smaller, more gorgeous, and won’t even remember you. But you’ll still be mean-spirited and ignant. Sucks to be you.”
Then her friend had to step in before the heifer hit me but that’s another story.
Also popular, is the “how dare you not offer what we want?” meme:
Last year for my son’s bday I set up a fajita station. We had grilled chicken or grilled sliced portobellas for the non-meat eaters, peppers & all the usual fajita offerings (lettuce, tomato, etc), fresh grilled corn on the cob, huge salad, fruit kabobs & of course the required cake & ice cream. My aunt complained the WHOLE time about where the fried chicken & macaroni salad was as if that’s the only fare we can serve at a family gathering. It really worked my nerves. Then she says, picking over my food, “I can’t eat this stuff.”
Stuff? What stuff? *sigh* It saddens me to think that for some of us if it isn’t fried, smothered, or cooked to death (string beans) it’s not our kind of food. This logic is ridiculous.
As for exercising this doesn’t seem to be a problem for men of color. They are encouraged to shoot hoops, run track & bike all day. Yet when a woman of color wants to partake in an activity it’s viewed with ulterior motives. She must be “trying to lose weight for the summer”; or she’s “trying to be cute” (or white). Being active is never viewed as wanting to maintain health or simply for enjoyment. This is bothersome.
Understand what I’m saying, here: it’s one thing to see or hear something you don’t like… it’s another thing entirely to then denigrate it because it’s not what you want.
I guess I speak of it in this fashion because I used to do it. My best friend is a size 6. Trust me. I used to do it a lot.
Is there jealousy involved? Is there guilt or shame involved? Absolutely. I think that is what compels the person who feels judged to respond negatively to you making a different decision than they did. How do you deal with it?
Like I admitted before, I used to be guilty of this. It’s strange now because I went from being the person embarassed that my fat ass was eating cake in public to being the person who everyone’s asking “why aren’t you having any cake?” and giving the puppy dog face when they see you turning it down. I’m extra-sensitive to it because I also know that the wrong word choice would cause someone to feel the same way I did.
And no, it isn’t my responsibility to coddle someone else’s feelings… but I do feel some responsibility to not be insensitive.
When people ask me why I’m not having the cupcakes or any other super sweet thing? I just tell ‘em, complete with a head shake, “I just have a headache… the sugar’s only gonna make it worse. Maybe after it dies down.” and I add in a hand toss for good measure. If they inquire further, you “already took something” and you’re waiting on it to take effect. That way, I’m not responding with anything similar to “Don’t you know that cupcakes make you fat?” or “Because I have a sugar addiction and I’m not trying to make it worse.” I don’t want to have any further conversation about my choice, and I don’t want to make an awkward situation worse.
If it’s something oily or cheap-looking? “I want to, but I have a stomach ache. Maybe after I have some pepto.””I haaaate [insert pizza chain.] It always makes me sick when I try to eat it!”
For some strange reason, saying “I’m just not in the mood” isn’t enough, because [thanks to all these cupcake boutiques] people love to respond with “a cupcake will always put you in the mood!” (Mind you, as a recovering sugar addict, this is creepy as hell.)
What I realized about myself – and it may be different for others – is that the times where I felt some kind of way about someone choosing to not eat the cake or cookies, were the times where I wanted to turn it down too, and couldn’t (yet, didn’t know why I couldn’t.) I felt an unnecessary compulsion to indulge… and didn’t understand it. I didn’t get it, but I’d do it anyway and be okay with it because, well, cupcakes taste good. It can’t hurt to have another one, right?
I didn’t want to take the “easy” way out, but I did because it was comforting. It’s a hard decision to go against habit and hit the gym or turn down the cupcakes. I didn’t know what that took then, but taking the time to learn made the difference for me, personally.
Do I think this happens the same way in every situation? Honestly, no. However I do know that, on the course of adopting a healthier lifestyle, we all will encounter this. My only advice is to do what you can to take the focus off of what’s assumed to be judgment, and put it onto something arbitrary that can’t be accounted for. It takes the sting out, squashes the debating, and everyone can go back to enjoying their cupcakes… while you, well, enjoy not enjoying them.