I think about all of the conversations I’ve had about health and my weight over the course of my life. Who I talked to about my weight, who I let advise me on how to lose it and how I expressed my desire to lose.
I never verbally stated how much I needed to lose, I’d only say that I needed to lose weight. I never publicly addressed my weight. Not like it was “anyone’s business” anyway but in public conversations about health, I kept a very quiet seat. I don’t know if it was because I had nothing intelligent to add to the conversation (as I was, admittedly, clueless about my health) or if it was because I didn’t want to be caught dead participating in a conversation about health and weight loss. Actually, I do know. I was embarrassed.
The one person I would always take my weight loss issues to… well, let’s just say she had a habit of mocking my thighs, calling them “elephant legs.” This only resulted in me hiding up in my corner – not wanting to burden my closest loved ones with my whining about my weight, not wanting to let anyone know that I publicly acknowledge and admit this weakness I have. This…. problem… that I can’t quite wrap my brain around.
I’m still not sure if I was “faking it ’til I learned how to make it,” to be honest. I know that I wrote about this before, but I disassociated myself from the notion that I needed to value myself based on my outer appearance because I was doing so many amazing (tooting my own horn, thank you very much) things in my community. It allowed me to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-worth without letting one of those 386,170 unhelpful things get in the way of me developing a healthy understanding of who I am and what I could contribute to my world.
Think about that, though – American society, apparently, hits us with 386,170 messages in one year that being overweight means you have a problem. You are the problem.
Just look at this:
I chose a typical day – I went to the grocery store, I was on the internet for business and for personal surfing, I drove for a couple of hours with the radio on. I was on Facebook and Livejournal. I don’t watch regular TV (with commercials) so there is none of that. I purposefully didn’t go to any websites that were specifically about weight or weight loss, any comments that I read were attached to news stories that had nothing to do with weight or weight loss (for example, unprovoked what I can only call fat bashing abounded on articles about healthcare legislation that had nothing to do with weight). I only included examples that stated things outright (so I did not include, for example, magazines with page after page of thin models, even though I think that sends a pretty strong message that thin is the only body type that is beautiful). Examples are only counted in one category.
- Messages stating that it is impossible to be healthy at my weight: 217
- Messages stating that my weight makes me unattractive: 123
- Messages stating that I am lazy and don’t exercise/don’t exercise enough, lack will power, or am not “in control”: 311
- Messages stating that I need to reach a specific BMI to be healthy: 36
- Messages stating that I am a drain on the health care system: 116
- Messages stating that I have poor eating habits: 84
- Messages suggesting that I should be “repulsed by my weight” [used those words specifically]: 19
- Messages calling me a derisive name: 152
- Messages saying something positive about people with large bodies: 3
- Messages that specifically shouted down those 3 positive comments: 231 (these are included in the categories above so they are not added into the total below)
- Total messages about my body: 1061
- Total negative messages: 1058
- Total positive messages: 3
- About 353 negative message for each positive message.
If we extrapolate, I have been receiving:
- 7406 negative messages about my body each week
- 31,740 negative messages about my body each month
- 386,170 negative messages about my body each year
Is it hard to fathom that someone like me, arguably almost 200lbs overweight, would intentionally avoid participating in conversations about health – not my health, but health in general – because I know that most of society looks at me through a fatophobic lens? Do I feel like they’d devalue my opinion, since I “obviously don’t know much?” Don’t they know how unhelpful this is, or do my feelings not matter because I don’t matter?
But see.. I have questions, in hindsight, about my perspective and how it affected me, too. I think about all the events and opportunities I passed up during my college years – things that might’ve helped me learn or be healthier – because I was afraid of being caught dead in the area. (Keeping it 100% real, I hated being seen in the gym, too.) “Oh yeah, I saw Erika at the Health Expo, with her fat ass.” I mean yeah, that’s young-minded for me to make decisions based off of that, but it’s equally young-minded to be adult women who make statements like that about others. So, I’m sayin’. We’re all reduced to gossipy self-conscious teenagers at one point in time or another if we allow ourselves to play this game.
I guess what I’m getting at is, I know that I was someone who was conscious of those messages that told me I’m “less than” because I’m not a swimsuit model. I wanted answers, but I was too embarrassed to do any asking. It felt like asking was a public admission that I am that person that those 386,170 things were about. Mind you, I am now someone who places a different value on society’s “messages,” but that’s because I have answers, now. Having those answers empowered me to think differently, and having a positive environment devoid of judgmental and negative messages allowed me to learn.
So, again, all I have at this point are questions. If we’re receiving all of these negative messages about our bodies, do people hide from or ignore their health as a means of “wearing a shield?” Do we contribute to a hostile environment (on either end) where we can’t have beneficial conversations about health with all these negative messages? And if you’re like me, are/were you embarrassed by being publicly concerned about your health? Do you think that your desire to “not be caught dead” at the gym/talking about self-care prevents you from advancing?