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?
I can remember shopping with a “friend” of mine who is every bit of a size 2. We were in the Women’s department and she asked what size I was looking for and I told her. Why did she later say that she’d found a WIDE – not WOMEN’s. I could have died. Yes, I corrected her, but from that point I couldn’t shake the feeling that she saw me as someone WIDE. Now, truthfully, she wouldn’t have a clue about the Women’s department. She never shops there. I don’t think she meant anything by it, but it brought back every bad feeling that I was repressing about being overweight.
The messages are everywhere. And some are not too subtle.
Yes! It’s like even the most subtle and unintentional instances have a tendency to embarrass us.. and even when it’s the most innocent of cases it makes us think back to those cases that weren’t so innocent, you know? It just makes the entire thing a little painful, to me. I see where you’re coming from. 🙁
Yes I do believe that admitting the desire to lose weight directly affects self esteem. As an adult tackling my weight and learning proper nutrition I find myself hesitant to admit the desire to lose weight…for me it’s dang near impossible to get to me discuss. Once the talk begins about weight loss everyone wants to give you their opinion and tell you weather or not you need to lose or gain. I’d rather discuss the desire to be healthy. You never know how another person feels when it comes to their weight so why risk negatively affecting them? I consider my journey a lifestyle change instead of a weight loss journey. So much so that I don’t allow myself to play with the numbers on the scale, I hardly ever step on the scale. It took my doctor reading my weight at my physical today for me to realize that I’m down 15 pounds since starting clean eating and healthy living in April. (kudos to you Erika for the ecouragement) Instead I find myself eager to discuss different nutrition methods with family & friends and in doing so I neglect the weight issue. I strongly believe health is the main concern, let the weight loss be secondary…let it happen naturally versus focusing on the pounds in order to improve more endurance which will inadvertently build self esteem. (I felt better about myself when I realized my clothes fit differently. Then other women in my life began asking about what I’ve been doing, like it was some big secret. And when they ask how much weight I’ve loss, I’ve always said, “I dont know, I do this to fight disease and improve my quality of life”.)
So, it’s interesting that you blog about this, as I feel like I’ve felt the other end of responses when I’ve dared talk about wanting to lose weight. And you may have discussed this here on another post, so I apologize if I’m in the wrong forum for it, but for me…the embarrassment I find is in wanting to lose weight around people who assume that desire comes from a place of self-hatred, or is somehow wrong, because I’m whatever they have conjured up in their heads about me. My size typically ranges between 14 and 16 (depending on where I’m at in the weight loss-gain cycle), and I’m slightly over 200 lbs. I’ve been wanting to get under 200 (as a start) for a few years now, if for no other reason than to see what it feels like (I have not been under 200 lbs. since I was a junior in high school). I don’t dare tell anyone close to me about my interests though; the last time I did I was repeatedly told by friends and loved ones that “there’s nothing wrong with you”, and that “you’re naturally thick; exercising and eating right won’t change that”. It bugs me to no end…particularly when I get it from people who are SMALLER than me. They don’t know what it’s like to be borderline ANYTHING, or to not be able to buy an outfit you want because it’s not made in your size (and even if it were it wouldn’t look good). They don’t know what it’s like to be approached by men old enough to be your father, simply because you look more their type than that of someone your own age. If they do know these things they refuse to relate, or perhaps get mad at me for not settling for these experiences. It’s depressing…and while I don’t assume things automatically change because your weight changes, I do want to at least exert my right to have the body shape and size I want.
So…yeah. I agree with you about the hostile environment, in more ways than one. I can’t yet say that I’ve found all that great of a solution, except for maybe coming to sites like here, where I can see examples of women who show me I’m not crazy in wanting and working for a change I deserve.
Omg. I’m several years late on this post, but I must say I FEEL YOUR BLOG, AND Tracie G’s reply resonates with me deeply. I’m someone who hasn’t been less than 200 lbs since high school. Even in junior high school, when I was anywhere from a size 13 (squeezing into 12s) to a small 16, I was (and still am) confident, despite family members and society constantly insulting my weight. And, up until a series of sport-related injuries, I was VERY active, despite being “plus-size.” And, on occasion, smaller friends would talk about admiring my confidence and spirit and how I am just naturally thick, but these are the same people that had boyfriends and were desired by boys of my age group while my thick self was the object of EVERY old dude’s desires. And, to this day (in my early 20s), I still notice that guys my own age predominantly only try to initiate sexual conversations/relationships with me, NOT anything more. In college, I shot up to a size 18 and have fluctuated around that size since. I’m now in grad school, trying to get back in shape (as I have been on-and-off for years now) and I find myself very anti-facebook posts about workouts (unlike several of my smaller friends who constantly put up gym selfies and post workout-related memes). Although I talk to my fellow overweight family members and bff about losing weight, I NEVER talk to anyone else about it. I never thought much about this lack of willingness to discuss my desire to lose weight, but this blog does make think – IT IS BECAUSE I (Ms. Super-Confident even in my plus-size) AM EMBARRASSED? Partially, yes, AND as several people have said, I also don’t want to fuel the fat-haters’ already bias flames against overweight people by acknowledging that I need to lose weight. It’s a weird dichotomy, kind of like talking about drug-addicted or jailed family members with certain social acquaintances (i.e. mainly my white or privileged minority friends)- I’D NEVER DISCUSS THESE THINGS because I’m afraid of them thinking “oh, her family is just like every negative stereotype of black people or less fortunate people we seen in the media…” The same fear goes for discussing my need to lose weight. My fear is of people saying “Well, she knows but she still eats x,y,z foods and drinks soda, etc.” or saying “She’s like every other fat black person…” rather than realizing that it’s not easy for someone who is 260 lbs and hasn’t been under 200 pounds for 5+ years to just drop the weight. And, even when I am going to or coming from the gym, usually in between classes, I avoid chatting with people about it. And, I’ve learned not to let people’s stares at me at the gym(which I do notice on occasion) bother me. But, I still don’t discuss my weigh issues with most people. Does my desire to not talk about affect my advancement? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. I think quite frankly that it’s a big defense mechanism. I still do go to the gym, I still walk several miles when I can, etc. I don’t know.
I’ve been chewing on this for awhile, and my answer is . . . I’m still not sure.
My self-esteem was on shaky ground for a lot of reasons, of which being overweight was one of the least. Granted, I was never that big–I never cracked 180–but I was definitely overweight and I was definitely aware that I didn’t have my eating and exercise habits in hand.
Frankly, knowing that I wasn’t doing anything about it was a lot worse for my self-esteem than just wanting to lose weight. Wanting to lose weight was no big deal–join the club, right?–but throw in knowing that there was no reason I couldn’t do it except that I hadn’t meant that, no only did I know there was a problem, but I was greedy and lazy, to boot. Great.
Really, truly, admitting I wanted to lose weight–not just pie-in-the-sky wishing I had skinnier legs–was the first baby step in actually doing it. So, it was a total downer, but it was a toe in the door to being empowered, too, which ultimately felt awesome.
I’ve lost 40 pounds, the good old-fashioned way. More exercise, better food, no hunger.
That does wonders for my self-esteem, but I couldn’t have done it without first admitting that I wanted to lose weight.
This is such a super post that I wish it had come out of my head and I had written it on my blog! The ultimate compliment.
The thing that many people don’t know is that if they are thinking that much about their weight as you described in this post, that they are VERY close to making a big change in their fitness. VERY VERY close!
It’s very liberating–almost like flying–to take that sensitivity to your own weight and use the flip side of that coin–use that same intense sensitivity towards fitness to make dramatically better and bolder choices about your life.
There are quite a few people who don’t struggle with their weight who never got to this point of intense sensitivity. They do their fitness in a so-so way without great enthusiasm.
I would say that my great enthusiasm in weight lifting and yoga stems from that intense sensitivity “before” I ever got in shape. Use it to “fuel your fire.”
We have seen quotes like the one in this article time and time again arising from studies that examine the impact of the fast food diet on health.
I guess I am wondering, as you pointed out we are more then bombarded with a stream of messages about body image. The people in this study had a heart attack and yet their poor dietary habits remained constant. How conducive to recovery and repair of our body image can a conversation that does not arise within a strong body image aware support system really be. How could I ever be comfortable with this conversation at a gym when the public concern just seems like a gloss?
Did you live my life or something? Every post is an image of the internal struggles that I went through. I battled with participating in a lot of undergraduate events because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. My friends didn’t care or so they said but it was a battle I couldn’t win as a big girl. Actually admitting I need to lose makes me feel a lot better than sitting and crying about a pair of pants that no longer fit.
Great post! I struggle with this a lot. Right now I am trying to lose weight. And be more consistent with exercising. So I am counting my calories and scheduling workouts. I have been eating pretty clean for a while. And guess what, it did nothing for my weight without portion control.
I am down 30 pounds this year, and at the place I have spent most of the last decade. In high school I as a size 14-16. In college I was anywhere from 14-18. In adulthood it has been 18-20 mostly. Right now I am 18 and heading towards 16 soon.
My overall goal is around 50-60 more. This feels like a big number. And puts me at a number I haven’t been since I don’t know, 6-7th grade or so.
I have never been one to complain about my size. I didn’t stop wearing cute clothes because I had to look a little harder to find them. Weight is never a conversation topic for me. I don’t have many health problems (hypothyroid is it) and my key numbers: blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol are normal to low.
So I wonder, if I go out there and tell everyone: hey I am trying to lose weight. Will they suddenly think I have spent the last 20 years (or whatever) unhappy with myself? It is tough to say. So I guess, for now, I am trying to avoid future health problems. And I’ll leave it at that.
I definately believe all the negative self talk plays with your self esteem, and you metrics more than proved that. To be kind, forgiving, and self accepting of our faulty selves takes a lot of bravery.
Like Marion said, when I became conscious of the messages all around me, I began to make small changes in my life. Small efforts at first, because yes, I was afraid of failing…AGAIN. I do remember sitting in a grad class and listening to a classmate’s presentation about the impact of nutritional lunches (or lack of) in our public schools on the obesity rate of our children. Of course, it was not about me, but as the ONLY obese person in the room, I felt like all eyes were on me. I felt humiliated. There are way too many instances where I felt my society was “telling me something” to recite here. I’ll just say that I completely get what you are saying.
I have lost 60 pounds since that presentation, and I’m still working on it, but I’m also working on which messages I allow into my consciousness. I’m finding that the hardest weight to let go of is my own image of myself as the fat girl, the unworthy girl.
(Side note – During my last trip to the gym, where I used the free weights in front of that wall-to-wall mirror, was finally sending me a very positive message. 🙂
I bought a scale after avoiding doing so for a year. I’m 37years old, black, mother of 4 and the number staring back at me (256lbs) was UNACCEPTABLE. I bought the scale because I wasn’t feeling well in my own skin. Because my size 18 jeans were starting to get too tight. Because I was enjoying sex less and less, one of the reason being that I didn’t like catching glimpses of my naked self, let alone lack of stamina. However, that number no longer represented all of those things in that moment. That number represented, sickness to me. Not that I was sick for being overweight, but that I could become sick for being overweight. Heart disease, diabetes, etc. I became acutely aware that no meeting a certain standard of beauty wasn’t going to motivate me. Because quite frankly, with my body shape, even at my lowest weight, which was low, I could never met them anyway. I long since outgrew the desire too and rocked my curves with pride and love. But my health is everything to me. There is no good reason for me to be this size, 37yrs old and 4 babies or not. So, after getting off that scale I promptly changed my diet and started exercising again. It’s slow going, (I started on Oct 11th and now weigh 248lbs), but I okay with slow progression. I certainly didn’t gain this weight over night. So, yes, I think our self esteem can get in the way of our health, but I also think good self reflection and self love can overcome it.
This is a great post that reminds me that I am not alone in my weight loss struggles. I vacillate between being open and honest about my desires to lose weight or sweeping it under the rug. My past experiences have made me reluctant to share my challenges.Even making a post such as this is a big thing for me.Thank you for the encouragement!
Well, congratulations on taking your first step! 🙂
For the longest time I would speak to nobody about my weight issues. Whenever I tried something to lose the weight, I felt I had to hide because I do believe that by admitting out loud that I am trying to lose weight had a profound effect on my self esteem. People would instantly judge and try tell me just how they stay thin so I should do so-n-so to get thin too. It was very discouraging. Now, I just don’t care what people say and how they stare. Yes I’m fat and yes I go to the gym. That’s what overweight people do-go to gym. In my opinion, gym is a place for people serious about doing something about they way they look and feel about themselves, not a place to stare and snicker and make snide remarks about big people.
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