Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Self-Hatred, Self-Shame, and Self-Compassion

Q&A Wednesday: Self-Hatred, Self-Shame, and Self-Compassion

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Q: Just like the title of the email says I hate myself.  Now my body image issues did not start until I got into college, which is like the holy grail of mind f***ery.  In short when I first got here I knew I was big but no one around never told me how big, until freshman year.  So in response I went to the gym and never lost weight, and still haven’t but I’ll get there later.  With me being in college this is the time to find someone…smh no unfortunately for me I am fat, ugly and hard to look at from many guys point of view.

As a result I am lucky enough to have a guy just try and use me for sex, as for dating forget about it!!! Why you may ask simple I go to school in WA meaning you have the guys especially black go after the white girls and sleep with or date a black girl for some time.  But because I am fat guys look at me and think I am nothing but a sex toy.

Which is why I hate myself, not because I slept with guys but because to them I am nothing, and me being me I know the world…and even though my friends try to be like well all you have to do is be nicer, or guys like their women bigger in the south…imagine what I was thinking when they said that.  But anyway as much as I hate to say but my opinion on myself is determined by how I look and how guys treat me.

And right now I am still fat and ugly, in short I am 5’10, 280, and morbidly obese which is not something a 23 year old likes to hear.  For the past fours year I have been trying to lose weight to gain the positive attention and finally be able to have fun and act crazy(in a funny way) without having people look at me crazy.  I have gone as so far as to stop eating and just drinking water which did work for a time but then I went home to family.  Also I secretly dream I can find someone who has mono or some disease that makes you lose weight so I can catch it.

Don’t get me wrong I have worked out in the gym and lost a little weight but I don’t see it and it’s not working fast enough for me. I know that is not how it works, but I been fat all my life I want this weight GONE!  Nevertheless, every time I am there I feel like I am wasting my time and not losing weight.  NO I will not do any surgeries because me doing that is the punk way out, for one else thumbs up, I just can’t do that.

Now I know your wondering why is this crazy chick sending you things long ass email, simple (even though I am not feeling good about this) but I am asking for advise on how to change this weight thing.  Mentally I am already screwed and trying to get help with that, I have a poor diet I need to fix, I have vitamin issues, and I am a diabetic.  But I don’t feel like that is the reason but that it is my fault that I am in this position and nothing except myself is to blame.  Because of this I hate everything about me, can not stand looking at myself in the mirror so I have a technique which stops me from really looking at my face, that I can never do anything right, and that I am destined to die alone with my career to my name alone, without anyone caring.

I don’t know if you can help me and honestly after reading this I doubt you would.  If not just tell me no and to get help.

First and foremost, let’s get something clear, big-sister style.

When I look at all the different bullet points in your e-mail, I don’t think “Yeah, she really needs to lose weight.” I think “Wow, what are we doing to our girls?”

Do not value yourself based on the way men look at and value you. Your contributions to the world extend far beyond your appearance, and you deserve to be seen and recognized as such. And, by extension, characterizing mutual sexual satisfaction as you “being used” troubles me, too. If the encounter is not held between two people who are in some kind of partnership, then casual sex is literally mutually beneficial and, in essence, you are both using each other. If you are comfortable engaging in safe, sane, and casual sex, own it. It’s not “being used.” You are “getting yours.” And, by extension, if it’s not mutually satisfying, don’t do it just for the sake of connecting with someone. It’s not worth it. It’s just as hollow.

People love to fixate on interracial dating in response to their inability to find the partner they desire, but this, too, is a non-starter. When you consider that the overwhelming majority of Black people in America are still marrying other Black people in America—and, trust me, the numbers aren’t even remotely close—this starts to lose its foothold. (This also says nothing of the fact that you, too, could date interracially if you so chose, as well.) You’re not using this as anything more than a means of further shaming yourself and attempting to justify why you don’t deserve partnership.

You also apparently think that, because you are overweight, that you don’t deserve to properly nourish your body. Starving yourself and subsisting on water alone is a recipe for I-can’t-even-tell-you-how-many ailments, especially for a person on the larger side. Especially for a diabetic. You talk about your family feeding you with scorn—people we love go to great lengths to ensure that we are nourished, and that’s a fact as old as mankind. Nourishing someone you love is contributing to their survival. And, though I suspect the people in your family are “worried” about your weight too, they still believe you deserve to be nourished, and so should you.

Surgeries aren’t “the punk way out.” Many people seek medical intervention for their weight loss, because it becomes life or death in a way that forces them to make that choice. Surgery wouldn’t help in a case like yours because so much of your challenge is emotional, from what I can see, that you might merely find a way around the surgical modifications to get what you’re after, and that is dangerous.

You don’t believe you deserve partnership, you don’t believe you deserve to be loved, you don’t believe you deserve to be nourished, you don’t believe you deserve to even be looked at in a mirror. You don’t believe you deserve better health, and you actively seek to catch a contagious illness so that you can lose weight. You don’t believe you deserve to be praised, instead believing that contributing to your field and building a career from it is not something worth appreciation.

There is an outsized interpretation of what “weight loss” can do for people, usually women. Weight loss cannot fix this. And, contrary to popular belief, merely losing pounds on a scale cannot change what is happening here.

I can understand growing up and believing adamantly that the “grass is greener on the other side,” believing that all of your problems exist because you are so far outside of what mainstream society believes is “ideal.” A lot of this has to do with trying to fit in somewhere that isn’t for you, often because you believe that space is more ideal than the one that’s best suited for you. If it leaves you feeling this badly, sis, it’s just not.

You can’t fight to be in a space that leaves you feeling this badly about yourself. That’s your first sign that it isn’t for you. And, speaking from personal experience, perhaps nothing is for you right now. Perhaps, what you need is to focus on yourself and do what you can to get your head and your heart in sync.

I can’t even say that I can’t imagine how you feel, because the truth of the matter is that I can. In so many ways, we contribute to a society that shames people for their size and, because shame is intended to isolate people and force them into the shadows, this is exactly what you are doing to yourself. You don’t want anyone to look at you, because you know that the likelihood that those people looking at you will only heap more piles of shame on you is high. You don’t want to look at you because you can’t help but shame yourself in the process.

And, because of this, it’s why I’m going to say this much: you have to work on stopping the self-shame. It’s not only preventing you from seeing yourself and all the good care you deserve, but it’s preventing you from being realistic about your journey. You’re not going to wake up one day and be smaller. Of course you’d be unable to see your progress when you look at yourself in the mirror—you said it yourself, you “can not stand looking at yourself in the mirror.”

There are lots of books that you can read to help you develop a new perspective on yourself and this journey. You can check out a few of my recommendations here. Most importantly, I would research whether or not your campus offers therapy from a professional who specializes in empathy and helping you develop self-compassion. The world will always find a way to devalue you and none of us, regardless of size or skin or hair texture are exempt. We’re devalued and then sold products that we convince ourselves will “improve” us. We’re devalued and then some stranger who wants to take advantage of us tries to tell us what we want to hear, so we’ll give them what they want. We’re devalued by potential employers—in some cases, to our face—and told we aren’t worth what they’re asking, because they’ve got a budget to accommodate.

There is a lot going on, here. And it’s perfectly and totally okay to ask for help to walk with you through it. As far as the weight loss, start with this: download those three books, and listen to them as you go on daily walks. Talk to a professional to help you develop healthy coping mechanisms. Surround yourself with people who are empathetic and compassionate and trustworthy. (This is the most important part of healing, to me—where shame tries to isolate you and tell you that you deserve it, community tells you “no, you don’t, and we understand.”) Shift emotionally, so that you can prepare yourself for the realities of the world as you seek to shift physically. After all that, I am absolutely certain that both your body and your mind and heart will thank you for it.

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TheCurvyJones January 14, 2016 - 12:20 PM

This was my whole life. I could have written this: fat in college, grew up in WA where the black men really REALLY don’t go for black women, thinking that I would spend my life alone because I could not get weight off.

I guess that I took the punk way out. I had surgery and I lost 115 pounds. But you know what happened when I lost weight? My dating situation didn’t change. Surprised?

A huge reason that extreme weight-loss measures fail is that people fail to address their inner demons. They think it’s all about the outside, the way you look. That self loathing and compulsion to call yourself fat and ugly and blame inability to date on the fact that black men don’t like black women? That is the exact thing that will drag you down. That is the exact thing that won’t change no matter how thin you get.

I didn’t really start to date and see being with men as a viable option until I changed how I thought about myself and how I felt about myself. Part of that for me was liking what I saw in the mirror so, yes I had weight-loss surgery. It was essential for me. I still ate healthy and I still worked out like a fiend at the gym. It was in no way easy and I in no way feel like a punk. Now I work to keep that weight off and I also work to encourage myself.

These words are not something that 23 year old me would want to hear. 23 year old me would want to know what kind of pills can I take and how can I get rid of all this fat? I pray that the sender of this email doesn’t do like me and wait until she is a fat 40-year-old prediabetic, hurting all the time and near death to do something about her insides and outsides.

Tamika January 18, 2016 - 11:43 AM

The struggle is real . You are tooooo young to give up ! YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.YOU ARE INTELLIGENT . YOU ARE FUNNY .It will be hard , but you can do it. You just need help .

JC January 19, 2016 - 2:22 PM

But the important thing is you did it. Whether you’re 23, 33, 43, heck even 63, as long as you have a breath in your body, its never too late to change.

Congrats on your success!

Ann January 14, 2016 - 5:57 PM

My love to the sister who wrote to you..and my love to you for your response..I am pasting it into my journal..so on point sis…thank God for you and for who you are and what you give…can’t thank you enough♡♡♡


Jessica January 17, 2016 - 9:43 PM


Can you please post the 3 books you recommended for her, I need emotional strategies too. I need to love myself again also.

EM January 18, 2016 - 2:11 AM

Hi Erika, I don’t see the books either-am I missing something? I’m in the same boat, on a destructive path and I need help.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 18, 2016 - 1:14 PM
Erica January 19, 2016 - 8:22 AM

I’m also not seeing the books and did click your name to no avail. However, thank you for the loving and kind way in which you responded to this young woman. Her initial email was heartbreaking. We must do better for our children and bless you for doing so. I’ve come to believe that we need a movement in our community for black female youth regarding self love and self image. It seems you have begun the activism. Much Appreciation.E~

JC January 19, 2016 - 2:12 PM

This right here, every last word that young woman said was and is me. It took me 24 years to realize what you said Erika, but I’m finally here!

I lost nearly 80lbs in 6 years, yo-yoing in between those years, and although I’m still nowhere near goal, its made me realize so much. It doesn’t matter if you’re 125 or 325, if you’re not happy with yourself, you’re never going to attract anyone or if you do, it might not be the right person for you. After losing all that weight, I still have a lot of insecurities and I’m starting to realize they have nothing at all to do with my weight. My weight was just the scapegoat.

I gave someone on their blog recent advice on this and said:

“We can’t expect to have a complete relationship if we are not complete in ourselves. The reason why there is rejection in the world is so that we don’t fall into the wrong relationship. A person can feel when we’re not complete and that’s why a lot of times we get rejected, but more than that, its God’s way of protecting us from a person who is going to be hell in the future. Take it as a blessing and keep it moving!”

It’s definitely easier said than done, but having faith makes it a lot easier to cope and deal with. I still have a long way to go with my own issues, but coming to terms with it has made me a lot stronger and I know in time will make me a better partner for the one I am meant to be with.

Thank you so much Erika for this! I hope this reaches her and reaches others like us who have/is going through this. Even though I was already aware of everything you said, its still good to read it and reassure myself of what I already know now.

courtney January 19, 2016 - 11:51 PM

I am literally in tears reading this article, because it hits really close to home. I decided the end of last year to work on my health and lose the weight. I joined a gym, and signed up for this website, and vowed to eat cleaner. I was doing good until last week, and things went down hill and fast. I stepped back in the gym earlier today, and cooked my first meal in a bout a week. Its crazy, because I know my obesity includes demons, and emotional strong holds I have been battling my entire life. I will be 30 this year, the last time i checked i weighed in at 285, and I am scared I don’t have the strength to love myself fully, and eventually lose the weight. I have these periods where my confidence is high, and things may be going somewhat smooth, with manageable rough patches, and then boom! I remember I am single, and obese, not kids or marriage in sight as of right now. I managed to graduate with two degrees, but that is it. I want more out of my life, and It is struggling figuring this all out. I would think I would have it figured out by now, but honestly I feel like the first day of my freshman year in undergrad and the fear is so real, its almost paralyzing. It really helps to believe someone out there really hears me.

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