Privilege and Shame
Monday, September 03, 2012
There are times on SparkPeople when I feel like the oddball out, swimming against the stream. I don't follow many of the expected practices of healthy living, rather I watch TV constantly, I end up at many positive solutions from a negative approaches, I consume sweets multiple times per day, I exercise inconsistently, and more. I guess I like to rock the boat and this blog is no different. While I wish this journey was always positive, there are bumps, crevasses, potholes, gaps, and caverns ahoy.
One of these downsides to the journey was recently brought to my attention by my friends. I trust them to speak with me about my behavior candidly, even when it reveals unpleasant truths.
I talk about health all the time now. It was absent as an interest from my life prior so I may be trying to make up for lost time. Going from one end of the weight spectrum to another has been a very interesting social experiment. I notice how now people seem friendlier, clerks smile readily, people volunteer an exchange of pleasantries, stockers frequently offer assistance, assumptions are made that I have always been this weight in discussions. The increase of this attention has made a substantial appearance to my daily life. I am noticed which is a part of the new privilege I am provided in society at large, called thin privilege. It is startling at times, upsetting, and yet after living my adult life without experiencing it, I must confess I am enjoying it.
The other consequence of this privilege by society is the practice of fat shaming. In contrast to the attention paid to thin people, there is a level of absence and negative assumption paid to overweight and obese people. I have experienced this myself as they are ignored, teased, directly blamed for their weight, and more.
But that isn't quite the worst part. As my friends have pointed out, the people who are the worst about fat shaming tend to be people who have lost weight.
I'm sure many would deny it, but stepping back, I have seen this happen directly through my own judgements, thoughts, and opinions. I have looked at overweight people and wondered why they can't lose the weight because I was able to. I have watched them eat and thought 'this is why you're fat.' I have sought to encourage them at the yoga studio by smiling but I never stepped up and welcomed them. I would compare my thin body to others to give myself a boost on days I felt fat. I felt frustrated when people spoke about the desire to lost weight but never followed through. I didn't understand how they could not remain consistent with healthy exercise and eating. I was exasperated at how they didn't realize it was as simple as calories in versus calories out. I always asked why they couldn't finally step up and save themselves.
I've been perpetuating the problem in shaming people based on their weight, in thought if not in action.
I was beyond grateful when my friends pointed this out me. After all I've been through this is NOT how it's supposed to be.
I see now that I was assigning blame to the person based on my own experiences. If I did it, why can't they? But that's not the question to ask. Rather, I should have asked what influence in their lives is preventing them?
I was able to change my lifestyle and my body and I found health and happiness in doing so. Everybody loves a transformation story. But the manner in which I achieved it the vast majority of people cannot replicate. I lost one of two jobs and hermited away at home where I worked on a minimal income. I was boringly consistent in my exercise every day, doing the same stuff day in and out. I typically ate the same foods each day. I immersed myself in learning about weight loss through SparkPeople. I worked to efficiently use the SP Nutrition Tracker through the span of my loss, glued to my computer. All told, I spend a very boring ten months in a self-enforced boot camp at my home doing the same things day after day after day with little variance. Not quite so simple as calories in versus calories out I think. Any volunteers?
The majority who want to lose weight cannot do this. They have vastly different lifestyles, jobs, and family situations that cannot allow it. They cannot be blamed for their lives that prevent them from doing what I did.
Besides, there are endless outside forces working against them: the disparaging monetary and time cost of unprepared food versus the affordability of convenience food, diet program traps designed to fail, portion distortion running rampant through the restaurant industry, the lack of comprehensive nutrition education, food labeling designed to deceive, constant articles and tv programs pointing fingers at the person and not the problem, advertising saturated with unrealistic expectations of humanity, thin clothes enlarged in shape instead of specifically designed to accentuate to a plus-size body, and so on.
Some people want to change but they aren't necessarily able or ready, and that's okay. I am here to encourage through example, not to directly change anyone. I may wish to because I know all that I have gained through the process, more so than someone who has not undergone such a transformation, but I also must recognize that my journey was a specific set of circumstances that cannot be transferred.
Most importantly, perhaps they are happy and healthy just the way they are. People come in all shapes and sizes. I and no one else should never attempt to deny them their right to happiness through my projections.
Whatever journey they are on they will navigate their own way through. What I can do is to provide help as necessary. The first step to helping others is to first to recognize what thoughts we may be having, positive, negative, and even negligent. That is what I'm working to change, thanks to the enlightenment and encouragements of my friends.
It's actually a lot easier than you might think. Following the advice of another woman facing the same situation the solution is love. Love every women. Love every man. Love them for being who they are, as they are. It is miraculous what a little love can do; it has completely transformed my view.
From there it's a matter of turning the outside influences in the food industry, the government, and society at large to a path of helping and not hurting. That might require a bit more than love.
Member Comments About This Blog Post
Wow, a truly introspective blog! I, too, will catch my thinking the same thoughts when I see an overweight person. I did it, why can't you? Of course I don't vocalize this thought and instead choose to help by example. I am always ready to offer advice, encouragement, and support when needed. However you are right we all have different circumstances and I need to bear this mind always!
1505 days ago
You are an incredibly insightful and introspective woman!
1505 days ago
Great post so truthful I have fallen into the "fat shame" attitude and was just blogging how the over weight are my motivation for keeping on this journey and not giving up and not wanting to be an obese person again. I know I need to work on my "attitude" Since I know how easy it was and is for me to put on all the weight Ii have taken off (I was extremely obese at 5'3' 208 pounds) still more to lose. Society does discriminate against the over weight.
Thanks for such an insightful and open post. A lot of food for thought here.
1512 days ago
I agree with the comments, you have brought up some really important points. What struck me most was the invisibility or lack of positive reaction you perceived when you were heavier. As an almost 60 year old who doesn't color her hair ( and so I look my age) I experience this a lot in stores, at music fests, even at work from new employees. It hurts, doesn't it? I am pretty sure I am still valuable even with grey hair and "progressive" lenses...
1513 days ago
Excellent observations, Tina!
I can especially relate to the "boot camp" part of your weight loss. When I lost the majority of my weight in 2002/2003 (154 lbs.) I was single and had a flexible schedule. I dedicated all my free time to healthy eating and exercise. Now that I'm married and I have a child in school full-time, I often wonder how I would have accomplished losing all this weight with my life the way it is now! My life is crazy, and most of my waking hours are dedicated to taking care of my family. I feel so lucky that I started losing weight when I was single with no kids. To lose a massive amount of weight takes not only dedication but selfishness!
1513 days ago
Loved this blog, Tina. It really does hit home on a lot of issues, concerning weight loss and its aftermath. I have no doubt the majority of *successful losers* struggle with this same mental battle.
I mostly find myself doing the judgment call, as I'm grocery shopping. Scanning the passing carts, and their pushers, I do an assessment between the foods they've selected and how they appear, physically. It's wrong, I know, but once you learn there *is* a connection between a persons health, and the foods they consume, it's hard not to make that mental note.
Honestly, I don't think badly of the person, it just reminds me of when *I* felt so very miserable eating all the process, and how I would, even at my heaviest, make my own judgment connection, between a *healthy looking person* and *their* cart contents...wishing I knew their secret.
So the judgment does happen, both ways. Big or small, we all just want to feel our best. Thanks for speaking out, as it's good to be reminded, to keep ourselves in check. Whether it's verbally or mentally, we just need to be kind to those around us.
1513 days ago
Very well said! You seem to put into wonderful words the things that are running through my own head but I could not articulate nearly as well. Thank you!
1513 days ago
That was an excellent insightful blog. What you said is true..sadly our society is often cruel to overweight people and does not treat them well. I experienced that when I weighed 240 pounds as well as when I grew up overweight.
You are also correct about the extra attention you get when you are in the thin world. People are friendlier and you are more noticed.
Each person in this world has his/her own journey. They should be accepted and loved no matter what path they choose to take.
1513 days ago
I'm really glad that you're here to show that a person can take a less common/conventional approach and still be successful. It's so easy to fall into an absolutist way of thinking when it comes to diet and exercise, especially if something's worked well for us, when the reality is that many of us have used vastly different strategies to get where we are.
I also completely agree with you that people who've lost weight can be the worst perpetrators of "fat shaming". As someone who was raised in an environment where I was taught to help people who are weaker, poorer and less fortunate, I'm ashamed to say that I've sometimes had the same thoughts you've referenced without giving much thought to the reasons why some people can't move beyond their present situation. I can only imagine how I would have felt if someone thought about me in that way when I weighed 240 or 260 pounds.
Thanks for the food for thought. It's certainly giving me a lot of things to ponder.
1514 days ago
I have just caught up on you by reading all the blogs you've posted during my spark absence. Your insight, learning and growing, and willingness to share is refreshing and wonderful, and you are able to express these things so well in your writing.
I appreciate all that you provide to the spark community. It is wonderful to know that I have a friend that has been through the journey and can provide the reality of it. What worked for you may not work for me, but it is important to support each other and offer and accept advice without judgment. It's also nice to be able to change my expectations, to know now that the journey will not be over when I hit goal, but that a new one of learning and growing will just be beginning.
You are a valued woman and friend. I look forward to supporting you, learning from you further, and getting to know you better in the days to come.
1514 days ago
Thank you for opening up and admitting something I am certain was difficult.It is like the former smoker who suddenly don't understand why everyone else continues to smoke and offers all kind of unsolicitated advice been there done that on both subjects.
1514 days ago
This was an amazinglly powerful blog. What you said about the judgment towards fat people really hits home for me. I have gained a ton of weight and I feel all those unspoken judgments all the time. Do they encourage me to lose? Am I inspired to change? No and no. Do I want to? Yes, but...
Thanks for the food for thought!
1514 days ago
That was a brave and insightful post. You have given me some food for thought. Thank you so much for sharing.
1514 days ago
Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.