Over the past 5 years or so I have been learning a lot from colleagues, teacher and people with lived experiences, who are doing incredibly courageous advocacy for the right to health, respect and care of people in bigger bodies and otherwise marginalised bodies.
It shouldn’t have to be seen as brave work, but advocacy and activism, especially when done by people who are marginalised is brave because of the pushbacks and often threats of violence to that person.
My own Thin Privilege has protected me in many ways from this harm and it was not until I learned from people with lived experience that for example, when you present at the Dr Surgery with any type of condition that as a person in a bigger body, you will most likely be served with unsolicited weight loss advice. That is how weight bias in medicine works.
Maybe you have had this experience and it has left you feeling full of shame, or perhaps you had no idea, like I did, that this is a all too common experience for folx.
It wasn’t until I stated to learn about the systemic oppression that happens to bodies, who are outside the societal norm, that I began to understand that body image and how we feel about our own reflection isn’t just an individual issue. It has much deeper roots than that.
Yes it is important to become aware of how we speak, think and judge our own bodies, but we also need to wake up to how we, and society at large speak, think and judge other people’s bodies.
We need to realise the internalised fat phobia and anti-fat bias that we have been steeped in through society’s influences. You might have gotten it directly from you caregivers, but even if you didn’t pick it up at home, the message that thin is best is really everywhere.
The thing about internalised fat phobia / anti-fat bias is that it seeps into everyone. No matter what body size you are, chances are that you are carrying some of it, and until we dismantle weight stigma and weight discrimination, it hurts everyone. But it doesn’t hurt everyone in equal measures.
I am really no expert in talking about weight oppression so I am going to link to a group of excellent people whom I have learned from and that I am continuing to learn from at the bottom of this post.
I live in a straight sized body and the one thing that I have been, and that flares up every so often is my own internalised BS.
I also witness in my clients that the internalised fat phobia / anti-fat bias does not depend on body size. Which is why trying to make our bodies smaller will really not make it go away. It might give some relief temporarily but since dieting doesn’t work for 95% of the people who try them and is the leading cause of developing an eating disorder then it really isn’t the way to go, is it?
If you want to heal your relationship with food, eating and your body letting go of intentional weight pursuits, aka dieting is a necessity.
A few years ago when reflecting on my own relationship with food and eating, and the journey I have been on, I discovered a triggering comment on the size of my body (which in fairness at the time was still well within what society is considering “normal” & “healthy”), which lead me to start my first diet and subsequently struggling with over a decade of disordered eating.
From then on, I was at war with my body.
Denying my body its needs in form of food, rest, play and connection.
I can realise now, with my adult eyes and knowledge, decades later, that what I was most likely looking for was a sense of safety and belonging. A desire to fit in.
And in my desperate desire to fit in and belong, I abandoned myself. I disconnected me from my body, without understanding that my body is also me. It is my home for this lifetime and it is the vessel from which I experience life.
How can we feel safe, grounded and anchored into ourselves if we are simultaneously trying to force our bodies into some societal norms of what bodies “should look like”? Always trying to fix them and make them conform, so that we are acceptable, even palatable and thus fit in.
The desire and external pressure to do so is what is known as Diet Culture. It is very insidious and we are being bombarded from all angels with the message that we are not good enough as we are.
Somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. They are unruly and need to be controlled, often at all costs. Regardless of what body size our bodies actually are, this message all too often becomes internalised and we decide to do something about it. I.e. diet.
*It is also worth noting here, that this message of “not good enough” and body conformity conveniently commodifies our bodies in new ways, so that we can be sold “fixes”, to our internal struggles. Which means someone is making a lot of money of our body insecurities. Convenient huh?! And I doubt that is by accident. This is how capitalism works. (A topic for another day).
Diets, by design are restrictive. Often it is about cutting calories, or portion sizes. Or food groups. With the intention of trying to control the size of our body. Sometimes it is even disguised as something we do in the name of health. But as long as you are following a plan, set by someone else that has a bunch of food rules and is aimed at helping you lose weight, it is a diet.
Here’s the thing; How can we move beyond surviving into thriving if we are not honouring our physical needs in the first place?
Is it really possible to establish a sense of belonging, if we are always trying to make ourselves and our bodies into something they are not?
I doubt it.
Each time you are denying your body’s cry for food, you are essentially telling yourself in real time that you are not worthy of love and care. It’s oppressive and abusive. (And just to be clear I am not talking about situations of food insecurity or specific feeding challenges here. I am talking about dieting and restrictive eating).
In order to (re)build body trust, which is a two way connection between you and your body, you need to consistently over time meet that physical hunger with food. Over and over and over again. This is how the repair will happen and trust will build.
But you still really want to lose some weight? I get it. It is ok to want it. We all live in Diet Culture land.
As discussed previously, weight stigma is real. It does make it easier to live in a body that is not discriminated against. Yet actively pursuing weight loss is such a futile, life sucking pursuit, which it turns out is also a pretty good predictor of weight gain, over time(insert research resource).
So how can you move forward?
I believe it is important to acknowledge the internal voices of fat shaming, examine and understand where you learnt these, and if/how they might still be trying to keep you safe in some way.
Ask yourself, “Whose voice is that?”.
If you are in a smaller body and experience Thin Privilege, learn about what it is like for someone to live in a body where society feels like it has some right to judge and criticise based on a particular body size. And also spend some (potentially uncomfortable) time to examine your own thoughts, believes and biases about people in bigger bodies.
Pay attention to the words you use when you speak about your own body or other bodies, because as we know words hold tremendous power.
Shame never helps or heals. Kindness does.
May we together create a compassionate space where ALL bodies are welcome to heal, worthy of care and to be blessed with health.
May we let go of the oppression perpetuated by Diet Culture through actively pursuing weight loss.
May you recognise your worth as a human being, just as you are.