I talk about fat stigma a lot here on Fat Heffalump. It’s the biggest problem fat people face and clearly the most damaging. Far more damaging than being fat is, that’s for sure. I want to start breaking down some of the components of fat stigma and talking about strategies to overcome those as a fat person. Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of posts along this theme.
Tonight I want to talk about shame. For me at least, and I know my experience is not universal but I am sure there are plenty of you who feel the same way, the shame placed on me as a fat person has been the most painful aspect of fat stigma, the hardest to overcome, and very much the one that has done the most damage to me.
Fat people are shamed at every turn. We are shamed for being fat. We are shamed for not being healthy enough (regardless of how healthy we actually are). We are shamed for not being active enough, but if we are publicly active, we are shamed for that too. We are shamed for being sloppy dressers, but if we do manage to find nice clothes and take pride in our appearance, we are shamed for that as well. We are shamed for wearing shapeless sacks, and we are shamed if we wear anything that reveals any skin. We are shamed for eating “junk” food, but should we be seen eating “healthy” food we are shamed for that as well (I can’t count how many times I’ve been told that “It will take more than salad to fix you, fat bitch.”) We are shamed if we hide ourselves away from the world, and we are shamed if we appear in public. We are shamed if we do not work, and then we are shamed if we dare to want a career and be treated the same as everyone else. We are shamed for needing health care (and it is implied that we require more than others), but often we are shamed once we get health care for not getting it sooner. We are shamed if we make no mention of our fatness, and yet if we do, if we are proud of ourselves and own our fatness, we are shamed for that as well.
No matter which way we turn, there is always someone waiting to heap shame on our shoulders. Many people will say that they’re “Telling it like it is.” or somehow trying to help us when they put shame on us. But there is one stark fact that we know for sure:
You cannot shame someone for their own good.
You just can’t. Shaming someone has absolutely no benefit for them at all, just damage. And shaming someone isn’t about helping them, it’s about making them feel bad, shutting them up, oppressing them and quite often, making the shamer feel better about themselves.
But what does help people, is letting go of shame. Is empowering them to advocate for themselves, and to feel like they are able to deal with whatever life throws their way. Empowering them to live their lives to the fullest, within their personal circumstances, that they can.
Every day of our lives, we hear, over and over, that fat people should be ashamed of themselves, for a myriad of reasons. When you hear so many stories of fat people who are unhappy with their lives, it is so often because they feel worthless, ashamed of themselves because they are fat. They loathe themselves because the world around them has told them they should.
People who feel worthless and unhappy don’t take care of themselves as well as they can. When someone hates their body, they’re not going to treat it well and care for it the best they can. Instead they are going to punish themselves, deprive themselves and look for ways to change who they are.
However, when someone has strong self esteem, and doesn’t carry that forced shame on their shoulders, they are able to do so much more for themselves in their lives. They cope better with adversity in their lives (which none of us can avoid, we all go through tough times), they are able to focus better on their work and other life matters, they feed themselves better, are more likely to be active and to seek out quality health care.
So, as people who have shame heaped on us from every quarter at any opportunity, what can we fat people do to let go of that shame, and not carry a burden that is not ours to carry?
I can only share what has worked for me, but perhaps some of you have strategies and methods that you would like to share as well. For me, surrounding myself with positivity helps. Be it online or in reality. I have found that the people I have in my life now are far more positive and progressive than when I was in that dark place of shame and self loathing. I read different things and watch different movies/television shows. I don’t read magazines or newspapers that indulge in shaming any more, and I am far more selective about which movies and TV shows I watch. When it comes to my online reading, I find things that build my self esteem and confidence, rather than tear it down. The same goes for the friends I surround myself with. When I look back now, I was the whipping girl for so many of the people I called “friend”. I was the fat girl they used to make themselves feel better. That’s not a friendship, that’s abuse.
Self care is really important too. Making sure that I take time to look after myself, be it just a pampering in a nice hot shower, time to read or relax some other way, making myself a nutritious meal, or just finding a way to de-stress when things get a bit much for me.
What also works for me is thinking of the shame as a metaphor. Mine is kind of gross, but I like to think of the shame people try to hand me about my fat body as a big steaming turd. I didn’t make that turd, and it’s not mine to carry. When people try to hand me that steaming turd of shame, I metaphorically hand it right back to them and think to myself “That is yours to carry.” Sometimes you might get a bit on yourself and have to take some time to clean up with some self care, but it’s still not yours to carry.
I know, it’s gross, but the metaphor works for me!
So how do you work your way through shame? Has letting go of shame about your body helped you in any way? Or are you still carrying around some that you need help shedding?