Working Your Way Out of the Self-Loathing Land

Published September 12, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Recently I received an email from an anonymous reader of Fat Heffalump, that asked me how one could possibly engage in Fat Activism/Acceptance when they absolutely loathed everything about their body.  They made it clear that it’s not that they thought that other people should loathe being fat, they just couldn’t find a single thing to like about their own body, they found themselves just that repulsive.

I think that is a bloody good question and one we should talk about.

Let me just say, there was once a time when I felt that way myself.  Even after years of being steeped in fat acceptance, I still have times where I get caught up in that kind of thinking.  I want to make it clear that there isn’t some kind of magical transformation that converts you to some kind of magnificent 100% self-loving fatty.  It just doesn’t work that way.  All of us have to work on it and practice and hone our skills.  I think the difference is that once you’ve been practicing this stuff for awhile and get better at it, you’re conscious of what it really is.  You’re aware that it’s not about your body being repulsive, but it’s about carrying the emotional baggage of a world that fears, loathes and stigmatises fat bodies.

We also have the benefit of community.  If you have a shitty day and you feel bad, having the community of the fatosphere to turn to is definitely beneficial.  When you have someone else to talk to, even online, who understands how you feel, and/or has had similar experiences, it is so much easier to deal with.

But also, it takes work.  We don’t just miraculously start loving our bodies overnight.  It takes work and practice.  Things like doing lots of reading of fat positive material.  Cutting out body snark of others.  Critical thinking about popular media and culture.  Surrounding yourself with fat positive people.  And taking the time to work on seeing yourself from a different perspective.

The thing that I think started to tip my thinking out of constant self-loathing was learning to be gentle with myself and actually entertain the thought that it wasn’t always going to be that way.  Just allowing yourself to think that there is an alternative way to feel is very powerful, even if you don’t feel that way right now.

So to start you all off, I’m going to share a little exercise that helped me to change my thinking about my body, and if you like you can share it in the comments below.

Think about your body and pick one thing that you like about yourself physically.  It can be anything, from the colour of your eyes, to your hair, your boobs, your hands, your elbows, the backs of your knees… anything on your whole body.  Just find ONE little thing that you like about your body, and think about it.  Think about that body part, you might like to close your eyes for a minute if you can.  Just think about it, the shape, the colour, the texture of the hair/skin/nails, all the different features of that one particular body part.  The only rule is no negative thoughts – you have to let those go.

If you can, take a photograph of that body part, or find one you already have that you like.  Think about what it is you like about that body part.  Think about how that part of your body serves you in your life, in it’s function in your body.

Hold on to those thoughts.  When you feel down about how you look, when you feel like you can’t love your body, go back to those thoughts and embrace them.  Remind yourself over and over about that one feature that you really like.  When you feel ready, have a go at finding another one.  And over time, you will find it easier to find things that you like about your body, adding more and more to your arsenal against self-loathing.

It sounds kind of silly, but it has really helped me in those very tough times.

Just to quickly share mine, I have always loved my feet.  They’re big but they’re a lovely shape. and they get me around everywhere I need to go.  I have funny wee toenails that I can paint cute colours, and I LOVE shoes, so my feet get to be decorated with something I love.  I also have both of my feet tattooed, which is another thing I love about them.  They also served me for many years with my dancing and I’m still very light on them.  Plus my feet never smell bad.  I just don’t get stinky feet, no matter what kind of shoes or socks or tights I wear.

Here’s a photo of my left foot before I got a real tattoo on it, back when I first started doing this exercise:

I’ve almost forgotten what my feet looked like without tattoos!  No matter how much I get caught up in the crappy messages society pushes at me about fat bodies, I only have to remember my feet, and how good they’ve been to me.

Your turn!!

25 comments on “Working Your Way Out of the Self-Loathing Land

  • Thank you so much for this post. Your anonymous email took the words right out of my mouth! I want to join the cause towards fat acceptance. I think big is beautiful- unless I’m the “big” in question.
    You’re absolutely right though- it’s not really my body that I hate…it’s all the emotional baggage I’ve collected through the years. It’s what people have said to me- what the media says to me everyday- that I REALLY hate.
    So, I’m going to work on letting go of some of that hate. I’ve been holding on to it for too long and it’s been holding me back. Enough

    • Ahh, it makes me so happy to hear you say you’re ready to move past all of that. It is possible and it does get better. Really it does. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

      And I totally understand, I used to feel the same way. I remember my “snap” moment was seeing a picture of Kelli Jean Drinkwater, who is about the same height, size and shape as me, and being completely blown away. It smashed open my world.

      By the way… you have already joined the cause my dear, just by acknowledging it’s existence. Welcome.

  • I don’t know whether this will be of value to anyone else, but when I took a close look at my self-hatred, some of it was imagining other people hating me, and some of it was my looking down on myself from above. It’s helped to realize that I don’t have to imagine other people hating me, and I’ve been working on moving sense of myself into my body and lower down (I’ve heard that most cultures locate the self in the heart or the gut– the idea that you live behind your eyes is anatomically true, but probably experiencially false). Both have helped.

    The other was realizing that I was amplifying spontaneous self-hating thoughts. I’m not sure why (the feeling of energy? they seemed too strong to fight?), but it has helped a lot to realize that while I can’t directly prevent the thoughts, I can choose not to amplify them.

    • Nancy those are great tips.

      The thing I like to remember with what other people think about me, whether it is real or imagined… is that what other people think of me is of little value compared to what *I* think of me. The reality is that no-one can make everyone happy all of the time, so we need to focus on living our own lives to the fullest and richest we can, and the others that come along for the ride are the icing on the cake. And if someone doesn’t like you, or like how you look… that’s THEIR problem, not yours!

      I was talking on Twitter last night too about how we often divorce our bodies from who we are. But our bodies are us, as much as our hearts or brains are. We are not floating brains, or drifting spirits, but human beings in bodies that are as much who we are as our thoughts, actions and feelings.

  • What has helped me has been the exercise of slowing down, breathing, and actually feeling my body. I think I walked around for a long time actually disassociated from it, not looking at it, not focusing on the way I appear out in the world. Now I try to care for it mindfully and gently. I do my nails. I take my time enjoying lathering myself up with good smelling soap in the shower and enjoying how that feels. I allow myself to believe that I deserve a clean, pleasant, and orderly environment to move around in. That I deserve pretty things to wear and I look pretty in them, not because I’m camouflaged or because they are “slimming”. That I can move as much as I am able for enjoyment and not as punishment. In short, I’ve learned how to care for myself the same way I’d care for someone I love.

  • Great post. I have thought about this for a very long time. Many years ago when I was seeing a psychologist for depression we discussed my body hatred. At this stage I was in a very bad place and truly had a poor perception of myself. In many ways I separated myself from my fatness. I am not sure if I can even express myself properly, but in my attempt to cope with having an unacceptable body size I would talk about my fatness as if it was a separate entity to who I was. Almost like a disassociation. That way I could denigrate the body and abuse it and agree with anyone who also thought my body was gross. I would make fun of it.
    After working with the psychologist for a few years this changed and I once again claimed my body and became a whole person again. I also know that I am not my fat, but I still can not tell you today which part of my body I like. At a pinch I could say my hands, as many people tell me they like my hands. And I am a touchy type of person, in that I reach out to others and love the touching. I love to feel the fabrics I work with. So yeh maybe it is my hands I like.
    Thanks for giving me another lesson when I am ready to hear it. 🙂

    • Oh Jan love, disassociating with our bodies is REALLY common. We treat our bodies like some kind of external enemy, when they are as much part of us as our brains and hearts and anything else we have. We talk about “my body” as if it’s something that we own, rather than part of us. We don’t think of what our bodies do and how they propel us through our lives at all.

      And I bet you have beautiful hands.

  • Oh man, Kath, I woke up the other morning having me some VICIOUS body hate thoughts. I’m not sure why or where they came from, but yes, they still rear their ugly hydra heads every once in a blue moon.

    In my case, though, they went away after I had a glass of chocolate milk. Sometimes I think I wind up a little low on something in dairy products that balances my moods, because I’ll have some milk or yogurt or ice cream or cottage cheese, and suddenly I’m happy as the proverbial clam. Probably vitamin D or something. I don’t much care, so long as I know what to do to take care of those weird, seemingly baseless blues.

    No, that won’t solve ingrained emotional issues, but if anyone out there finds they get in self-hating moods when they don’t eat a certain kind of food, for goodness’ sake, be sure to keep it on hand every day! You’re worth it, and you’ll be better aware of that when you have what you need to feel your best.

    • Twistie I know if my blood sugar drops too far it messes with my moods. Now that I’m getting better at keeping the blood sugar even, I really notice it when it happens.

      Whatever works I say!

    • It wasn’t “censored” – this is not a publication but my personal online space in which I decide what is acceptable and what is not . It was removed because I found it disrespectful.

      You are more than welcome to bring up questions, but not in a manner that undermines my own personal experiences or suggests that other people’s experiences are invalid.

      You may reframe the question (as your own experience and feelings) but if I find it unacceptable I will remove it again. My blog, my rules.

  • Great post, Kath. I’ve been falling back into a habit of finding things to nitpick about my appearance — a habit that is starting to snowball back into some real body-hate. So your post came at a really good time for me.

    Something that’s really helped me in the past to reframe how I view my body is seeking out images of fat bodies portrayed in a positive way — Adipositivity in particular has been super affirming for me, and many fatshion blogs and other things too — to focus my energy on viewing bodies of all sizes as works of art, which has slowly spilled over onto viewing myself that way, too. Another thing that’s been good for me is to find ways to make my body into something I enjoy looking at — lately that’s meant coloring my hair and spending time every week giving myself nerdy nail art — things that really make me happy when I look in the mirror and give me a place to focus my attention on instead of examining the parts I’m unhappy with.

    • Abi I have turned to Adipositivity so many times in my journey to let go of that old self-loathing! It’s a fantastic resource and a lovely way to while away some time. I also love Frances Lockie’s “Hey Fat Chick” Tumblr.

  • It seems like you spend a lot of time trying to accept your body when you clearly loathe it. I guess I don’t really understand the logic behind this. You seem to think that we have no control over our own bodies? As if to say “this is our lot in life, let’s just make the best of it”. I’m not trying to offend you, I’ve just been reading a lot of fat acceptance sites lately (both for and against it) to try and gain some kind of understanding and engage in discourse. I have no doubt that some of my thoughts are derived from innate fat stigma (in regards to visceral reactions, anyway, which I agree is ridiculous!), but when I move past this and look at the situation from a neutral perspective, I can’t help but think you have your head in the sand.

    On the one hand, I totally agree with the Fat Acceptance movement – you CAN’T determine whether someone is healthy or not based on their bodyweight. Similarly, losing weight does NOT necessarily equate to improvements in fitness/health.

    But if you dislike your body so much that you feel the need to sit down and reason with yourself; to find ways to CONVINCE yourself, that you like yourself, then surely there are underlying image issues that go beyond the general cultural stigma associated with weight? I suppose what I’m trying to say is, a lot of the stuff I have read in FA inadvertently makes it seem as though, it’s not the world that they have a problem with, it’s themselves (despite what they preach!). What are your thoughts on this?

    • Mark, it seems you are not listening to what FA is actually saying. You’re not hearing that we are TAUGHT to loathe fat bodies, and if we actually have fat bodies, then we are taught to loathe ourselves. What we are doing here, and in most FA spaces is learning to undo that cultural conditioning that has taught us from a very young age that we are worth less than other members of society because of our size. When you are bombarded from your earliest memories with the message that fat is bad, dirty, greedy, gross, smelly, unhealthy, bad – bad – bad, there is no way to avoid internalising that. That is what fat acceptance is about – learning the alternative, learning to question the mainstream rhetoric about fat = bad, and learning to love a body that society at large has told you that you should loathe.

      When you have spent your life trying to reduce your “disgusting” fat body, particularly those people who have suffered eating disorders, depression, anxiety and the PTSD of being hated for your size, coming to FA is not just something one wakes up one morning and goes “Wait! I love my body after all!”

      It takes years of work to undo all of that. And I believe that it’s my gift to be able to give to others what was given to me – the tools and techniques to undo years of cultural conditioning. There are people who cannot conceive of the thought that they could like ANYTHING about their body. I used to feel that way myself, until I went through 5 years of hard work to undo it, until I reached a point where I stopped blaming my body for holding me back in the world, and started levelling the responsibility at those who actually DID hold me back – the media, the diet industry, marketers, a huge swathe of the medical industry that is paid by the diet industry, and general bigots who feel it is acceptable to abuse someone simply because of the size and shape of their body.

      You are right, we do not have total control over our own bodies. We do have some, but our bodies are designed/evolved to serve us and survive us no matter what we do to them. It’s not about resignation, it’s about accepting that control is not practical, nor required nor all it’s cracked up to be. Instead, it’s about treating yourself, body, mind and spirit with respect, and demanding the rest of the world do the same.

      Also, please be very careful with attributing what you THINK people are feeling and thinking with what they are. Listen to what they are saying and ask them how they feel, do not say “it seems like you feel….” – it’s disrespectful and removes people’s right to advocate for and express themselves clearly.

  • Hi Kath,

    First and foremost, thank-you for the response. I wasn’t sure if my comment would get moderated or not, so I am happy to see that you’re willing to engage 🙂

    I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from, but I must admit, it is difficult – perhaps because I have never been in a situation where I have been stigmatised due to my weight (I am quite slender). It is hard to understand the full extent of what someone has gone through when you’ve never directly gone through it yourself.

    In saying that, I do agree with the majority of what you say. I feel like I can relate to some aspects as I do feel a similar kind of societal message regarding my sexuality. However, this might be like comparing apples and oranges…

    What I don’t agree with, and am having a hard time getting my head around, is the idea that we do not have total control over our bodies in regards to its physicality. I am interested in hearing why you do not believe control is practical? What kind of ‘control’ are you referring to? I would agree that trying to restrict our impulses is often difficult but for some, the positives outweigh the negatives (i.e. dieting). Surely these are examples of physical control, although granted, not necessarily good ones (please do not get me wrong, I am not trying to advocate dieting – it was the only example I could think of) ? Or are you implying that control is not practical as a long-term solution? In which case, it seems as though it WOULD be resigning oneself to a particular state. Have I totally misinterpreted your point haha? Please correct me if I have!

    I apologise for the “it seems like you feel…” comment, I didn’t mean to remove any agency.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    • One thing to understand is that different bodies will respond to life changes differently. Some people’s bodies respond to an increase in activity by using up fat reserves (toning) some by increasing muscle mass (bulking up). Dieting can have a similar effect. A simple reduction of calories (“Oh I just cut out sodas.”) for some people will result in fat loss. For others, there is no discernible difference from the same change. Others still will find that their body mass actually increases as their body attempts to increase energy stores in response to “famine.”

      Body fat and muscle mass are body aspects that we can influence to an extent, but there are other significant body structure factors over which we have no control. Bone structure is a big one. My difficulty in finding well fitting suit jackets has less to do with my body fat and more to do with me having abnormally wide shoulders for a female. If I lost every ounce of body fat I have, not only would I be dead, I would still have wide shoulders. Similarly, I can never change my height.

      There is no control panel to dial in what body shape you want to have. People seem to accept that some persons are born with a tendency to be very slender, but seemingly cannot accept that other persons will be born with a tendency to be fat.

      • Also, the same person’s body may respond differently at different ages. It’s common for young men to stay lean no matter what they eat, and rather suddenly start putting on fat at age thirty or so.

    • Mark I am willing to engage… with conditions. Unfortunately there is often a perception that fat acceptance writers (or in my case, I prefer the term fat activist) have a duty to engage, an obligation to explain or educate others on the topic. We do not have any such obligation. Non-fat people are not expected to explain or justify their existence, their health, their lives, and it’s stigmatising to expect fat people to do so.

      It’s worth reading this piece on thin privilege while we’re at it:

      And that said, that’s where I want to draw a very clear line under what I do here. I’m not here to educate non-fat people in fat rights, how the human body works or why fat people have the experiences we do. I am not here for the non-fat. I’m here to show fat people that there is an alternative to the standard societal message that they should be ashamed of themselves, that they have to reduce themselves to gain respect in our society. We do not. We have as much right to respect as any other human being. And there is an alternative to living in self loathing and feeling worthless because one is fat. I am also giving space to people who share the experiences of fatness to talk about those experiences. There are very few places that they can. That is my mission.

      Besides, there ARE people who are doing a very good job of education. Please feel free to read the work of Dr Samantha Thomas, Linda Bacon PhD, Professor Paul Campos, Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding, Leslie Kinzel, Charlotte Cooper, Dr Samantha Murray, Marilyn Wann… the list goes on. If you want to learn more about fat bodies, Health at Every Size ™, fat liberation and rights, there is a wealth of information out there for you to read.

      But you’re more than welcome to read the work I do for fat people here, just understand that it is not aimed at people who are not fat.

  • The thing is, self-hatred can be trained in pretty deep by a culture. The high suicide rate among gay teenagers is a result of what they’re taught and how they’re treated, not something intrinsic about gayness. (As may be obvious, I’m not offended by your comparing the prejudices, but I don’t speak for anyone else.)

    If you read more fat acceptance material, you’ll find that there are a good many people who become less happy and less healthy if they try to be less fat. People don’t have complete control of their bodies. I believe bodies do energy budgeting, and they’re idiosyncratic about it. When offered some calories, a body chooses where they go– fat, easy movement, maintaining body temperature, thinking, the immune system…. Some people have bodies that won’t do maintenance unless there’s what the body considers to be enough fat in storage. Also, the amount of hunger, and the amount of distraction from hunger seems to vary.

    If you were in a culture where being plump or fat were most highly valued, do you think you could have the preferred sort of body? Do you think all slender people could? If you lived in a time where it wasn’t just culture– having some extra fat could be a matter of life and death because of infectious diseases and/or an erratic food supply– could you put on the weight?

    I’ve seen it mentioned by a number of sources that not everyone can become an elite body builder– it isn’t a simple matter of exercise and calories in, muscles out. You need to have the appropriate genetics, too.

    Fat acceptance has made me a more cynical person. People make things up, not just as individuals, but in whole cultures. Sometimes they’re wrong, but when it’s the culture, the mistakes are so pervasively supported that they seem like common sense.

  • I’ll share my two cents with regard to learning to love and accept your body and yourself. The three things that have helped me learn to love and accept myself the most are 1) taking lots of full body pics of myself and looking at them; 2) participating in size positive communities, and reading and commenting on blogs (such as this one); and 3) looking at lots of fabulous pics of fat folks in wonderful outfits in said size positive communities.

    For point number 1, I started taking full body pics of myself about 5 years ago when I joined the Fatshionista community on Livejournal. Members of the community post “Outfit Of The Day” (OOTD) posts which are pics of themselves in outfits they’ve created from items in their own closet. Having spent the previous 10 years learning to dress my fat body and developing what I felt was my own unique sense of style, I wanted to share it with others, so I joined the Fatshionista community and started posting OOTDs. I’ve also posted some in the Flickr Fatshionista group, another great place to see lots of wonderful fat folks looking confident in fabulous outfits.

    What I didn’t realize at first was all that picture taking, downloading them on my computer, and looking through them to choose the pics I liked and wanted to share online began to make me more visible to myself. I’d never spent a lot of time looking at pics of myself prior to joining the Fatshionista communities on LJ and Flickr, choosing to ignore photographed images of myself, or not allowing people to take full body pics, or any pics at all of me. But once I started looking at pics I’d snapped of myself with my own digital camera (using a flexible tri-pod, put on timer setting, giving myself time to pose), I couldn’t ignore what I was seeing, what my camera was seeing. At first it was painful and I couldn’t quiet the internal voices from saying stuff like, “ohh god, that’s REALLY what I look like??” But the more I looked, the more I saw myself, and more importantly, became visible to myself. By which I mean, I began to accept what I saw. I began to accept the person in the photographs and accept her as myself.

    What helped in that process (and here we come to points 2 and 3) was my participation in size positive online communities and blogs, and looking at lots of pics of other fat folks in great outfits. The more I saw that I wasn’t alone, and that there were others out there who looked kind of like me (some of them a lot like me, with similar body shapes and elements of personal style), it became easier to look at pics of myself. And as I wrote above, the more I looked, the more I began to accept what I was seeing.

    That’s my best recommendation in learning to love and accept yourself, your body. Keep looking, keep seeing, keep becoming more visible to yourself. The more you do this, the more you’ll learn to accept what you see.

    • Yup thirtiesgirl, they’re all methods I use myself. Especially the Fatshionista pics – I only use the Flickr group because I’m not a LJ user, but it really does make a difference.

  • Comments are closed.

    %d bloggers like this: