*Content Warning: The word “Fat” is used as a descriptor to support the elimination of stigma around it.”
The first week of February (Feb 1-7) is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I don’t think it comes as a surprise following a month of “New Years Resolutions” sold mainly on starting a new diet, and a more intense exercise regime.
Before I started learning more about disordered eating (like chronic dieting and over-occupation with food) and eating disorders (like bulimia, anorexia and binge-eating disorders), I used to think that my struggles with my food and body were all my fault, and it left me feeling isolated.
I recently learned from watching “The Illusionists” documentary that my country, Lebanon, (tied with Brazil), have the most distorted idea of what we *should* look like and how *beauty* is defined.
(Side Note: I legitimately cried for a good 10 minutes in heartache of how there are thousands of Lebanese women, including my entire community & family, who would totally endorse those standards of beauty…)
We’re sold on this idea that’s been perpetuated by diet culture that being insecure, feeling less worthy, losing self-esteem and having low confidence is resolved by having a better image. As the documentary pointed out, in the 20th century, we redefined the attainment of ideal “beauty” and a thinner body, as an accomplishment rather than a narcissistic action.
So does that mean that our culture and society is corrupted and tarnished in its view of bodies as an object of beauty?
Yes. 100%. And we still buy it.
So let me hit the nail on the head… you’re either afraid of gaining weight, judge yourself or others for being “fat” in any shape or form, or you are fat and think you should lose weight. That pretty much covers 99% of the adult population, I’d guess.
This all has one thing perpetuated. Fatphobia.
Fatphobia is a term that you might have seen get thrown around these days, but what is it, really, and what can we do about it?
What is Fatphobia?
Fatphobia, or sizeism, is the bias, stigmatization, or discrimination against people in bigger bodies. Fatphobia can be found everywhere in our day-to-day life. It’s ingrained in our society and culture by the beauty standards we are bombarded with in movies, TV shows, advertisements, and so on.
Stigma experienced around how we perceive our bodies in this world and amongst others, leads to low self-esteem, the feeling of shame in one’s own body, depression, and body dysmorphia. Would you be surprised to know that by 13 years old, 53% of girls have a negative physical self-perception and have thought about dieting or losing weight?
If not influenced by what they hear at home, then it’s what they hear at school, or bombarded with on all forms of media and advertising. It’s almost impossible to be completely immune from the exposure to these ideal-body expectations.
Let’s first understand what the misconceptions around fatness are.
3 Common Misconceptions
We are exposed to so many different social pressures and values which over time, can condition us and cause us to develop subconscious stereotypes that may not reflect our core values. People often have preconceived notions towards others of different body sizes.
Is it fixable? Well… it’s gonna take a while. It’s only by raising awareness rather than demonizing fat and bigger bodies, that we begin to fix that. These 3 misconceptions often come to mind when discussing body size, however, they may not hold as much truth as you think!
1) Being Fat is Your “fault”
Weight and body size can be affected by many things that we cannot control. No matter how much someone tries to make changes to their diet or activity level, their weight and body size may stay the same or actually get worse with every attempt due to the negative impact it has on our resting metabolic rate. This means our metabolism gets worse with every attempt at dieting and weight loss, in which we don’t think it can ever go back to normal regardless of your body changes. Many of the factors affecting body size are not surface level. People often jump to the conclusion that fat people are just lazy. However, larger body sizes can be attributed to many other factors such as physiological conditions, genetics, lack of proper health care, or poor accessibility to nutritious food — you can never really know someone’s current and past situation and/or struggle.
2) Being Fat means You’re Unhealthy
Weight is not a marker of health! The true markers of health are one’s behaviors, joy, satisfaction, movement, sleep, and stress. Just because someone is bigger doesn’t mean they are unhealthy and vice versa, just because someone is skinny doesn’t mean they are healthy. It’s important to recognize that health comes in all shapes and sizes, and people of all sizes deserve care and respect. Rather than being about body size, health is about eating a wide variety of foods, being physically active, getting enough sleep, and balancing your mental and emotional wellbeing.
3) Fat People are Not Attractive or Desirable
The media often shows skinny people as the norm and as “beautiful” while bigger people are made fun of and seen as undesirable. Remember that beauty comes in ALL shapes and sizes. Your size does not define your beauty, desirability, or worth.
This won’t happen overnight. It takes time to break free from all that you’ve inherently learned actively or passively… so let’s do this together starting right now, by empowering yourself.
The best ways to combat fatphobia and all the societal pressures is by being your own biggest fan — empower yourself and practice self-love. Here are my top 4 tips for self-empowerment:
1) How does Body Acceptance & Respect look like?
Radical acceptance is the idea of acknowledging the reality of a situation, deciding to accept it for the way it is, and using it to learn, grow, and move forward. Accepting yourself can be a deep struggle, but by starting with accepting, fully and entirely, all that has happened to bring you to this day, and respecting your body for what it is, the journey of healing becomes so much more feasible. Accepting yourself for who you are, and accepting your body for the way it is can be a very powerful thing — you are so much more amazing than the negative voices say you are! Because let’s be real… those voices are what’s selling you that insecurity in the first place. So Stand Up, and Rebel!
2) What would Love Say Louder?
Practice self-appreciation and focus on what you LOVE about yourself, versus what you are taught to dislike (to say it lightly) about yourself. A wonderful way to put this into action is to start your day with positive affirmation — take a few minutes each morning to write down something that you love about yourself. Even if you won’t love your body as is, respect is due despite any other. By putting these positive thoughts forward that you can either see for yourself or have gotten as compliments from others, you are paving the way for your own beautiful reality, not that of the industry.
3) What’s perfect ANYway?
Life is not perfect, and no human on earth can be either. As cliche as this may sound, I have to repeat it today, and probably forever: Your imperfections are what set you apart and make you, you! Even if every single person did the exact same behaviors, we’d all still end up with different bodies. We’re perfectly imperfect, and you will always deserve love and acceptance regardless of “what mass you occupy on this planet”. The most perfect body you can have is yours and what you got, not what you see in others.
4) What does your self-care entail?
If you’re no longer doing this to shrink your body… so what would self-care look like for you if you were to do it from a place of love and acceptance?
The Wellness Wheel incorporates all the different physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of your life. Take some time for yourself to practice self-care. This could be in the form of a jog with your friend, meditation, treating yourself to a spa day, or spending time with your family– do whatever feels right for you.
To learn more about how to fight weight stigmas and practice self-love,
check out my blog on Health at Every Size.
If you know someone else who could use some encouragement and love, please share this blog!
This blog was written with the help of some amazing nutrition & dietetics students, Gilbert and Celine.