Last week was Weight Stigma Awareness Week, and I had intended to post about it in a timely fashion. I would say, “Better late than never,” but the truth is that raising awareness of the harm caused by weight stigma isn’t something that can be done in a mere a week. So, really, I’m right on time.
Weight stigma can come both from within and without. Discrimination can be external (as in not getting hired for a job or picked for a team in phys ed class) or internal (as in refusing to go to the beach or a public swimming pool until you lose weight).* Similarly shame can come from others (snide comments, “helpful” comments from friends and family) or from ourselves.
I see many patients who place some degree of shame and blame on themselves for eating for comfort, making less-than-healthy choices when dining out or not exercising as often as they “should.” Some of these patients live in larger bodies, but some are struggling with cancer or other health issues that may be affected by diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits.
I always tell them some variation of this: “No matter where you are with your health at this moment, and no matter how far that point from where you would like to be, adding a layer of shame and blame won’t help you get there any faster—it will only make things worse.”
The better path is to cultivate a practice of compassionate self-care and a clear sense of what really makes you you.
You are in your body, but you are not your body. I feel that it’s important to fully live in our bodies (i.e., be embodied) and give them the tender care they deserve for housing our hearts and minds for a lifetime—but confusing your very identity, your core essence, with a physical aspect of yourself (whether that be your size, your eye color, the texture of your hair or your athletic ability) is a perilous path.
To use a non-size example, what if you lose your silky locks to chemotherapy someday? What if you suffer a knee injury that prevents you from running? Neither of those scenarios are happy ones, but they don’t have to be identity-shattering. Similarly, being a shape or size that our culture doesn’t deem ideal doesn’t have to define you, because you are so much more than that.