Dr. Deah’s Calmanac – April Perspectives (Constant Comments)
I am not clear how this came about … but about … it certainly came.
There seems to be an unspoken rule that it is perfectly okay for people to comment on other people’s bodies. And I am not referring only to the behind-the-back conspiratorial comments frequently accompanied by a wink wink nudge nudge to a nearby co-commenter. I am not even talking about the never-ending stream of body comments in the tabloids. I am talking about face-to-face, full-body-slam-contact commenting by strangers who feel perfectly justified in walking up to someone and letting them know that they are fat. A public service announcement of immense proportions doled out as if I had been living my life under a rock:
No, really??? Me??? Why I hadn’t noticed! Thanks for telling me that…now I will x it and my whole life will be better, and all because of you! Oh, wait! Don’t leave! How in the world can I ever repay you?
And then there are those who are more specific in their assault as they single out a particular body part that they find offensive or distasteful:
Wow, you’d be such a babe if you lost some of that fat around your middle.
To which the thought that inevitably crosses my mind is:
I’m sorry … but have we met????
And it’s not even the incidents involving strangers that are the most egregious. What about the times when you are with someone and you feel safe, loved, and sexy? Someone with whom you have shared intimate moments with … sans clothes … who suddenly finds it vital to inquire whether or not you have considered losing some weight in order to be really beautiful? Did I miss the amendment to the etiquette constitution that afforded people the right to give their unsolicited opinion about my body?
Where are the filters between thought and speech that most of us were taught growing up? You know the ones:
- Think before you speak.
- If you don’t have something nice to say, just don’t say it.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I can’t remember ever going up to someone and saying:
Wow, you’d be great if you just dyed your hair a different color or grew six inches.
(Apply that six-inch comment to any part of the body you’d like!)
On any given day, there is an avalanche of news stories about bullying. Most of the attention is typically focused on situations involving race, sexual orientation, or religion, and include tips for intervening. One explanation that experts offer is that most bullies were abused and are perpetuating the abuse cycle with their own bullying behaviors. The victims are offered support as well, and they are being counseled to speak up and not suffer in silence. Schools and workplaces are implementing zero-tolerance policies along with both proactive and consequential strategies to eliminate bullying cultures. And I applaud this trend wholeheartedly.
But what about the situations where the targets are peoples’ body size? When the targets for the bullies are fat, there seems to be no attempt to enlighten the bully about the error of their ways, and the advice is almost certain to be directed at the victim and usually sounds something like:
Just lose the weight and then you won’t be a target.
You are just asking for it by not losing weight.
The best revenge will be getting thin, that will show him!
These attitudes are insidious in a variety of ways, but one of the most destructive is that it implies that there is nothing wrong with shaming a person for being fatter than the bully’s definition of what is NOT too fat. With society’s message internalized, many of the victims of fat bullying don’t feel it is appropriate to stand up to the perpetrator; instead, a common inner monologue goes something like this:
Guilty as charged! I am fat and deserve to be admonished for my crime against society. I am an eyesore in your world and if I walk out in public it means I have checked the box indicating that I accept the terms of agreement for being abused by total strangers.
And so I continue on my quest and ask the same two QUEST(ions) I have been asking for so many years and no one has been able to answer:
- Why do we hate people just because they are fat?
- Why do people feel entitled to verbally abuse people because they are fat?
I am hungry for any public proclamation that calls for people to examine their prejudices and change their hateful points of view and actions. The same way that diversity training programs ask folks to examine their internalized racism, I would love it if people would acknowledge their bias against fat people and own up to their inner bully. Of course, in order to do that, we must believe that:
- People are capable of that level of insight.
- That insight leads to a change of behavior.
Those are assumptions that I find difficult to have faith in at times, but if I didn’t believe in change of that magnitude, I would have thrown my therapist towel into the ring years ago. The gear shifting step from internal attitudinal change to external behavioral change is huuuuuuge, necessary and not easy. Once we admit that it is wrong to judge people based on their bodies and even “more wrong” to feel entitled to verbalize those opinions, we need to learn to speak up. I know, I know, that sounds contradictory – learn when not to speak and then learn to speak up – but think back and remember when we were learning what words we could and could not use in front of our grandmother, and trust that we still have that skill set!
Whether we are the victim, a reformed perpetrator, or the witness of fat bashing, it is our responsibility to cultivate our own constant comments that tell ourselves or others:
If you think you are helping, you are not.
Why are you being so mean?
Have you considered another point of view?
Funny, I don’t recall asking for your opinion.
Changing another person’s opinion or behavior is a daunting task. I am not suggesting that there will be immediate results by adopting an activist approach. But inaction rarely leads to change in others or ourselves.
As someone who admits freely to having my own share of control issues, I have had to accept that we may not be able to change someone else, but changing some aspects of ourselves is completely in our control. So while we continue to find ways to change the societal construct that allows people to body bash another person, we can, at the same time, examine our own self-bashing. We can begin to think twice before we initiate our self-hate inner monologue.
And you don’t have to tackle this by yourself! There is an End Bullying Campaign that has been initiated by The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) in Southern California that is taking on size bullying and has a great curriculum available. For more information, contact naafa.org.
My Only WEIGHT Problem is Your Problem With My WEIGHT
April arrives on the scene with two predictable challenges for those of us cultivating our body positivity. The first is managing the full-throttled media assault that comes as predictably as moving our clocks forward. It is in April that we are all supposed to start getting ready for bathing suit season. April, we are warned, means we have only two months to attain our bikini worthy bodies. With chocolate eggs and marshmallow Peeps still in abundance around us, the ads now chastise us for having indulged in our Cadbury Bunny Bites and are aggressively fertilizing our internal seeds of self-loathing. The media urges us to tune into the ominous beating of the distant drums of summer as they get louder and come closer. They fan the flames of our anxiety as the days of April pass by, and they are counting on us to believe that our one and only worthy goal is to lose the winter weight we all must have assuredly gained while hibernating in our caves. The objective is to convince us that we do not deserve to have fun unless our bodies are slimmer by summer and the only way to attain a bathing-suit-worthy body is by buying whatever it is they are trying to sell.
The second challenge that arises in April for some folks struggling with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction is spring break. Spring break often means less structure regarding work, school, and leisure activities. The welcomed extra free time may not always feel so welcome when it results in a resurgence of unconscious eating for those who tend to eat when they are bored or lonely. The pressure on college students to overindulge in alcohol, food, with reckless abandon – as dictated by the flood of movies that appear every year at this time – is enormous. This, in turn, may spur some feelings of being out of control. Self-destructive behaviors may be triggered in an attempt to manage those feelings and regain a sense of one’s balance.
For families who rely on school meals as primary nourishment for their children, being at home may bring about a scarcity of food or a more limited choice of healthy food options.
“April is the cruelest month,” wrote the poet T. S. Eliot in his poem The Wasteland. But the poem proceeds to describe April as a month where beauty and life spring from hardship, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land. Mixing memory and desire. Stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
Using the approach of finding the positive side to potentially negative situations and nurturing our growing love for our bodies, will help us successfully navigate through the challenges of April. Remember that, despite the external media pressures, it is important to focus on what is happening inside.
- Check in with your feelings that arise with unstructured free time or peer pressure to over-consume.
- Reinforce the importance of internal qualities and the beauty of body diversity.
- De-emphasize the importance of the scale and the mirror.
- Remember that diets do not work and mindful eating is a year-round practice.
- Explore enjoyable opportunities for physical activity for fun, not for weight loss, and to improve a sense of body competency.
- Use your support network to resist the temptation to buy into the negative messages and replace them with ones that are self-affirming and joyful. These interventions may not help you with your taxes (arguably the cruelest part of April for some), but they certainly will help proactively avoid a relapse or intensification of disordered eating and self-hate.
Important Dates to Remember:
April is National Poetry Month, and for those who think that poets do not have a sense of humor, do you think it was an accident that members of the National Poet’s Society have been known to distribute free copies of Eliot’s The Wasteland to post offices around the country on Tax Day … smack dab in the middle of April??
- April is also National Humor Month and National Stress Awareness Month
- April 1 – April Fool’s Day
- April 30 – National Honesty Day (something about the symmetry of that amuses me)
- April 22 – Earth Day
The dates of spring break vary, but you can find more about managing the potential negative repercussions of Spring Break at the American
College Health Association website: acha.org