By: Kelsey Rigopoulos RDN, LDN
I am about to step onto my soapbox (sorry, not sorry). The vital concept that I am presenting requires minimal nutrition education and is something each of us can relate to — respecting and accepting bodies.
We all have them. They all look different. They all have different abilities, shapes, sizes, colors, lumps, bumps, marks and experiences. Let’s address this culture of weight stigma. In order to understand the level of acceptance or respect that you have for your body, and ultimately working toward mending this relationship, you need to do some self-reflection.
Fatphobia is a term we use that refers to the way our society promotes a fear of fatness, which in turn creates a massive, often ignored, oppression of people in larger bodies (hence, weight stigma). Some of us experience this oppression firsthand (i.e. bullying, verbal/emotional abuse, or simply not being able to find a comfortable chair to sit in in that waiting room), and some of us have witnessed the oppression (i.e. the simple desire to avoid said bully, verbal and emotional abuse). Fatphobia is real. Unfortunately, it also affects our current understanding and relationship with health and wellness.
Think about it. If diet culture hadn’t convinced us all that having a larger body inherently meant “poor health,” and/or being judged, how many people do you think would be preoccupied with their scale? Or feel too ashamed to frolic upon a beautiful sandy beach because of some cellulite or belly rolls? Or force themselves to attend that gym class despite how mentally and physically uncomfortable it was? Fatphobia and weight stigma are things that can lead to negative self-talk and poor body image. They are the reason diet culture exists and thrives in promoting obsessive thoughts about food and exercise, fad diets, and unsafe use of fitness. It contributes to weight-biased health care. It is the reason so many people struggle to respect and accept all bodies, especially their own.
Consider the likely existence of fatphobia in your life. Does it affect how you feel about your own body? How you feel about other bodies? Moreover, I want to call out thin privilege. Is your clothing size typically provided in most stores? Never given a second thought about your seat on an air plane? Always able to ride your favorite amusement park ride? Don’t think twice about the comments or looks you might get if you choose to wear shorts on a hot day? You likely have thin privilege. The next step after recognizing the awful existence of fatphobia is the acknowledgement of thin privilege.
None of this is meant to promote shame, guilt, or worry of any kind, no matter your body size. All bodies are good bodies. Our current judgmental culture is disrespectful to people in many communities. Truth is, genetics can account for up to 80% of our body shapes and sizes. The other 20% is vulnerable to diet culture influence. Consider your foot size, your height, your eye color. Despite the ways we’ve been given to manipulate them, all of these things are an original concoction of genetics, just like that beautiful sack of skin you live in (I heard this reference to a body once before and it made me laugh so hard – I HAD to say it at least once).
There are so many problems with this culture’s view of “health” and “wellness” and “average” and “normal” and “acceptable” – weight stigma is just part of it. The rest includes oppression, sexism, racism, ableism, and so many other prejudices. If you’re as sick of it as I am, start here:
- Get rid of the darn scale. If you’re truly ready to start seeing and accepting your body for what it is, there is no need to confirm or deny body image beliefs with a number. Hide it, sell it, throw it out, smash it – just stop using it. Not ready yet? It’s okay. Start with checking in with yourself about how you feel (and why) before stepping on that scale. What are you hoping for in that number? Is there something else you can do to meet that need?
- Avoid body checking. This might include the extra minute you spend staring in the mirror or the preoccupation with the stack of clothes in the back of your closet that no longer fit. Give yourself permission to move on. Count to ten if you’re in that mirror, and commit to going about your day. Stop trying on those clothes that don’t fit – donate them, sell them, pass them down – it is okay to let go of whatever you might be hanging onto.
Speaking of clothes – wear comfortable ones! If you’re extra sensitive to how your body feels in any moment, it may not be helpful to also feel a waist band digging into your belly.
- Challenge negative self-talk and negative body-talk in general. It could be in your head, or maybe sometimes out loud. It could be about yourself, a friend, coworker, or complete stranger. It is mean and unnecessary. Negative self-talk and negative body-talk is judgmental. Instead, I encourage you to start saying really great things – positive talk:
Those pants are so cool.
You have great taste.
That laugh is contagious.
You are glowing today.
Take your pick.
- Clean up social media. Better yet, actively change it! Notice – do you see the same body type over and over? The “socially accepted?” Consider how this might influence weight stigma in your life and our culture. Unfollow anything and everyone that doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies. Start adding people that are different. Different looking. Different acting. With different opinions. Broaden your horizons a bit – I promise it’s worth it.
I see you. I hear you. I am here for you and whatever body you have. It does not, and never will, define your worth on this planet, so we need to stop acting like it does. Take some time to consider how you already do, or need to work on, body respect. Brainstorm ideas with friends, explore with your partner, or decide as a family, the ways you will commit to respecting and accepting all bodies, including your own.
Whoever needs to hear it – It’s time.