Watch What You Say

It’s hard to love your body. I don’t care what you weigh or what your shape is: looking in the mirror and liking what you see is tough. I struggle with it every day (cute shoes and a great haircut definitely help). Society tells us that if we aren’t thin, we are less: less smart, less attractive, less worthy. Advertising and Hollywood reinforce this idea. This isn’t news. It’s tough, but with effort, we can learn to tune these messages out.

But what happens when the people closest to you are the ones doing the fat shaming? How do you even begin to accept your body for what it is when people who supposedly care about you say that you should be ashamed and embarrassed about how you look? Sadly, sometimes our loved ones don’t even realize the harm they’re causing – they think they’re being helpful, by disguising their fat bias with concerns about your health.

Let me tell you about something that happened to me in college that I will never forget. I was tutoring a girl who lived in my dorm. We met fairly often to go over the curriculum and make sure she stayed up to speed with the rest of the class. One night, we’d finished the study session, when out of the blue she looked at me and said, “You have really good self-esteem for a fat person.”

What can you even say to a comment like that? I said “thank you.” I shouldn’t have said it, but at the moment, it’s all I could think of. The idea that fat people shouldn’t have good self-esteem – and if we do, it’s surprising –  is ridiculous, and yet a lot of people (both fat and thin) believe it. Think about your own beliefs about fat people. Even if you count yourselves among them, there’s a good chance you’ve had negative thoughts about a person’s character or worth because of the size and shape of their body.

Here’s what I’d like you to take away from this story: Watch what you say. To others – and to yourself. If someone says something hateful or shaming to you, don’t say “thank you.” Tell them how it makes you feel. Ask them how they would feel if something similar had been said to them. And don’t talk to yourself in a negative way. When you look in the mirror, point out something beautiful about your body. Say it out loud! Words are powerful. Choose them carefully.

If someone in your life continues to shame and upset you because of your size, then it’s time to rethink your relationship. Remember: Your journey to health and fitness includes your mental health.