One of the most destructive elements of body size discrimination is that it interferes powerfully with the ways in which we interact with other human beings. For example, how many of us have jumped to conclusions or passed judgment on someone whom we deemed to be “too heavy”?
I’m guessing that almost all of us have let those thoughts pop into our minds from time to time. Sometimes it’s self-justifying: “Well, at least I’m not as fat as that person!” we might say to ourselves. That says more about how we feel about our own bodies than it does about the person we’re judging.
Sometimes it’s just simply hateful: “How disgusting!” we think, “Don’t they have any shame?” Not only have we just thought of another human being as disgusting, we’ve just made a moral judgment about them as well, insofar as we have presumed that they
- ought to be ashamed of their body, and
- are not feeling that shame.
Truth be told, that person does feel ashamed of their body. But what are they supposed to do about that? In fact, for all we know, they might be actively involved in a healthy manner of living that includes making wise decisions about eating and getting plenty of physical activity.
So, if they are living a healthy lifestyle but not losing the weight, what do they have to be ashamed of? Frankly, if I’ve just had the thoughts above, I should be the one feeling ashamed, because I’ve just made a million assumptions about a complete stranger that are probably wrong, and then assigned moral status to something that they cannot change: who they are.
Because that’s the gist of it, folks: a person in a fat body is a fat person. Before you accuse me of throwing around tautologies, think for a moment. When we condemn a person for some aspect of their physical makeup (ahem, such as race, gender, height, weight, etc.) then we are condemning the person, since our bodies are our selves. It’s a bit of worn-out feminist phrase, I know, but being old and overused doesn’t make it less true.
Our bodies are our selves. We have no other self but the body with which we interact with other bodies. When I walk into a room, you don’t see my deeply held beliefs, dreams, opinions, and memories. You see my body, and I see yours, and through those bodies we get to know one another’s deeply held beliefs, dreams, opinions, and memories.
So why do we judge other people on the basis of their body size? Why do we presume that because a person is overweight (according to whatever sliding scale we are using at the time) therefore s/he is lazy, gluttonous, out-of-control, weak-minded, bad? More importantly, why do we continue to do this when our own experiences ought to teach us that this is not the case?
Think about the people you know. Are any of them overweight? Are any of them very overweight? When you think about these people, is their body size the first thing you think about, or do you think about how funny they are, or what good listeners they are, or how great it was that one time they helped you out of that mess? I suspect that most of us (dare I say all of us?) know someone who falls into the infamous categories of overweight or obese, partly because, if the oft-quoted statistics are correct, then 2/3 of Americans fall into that category. I also suspect that once we get to know those people, we find out that they are just the same as we are: they have the same kinds of dreams, hopes, fears, loves, hates, memories, and so on. We value those people for something more than their physical shape.
So why, if we are able to like and love overweight and obese people whom we already know, are we so quick to judge overweight and obese strangers? What gives us the right? And are we aware of the damage we are doing to ourselves and to any potential relationship we might have with the person whom we have just judged?