I am lightly covered in freckles. I have a delicate constellation of reddish-brown spots that mostly spreads over my arms, chest and face (the parts of me that most often see the sun). In truth, I love them – I think freckles are adorable. But imagine if I didn’t like them. Imagine that I believed that freckles were the ugliest trait I could possibly have.
Now imagine me standing next to one of those naturally red-headed types who is completely, densely covered in freckles from head to toe as part of their natural skin pigmentation.
Now imagine me saying to that freckly person, “Ugh! I hate these freckles! They make me look like a leper! They are so ugly! I need to work harder at bleaching my skin to get rid of them!” with the obvious connotation that once I have less of these bothersome freckles, I will be attractive.
Does that seem hurtful for me to have done?
That is exactly what is going on when someone thinner tells a fatter person that they believe themselves to be ugly, or a “porker” or “cow”, and that they desperately need to lose weight so that they can be more attractive. They are attributing extremely negative things to a physical trait that the person standing next to them has in sometimes much greater proportion. And it’s so deeply ingrained within our culture to despise our bodies that the hurtful implications of this action do not even occur to people.
In truth, it’s only recently that I’ve managed to summon the courage to even talk about this – because I don’t want to upset anyone or make them feel bad. But the thing is, I don’t deserve to feel bad either. I know that when people thinner than me demean their bodies they aren’t thinking about me at all, their fighting their own personal battle against completely unattainable beauty ideals that have been shoved down all our throats since we were very small children.
The difference now is, in this small way, I am summoning the courage to ask that people do think of me. Not just me, but anyone around them who might be struggling even harder than they are.
I made a commitment awhile back to be kinder to myself, not to speak nasty, demeaning things about my body. That’s a commitment that’s really hard to keep in these situations.
To clarify, I am not asking that anyone not share with me their health and/or weight loss objectives, frustrations, triumphs or even failures. Talking about these things and discussing our goals and what may or may not have worked for us isn’t hurtful to anyone, it’s just supporting one another by sharing strength and what we’ve learned. I’m talking about people specifically demeaning and insulting themselves in front of me for having a trait that I have much more of than they do.
Since I’m one of the biggest people I know, over the years my response has always been to assure the thinner person that no, they are not fat – and then to point out that, “hey, at least you don’t look like me.” Sacrificing feeling good about myself so that someone smaller can feel better has never actually done anyone any good anyway since the person doing it isn’t comparing themselves to me – they’re comparing themselves to an airbrushed image that doesn’t even exist, so my killing part of my self-esteem to help them is a completely wasted effort.
If anyone out there reading this feels like you owe me any kind of apology – allow me to assure you that you absolutely do not. Commiserating over self-hatred is part of our culture, we do it reflexively at this point, like breathing. We are all owed a gigantic apology for that, for being made to believe that our bodies in any shape, size or form are ugly or inadequate, or not okay. My heart hurts for every single one of us that suffers and I don’t blame anyone for what has collectively been done to us.
Also, I have never once in my life made this sort of request before or publicly indicated that it was a problem and I do not expect anyone to read my mind.
Moving forward, if this continues to happen I am going to politely ask that whoever is doing it please stop – because it hurts me. That’s a really uncomfortable and awkward statement to make, but I’m starting to think I’ve spent a little too much of my energy in life attempting to make everyone else comfortable, and I want some comfort now for myself.
There might also be people reading this who think I’m oversensitive, I’m internalizing and getting hurt by comments which have nothing to do with me, or even that I deserve to feel bad because I’m fat and that does really make me a lesser person. That’s okay too – people are allowed to have their own opinions. It’s just that those opinions aren’t going to stop me any longer from attempting to recover what I can of my shredded self-esteem.
Whether I am beautiful or not by cultural standards, I deserve this. I deserve better.
So do you.