overweight

Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment

I've been thinking about bodies, weight, and insecurities a lot lately. I was somewhat shocked when my last blog post ("The Judgment of Weight") skyrocketed to first place as the most read blog on this site. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been surprised as it hasn't gone unnoticed by me that nearly every woman's magazine puts the word fat or weight on their cover every single month. Clearly the subject sells.

And I know why.  We all want to be "acceptable."  Every single one of us goes through this journey called life trying, in our own ways, to "be enough," "prove valuable," and "feel loved." So certainly it would matter if we're told that there is something "wrong" with us.  Especially something so obvious to everyone else.

It's not my intention or training to talk about weight specifically-- whether we need to gain or lose, how to do it, why it's hard, or how it's affecting our health and longevity.  But from a relational perspective-- the judgment we have surrounding this issue has to keep being addressed. It's affecting all of us.

Your Weight Bothers Me

In some ways it doesn't seem to matter how public Oprah is about accepting her weight, how many Dove campaigns go viral, how many "over-weight" celebrities provide new role models, or how many more articles we read that emphasize health over weight-- we are still showing up with such deep judgments.

Less than half of the 1800 women who took the survey chose "neither" as their answer when asked to choose from pairs of words like ambitious or lazy to describe a woman they knew nothing about except that she was “overweight” or “thin.” (And in that particular question we were 11 times more willing to peg that imaginary woman as lazy!)

With two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese you'd think we'd be more compassionate since the chances are high that if we're not personally in this category that someone we know and love is.  Ironic also that most of us claim we want to lose weight while simultaneously judging thin women as being superficial, mean, and controlling. If we believed that, why would we want to become that?

Those judgments are hurting us. Personally.

Not just because we risk dismissing potential friends because of our prejudice, though that's a strong reason to practice befriending those whose body types are different from ours.  But because we damage our own psyches when we judge others.

The judgments we are putting out there are the same judgments that are coming back and biting us in our ass--be it flat or plump. We think we might feel better if we devalue others,  but when we do, we are reinforcing the same judgments that we'll hold against ourselves.  We're putting energy out there that becomes our own critic, our own slave master, our own prison.

We cannot judge without feeling judged.  It's impossible. If we make the judgment about her, we're telling our brain that this belief is true to us. Which means that same brain will give us that message about ourselves.

What we say about others reveals way more about our own story than it does about theirs.  We are reacting to them from our own insecurities, fears, and doubts.

When we can't accept them it reveals that we can't accept ourselves. The two go hand-in-hand.

Getting Naked Literally and Figuratively

I felt a moment of that truth last week when a friend took me to a Korean style spa--a bathhouse where you wear the same thing you would if you were taking a bath at home. Ha!

The first two minutes are the worst.  Not used to disrobing in front of strangers (or my girlfriends who were with me, for that matter!) it does feel very vulnerable.

And then, it doesn't. Seriously.

A swimsuit just gives the illusion of being covered. Without it comes a freedom:  No sucking anything in, no pulling anything down, no adjusting anything, no worrying if it is in style, or flattering, or appropriate.  There was simply nothing to hide behind, nothing to judge, nothing to worry about keeping in place.

When we risk showing our scars, birthmarks, cellulite, rolls of fat, protruding bones, tan lines, faces without make-up, boobs without push-up bras, and wet hair-- we realize we're all way more alike than we seem to remember when covered with clothing.

To see one woman walk by with only a scar where a breast used to be--I was reminded how grateful I am for life.  To see one woman sitting on the edge of the jacuzzi with rolls of fat around her middle-- I found myself cheering for her courage, grateful for her acceptance, challenging myself to accept who I am, too.

As I accepted all the bodies around me for just what they were, letting go of any need to judge those who were willing to be vulnerable in the same space with me, a self-acceptance washed over me.

I felt beautiful even as I gazed at the parts of my body that can sometimes cause me shame.  I didn't feel it then.  I completely and totally accepted myself, even as my chest flattened when I laid on my back. Oh that we all had more moments where we could be that relaxed and at peace.

When I stopped judging those around me, I found it easier to give the gift to myself.

Or maybe it was when I first disrobed, proving I was willing to accept myself that I was able to accept all of them.

I don't know which came first. But I do know the two went hand-in-hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Judgment of Weight

There are two things I will not board a plane without: a new magazine purchased at the airport and a purse filled with snacks. The snacks are self-explanatory in a day and age where one can get stuck on a three or four-hour flight with little more than six peanuts being offered to you! I have this deep fear of being hungry and not being able to do anything about it.  So snacks are a must for this girl.  And a magazine?  Well, it's just a guilty pleasure to pass time reading something I normally wouldn't take the time to do at home.

Last week on my home from Tampa, I was riveted to the Glamour article "The Secret Way People Are Judging You."  In this article they revealed the results of a poll of more than 1,800 women revealing what they thought about women of various weights.

From Glamour's "Skinny Witch vs. Chubby Fairy"

Heavy women were pegged as…

skinny witch vs chubby fairy

  • “lazy” 11 times as often as thin women;
  • “sloppy” nine times;
  • “undisciplined” seven times;
  • “slow” six times as often.

While thin women were seen as…

  • “conceited” or “superficial” about eight times as often as heavy women;
  • “vain” or “self-centered” four times as often;
  • “bitchy,” “mean,” or “controlling” more than twice as often.

Even the “good” labels are unfair. An overweight woman may be five times as likely to be perceived as “giving” as a skinny one.

Absorbing the Results of our Weight Stereotyping

I unfortunately can't say I was entirely shocked by these results.  We live in a world where we make decisions about people within 20 seconds so it can't surprise us that it's most likely dependent upon external factors. I was surprised though that women of all weights hold these stereotypes. In other words, the judgments aren't just one group toward another, but "Plus-size respondents judged other plus-size women as 'sloppy,' and skinny types pegged their thin peers as 'mean.'" We know the judgments are unfair about us but it doesn't stop us from putting those labels on someone else! What is that?

I was also moved by the various interviews of women who have felt those judgments.  There has been quite a bit of research done in what is being called "fat studies" where we see the impact that extra weight (and/or the shame and ostracism of that extra weight) has on someone's ability to be hired, healthy, or seen as attractive. One study showed that overweight women have a harder time getting hired and that when they do, they earn as much as $5,826 less than their normal-weight peers. Painful and completely unfair!

And similarly, this article is one of the first for highlighting the scorn that skinny women face, too.  Amy Farrell, PhD., a professor of women's and gender studies, and author of Fat Shame highlighted that skinny women are often "pushed away as someone who is not sharing in the same struggles as the rest of us. People look at her and say, 'You're not friend material; you're alien.'" As someone who studies female friendship-- that jumped off the page to me! That we think their weight is any way connected to the type of friend they can be? *sigh*

Again, Friendships Can Be Part of the Solution

At the end of the article I was left with this mixed feeling.

On the one hand, I just felt sick.  Feeling the depth of our judgmental culture and wondering if there was really anything that could change us to be more accepting of each other was initially overwhelming.

But on the other hand, I felt slightly hopeful.  Hopeful because we're doing it to ourselves.  And if we're the ones doing it to each other, then it seems like we could own that and start choosing to do it differently?

Personal growth isn't about becoming someone different as much as it's about seeing ourselves as we are and starting to catch ourselves earlier in our judgments. So I can't just tell myself to stop judging, but I can tell myself that it matters to me to catch myself doing it and give myself the choice to create new brain patterns.

I may not be able to stop my first judgment from popping into my head-- assuming that she's stuck-up, vain, insecure, or superficial-- but I can sure own that and choose to follow it up with a stronger thought.  I can remind myself that I know what it feels like to be judged by people who don't know me.  I can remind myself of all my friends who have different body types and appearances who don't fit the stereotypes.  I can remind myself that no one benefits from being judged. And that in actuality, research has proven that few of us are good judges. I can step down from the soap box created by my insecurities.

We don't have the luxury in this world of all feeling overly loved.  Few of us report having all the love and acceptance we need!  We could all do with more friends, more people who cheer us on, more people who accept us as we are, more people who want to get to know us past our appearances.  As women who value friends, we should be leading this charge!

We can choose after our judgments to refuse to believe them.  Instead, we can silently whisper, "I accept you just as you are. I can't wait to see the beautiful person you are," and trust that a little more love in this world will go a long way.

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6/4/2012: A follow up blog: Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity & Judgment