Over the course of my life, I’ve seen women struggling and battling and battering themselves over their weight. I had a roommate in college who begged me tell her mom on the phone she was eating spaghetti, when she clearly wasn’t. My best friend in middle school swore off all foods except for Pasta Roni. I’ve watched relatives eat only sweet potatoes and cannellini beans. I’ve heard countless comments being made about others. I’ve heard comments being made about me.
Now, I don’t generally say much about myself. What I will say, though, is I’ve been through the same. I’ve Weight Watchersed. I’ve done my time on walking tracks. I’ve done my time inside the hamster wheel. I’ve done my time.
I made one promise to myself, though, a long time ago, that I would never, ever hate myself, no matter what my size, no matter who or what was trying to drag me down, no matter what was or wasn’t said. I deserved that.
I’ve been a size 12, and I’ve been a size 24, but I’ve always been Stephanie. I’ve always been gregarious and outspoken, dynamic, giving, and affectionate. I’ve also been a decent friend and a good partner. And I’m proud to be the woman I’ve become.
The things I see now, however, are disconcerting. Society is growing increasingly rude and flagrant by the day. Where people once kept opinions to themselves or whispered them in dark corners, they now use the global stage to bash and exploit and fuel nasty exchanges. I can’t walk into a grocery store without seeing a “fat” body with the head blurred out asking, “Which superstar let herself go??”
And how many ‘inspiring’ stories have we seen about women who were miserable, who made themselves miserable, whom we made miserable, who suddenly shed the weight and have become butterflies with twinkling wings? Because we now accept them? Because they now accept themselves? Why is our first instinct to hate ourselves? Why is the precursor to change self-hatred? Why do we allow it?
What perplexes me most is seeing people who have lost weight only to turn around to criticize or otherwise poke fun at people they perceive to be overweight. Do they realize they’re forsaking who they were? Who they are? Even worse, they’ve taken to projecting the exact shame and hatred they felt (or perhaps still feel) onto others. They’re blowing brand new seeds of negativity into the wind.
I’ll be the first to admit that we’re a terribly unhealthy society, but I feel it’s much less a physical problem than a mental one. We glorify, we demean, we root around in our obsessions, we communicate through our compulsions. We allow things we enjoy to become fetishes. We go to extremes. We don’t listen. We don’t hear. And we don’t think.
Control is one of our most dangerous problems. Self-image issues are borne out of control. You’re either in or out of control, and being ‘out of control’ warrants consequences, usually self-imposed. Except the consequences only serve to handicap you more. And we teach this behavior to those around us, who, in turn, behave this way themselves. We create our own monsters. And so it goes, sometimes for a lifetime.
What I’m asking is that you take back your power. Don’t let anyone decide your worth – not a magazine, not a website, not a picture of a stranger you’ll never know. Don’t ever, ever loathe yourself. When you do, you’ve given every ounce of your personal power away. Don’t allow yourself to feel less-than. There’s no room in this life for less-than.
The responsibility is all on our shoulders. Self-hatred is cultivated and perpetuated by ourselves. Women who feel weak in their own skin will naturally lash out and drag you down to feel the same. Women who feel the need for separation and stratification will create both, leaving you on one side or the other, above or below. If you let them.
You can argue that the magazines do it, that television does it, but this mess is ours. Do we not have control over what we choose to let in? Do we not have power over what we choose to accept or reject? Do we not have power over what we stand up for or against?
The only way we will ever honestly and permanently feel better, whole and healthy, is by learning about ourselves, accepting the person we find, and gaining (or regaining) the ability to give and accept love. This is the heart of the problem. Accepting ourselves is what we need to do, not ten thousand crunches or skipping meals or berating ourselves. This truly has nothing to do with the chocolates. Learning to love ourselves, in whatever form we may appear, is what must happen. The rest will follow.
And once we do, we can teach our daughters to do the same.
And maybe we can break this cycle once and for all.