It is with great sadness that I recall a strategy I used on more than one occasion to help ‘inspire’ myself to get some weight off.
I would tack a photograph of myself on the fridge at whatever the present ‘undesirable’ weight happened to be. That way, whenever I went to get something to eat, I could count on being reminded (reprimanded?) that hey, after all, you don’t really need to eat Lani because you’ve got plenty of extra fuel riding around with you on your waist.
This fundamental energy behind this strategy is shame. Fat shaming. I recall even telling myself that I could just look at the picture and tell myself – out loud – that I had enough fat on my body and could easily stay hungry longer. I recall implementing this fat-shaming strategy during a period of fasts where I would go two or three days eating only apples, in the hopes of burning some poundage off.
A similar tactic I tried was one purveyed in weight loss articles, positive-thinking venues, and among vision board vigilantes. It went like this. Find a photo in a magazine of your body ideal – the figure you’d really like to have – and post it prominently. Keep looking at it to remind yourself of your goals. (And how far you are from them.) The result of this strategy is that every time I saw my body as it was, the contrast between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’ inspired so much shame that my mood would spiral downward and before long I’d be taking refuge from the pain in another batch of cookie dough.
Hitting Fat Shaming Bottom
None of these hair-brained schemes ever resulted in lasting weight loss for me. They were quite successful at increasing my fat shame and degree of body dysmorphia. It simply made me feel less than enough and bad about myself. Yet it also let me to hitting bottom – with the whole fat shaming attitude that is. Fat shaming creates unhappy hearts and does nothing to help us find our naturally healthy weight. In retrospect, in each of these scenarios, now long long ago, I wasn’t even dealing with that much poundage. Actually, I was probably close to my body’s naturally healthy weight, which I kept fighting in some hair-brained attempt at the perfect body. Dire dieting resulted in weight gain. And my weight kept spiraling upward.
While so much about veganism has gotten easier since when I first went vegan back in 1995—hello, we can have good cheese again!—with the advent of social media and an increased attention on appearance, we now have a pervasive and often pernicious fat shaming culture to navigate. Fat shaming—words or actions that bully, demean and/or discriminate against those considered “overweight”—is commonplace today, but what makes it unique in the vegan sphere is the messaging that if you’re not Instagram-fabulous in your bikini or workout selfies, you are not only harming your own body, you are actually doing a disservice to the animals by being a poor role model. The take-away is that unless your body aligns with a particular image of fitness and slimness, you should just keep your veganism to yourself. If you think this is an exaggeration, try to keep your eyes open: this mentality is widespread. When it comes to fat shaming among vegans, here are some things to know. (You can read Marla’s entire article here, then come back for my reflections below.)
My Response to Marla’s Article About Fat Shaming
Marla Rose, thank you for this and perfect timing as this has become hot topic in my thoughts and conversations lately in a big way. There are so many considerations here, most of which you have touched upon.
I’d like to add that our size prejudice is just that, advanced by the diet industry. Given that not everyone is genetically programmed to be ‘thin’, it breaks my heart when I see ‘thin’ equated with ‘happy’ – whether in language or inference – because they are not equivalent, for so many reasons. One, thin people are not necessarily “happy”, even though we are sold a million things – diet plans, books, clothing, supplements, etc etc – by being convinced that they are.
These seemingly innocent and ‘helpful’ campaigns carry a deep layer of hurt and harm. They hook our vestiges of bad feelings about ourselves, insufficiency, shame – by pinning it on the weight. If we could only lose the fat, we’ll be happy and free! Nuh-uh. Take it from someone who dieted and yo-yo weight -lossed for years. During ‘thin’ periods, it created some measure of happiness but it didn’t make me happy and always carried the baggage of fear. And it didn’t address the real issue that is making us unhappy about our bodies in the first place, that is NOT ‘fixed’ by losing the weight.
It was only when I gave up dieting, a fantasy weight, and pinning so much on how my body was measuring up that day that real happiness – independent of ‘weight’ – had a chance to emerge. It’s always there within us, obscured by self-judgement and criticism, and easily – as noted before – hooked by the diet industry, even in the vegan world.
Big marketed weight loss programs, before-after stories, fear-based regimented diets, and body perfection have become a bit like background noise for me now. They obscure the deeper issues – how we are to others, ourselves, our contribution and caring and compassion, our loving kindness and patience to ourselves. Our stress and fears and shame are so easily hooked, and pinned on body shape and size.
It always breaks my heart (did I already say that?) when a vegan comes to me, feeling shamed about their weight, that they aren’t a ‘good’ role model for other vegans, even though they may (and often have) just spent the previous weeks up to their elbows in animal welfare advocacy, or caring for some aspect of their community, or giving lectures about how to eat plant-based. It is up to all of us to take a stand and stop underscoring the value of being ‘thin and fit’. I have to keep reminding people that our bodies have a weight that is naturally defended, within a certain range, too. This can be dramatically impacted with healthful eating and physical activity, but only to a certain point. This is another topic, but not really – it’s all bound together with love, care, and acceptance for all – including ourselves – while we get on with it. Peace, ease, and happiness to all, first and foremost.
What Breaks The Cycle?
It wasn’t until I started a mindfulness practice that I realized how much pain I was causing myself through fat shaming. And that trying to shame the pounds off only leads to shame, bad feelings, and no recourse but trying to find a way to escape the pain of it all. It wasn’t until I started a mindfulness practice that I was able to give up dieting and focus on building a healthy, happy relationship with food, eating, and my body. It wasn’t until I started a mindfulness practice that I realized in my heart of hearts that compassion, accepting and loving myself and my body exactly as I am would be key to freedom around food and a fifty pound weight loss, give or take, that has sustained for nearly twenty years. (Can you see why I am so eager to get The Mindful Vegan off the press and into your hands? Patience…)
In retrospect I was both fat shaming victim and perpetrator. I was victim of the body ideal advanced in the media and my own buying into it and perpetrating it upon myself.
Today, I think about other ways that I may in some fashion perpetuate fat shaming without really knowing it. For example, in my presentations and here in my web site, I share my success at a sizable weight loss that has stuck with me for two decades. Yet recently at a presentation, when showing a ‘before’ picture, a woman in the crowd said – almost sarcastically – said “you didn’t have a weight problem.” Even though in the photograph I was carrying almost 40 lbs more than I do today, relative to her own weight challenges, I didn’t have a weight problem. I was immediately hit with the pain in her voice. Was I perpetuating fat shaming by sharing a ‘before’ that was painful to me, that might be someone else’s “if only I could have that kind of weight problem.” See what I’m saying?
Let Me Hear From You
I am very interested in hearing your response to this topic. Specifically:
- have you ever been victim of fat shaming? How has it affected you, or someone you care about?
- what are your thoughts about the photos I share about my own weight loss – do they inspire shame or hope?
Please share your thoughts in comments below.
Love and light,
P.S. In April, I will be leading a mini-retreat all about transition to plant-based, vegan living. We’ll together study The Plant-Based Journey, I’ll lead some Restorative Yoga, and you’ll get a sneak peak into The Mindful Vegan, and of course great vegan food, and a chance to cozy up with the critters!. The retreat will be held April 7 – 9, and is a benefit for The Animal Place animal sanctuary in Grass Valley, California. More on facebook here, and if you aren’t on facebook All the information and registration here:
https://animalplace.checkfront.com/reserve/: Simply click on the ‘weekend retreat’ tab and scroll to the event.