Let me start off by saying, this is not something I wanted to write. I consider myself a pretty decent person; I mean I always stop at a little kid’s lemonade stand, donate to the Salvation Army, and volunteer once a week at a senior citizen’s home. That being said, I am far from perfect and recently this was brought to my attention by someone who I have known for over twenty years. After the standard formula of denial and disbelief, I finally put my big girl panties on and faced the facts. My name is Courtney and I’m a recovering fat shamer.
My obsession with weight started as far back as I can remember. In grade school, I would purposely “drop” my peanut butter sandwiches on the floor, just so I wouldn’t have to eat them. Keep in mind, this had nothing to do with not liking the way they tasted(anyone who knows me now knows I have an unhealthy obsession with all things peanut butter) and everything to do with the fact that I didn’t want to eat, because I didn’t want to get fat. This started in fourth grade. I was 9 years old.
I’d like to make it perfectly clear that my obsession didn’t manifest from the people around me… It was soley an intrinsic loathing that I had toward the idea of “fat”. I was incredibly skinny growing up, so there was really no reason for this fixation on gaining weight. I had never had anyone call me fat(although this was my greatest fear), so I can only attribute this fear to a combination of distorted body image and the bombardment of women with impossible to achieve bodies that are shown in the media. As a 25 year old woman, I now know enough to realize that these women are photo-shopped… however, do you know many 9 year old girls that are aware and able to comprehend the concept of photoshopping? Probably not.
As I grew older my obsession grew stronger and stronger. My fear of “fat” degenerated into a distaste for anyone who could be labeled as such. The scariest part of all is that I wasn’t self aware enough to realize this. Whenever I would encounter someone that I didn’t like who was an average-larger build, the first thing that would come to mind would be “this FAT *insert obscenity* here. Regardless whatever detestable personality qualities I would find in them, the first insult I could think of is “fat”. Mind you, I would never comment to anyone about the thoughts in my head, but I am ashamed to say I still thought them. Oddly enough, this never applied to the friends that I had who were considered average or overweight. I always thought they were beautiful and I truly mean that. Isn’t it strange how the mind can manipulate itself into justifying certain ideals and morals on a case by case basis?
Once I left high school(and various eating disorders) behind, I slowly started to realize what was so wrong with my way of thinking. I met people in college who were all shapes, sizes, races, etc. The outside package was not indicative of what was going on inside someone. The older I became, the more this realization became apparent. As time went on, the awful thoughts in my head began to subside. In college, I became a sociology minor-fascinated by studies on body image distortion in particular. Not only that, but I began to understand where this aversion toward “fat” came from. Like most 90’s girls, I grew up with Barbies and Disney. The studies toward how detrimental Barbie can be towards a girl’s body image are well known and speak for themselves. Take a look at any Disney movie… can you find me a positive portrayal of an overweight woman? Or even an average woman? The scary truth is a resounding “no”. No wonder little girls correlate beauty and thinness together. That’s all we know. Mind you, I am in no way blaming my archaic thoughts solely on the media…but it would foolish to ignore the influence of toys directed toward little girls.
Recently, as mentioned earlier, a long-time friend of mine made it painfully obvious that I was not nearly as enlightened as I thought I was. This encounter happened after I made a seemingly innocuous facebook status about Chris Christie, implying that he wasn’t going to run for president because it doesn’t seem like he has ever ran for anything. It was a low blow at his weight. Rather than commenting on his actions or opinions, once again I went toward his weight. It was childish… I get that now. My friend has commented on other statuses I have made, ones that complained about needing to workout so I don’t get big, yadda yadda.. she made it very clear that what I was saying wasn’t not sitting well with her. I choose to ignore it, because in my mind I didn’t see them harm in what I was saying. It wasn’t until a week later when I noticed that she unfriended me. I was caught off guard because I couldn’t figure out what I could have done to her that after 20 years of friendship, she would want to defriend me.
I messaged her asking about her rationale. Her explanation was clear and honest. My comments that correlated being overweight with negative qualities were the reason. She didn’t want to sign on to Facebook, scroll through her newsfeed, and feel an attack from someone she considered a friend. At first I tried to defend myself by claiming they weren’t directed toward anyone and I was just trying to be funny. I’m 25 years old and I can finally say that I realize that trying to be funny at someone else’s expense is not funny. It’s wrong. It’s exactly what’s wrong with society… especially with young women. Making fun of someone else is just a way to feel superior, with little regard for someone else’s feelings. I apologized to my friend, she accepted, and we moved on.
As rude of an awakening this was for me, I am truly thankful for it. It taught me that no matter how much you think you’ve grown as person, there’s always room for more growth. It taught me that no matter how harmless your comments may seem at first, there’s a chance that they could truly hurt someone else. I am not unrealistic. I’m sure that at one point or another, I am going to say something that could hurt someone else. What I can promise, however, is that before I say anything to anyone the first thing I will consider is how it’s going to affect him or her. The whole purpose for writing this is to perhaps make you think to do the same.
“Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter….. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”