Fat-shaming seems to be all the rage these days. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it basically means to belittle someone for being overweight. Recently, there has been a lot of debate as to whether or not this particular method has any benefit. Can shaming someone about their appearance have any positive outcome? Even if the person who is being shamed does, indeed, lose weight because of the ridicule, does the end justify the means? Or are you left with someone who is still unhappy about their appearance and only lost the weight as a way to escape the bullying?
I am here to tell you that fat-shaming does not work. Just ask my mother.
Growing up, my mom was always calling herself fat. She would stand in front of the mirror and criticize herself from head to toe. In fact, I cannot think of one positive thing she ever said about her body. What’s worse is that this obviously affected how I viewed myself. At age 10, I fell in the neighbor’s yard. I had to be carried by my neighbor’s father to my house, and I remember telling him, “Put me down. I’m too fat to carry.” 10 years old.
Unfortunately for me, my mother’s judging eye didn’t end with what was in the mirror. As I got older, it focused on me. My mother would make offhanded comments here and there about my weight. She would talk about my thick thighs and how I should try the latest diet she was on. (She was always on a fad diet. Name it, and she probably tried it.) When puberty struck, however, I was a goner. I went from an A cup to a DD in just a few short months. My body was exploding out of my clothes. I suddenly had hips and curves where there were previously none. I was 14, and I had no comprehension of what was happening. I was the epitome of the awkward teenage nerd, if that awkward teenage nerd also had huge cans.
One night, my mother had her friends over. As I was walking past, she asked me very loudly, “Gee Sam, don’t you think those jeans are getting a little tight?” Laughter erupted from the group. Devastated does not begin to cover what I felt. That night, I cried myself to sleep.
The point is that her shaming my body didn’t make me want to get skinny. It made me want to crawl into a hole and die. I wanted to disappear from everyone, because if my mother couldn’t see me as beautiful, then who would?
Fast-forward to today.
I have a daughter of my own, my beautiful 6-month-old Penelope. When she looks at me, she just sees Mom, and it’s my mission to keep it that way. I am overweight. At six months postpartum, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. But I’m beautiful. I made life, and my body did that. My body, which I wanted to hide away from the world for so many years, created this perfect little angel. I am no longer ashamed. I’ve learned to respect food and eat within reason (except for the occasional brownie), instead of jumping from one diet to the next. There are still days I struggle with my looks, but the thoughts don’t consume me. The weight will come off eventually, but if it doesn’t, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the person in the mirror.
My mother and I have since discussed what transpired during my formative years. She revealed to me that her own mother would force her to go to Weight Watchers meetings and monitor what she ate. She had hoped to be better than her, but that sort of mental abuse became so ingrained that she, without realizing it, began the cycle of abuse all over again with me.
Shaming someone to change never works. It takes love, understanding and compassion. My daughter will never know what it feels like to be fat-shamed, and I guess in a weird twisted way, I can thank my mother for that. Most importantly, Penelope will never think that her self-worth is a direct correlation to the size of her jeans.