I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t hear someone banging on about fat shaming.
Fat Shaming. Noun: the action or practice of humiliating someone judged to be fat or overweight by making mocking or critical comments about their size.
Obviously, I don’t condone fat shaming. People can clearly develop dangerous addictions to food and any addiction is challenging to overcome – we’re not in the middle of a worsening obesity crisis for nothing. I sympathise with people who are on the receiving end of it, but I think it says more about the problems of the people doing the shaming than it does about the people they’re targeting. Fat shaming, however, is not what I’d like to talk about today. Nor do I want to address eating disorders or food addiction. What I’d like to highlight with this blog is the less talked about issue of fit shaming. Yes, fit shaming. It’s a thing.
You’re so lucky to have a good figure
I wish I had your genes
I bet you can eat whatever you want and not put any weight on
You need to eat a burger
You need to put some weight on
You’re too thin
You look anorexic
You look like a stick insect
You skinny bitch/you skinny cow
I’ve heard these comments, and variations on them, my whole life. None of them are accurate and they always come, unsolicited and without exception, from people who struggle with their own weight, diet and/or body image.
Now, while these sorts of comments don’t have the power to make me feel ashamed, (because I don’t think other people can make us feel anything without our consent, and I truly believe that judgemental comments say more about the person saying them that the person they’re talking about) I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the double standards. I’m tired of the peddling of misinformation. And most of all, I’m tired of what usually happens when I dare to talk about it: I’m shut down. I’m mocked. I’m criticised. I’m judged. I’m told that I don’t have any right to talk about body image issues when I look the way I do. (Which, ironically, is the inverse of fat shaming, but let’s not get bogged down in hypocrisy.)
Well, this is my blog. This is my truth and I’m going to talk about it.
The fact is that I work really hard to be healthy and being slim is a side benefit of being fit and healthy. That’s not to say that all slim people are fit – which is yet another typical snarky remark I’ve had levelled at me many times:
“You might be slim but that doesn’t mean you’re healthy”.
Well, I’m both. It’s been hard earned and I’m getting a bit ticked off with all of this unwarranted critical codswallop.
There’s no mystery to me being fit: I eat well, I train hard and I’ve done both consistently for a long time. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my fair share of body issues, hang ups and health problems, quite the opposite. I’ve had many of them. Some of them have been matters of life and death. I’ve been absolutely crippled with them at times. I know exactly what it feels like to be very ill indeed – it’s the reason why I prioritise my health so highly.
So I’d like to clear a few things up:
You’re so lucky to have a good figure.
Luck has very little to do with it. Having a good body is overwhelmingly a side benefit of eating well and working out. If you ate the food I eat and trained the way I train, you too would be as ‘lucky’. It’s not good fortune, it’s hard work. Prioritising long-term health over short-term gratification does not come effortlessly to anyone. I’m by no means the fittest person around. I’m not even the fittest person in my household. I know loads of people who are way more fit than me, but that’s because they’re even more dedicated to a healthy lifestyle than I am. They’re not luckier than I am, they work harder at it than I do.
I wish I had your genes.
No you don’t. I was born with a hole in my heart, so my genetics put me at a distinct disadvantage from the beginning. That glaring oversight aside, my level of fitness, and how I look as a result, is not due to any genetic predisposition. One look at some of the people in my family will disavow you of that assumption.
Same gene pool + different lifestyle choices = different bodies and levels of fitness.
We all look the way we do because of our consistent decision making. You either make choices that enhance your health or impair it. Good health doesn’t come effortlessly to anybody. It’s not dependent on luck or genetics. Anybody who really takes care of themselves knows that. It’s education, consistency and discipline. It’s sacrifice, compromise and priorities. It’s time, effort, blood, sweat and tears.
I bet you can eat whatever you want and not put any weight on.
Sadly, this is not true. If it was, I would eat chocolate and drink full fat coke way more than I do. I’m an average human being and therefore my body generally works in the same way that everyone else’s does: if I eat too much rubbish and exercise too little – I’ll put weight on. If I eat too little and exercise too much – I’ll lose weight. These are the laws of anatomical science. There are very few (very, very few) genuine medical exceptions.
I’ve mostly been the same weight my whole adult life because I’ve mostly eaten well and stayed active throughout my life. There have been times when I’ve been overweight. When I was first at university, I hung out in the student union more than anywhere else. I spent a lot of time sitting around, drinking beer and eating rubbish and if anyone does that for long enough, they’ll start to lose their fitness and their figure and I was no exception. Likewise, there have been times when I’ve been underweight. And that’s what happens when you exist on a diet of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, anxiety and adrenaline. I didn’t look or feel my best at either extreme, but once I’d adjusted my lifestyle, over time and with effort, I balanced out again. I’m not remotely exceptional in this sense. If anyone genuinely adjusts their lifestyle and remains consistent, after a while, they will see the difference too.
You need to eat a burger.
The wildly mistaken presumption that I don’t eat very much is highly amusing to anyone who actually knows me. I am a massive foodie. I always have been. I have a very healthy appetite and never go for long without eating. I’ve never been on a fad diet in my life (there’s no need to if you exercise and eat well.) I love to cook and bake. I’m always reading recipe books and watching health, fitness and nutrition documentaries. I absolutely love food. I think getting to fill our tums at regular intervals with such an amazing variety of delicious food is a glorious pleasure and a privilege. I regard it as one of the best things in life. Understanding that the food we eat – how we feed and fuel our bodies – has such a massive influence over how we look, feel and function, is one of the most amazing and fascinating things about it. The reason that I can eat a lot and not put excess weight on is because I generally eat really healthy stuff and I work out.
The common assumptions seem to be: if I’m seen eating; I must be able to eat whatever I want. And if I’m seen working out or in workout clothes; I must be a slave to the gym and starve myself. Neither assumption is remotely close to the truth. I eat a lot. I exercise regularly. I am lean but I am really strong. I lift weights. I can pretty much deadlift and squat my body weight. You can’t do that sort of thing and not eat properly.
You need to put some weight on.
No I don’t. My weight is fine for my height. My BMI is well within in the healthy range and my body fat is measured annually by trained professionals at my gym.
You’re too thin.
No I’m not. (Too thin for what anyway? For type 2 diabetes? For your personal preference? For your comfort?)
You look anorexic.
If you think I look anorexic, you don’t know what anorexia is. Fortunately, I have never had an eating disorder but I know people who have. So to be flippantly diagnosed with such a serious health condition is insulting to me and undermining to people who do suffer with them.
You look like a stick insect.
How is this sort of comment any different to comparing a larger body to a big animal? Would it be acceptable for me to compare somebody to a hippo or a cow or a whale?
You skinny bitch/You skinny Cow.
Calling someone skinny isn’t a compliment. (Calling someone a bitch or a cow isn’t either, but you’ve got to pick your battles, I guess.)
Skinny. Adjective: unattractively thin. Synonyms: boney, scrawny, scraggy, stick-like and undernourished.
Calling someone skinny is tantamount to calling someone fat, it’s just the opposite extreme. I’ve been called a ‘skinny bitch’ literally hundreds of times, nearly always in a way that’s apparently meant to be a funny kind of flattery, but it’s not funny, it’s passive aggressive and it’s a massive double standard. If I called a heavier person a fat bitch and laughed, I’d be accused of fat shaming and understandably so.
Being respectful of people should go both ways, whatever their body type. None of us know the reasons behind why someone is the way they are. We’re all fighting our own battles, whatever it might look like at face value. If you condemn fat shaming then you shouldn’t condone fit shaming.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too.