I recently undertook a decidedly unscientific experiment to catalog a sample of what messages I get about my body from the world around me in a 24 hour period. Instead of posting specific examples (because I heard some ugly things that I’d rather not repeat), I’ve decided instead to group them by category. I looked at the data and drew more than conclusions – I drew a new approach to my online personality and communications (more about that in a minute).
I chose a typical day – I went to the grocery store, I was on the internet for business and for personal surfing, I drove for a couple of hours with the radio on. I was on Facebook and Livejournal. I don’t watch regular TV (with commercials) so there is none of that. I purposefully didn’t go to any websites that were specifically about weight or weight loss, any comments that I read were attached to news stories that had nothing to do with weight or weight loss (for example, unprovoked what I can only call fat bashing abounded on articles about healthcare legislation that had nothing to do with weight). I only included examples that stated things outright (so I did not include, for example, magazines with page after page of thin models, even though I think that sends a pretty strong message that thin is the only body type that is beautiful). Examples are only counted in one category.
Here are the top-sheet results:
- Messages stating that it is impossible to be healthy at my weight: 217
- Messages stating that my weight makes me unattractive: 123
- Messages stating that I am lazy and don’t exercise/don’t exercise enough, lack will power, or am not “in control”: 311
- Messages stating that I need to reach a specific BMI to be healthy: 36
- Messages stating that I am a drain on the health care system: 116
- Messages stating that I have poor eating habits: 84
- Messages suggesting that I should be “repulsed by my weight” [used those words specifically]: 19
- Messages calling me a derisive name: 152
- Messages saying something positive about people with large bodies: 3
- Messages that specifically shouted down those 3 positive comments: 231 (these are included in the categories above so they are not added into the total below)
- Total messages about my body: 1061
- Total negative messages: 1058
- Total positive messages: 3
- About 353 negative message for each positive message.
If we extrapolate, I have been receiving:
- 7406 negative messages about my body each week
- 31,740 negative messages about my body each month
- 386,170 negative messages about my body each year
Now it’s audience participation time…
Do you think that hearing 386,170 negative messages about my body makes me more likely to:
a. appreciate my body in a way that makes me want to take good care of it
b. become a silent monk living in the mountains with no technology
c. hate myself and feel like a failure who doesn’t deserve to be treated well by myself or others
d. b. and c., but not a.
If you answered d, you get the prize because in so many cases you would be correct.
Here’s the thing though, the answer for me is a. Based on my BMI (and don’t get me started about why that is a crap measurement) I am Type III – Super Obese. I am as fat as you can get on the BMI scale. I am also in perfect health (just had my cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose, etc. checked on two days ago). I have an amazing, active life. I workout about 25 hours a week, dance competitively, and love getting up in front of a crowd of people. I appreciate my body and I treat it well. I date. I have friends. So why am I so unaffected by these messages when I see so many people who are emotionally crippled by this onslaught of negativity?
I think the answer comes down to self-esteem. Mine seems to be intrinsic – it comes from inside of me. I don’t look for outside approval to make me certain that I am a good person, worthy of love and success. I see my self-esteem as precious and am committed that the self-righteous people who make assumptions and judge, and the beauty/diet/plastic surgery/etc. industries can have my self-esteem when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.
So, what is my new perspective? In looking back at my own blog as well as the comments that I leave on other blogs, new stories etc., I notice that I spend a lot of time addressing some of the 386,170 messages. While I think that it’s important to expose what’s going on , I also feel that a better use of a lot of my time from now on is adding to the 3 positive comments. Showing that there is another option – that you can opt out of a culture where people make assumptions and judgments and try to make you feel bad about yourself so that they can feel superior (or at least better about themselves), or convince you that buying what they are selling will make you love yourself. We are all intrinsically amazing – and we all deserve to love and cherish ourselves and our bodies and be respected by others – just as we are, right this second.