The High Price of Superficial Self-Esteem

From my point of view, one of the most damaging things about the current slew of weight loss shows, diet books etc. is newly thin people trying on clothes, smiling into the camera and saying “I’m wearing single digits!  I finally love myself after all these years!!!!”.

If someone chooses their life partner or friends based entirely upon how they look, we call them superficial.  So why is it considered ok in our society to make our self-esteem contingent upon how we look?

I take a decent amount of flack for being a body positive fat person.  For the bazillionth time today I got an e-mail from someone unable to understand my work that said: “I don’t think it’s a good thing for you to tell people it’s ok to be fat”. They said a lot of other really mean-spirited stuff, including calling me a fat bitch, but that was the gist of their argument.

Here’s the thing, I’m not interested in being in the business of telling other people what is or is not ok for their body.  There are size 0 women who do not have an eating disorder and are sick of people assuming that they do, or hearing bitter fat women call them “skinny bitches”.  There are healthy fat people who are sick of the death fat police telling them that if they don’t lose weight they are just going to keel over and die, or hearing insecure thin women call them “fat bitches”.

What I am trying to show people is that they have the option to love themselves in the body they have now, even if they feel that they want to change it.

If someone chooses to lose weight, or gain weight,  I respect that (because, hey, it’s their decision and I want my decisions about my body and weight to be respected and supported and I don’t see how I can justify asking for something that I’m not willing to give).  And while it’s their right, I do personally think it’s unfortunate when people make their self-esteem contingent upon that weight loss or gain.

There is the option of choosing to love yourself and appreciate your body for what it CAN do now.  I know for me that was a much more stable platform from which to make other decisions about my health.

People might be able to afford to be completely superficial when choosing dates, but I think they might find that the price for superficial self-esteem is just too high.

Like the blog?  Check Out the Book.  The E-Book is “Name Your Own Price”!

I wanted everyone to be able to afford Fat: The Owner’s Manual – Surviving a Thin-Obsessed World with your Health, Happiness, and Sense of Humor Intact  so it  is now available in soft cover and e-book which is “name your own price”

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This month’s member deals come from More of Me to Love, Jodee Rose, The Fat Nutritionist, Golda Poretsky, Jeanette DePatie and of course me. If you are a member and haven’t received the e-mail with details and passwords just let me know!

I do HAES and SA activism, speaking and writing full time, and I don’t believe in putting corporate ads on my blog and making my readers a commodity. So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, you can  become a member (you get extra stuff, discounts, and you’re always the first to know about things) or you can support my work with a  one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free. If you’re curious about this policy, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 10:30 am  Comments (27)  

27 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t agree with everything that write but I enjoy your blog and there is never any need for rudeness.

  2. While watching commercials the other day I was struck by the superficiality of weight loss also! “I can wear a bikini!” “Guys are noticing me!” Where’s the stuff about lowered blood pressure? Better health? Can the companies not say that because it isn’t true?

    Also, I hate when they insinuate fat women don’t get dates. I dated! I am fat! I married! I am fat!

    God, commercials suck.

    And I’m sorry you get abused for doing this very important work! Mean people suck!

    • Commercials are selling a product (in this case, weight loss) and advertisers purposely tap into people’s fears because they know from research and experience that is one of the most effective ways to move people to buy. What makes weight loss ads so deplorable (IMHO) is that they simultaneously victimize the viewer as they are selling their “solutions”. Ugh. They really are the worst kind of bottom feeders.

    • The easiest proof that the current obsession with thinness is not about health is that people who lose weight because of cancer are congratulated for it– even by people who know about the cancer.

      • YES! I’m seeing this more and more. Even my grandmother who has GI issues that required surgery is being complimented on her weight loss. She looks like a skeleton. She complains that it hurts to take a shower because she is so skinny but then admits she is happy being that skinny–even if it means being sick–because at least she isn’t fat. I’ve heard people say “I wish I’d get ‘fill in the blank’ because at least I’d lose weight.” What the hell is wrong with us that we’re willing to sacrifice health, suffer through possibly fatal diseases and risk our lives just to be skinny?

        • I just wanted to clarify…I think my Gram is beautiful but it is shocking how small she is. I was afraid to hug her when I first saw her at her current weight. My brother says he thinks she looks cute but agrees it is kind of worrisome, especially since she is ok with being ill because she is skinny.

      • Years ago, I met a woman who’d suddenly lost a bunch of weight (and was in pretty rough shape, health-wise) because of hyperthyroidism. She was talking about how people expressed ENVY to her. Envy! Over a life-threatening illness! She was pretty weirded out by it.

    • “I can wear a bikini!”

      This has always been among my pet peeves when it comes to weight-loss-selling lines. Because, um. I can wear a bikini too! Right now, at my current size.

    • What gets me are commercials that have the audacity to tell you how you feel. I kept seeing this one commercial, I think it was for deodorant or some such, that said, “We know you want to feel beautiful…” and every time I see it all I can hear is, “Not only do you want to feel beautiful, but you have to BE beautiful. Buy our product to make you beautiful!” Uh, thanks, advertisers, but I’ve never responded well to people telling me how to feel.

    • The one that just boggled my mind was the woman saying “Now I can go to Paris!”

  3. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks!

  4. Another spot-on, exactly right post. It *really* is all about genuinely loving and accepting ourselves, and by extension, others, WHATEVER their size. Health should be the primary concern, secondary concern…heck, the ONLY concern. The real problem in our society is that the haters hate themselves first, and not being content to be miserable alone, they want to drag everyone down with them. Thank you for being a shining light of lovingkindness and truth.

  5. Last night I was watching the first episode of a new season of Top Chef Masters. Art Smith was talking about all the great things he’s done since he was last on the show three years ago. He’s won two James Beard awards, written another cookbook or two, done dozens of television appearances… and yet he said his ‘greatest accomplishment’ is that he’s lost a lot of weight. I found that depressing.

    It’s his body, and if he wants to lose weight with it, well, that is his choice and I will never try to tell him he’s not allowed… but how is that more important than two James Beard awards? James Beard awards don’t go away.

    Besides, I watch cooking competitions for the food and the spirit of competition, not to be told there’s something wrong with my body.

    On the upside, he made a rather decadent dessert that looked out of this world and had the judges making lots of yummy noises, and he did it without telling anyone that either he or they shouldn’t eat it. Oh, and without trying to make it lo-cal or ‘guilt free’ in any way.

    I may find his priorities about his accomplishments depressingly wrong way round, but at least he didn’t heap extra helpings of body shame on dessert.

  6. I lost 125 lbs in the 90′s. I knew people would treat me differently. I had “friends” that wouldnt give me the time of day before. I knew they were not friends and I kept my distant. Yes, I gained the weight back and my real friends are still my friends. It is a shame we humans are like that. Or our society, whatever you want to call it.

  7. Girl, you are awesome!!! Great to see someone who get’s it. There are so many people out there with fake self-esteem nowadays. What happened to the days when people were a bit more modest, down to earth and real? Loving oneself should not be dependent on ones body size, but, here in the US, we tend to be so damned superficial and judgemental. Keep up the good work. I think you truly are fabulous and I applaud you for being you and not letting all the haters bring you down. Thanks for writing this blog :-)
    Cheers Girl!!!
    Denise

  8. The hegemonic ads and programs that portray newly slim (or slimmer) people as FINALLY HAPPY with themselves (or AT LAST able to feel loving toward their bodies/selves) are crucial participants in the dominant distorted discourses which rationalize injustice, inequality, oppression, and domination (social control). Everyone in a culture is diminished and harmed when ANY of its members–as individuals or groups–continue to suffer from socially constructed pain. We all need to keep hearing the clear, proud voices of those who refuse to adopt the stereotypical social identity of FAT & ASHAMED. Thank you, Ragen, for continuing to share your voice–and your vision of a better world!

  9. I lost about 70 pounds last year, curbing my junk food habit and taking up yoga, pilates and belly dancing. At first my goal was to lose weight but as I started taking care of myself I started to enjoy how much better I was feeling and kind of stopped caring about the weight loss. I was thrilled at 228 to be able to run up stairs and be flexible and instead of focusing on the size of my pants or the jiggly-ness of my tummy I was happy to just be healthy. That was when I realized my positive body image shouldn’t be based on what my body looks like but rather what it can do for me. I got pregnant last year and had my son a week ago, he was 3 weeks early and I had to have an emergency c-section because I had appendicitis. I took care of my body during my pregnancy and it has been able to heal faster than the doctors expected. I appreciate my body because even when it failed (Stupid appendix lol) it was still strong enough to keep me and my son healthy, that is so much more important than a dress size.

  10. I recently completely revamped my diet– and yes, for health reasons. I had several spells where I nearly passed out after eating, so needless to say I was concerned and taking a long, hard look at what I eat. Now I’m eating for nutrition, and I have sooooo much more energy than I used to, which is wonderful! But, on the downside, apparently I’m starting to lose weight too. I wouldn’t normally consider this good OR bad, it’s just a judgmental neutral side effect of changing my relationship with food, but the downside is that people won’t stop pointing it out. Like it’s a compliment. And I’m supposed to say thank you. Instead I find myself awkwardly mumbling things like, “Oh, really? That’s interesting. Guess what I’m eating now is agreeing with my body more.”

    My hope, naturally, is that people will realize that it’s WEIRD to compliment someone on weight loss, especially if it’s not a goal of theirs. But instead they look at me like I’m weird for not gushing thanks and praise for noticing I lost a little weight. I didn’t ask for their f’ing opinions, and when we’re not talking about weight it’s generally ok to tell someone to take their completely unsolicited opinion and shove it. But not with weight. With weight, I’m supposed to kiss their feet for opening the door a little bit into their world of “beautiful thinness.”

    I don’t care what size I am, I don’t want to be part of a culture that values bodies over minds and hearts.

    • My husband used to say this all the time and I didn’t get it, I loved being complimented for losing weight. Now, I am beginning to see what he meant.

    • I so agree with this. I had my son last week, he was 3 weeks early and it was a very tense situation, medically. I had appendicitis and needed an emergency c-section. I’ve been highly disturbed by how many people can only focus on how much weight I’ve lost in the 10 days since the surgery.

      Not only is it weird to compliment someone on weight loss it can often be really insensitive if the weight loss is unintentional or the result of an illness or other medical condition.

    • You know what’s funny? I’ve gained weight pretty steadily every year for the last 10 years, but every time i get a haircut or new clothes, someone says to me, “You look great! Have you been losing weight?”

      It’s like they’ve all been mindwiped and can’t think of anything else to say.

  11. I certainly agree that being a certain size should not be a prerequisite to being happy or loving yourself. But we should also be careful not to assume that it’s because of the single digit size that those individuals now claim to be happy or pleased with themselves. Perhaps they feel empowered having set out to become more fit, or take control of some health issues, that might have resulted in a weight loss. Many clients report feeling better about themselves simply for following through with their goals–whether it means to start walking or to separating eating from distractions and eating more mindfully, finally tasting their food.These healthier behaviors could result in a weight loss AND in the individual feeling mighty good about themselves!

    • that could be true, but weight loss is often not synonymous with healthy behavior.

  12. This is so good, and I just want to add that there are size 0 people who are very sick, whether from cancer or anorexia or anything else, and they and their families don’t appreciate the compliments they get. Plus of course there are heavier people who have anorexia, which is another stereotype that needs to be smashed. And, also, of course, there are heavier people who are very sick with things that have absolutely nothing to do with weight, and yet people assume it has something to do with their weight.

  13. I don’t want to add fuel to any fire, but I do want to say thank you for all you do. I am in the middle of your book… signature makes me feel very proud, glad I pre-ordered… and I am trying to remember every single day to remember to love and take care of my body the way it is now. I have spent so much of my life trying to lose weight, including gastric bypass surgery, that I sacrifice my health because I get down about myself and stop moving. I wake up in pain just about every day lately and I know in my heart it has nothing to do with weight gain and everything to do with not moving. I walked a block to the hardware store the other day starting out thinking “no big deal it is only a block” and to my great surprise I was a bit out of breath. I thought to myself that I have to stop hiding and start moving no matter what I look like or what I think other people are thinking. Thank you for inspiring me despite having to put up with your hater every day. It still makes me very sad that you have to put up with that, but am so glad that you are strong enough to persevere.

  14. Love your blog — this one especially. As a fabulous fat person and therapist, I see the negative effects of our thin-obsessed culture in my clients. You are an inspiration, hope you keep sharing who you are.

  15. “There are healthy fat people who are sick of the death fat police telling them that if they don’t lose weight they are just going to keel over and die”

    The very worst of this above, is when it’s your doctors who tell you this! Hearing “if you don’t loose weight soon, in 10 years you will have heart disease and diabetes” from your doctor, who you are supposed to trust, completely flattens any self-esteem you may have had, destroys your peace of mind and makes you live in fear and loathing of your own body.

    I think I am over that now. I just don’t listen anymore. But I don’t know how much I would trust them now if I needed to.


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