Obesity, Stigma, and Health. Oh My!

It seems like I meet a lot of people who don’t like themselves very much, who don’t like their bodies, who feel guilty about their weight.

Recently a couple of small studies have come out showing that in populations where there is no stigma around obesity, obese people do not have negative health outcomes.  The studies I’ve seen are too small to be statistically significant so they don’t prove anything.  But they raise an interesting question – is it possible that being under constant stress, receiving hundreds of thousands of negative messages about our bodies each year, and continuously trying and failing at dieting  could cause the negative health outcomes that are currently correlated with obesity?

In 2008 a study  looked at data for 170,577 people.  The study found that the more dissatisfied a person was with his or her weight, the more days that person indicated were “bad health days”.  Dr. Peter Muennig of Columbia University in New York City was the lead author on that paper.  He said “The obesity ‘epidemic’ might have a lot more to do with our collective preoccupation with obesity than obesity itself.  We still need to focus on healthy [eating] and [movement] as public health officials, but we need to take fatness out of the equation. Were we to stop looking at body fat as a problem, the problem may well disappear.” (emphasis added, words in brackets substitute for trigger words)

The science is all interesting but here’s my real question.  Regardless of what is true about obesity and health…  Regardless of how you feel about your current state of health…

What good does self-hatred do?

This question is neither general nor rhetorical.  I’m asking seriously:  How is disliking or hating yourself or your body helping you out?

It’s certainly an option and within your rights to dislike yourself and focus on what you don’t like about your body, to feel guilt, shame and fear about your body, your choices where health is concerned, really about anything in your life.  I’m just wondering if you feel that it’s going to help,  if you just enjoy feeling that way (and it’s cool if you do, absolutely your choice.), or if you’re just not sure how to feel any other way?

If you’re not having fun, then my next question is:  Who is in charge of how you feel about yourself?

I’m thinking it’s you – for all the reasons I listed in this post about personal responsibility.

If you are stuck in a place of body and/or self hatred, you could decide to love your body and yourself.  That doesn’t mean that it will magically happen in the next two seconds. But you could decide that no matter what it takes you are going to learn to love yourself as you are  – not 50lbs from now, not after you can run a 10k, as you are.  You deserve to love yourself and your body, no matter what your circumstances.  You and your body are totally worthy of love.

And I don’t mean some hedge-your-bets “I’m going to endeavor to try to learn to kind of accept myself even though my thighs are too big” thing.  I mean you decide that you are going to love yourself.  It may not be easy, but if you’ve already determined that self-hatred isn’t giving you the results you want, then maybe it’s time to try something radically different, even if it’s hard to do.

Once you make that decision, start looking for a path that will take you in that direction.  (Check out Love your Body More in Three Simple Steps and this post on setting boundaries for how you want to be treated for more concrete techniques).

You could do this even if you want to get more healthy, or change the size and shape of your body, or get a boob job, or whatever.  Loving yourself doesn’t mean that there aren’t different choices that you want to make about your behaviors.  But if you don’t learn to love yourself first, then based on the studies I referenced above, you could be making it that much harder to be able to get the things that you want.  Once you get to a place of loving yourself and believing that you are worthy of love and respect, in my experience it becomes much easier to make decisions that support being who you want to be.  People take better care of things they love than things they hate, and I believe that includes ourselves and our bodies.

Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm  Comments (4)  

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Bravo, yet again! I’ve really been working on this, and the voices in my head are incredibly cruel! lol But I am getting better. You know what’s really good? And probably too much information. It’s an incredible experience to have sex and NOT think about “If I lost 50 pounds I would be incredible” or “god, my stomach is so flabby.” After 20+ years of having those thoughts soaring through my head, it’s a pleasant change to concentrate on sex! Who knew! lol

    • Susie,

      It is difficult to quantify how much I adore you. Thank you for talking about sex – I think that is a lot of people’s experience. You totally rock!

      ~Ragen

  2. I have enjoyed reading your blog. I am very thankful I added you to my reader.

  3. Excellent questions and perspective.

    My next question is for those who expect fat people to flagellate themselves with self loathing:

    “What do you expect to be achieved by fat people loathing themselves?”

    I’d really love to know the answer to that one.


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