There is so much shame out there for us to use against our fellow humans. It’s so easy to claim-and-club, to bludgeon each other in the name of making others into better people. And doesn’t it feel good, knowing that we’re doing the right thing, the moral thing, while others wallow in their guilt?
I read an article yesterday about how restaurant portion sizes can be an issue for people wanting to have healthier lifestyles. In the article, a study was cited in which people were given cookies labeled “medium” and “large,” but the cookies were in fact the same size. People who had the medium cookies ate more, and it was suggested that the labeling convinced them that the portion was smaller so they could indulge. The implication is that if restaurant portion sizes were standard (a medium soda is always the same number of ounces everywhere, for example) then it could be more effective than laws restricting the maximum size. The article went on to mention that clothing sizes have gone down in the last 50 years, meaning that larger people fit into smaller sizes because of resizing (called “vanity sizing”).
I have no problem with the research or even the thesis of the article. It was mostly factual, providing information. What did bother me was the comments on the article. It was a string of people claiming to be very thin and unable to find clothing that fits. (I find that hard to believe, as I have noticed neither an epidemic of nakedness nor large numbers of skinny people in baggy clothes.) In fact, the majority of the comments ran along the lines of, “Let’s not make excuses for the fat people sitting around on their lazy asses stuffing themselves with supersized fast food.”
In other words, fat shaming.
I will never understand why it’s so appealing to say hateful things on a public forum. I’m not even talking about the stupidity here, the conflating of fat and lazy or unhealthy. I’m talking about the name-calling, the character assassination of people we don’t even know. I don’t get the desire to verbally thrash complete strangers, as though we ourselves live flawless lives. Nor do I relate to the underlying fears that lead us to disproportionately shame fat people as though being overweight is among the worst things one can do.
I’ve never met anyone who had long-term success becoming a better person as the result of being shamed into “proper” behavior. I’ve met plenty of people who have become fearful and depressed and have hidden some of the best parts of themselves because they believed that they weren’t worthy of love. Not only that, I’ve seen perfectly healthy people become ashamed of their bodies because they are curvier, more muscular, large-boned (and I mean that literally), or even because they are pregnant. Is this what we’ve become as a society? People who are afraid of natural variation and even natural biological function?
The thing is, I’m not even laying this one on the church. While I think that in large part the church has a role to play (Christian “diet” programs, anyone?), that doesn’t explain why there are so many people who are not now or never have been Christians who believe the same things. In this case, it’s not necessarily the direct actions of the church but the passive failure to act that is the problem.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to end the cycle of shame. We need to stop buying into the lie that thinness is God’s plan for humanity or that there is any such thing as “righteous” health behavior. I don’t mean that it’s our job just to make people feel good about themselves. But we need to separate what society says from what God says, especially if we claim to be “Bible-believing.” (I’ve never seen a commandment in Scripture that says, “Thou shalt be thin.”)
I’m not really a “fat activist.” I was merely bothered by the rude and judgmental comments (along with the bragging about being too small for normal clothes; if that’s not fat shaming, I’ll eat my hat). But if you are interested in the subject, here’s a woman who does just that. Her blog is fantastic and she regularly gets all sorts of interesting feedback. Check it out (and especially check out her Hate Mail page if you want to read a cross between hysterically funny and rage-inducing).