It is one thing to acknowledge that we have issues with our bodies and our diets. We can agree with a meaningful nod that, “Oh, yes, I hate that, too,” and feel warmth and comfort in the bosom of our other fat (or thin)-shamed friends.
Things get a little dicey when we start talking about the sources. Shame comes from any number of places, and if I could guess, most of it, as it relates to food, is an unnecessary weight to carry.
I used to keep a stash in my house. It was a sugary bouquet for those times when I feel like if I don’t get a quick shot of sugar, I might run off in the minivan to Aruba. Or at least to the bookstore down the street, where I would consume a calorie-laden coffee concoction and, for good measure, a giant rice krispie treat. I would, in public, resist the temptation to pour a packet of sugar over the sugary treat. Just to get my fix into my system as soon as physically possible. It used to make me really edgy if the stash was low, or not there at all. Even if I didn’t want anything RIGHT NOW, I wanted the safety of its presence in my house. Yes. I had a sugar safety blanket.
But did you notice that little phrase, “in public.” Of course, I would not eat a package of cream horns with a chaser of Chili Cheese Fritos in public. Because that’s just untoward. It simply isn’t done. It is our private, and sometimes thrilling, shame, to stuff our faces with exactly the flavors of shame we think we want.
Apparently, there’s even a name for it: food of shame.
I suspect, however, that my issues with cream horns aren’t really about the cream horns and more about a learned coping technique. We might refer to this with a tongue in the cheek, as eating our feelings. And I believe it is a very real thing. There are others who take a different route. They are so stressed out, or sad, or depressed or whatever that food becomes one more obstacle for which they do not have time.
And here’s the real kicker: if you happen to be one of those stress fasters, you will be the locus of jealously. I have a friend whose marriage was crumbling, who was mired deep in the pit of a dangerous depression. To call her skinny was understating the case. Her friends, who knew of her pain, said, “Yeah. We’re still jealous.”
Because skinny is everything. Everything.
So, maybe we feel like a crappy day deserves a Ding Dong or six or eight. Maybe that startling phone call made us order ourselves a large pizza, and one for the rest of the family. Maybe visiting our parents makes us itch for every calorie we see. And we hate it. And we want to change. But it’s just so hard. And it means peeling back layers and layers of crap. And that’s just not any fun. Really. At all.
Our bodies bear the brunt of this. Our skin stretches, or shrinks, and the more it does, the more we want to cover that physically obvious shame. If people can see that we are bigger than we were before (or smaller) then they will know we are weak and will-less. They will know our private shame, and we will be discovered as frauds, or worse—fat.*
At a certain point, we can no longer hide the muffin top. We cannot squeeze into the jeans. We start leaving our shirts untucked before we make the move to elastic waisted pants. And we know they know. We hide ourselves from candid photog friends. When they do catch us, we put ourselves in the back of the group, and we lift our heads so our chins don’t show.
We are shamed. By what we eat. By how we eat And by how we look.
The Thing Is:
I am convinced that for most of us, weight and shame are brutal marriage. For most of us, this is why weight loss “success” is so difficult. We measure the success the way we measure worth: small is good. If we lose, we are successful. If we don’t, well, then we are our same sorry selves as when we were secretly hoarding Snickers bars.
I am just as convinced that peeling back the layers is what will lead to “success.” That when we have the courage to admit it’s not really about the stupid Twinkies, but about XYZ, then, maybe, just maybe, we’ll enter the place where success is measured differently. Where happiness does not come from a binge. Where we can laugh and smile and stand for photos regardless of our appearance.
*I want to make clear here that while I might perceive myself this way, I do not hold others to any of these strange standards. And what makes me so special anyway? Well, nothing.