Just By Looking At Us

People believing that they can glean tons of information about others based only on their body size is reaching *cough* epidemic levels in this country.

As has been said by the brilliant Marilyn Wann, there are exactly two things that you can tell by looking at someone’s size:

  1. What size they are
  2. What your preconceived notions and prejudices about that particular body size are

When people look at someone and think they know anything other than those two things, they are just acting on their preconceived notions and prejudices (which which is made much worse when they are doctors, eating disorder professionals and other people who should know better).

Many current cultures have developed intense preconceived notions and prejudices against body sizes (in some cultures they are against fat bodies, in some cultures they are against thin bodies).  In US culture there is currently a strong bias against fat bodies.  We are not the first or only group to be the subject of stereotyping and scapegoating, and we have options (always options, never obligations!)

We can notice how often these messages come at us from people who either want to sell us something, or want to put us down as a way to raise themselves up.  We can point out situations where we feel that people are operating from stereotypes and preconceived notions if we feel like it. We can remind people that health is multi-dimensional, not entirely under our control, and that each person gets to choose what health means to them, how important health is to them, and what path supports their priorities and goals.

Perhaps most importantly, we can work to be the person in charge of how we feel about ourselves, and to decide that we like, even love ourselves, regardless of how close or far we are from some arbitrary social ideal.  So as we deal with being stereotyped, stigmatized, and scapegoated, it may help to remember that it’s not us, it’s them, and we are under no obligation to buy into their stereotypes when we choose how to view ourselves.

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10 thoughts on “Just By Looking At Us

  1. I recall a time where I was struggling with weight and fitness in order to maintain military standards. I was working out at squadron PT as hard as I could. And I saw a co-worker and her friend, two people I genuinely liked but also knew were in the same boat as me, just strolling around the track like “la dee da…”
    Of course I knew how ineffective that would be. And I knew they were never going to get past their hurdles to succeed at a PT test or waist measurement if that’s all they did at squadron PT. In fact, I felt pretty angry, because here I am putting in effort and pushing myself, while some people make the rest of us look bad by just sauntering around the track and calling it exercise.
    Then I found out they were showing up at the gym at 4 in the morning to do boot camp classes that would probably devastate me. Then they’d work out more on their own. Then they showed up to formation with the squadron, and used the PT time as a cool down and stretch.
    Hm. Lesson learned. First glances rarely tell the whole story.

    1. I was in the military as well, and was regularly on the cusp of being put in the so called “fat boy” program. I trained to do a lot of long distance running and bike rides. I also did semi-competetive lifting. During mandatory PT I often used the time to do extra stretching and jogged lightly so as to not mess up my training routine. More than once I had someone tell me what I needed to be doing during PT, and I’d invite them to join me lifting or on one of my 50-100 mile rides. Those who deployed with me were more in tune with my work out routine, it was nice to not have people second guess my fitness level.

  2. Kid in my music department said to another kid the other day, “How are YOU going to tell me about MY life??”

    It’s been resonating within me ever since.

  3. Have you ever read any fantasy books? The Soldier Son series by Robin Hobb is about a boy and magic. For seemingly no reason at all, he just gets fatter….and fatter….and fatter. Nobody knows why and people hate him for it. He’s abused and shunned and you can imagine how frustrated he feels. Turns out, his body size was getting so big because he was “filling up with magic” according to another culture in the book. To that culture, he was absolutely revered. The dichotomy was interesting.
    Overall I didn’t like the book. I think because I took it so personally. After I went off the pill a number a years ago I ended up gaining 40 pounds in less than six months, with no difference to my diet or exercise. There were no answers for me from any doctors, and I still don’t have any answers. My weight’s only ballooned out from there, made worse by diet after diet. I’m now 80 pounds over what I used to be then. That bit I had in common with the protagonist I think was a little bit too much for me to take to enjoy the book. People positively hated him in the book, and I’ve felt the same way about myself. I wish our culture was like that other culture…or at least I was filled with magic!

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