The Fallacy of “If You Really Liked Yourself…”

Stand up speak up fight backThis is sort of a “part 2,” based on a number of replies that I got from yesterday’s blog about “Hate the Fat, Love the Fatty”  Stop me if you’ve heard this one – someone is talking about, or doing activism against, the stigmatizing/bullying/shaming/oppression that they are experiencing. For our example today let’s use a random hypothetical example and say they are talking about fat hate. Then someone chimes in to say “If you really liked yourself then other peoples’ opinions wouldn’t matter!”

Maybe this person really means well. Maybe they are trying to shut down a discussion about oppression because it makes them uncomfortable.  Maybe they are very specifically trying to derail the discussion because they’re a jerk. Based on who is saying it we may understand their intention or we may not.

But one thing is clear: It’s a nice sentiment to be sure, and in some ways it can be true. But it ignores the pain of someone who we care about engaging in behavior that is stigmatizing, shaming, bullying, and oppressive toward us and it ignores the not uncomplicated process of deciding what to do about that.  This can be further complicated if there is a power dynamic involved – like we depend on that person emotionally or financially, they are our boss, they have some authority over us etc..

There’s also the fact that this isn’t just about people being prejudiced against fat people in their heads.  It’s about people making those opinions into laws, policies, and culture that stigmatizes, shames, bullies and oppresses fat people. Let’s try to clarify with a quick game of Opinion or Oppression:

I wouldn’t like being fat.


I shame, stigmatize, bully, and harass fat people because I think that’s what’s best for them.


I think being fat is a bad thing.


I’m working to create a world where fat people’s access to clothing, or healthcare, or transportation is more limited than that of thin people


I wouldn’t want to be married to a fat person.


I want it to be a law that consenting fat adults aren’t allowed to get married because I don’t want to marry a fat person and/or I think that the higher power I believe in doesn’t want fat people to get married.


There’s a difference between opinions and oppression, and self-esteem isn’t enough to fight it all. I love my fat body, and that can insulate me to some extent from other people’s fatphobic opinions, but it’s not enough to insulate me from a world full of weight-based oppression. Having a positive opinion about me and my choices is completely optional. Treating me with basic respect and not trying to limit my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness based on my body size is absolutely mandatory. When people try to oppress us, we have every right to fight back and loving ourselves doesn’t make that option any less valid..

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9 thoughts on “The Fallacy of “If You Really Liked Yourself…”

  1. Self-esteem is always a good thing to have… but it doesn’t change institutionalized prejudice. It won’t insulate you from a culture determined to wipe you and everyone who looks like you off the face of the earth.

    From her diary, we can clearly see that Anne Frank had better than average self-esteem. It didn’t stop her from being forced into hiding, and eventually killed for being Jewish. Abigail Adams was the original poster girl for self-esteem, but that never gave her a vote. According to the law of the land, she was essentially the property of her husband. John Adams never treated or viewed her that way, but the law gave him every right to do so. Solomon Northup had self-esteem out the wazoo. But once he was stolen and forced into slavery, it took him twelve years to regain the freedom he was born into. In those twelve years he was just as likely to be killed as any other slave on the plantation. And in the end it wasn’t his own efforts but those of a white friend that got him free.

    I’ve got more than enough self-esteem… but when I turn on the television or my computer or open up a newspaper chances are high that the very first thing I see will be someone talking about how I need to be wiped out of existence.

    Little wonder so many people who look like me feel afraid. Little wonder that sometimes it all gets to me, too.

  2. this maybe has nothing to do with what you are talking about here…I saw a clip from David Letterman -an old show, I guess – and he was making jokes about Governor Christie. Now, I am no big fan of the Governor, but there are other things to make fun of besides his weight. Whether or not he has decided to lose weight (after all, he is Boss of his own underpants) his weight is not a target for humor. Nor is anyone else’s. People don’t make jokes any more about the color of other people’s skin. Fat jokes are in very bad taste, and if all someone can find to make fun of is someone’s weight perhaps s/he should find another line of work.

  3. Ditching the oppression would be fabulous. But even so, negative comments pile up like paper cuts. Only one stings a little, but over and over again it starts to really hurt, and if you get them in the same spot every day, they never heal. Then people wonder why you occasionally get very angry.

    1. Oh, yeah. As if you have NO RIGHT to get angry at this “death by a million cuts,” because “Oh, come on, it’s just a little paper cut.”

      That’s why “Can’t you take a joke?” really bother me. Sure, I can take A joke. It’s the million jokes that I can’t take.

      I have actually heard a few fat jokes that really made me laugh. Maybe it’s because they punched up, instead of punched me in the gut.

  4. I really appreciate this post because telling people to ignore/rise-above/don’t-let-it-bother-you puts the onus on the people on the receiving end of hatred to just be super-human awesome feelings-lacking robots, and no responsibility on the people doing the hating to stop hurting people. And that’s just stupid and never going to work.

  5. That whole “If you really liked yourself then other peoples’ opinions wouldn’t matter!” is such bullshit – it’s a blame the victim mentality. The whole idea only has an inkling of truth IF those opinions weren’t societal wide and weren’t spewed at us at break neck speeds by our culture on every level. Everywhere around us people say horrible things about us and everywhere you look (on the tv, in magazines, in commercials, in movies, on billboards, in books, on the radio, etc) every day we are bombarded with messages that our bodies are gross and ugly and unhealthy and unlovable and it implies that we’re lazy and sloppy and unintelligent etc etc – just about everywhere we look, every single day we are bombarded by these messages and “opinions” and if, by chance, we happen to be bothered by it – it just means we don’t have enough self esteem and we don’t like ourselves enough. What a giant, towering pile of crap.

    1. Truth!

      I’m honestly exhausted trying to swim against the tide of prejudice and it’s pushed forward by “experts” who say they “know best” and politicians focused on money.

      Government propaganda campaigns cite health as a “population issue” not a personal one and it’s turning fat bias into policy.

      The mantra that “we” are to blame for the “high cost of healthcare” and “loss to the economy” and “drain on social services” has set people against one another in brutal ways. The “we” is currently defined as obese, overweight people and now also people in chronic pain are a drain on the economy and drug abusers. I wonder what group of people will be next…

      So-called health “experts” rally around these new rules, their interest fueled by government research grants, pharma funds, and their own billable hours. And this doesn’t even cover the media or popular culture and celebrity activists…

      The bombardment is getting to be too much… I really fear for myself but more for the future of my daughter and son whose health issues cause weight gain. We’ve been hurt by health-harmers (as opposed to health-carers). I worry things will only get worse…

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