There is a lot of argument floating around the ‘net about body image and body shaming and the overweight. As an obese person it is hard not to get drawn into the conflict as it rages across my screen. The pro-obese crowd want me to lose my shame and fight the brain-washing of the fitness-industrial complex and its “thin=fit” propaganda; the pro-fitness (best case)/anti-obesity (worst case) want me to recognize the horrible, destructive home I’ve created in my own body, and start fixing it now before I doom us all!
As with most arguments that threaten to tear the internet apart, both sides have something right and both have many, many things wrong. I’ll get into details and specifics about that in a later post (or three, or bazillion), but today I wanted to focus on my position. Because my situation is the only one I can talk about with precision, without delving into hypotheticals and corner cases. So let’s talk about something I hold true for myself, so you at least have an understanding where I fall on the issue of body image, fat shaming and fitness.
For today I’ll keep it simple, give you the core belief I hold, upon which everything else I feel about this subject rests.
Dissatisfaction is not the same as shame.
I have been ashamed of my body in the past, and it led to years of crippling doubt and self-loathing. Until I was about 19 or so I was athletic; I wrestled, played volleyball, cross-country skied, curled, hiked, studied martial arts. After a period of which I will not speak (personal tragedy can be boring, and is not always for public consumption in any case), I moved out of the city I had grown up in to the city I live in now. Two things happened concurrently; I stopped being physically active and I fell into bad eating habits centred on emotional eating patterns, and as those habits spiralled my waist expanded. As my waist expanded my self-worth shrank, and to fill that void I ate more food, which expanded my body but continued to shrink my soul, and thus began the cycle of my own personal Dark Ages.
Long story short (too late!) it is only relatively recently that I have let go of that shame to any great extent. But, and this was a hard-fought lesson, I am still dissatisfied with my body and that is okay. Because that isn’t the same as shame, not by a long shot. Why not? Because shame feels hopeless. Shame tells you not only are you bad, but you will never be good. It is really the only true power that shame has, because once you stop listening to that message you start to leave it behind.
(And yes, I’m simplifying and condensing. If you really want to know specifics about how I started to work passed my shame you can wait for me to write a post or ask me questions in the Comments. I’ll answer.)
Dissatisfaction, on the other hand, requires an impulse to fix, to make better. And at least in my case, is driven by the disparity between where I am and where I want to go. I am dissatisfied with my body because it doesn’t help me do the things I want to do. What things? Everything from hike in the mountains without discomfort (and by discomfort I mean fear of heart attack) to standing for long periods without my back aching to the point of spasm. Basically, there are things I used to do without thinking about them, and I would like to do again without thinking about them, and currently can not. Now, if I believe my body is the tool I use to move my mind around (and I do) and I am dissatisfied with that tool, I can either destroy the tool (which I was slowly doing, but no longer have a desire to do at any speed), replace the tool (sadly, science isn’t quite there yet, but give them time) or improve the tool. Of the available options, I choose to improve the tool.
Note that no where in there do I discuss how society views me, or the expectations of people around me. Because a close examination of this day will discover that not a single fuck was given. I don’t care. My dissatisfaction is based solely on what I want and expect from my body. Nothing else. If I didn’t want to go hiking or cross-country skiing again, heck, if I didn’t want to spend a day walking around a convention without needing to sit down several times, then I wouldn’t be dissatisfied. I’d leave my body alone because it was giving me exactly what I wanted. But I want more, so it is up to me to forge the tool I need.
Okay, so that’s the starting point. In later posts I’ll talk about other aspects of what I’m doing, the hows and whys. But I wanted to put this out there first so you, gentle reader, understood what is at the heart of any discussion I have regarding my body. So if you come at me because I’m “just another ashamed fat person”, I’m going to point you back here. If you start telling me how “obesity kills, and you don’t even know…”, I’m going to point you back here.
You think you know me? Well, if you actually read this without dismissing, yeah, you do a little.
As always, your comments are welcome below.
7 thoughts on “Dissatisfaction and Shame”
Brent, thanks for writing this.
I’ve fallen into a similar pattern as you, and only recently started to climb my way out of it. Dissatisfaction is absolutely what I feel, but I’m past shame, and working to get a hold of myself. I feel better for it.
Thanks for articulating what I’ve been feeling. Great post!
Thanks, Adam! Both the kind words and the knowing I’m not alone in feeling this mean a lot.
Great post. I have always been borderline dissatisfied with my weight but never to an extreme degree. Then over the last year I underwent a medical treatment and gained 20 pounds. I went from vaguely dissatisfied to panicked, and it’s pretty much for the reasons you list here. I’m not immune to advertising and popular opinion of women’s bodies; I’d like to look smexy. But it’s the everyday living in my body that really motivates me.
Thanks! And me too. And while I might use certain images from media to motivate me (Daniel Craig is my spirit guide), they are “motivation” and not “end goal”. My end goal is to move around with the freedom I desire; Daniel Craig inspires me because he is my age and is able to maintain the type of body that may allow me that freedom.
Word to the big bird! Dissatisfaction IS different from shame and you can be healthy and larger than what people consider average. I’ve struggled with my size since before I was a teen and it’s taken me the better part of 20+ years to really appreciate my body for what it can do and not for how it looks.
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Great post! I really believe this is true! I’ve put a lot of weight on recently due to issues with disordered eating and my experiences are similar. I work in the fashion industry, and I refuse to feel ashamed of my body, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get my pre-weightgain body back.