Last week I refreshed myself on James Corden’s response to Bill Maher’s take on fat-shaming. I didn’t bother with watching the original segment with Bill Maher because he tends to put his foot in his mouth and just say inappropriate things on TV. Still, I wanted to hear what James had to say in response to Maher lashing out at a demographic that encompasses not just black people but people from many different backgrounds.
Maher tried justifying fat-shaming. He stated that shame got rid of most racism. Shame promoted the use of the seat belt. Shame pushed back against the tobacco industry.
Advocacy for a person’s well-being and fat-shaming do not belong in the same category. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement or the fight against tobacco companies the fat-shaming movement tears individuals apart by promoting toxic beauty/health standards.
James Corden used his talk show platform to respond to Maher:
“I’ve struggled my entire life trying to manage my weight and I suck at it…I’ve basically been on and off diets since as long as I can remember and well, this is how it’s going.”
The supportive applause and cheers after Corden’s words gave me some assurance that not everyone agrees that diet culture serves as the solution to a person’s weight problems. There’s this fallacy that the thinner you are, the better your life will become. It’s simply not true for everybody. Diet culture paints thinness as a magical destination, a paradise only attainable via hard work, determination, and discipline. If you’re not thin, you’re simply not any of these. You’re lazy. You make bad choices.
Health actually stems from a variety of factors. Wanting to be healthy is a good thing. The issue with health arises when the desire to achieve a certain look or lifestyle destroy one’s self worth. When even health providers take a look at a fat patient and feel the need to lecture them about diet and exercise. By using the word “comeback,” Maher shows his ignorance to a very sad truth: fat shaming has never went away. Society’s love for all things thin still stares us right in the face.
The body positive movement should not be boiled down to an equation as simple as fat = good. This movement is the fight for people to be treated as human regardless of their size. Not every fat person out there is unhealthy and not every skinny person out there is either. Being fat may not be a decision as much as it’s just how someone looks.
In the black community I grew up in, fat-shaming found its way into everyday conversation. The word “fat” itself served as a substitution for words such as “mean” or “stupid.” Overhearing kids say to other kids, “Don’t be fat,” or “That’s so fat,” instilled in me the fear of gaining weight or being seen as fat.
This behavior doesn’t just become something of the past. No, these messages burrow themselves in the minds of young girls. Then defense mechanisms and coping behaviors that form in response to fat-shaming lead to eating disorders, anxiety, poor relationship choices, and poor self-image. Instead of looking past our appearances and treating each other like human beings, we’re all just bringing each other down by going after an unattainable beauty standard. We no longer see the beauty in being ourselves but try to imitate what society deems as acceptable.
I will say that for myself, working towards being more positive about my own body has forced me to confront these childhood experiences. TV shows, magazines, heck even social media can make this effort difficult from time to time. There are days when I tell myself, “I need to be thinner,” and I end up having a pretty miserable day.
But there are days when I know in my heart that I was not happy at my lowest weight.
I was constantly being told how skinny I was but I wasn’t happier. I kept thinking that I had to get thinner and thinner.
After I had Chris, I looked in the mirror and hardly recognized my body. For nine months O has lost and gained weight, my appetite, and patience. At the end of my pregnancy I had to adjust to a postpartum body. My C-section scar, my new stretch marks, my hair (or lack thereof). I told myself that I am beautiful and that I am enough. My body has done wonderful things for me and I should be returning the favor.
Getting comfortable with one’s own looks requires mental rewiring. A pill, a supplement, or a workout cannot do that. It’s important to remember that someone’s approval means nothing compared to self-love. Hating one’s own body is a learned behavior. Unlearning can’t be done overnight but it can be done.