I was saddened (but not surprised) when I read a news story last week about how overweight women feel stigmatized and judged by others. According to the story, the survey of overweight women revealed:
"A quarter said they'd rather be severely depressed than obese. About 15 percent said they'd rather be blind. A full 49 percent said they'd trade five years of their life not to be obese."
This story (and the interesting comments it conjured on my Facebook page) brought back a lot of memories for me, both good and bad.
I have been overweight. And when I was overweight, my self-esteem and self-worth were very low. I felt that others judged me. I thought people were looking at me and thinking negatively about my body, especially when I was in college studying nutrition and fitness. I was never asked on a date. I remember thinking that I may never find someone ever—and I felt this way despite the fact that I knew I was an intelligent, funny, nice and interesting person. The depression I felt during my heavier years was hard to kick and to me, my weight and my sadness were very much intertwined. If someone asked me then if I'd trade five years of my life to be thin, I probably would have said yes. I probably would have even given up more years than that. I would have done almost anything, so I can relate to people who turn to pills (tried it), exercise fads (bought 'em all), crazy diets (been there) and whatever else in hopes that it just may work for them.
We aren't hardwired to feel this way. We are culturally molded to. To assert that people are stigmatized and judged because of their weight—that it's not all in our heads—isn't crazy. Many of us have been the direct victims of bullying, weightism (in the workplace, in public, in the dating world, you name it), or worse. And we're part of a culture that continues to value and glorify thin. It's not easy to undo years of conditioning that taught us what is beautiful and desirable and what "isn't." Often we don't even realize the power of a single word, a single comment, a single billboard, a single magazine, a single "fat" joke, a single encounter can have on a person, overweight or not. But multiply that by 100, 1,000 maybe even 1 million instances over a lifetime, and it's easy to see how people (overweight or not) feel the way they do about something so seemingly trivial and non-influential as body fat.
When I was heavier, I wanted so desperately to lose weight. But as long as I continued hating myself because of my weight, I never lost a pound. I didn't realize it then, but I can look back now and see it so clearly. It wasn't until I started to accept myself and love myself that my depression, my low confidence, and my weight problem began to melt away. I would say good things to myself (whether I believed them or not), and I worked diligently on building my self-esteem. I shunned all the negative influences on my body image. As I accepted myself as I was—overweight—and the fact that I may be this size (or heavier) for the rest of my life, somehow a weight was lifted off of me. That strong, obsessive urge to change myself or lose weight slowly evaporated—along with my out-of-control binges, my self-punishing exercise sessions, and all the other bad "diet" habits that were sabotaging me and keeping me heavy. I fully accepted then that I may be overweight forever and was OK with it. I was OK just how I was, and everyone else could take it or leave it.
I stopped trying to lose weight, but that’s exactly what happened—slowly and surely over the next several years. I am glad that I dropped the pounds. I do feel fitter, healthier, and more confident. But this time, it's not just because I'm thinner that I feel this way. I may have lost the weight, but I still struggle with confidence. Losing weight doesn't solve everything—many people can attest to that. But what I learned is invaluable, and will help me more than any “victory” on the scale can; I learned that confidence, self-love, and self-acceptance comes from inside—not the outside. It seems cliché, but I know it to be true. You have to start inside, and usually, changes to the outside will follow. But even if they don't, who cares? You'll still be happier because you learned to fall in love with the totally incredible person that you are.