A couple days ago in my 'Family Programs and Policies' class we were asked to participate in the Project Implicit activity. For those that don’t know what this is, it’s a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition - certain subconscious thoughts and feelings. The goal is to educate the public about their hidden biases towards various subjects like race, sexuality, religion and so on. After scrolling through all of the options, I decided to go with the one regarding weight - specifically comparing thoughts on thin individuals versus fat/obese individuals. The reason I chose to do this was because of the way society views weight and appearance.
We often shed a very negative light on those who don’t fit the ideal image of what it means to be healthy, happy and beautiful. I mean there’s articles literally titled ‘Losing weight can make you more attractive’ and ‘How to Feel Great Even Though You’ve Gained Weight’. We can't settle on the fact that everyone has a different body and even if we all did the same things and ate the same things, we'd all still look so different from one another. And yet here’s the funny part: we often give a cold shoulder to someone struggling with their weight when in reality society’s expectations and standards of beauty are the reason for their struggle - and those articles are just the tip of the iceberg. The programs and diets that promise a flat tummy in one week or guarantee that you’ll lose 15 pounds in one month warp the minds of those looking for a quick fix, looking to fit the ideal image. Had we said and truly believed that every body is beautiful - had we said and truly believed that weight is just a number and mind over matter - then there wouldn’t be that pressure to look a certain way to begin with. But instead, we equate the word beautiful, or beauty in general, with weight. And when one does participate in some sort of program to lose weight, or when one has committed to a new healthy lifestyle, we often comment saying how great they look or how big of an inspiration they are. This sounds like an okay thing to say but it actually makes it seem as if that person didn't look as great as before they lost the weight. It makes it seem as if they weren't as beautiful before making such a change. We associate beauty with being thin, neglecting the fact that beauty is much more of what’s on the inside, not necessarily the outside. Not only does that disregard who someone is as an individual apart from their outward appearance, but it continues to allow for shame and dirty looks when seen in the public eye. It perpetuates a hateful community and makes it seem as if that commentary and that push to look a certain way is okay. Which by the way, it’s not. It continues to divide society allowing people to point fingers at those who don’t fit that ideal image. And it makes one obsess over being validated by society’s definition of beautiful. While we’ve done a lot of work to move forward and be more inclusive, those original perspectives creep in more than you would think. It terrifies me to be living in a society where either me, my friends, family, etc., could be made fun of for the way that we look.
In writing all of this I guess it makes sense that I got the result that I did; a strong automatic preference for thin people over fat people. Before taking the time to really work on myself, both mentally and physically, I had been tricking my mind for so long into thinking that I wanted that seemingly perfect thin body, so I could be beautiful enough to fit in just like everyone else. I wanted to be seen in society and I felt that due to my weight, I was both invisible and an outsider. I’m ashamed, guilty, and sad, but at the same time, a lot of it has to do with, yet again, standards on beauty. I guess that just shows you how big of an effect the environment has on your perspective and the way you think, act and do.
However, throughout my own journey, I’ve learned a couple of things: 1) You won’t appear more attractive by losing weight and 2) You certainly don’t have to fear a sad and poor life if you gain weight. Because guess what? Your worth is not determined by your weight. Beauty is not measured in pounds and nor will it ever be. I wish we could all stop comparing ourselves and realize that we already have the most beautiful gift of all - a unique body to love in, grow in, and live in. A unique body that represents what we’ve gone through and what we continue to go through. A unique body that allows us to be here, today. And a unique body that’s absolutely beautiful no matter what shape or size.