Shame Wars — Body-Shaming and Health

In the past few years, conversations about “fat-shaming” have exploded over the internet. Memes of what “real” bodies look like have popped up like dandelions in spring, only to be met from the skinny community as “Skinny is real, too!” I think in many ways, this conversation pushing against normative ideals of beauty is a worthy endeavor. I also think that the conversations about image are problematic in that they reinforce an image driven society.

Holley Mangold!

In our society, image and health/well-being get conflated into one thing; looking good and feeling good, all in one box. But fitting the norms of beauty means nearly zero when it comes to health. I’m reminded of the first season of Dancing with the Stars when supermodel Rachel Hunter was kicked off after the first episode. She might have had a supermodel’s body, but she had no strength or stamina. On the flip side, Holley Mangold is an olympic weight lifter. Her body is antithetical to the supermodel ideal, but she could bench press three of me.

All of the focus on image has obscured and muddled the conversation on health. Maybe you live in a big body. Great! I hope you love yourself and all of your body! Now, are you healthy? Maybe you’re a chicken-legged stick like me. Great! I hope you also love yourself and all of your body! Now, are you healthy?

I wasn’t. A few years ago, I was horribly out of shape. My slender frame was able to hide the twenty pounds I’d put on, but I knew it was there as the scale would always gladly remind me. And I couldn’t talk about it because I was skinny and would always get a “Oh Craig, you’re fine.” But I wasn’t, and I knew it.

I made a change by defining healthy for myself and setting measurable goals. Now, I’m a huge advocate for ditching image and shame, and focusing on goal-oriented health outcomes. For me, it started with running a mile, then a 5K, and now I’m working toward a fast 5K. It progressed to being able to do five pull ups. My body hasn’t changed all that much, but when the zombie apocalypse hits I’m gonna be ready.

Here are some quick thoughts on goal-oriented health outcomes:

  1. What your body can do matters so much more than what it looks like.
  2. Health has to be defined in the context of the individual. If someone has an illness that prevents them from running, its illogical to expect they run a mile.
  3. Set clear goals with measurable steps and an actionable plan.
  4. You are the only yardstick that can measure you. Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing. Do your best.
  5. Support whatever you are doing physically with good food and good sleep. That’s a huge part of health, too!
  6. Learn more about your body as you work towards your goal. Its the only one you’ve got. Work with a trainer, take a class, research online, read a book. Experience will also teach you, but only if you are willing to learn.
  7. Be kind to yourself.
  8. Don’t be so kind to yourself that you don’t also push yourself to discover and overcome your perceived limitations.

And the next time you hear someone fretting about body image, ask them if they feel healthy. The next time someone tells you how great you look, tell them how great you feel. Change the conversation.