Recently, I was having a discussion with one of my clients about the importance of loving her body just the way it is now. This woman is moderately overweight and is having a difficult time learning to love her body. We discussed how she reacts to feelings about her body. When she doesn’t love her body, she develops negative feelings towards it. When she feels negative about her body, she is more likely to abuse it. So she continues the cycle of abusing her body with food, which keeps her in a perpetually overweight and unhealthy state. She understands this idea and agrees with it; yet it remains a difficult concept for anyone in her situation to accept. While discussing this at a recent session she said, “Well it’s easy for you to say that because you are thin.” This comment stopped me in my tracks. At first I was taken aback by how up front and honest my client had been by pulling my body into the room and commenting on it. However, after I thought about it for a moment, I realized, that of course she did this, and that in many ways she may be correct.
I know what thin privilege is. It is a real issue that is pervasive in our society. People who are thin have advantages in life whether they realize it or not. I know that I am more likely to get hired than someone else is who has skills equal to mine, but who weighs more than I do. I know that I am more likely to get better treatment at a store or a restaurant than a person who is larger than me.
Yet giving privileges to people who are thin is another form of discrimination. It is not much different than discriminating due to race, gender, or religion. But there is one difference; discrimination due to overweight is widely accepted in our society.
How many movies have you seen where the overweight person is the comic relief and is made fun of because of his or her weight? How many times have you heard people joke about “the overweight cops at the donut shop?” There is a pervasive stereotype about obesity in American society. People who are obese are often perceived as lazy, unsuccessful and weak-willed.
As an eating disorder therapist, I am constantly aware of my own actions, behaviors, and thoughts about food and my body, especially when I am with clients. As a therapist, I try to practice what I ask my clients to do, by showing love towards my body and having a healthy relationship with food and exercise. These things have helped me maintain my weight and stay healthy.
I have been thinking about what my client said to me, and it makes me wonder; does my weight make me unable to relate to clients who are overweight? Do other clients feel the way that my client mentioned above feel? Do they nod their heads in agreement to my constant preaching about loving and treating our bodies with respect ,while secretly saying to themselves, “Yeah right, you can say that because you're thin, but I can’t love my body the way it is.”
The fact is, I haven’t always loved my body. I actually spent many years hating it and abusing it. I struggled with every eating disorder, often swinging from anorexia to bulimia, to binge eating, and back again. The entire time this was going on I was filled with self-loathing and shame about my body and my behaviors, and I kept this shame hidden from everyone in my life.
I got help for my eating disorder from a therapist and was able to eliminate my disordered eating behaviors. However, I still hated my body. I had hated my body for over 10 years. I discovered that even though I overcame my eating disorder, I still could not get to the point where I loved my body.
Then one day when I was 25 years old, I realized that this was the only body I had. The only body I will EVER have. I finally grasped that I could either go through life hating my body and picking apart every little “flaw” about it, or I could learn to accept it and love it. Yes even the flaws. While this was an easy concept to understand, it was very difficult to do. However, I can now say that I love my body. Is it because of the way it looks? No. It is because it is MINE and going through life loving it makes my life way better then going through life hating it.
It is worth considering that just because someone looks a certain way, you don’t know how her/his life really is. When you see someone who is thin and pretty, perhaps your first thought is, “She must have a perfect life.” But on the inside, she may secretly despise her looks, or hate her life. Or you may think that one of your friends who gained weight now hates herself and the way she looks. The fact is, you never know how someone else feels. And to judge someone based on his/her body or the way that person looks is literally judging a book by its cover.
Our bodies are our vessels that help carry us through our lives. The next time you notice that you are judging yourself or someone else based on appearances, I urge you to take a step back and realize that we are all so much more than just the way we look. There is an entire world within each one of us. Each person has special and unique qualities to offer, we just have to look beneath the surface.