It’s said so often it loses impact: we’re all human.
And it’s thoroughly and completely true, which means that nobody should ever be ashamed of their bodies. There will always be someone who has more or less muscle, who is more or less ‘toned’, who has more or less fat, or a different boob to bum size ratio, or longer limbs, or more or less body hair. There are infinite variables.
And even if there wasn’t someone who was less beautiful than you (think you have any hope of judging that objectively? Really?), you still should never be ashamed of your body, because it absolutely has nothing to do with how anyone else looks. It’s about you. To base my anti-shame reasoning on how other people look is only to buy into the standard beauty-propaganda-bullshit.
More than what we’ve done, or what we think, or who we want to be, I believe what we do defines us. If you want to be free of shame, adopt the behaviour of one who is unashamed. This can be a bit tricky though, because it’s easy to slip into self-delusion. Be true, and – well – be.
As someone who looks relatively normal, one could argue I don’t know how bad it can get. But I did start balding in my early 20s and I had a hairy back at age 15, so y’know, formative years... Either way, I acknowledge that some things are easier said than done, particularly by someone like me, who is rarely on the receiving end of blatant fat-hatred. Doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s out there, and it doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s wrong. Anyway, to bring this paragraph to a close: is the credibility of my opinion based on what I look like? No, it is not. Nor is yours.
When we lose weight because of illness and catch ourselves thinking I hope I can keep it off, the hypocrisy of a society that pretends to care about the health of an individual is revealed. It’s the same hypocrisy that allows us to enjoy watching ‘the fatties’ being abused and humiliated ‘for their own good’ on shows like The Biggest Loser. You can tell everything that’s wrong with that show by the title. They might as well have called it Exploiting Fatties For Their Own Good or Feeding Christians To The Lions: The Next Generation. And is it any wonder so many of ‘them’ regain their weight? That so many of us regain our weight?
Maybe after an episode we think that we too, should take ourselves off to the gym and be punished for our crimes. Or maybe we think we deserve that cake because we’re not so fat after all? Who knows? Those are two extremes of the same continuum. It’s too multi-layered for me to feel like I understand the whole dynamic.
We like to talk about choice and consequence and control – we’ve done this to ourselves – but isn’t it obvious that if obesity could be controlled, it wouldn’t exist. If we saw a direct relationship between choice and consequence, maybe some things would be easier. If eating potato chips made everyone fat in the same way, maybe we’d make different choices. Or maybe chips would be illegal? But body shape aside, it’s clear that some people can eat some foods and some people cannot, and when it comes down to it, we have a lot of theories but we really don’t understand why.
What can you control? You can control – to an extent – how much sleep you’re getting, how much of what sort of exercise you do, and to a much smaller extent than we like to admit – what you put in your mouth. At least, we think we can control these things, and so we think we can control the size and shape of our bodies. But we don’t control our hormonal environment, we don’t control our appetite, and to think that surgically shrinking the size of your stomach is the same as not being hungry because it’s full of food is naive at best.
Even if we assume that we actually do have as much control as we think, we must still acknowledge we cannot control how we respond to these things. You cannot control how your body reacts to what you put in your mouth, and you cannot control how your body responds to training. The quickest way to recover from training too much is by training less, and obsessive people are loathe to do so. Obsessive behaviours cannot be ‘controlled’, and you most certainly cannot control what sort of health-related propaganda you are exposed to, you cannot control the agendas of the people who are promoting whatever the hell they want you to buy, and you cannot fortify yourself against hatred forever. But you can, at least, work on not hating anyone else, and that castrates hatred at the spot that it matters most.
The problem with shame – apart from the obvious unpleasantness – is that it gets in our way every damn time. If your motivation for training is shame, that won’t serve you for life. Sooner or later, when you develop self respect and strength of character, that will stop you from going to the gym. You’ll cease to be exploitable in the way that you once were, in the way that so many of us are.
That’s not what we want our relationship with exercise to be like. This stuff is supposed to be good for you, it’s not supposed to do you harm. We want the reason to go to the gym to be because we are strong and we choose to train, not because we’re weak and we’re forced to.
That’s what it means to me, when people say fight weakness with strength.
It’s a phrase I rather like, but it’s generally used to exploit weakness, rather than encourage the development of true strength and there’s a funny irony to that. We talk as if being strong means muscling through everything without thought. As if you should be hard on yourself because you know you deserve the punishment, but that’s not the truth.
Strength overcomes weakness not in the way we think it does; strength of character overcomes your capacity to be exploited, so use your strength of character, your determination and rebelliousness to your advantage: do what you want, on your own terms and forget the critics.