Eating Life Series: Weight Stereotyping.

 

Photo: TaskFM

Photo: TaskFM

“People are incapable of stereotyping you; you stereotype yourself because you’re the one who accepts roles that put you in this rut or in this stereotype.” – Eva Mendes

Objects in Mirror Are Subject to Stereotypical Distortion.

All right — I’ve had a destructive, restrictive, productive and in-progress transformative relationship with food. I didn’t know how to nourish myself for years. And for even more years  I turned to food for problem solving and emotional medication – all of this goes back at least two decades, but for this article’s sake, let’s rewind to just seven years ago.

I met a guy at a café called Pussy Galore’s. It’s no surprise that both of us enjoy old James Bond films, especially the ones starring Sean Connery and don’t even get us started about that brilliant Q.

Anyway, I got into a relationship seven years ago that I admit, influenced my intake of food — both positively and a little ridiculously. Over the course of a couple years, I acquired the relationship freshman fifteen. Who could resist the powers of young love? Hands meeting in the popcorn bowl, an offering of a sexy dinner, something sugary and full of calories after… reading. And, he bakes. Seriously.

He’s one of the healthiest eaters I ever met and he doesn’t even know how good he is. It just comes natural. What a jerk.

He eats – a lot and whenever he wants to. He stops when he’s full and he has a brilliant range and balance of everything. He exercises, does yoga and doesn’t finish his dessert if he’s full. What he doesn’t know is how hard it has been for my crazy brain to handle his eating freedom, his healthy way of stopping, let alone his inability to gain weight. Damn.

I always laugh with a friend about how we can find a way to transfer his parasite to our bodies.

You see, for years and years and years, I’ve put myself on regimens, on programmes and plans for eating optimally aka normally. Some worked, most didn’t, but none – not a single one of them set me free.

During most of this time, I was eating because it was a designated time to eat and not because I was hungry (although sometimes I was completely starving). What this left me with was a huge disconnection to what and how I was eating. When I did eat, I mostly ate my cravings — there’s a big difference between responding to cravings and actual hunger.

Over time, I discovered that there was one thing that could set me free, but more of this topic will come in Part II of Eating Life Series: I just don’t want to be fat {sad} anymore.

What I want to get into today is the shape of our bodies and how it generally impacts our perceptions of others and how it can be limiting to connecting or receiving some of life’s vital information.

Photo: Google Images

Photo: Google Images

Have you forgotten to see the human being inside?

The kicker – is the shape you’re trying to fit into truly yours or is it someone else’s? Who gave you this information and how does this impact how you see yourself and others?

Discrimination for being too thin, not thin enough, thin, obese and over-weight is all too relevant and well-documented in today’s society. Nothing really seems to be accepted, but thin typically trumps everything, right?

Size stereotyping extends to women and men of all sizes — we judge, make opinions and assumptions about people’s lives, personality and even intelligence based on their weight.

The image below displays a poll shared in Glamour of 1,800 women ages 18-40 asking participants to imagine a women they had never met before, knew nothing about and got a set of words to choose from to describe her. The word neither was also a choice, but selected by less than half of the respondents.

Here are the results:

Photo: Glamour / Google Images.

Photo: Glamour / Google Images.

Is this news to you? A realisation?

Skinny Witch vs. Chubby Fairy.

What do you see and feel when you look at people? Are you limited to shapes?

We all have been programmed to a certain extent to place adjectives and hold opinions regarding people’s bodies. I know that even by investigating this issue, I had to face some of my own and was surprised by what defaults I had been holding onto. All of which, I must note, stem from how I feel about myself.

I wanted to use Glamour’s study to find out what the people around me thought, so I did my own little inventory. I asked 15 random people ages 18-35 how they would describe a particular body shape (male or female) with an adjective.

Here goes:

  • Super thin: eating disorder, unhealthy, model, female, stuck up, self-centered, obsessive, bitchy, taking drugs
  • Thin: sporty, athletic, healthy, active, happy, intelligent, reliable, outgoing, youthful, wealthy
  • A little overweight: just had a baby, in a relationship, working too much, has children, middle-aged, blue-collar, funny, a drinker
  • Obese: limited, lazy, depressed, alone, poor, unintelligent, diseased, sick, over-eating

Are these fair? Are they realistic? How do these compare to your own weight-shaping stereotypical adjectives?

Here’s a question that will really wet your whistle: Have we put ourselves and others into these stereotypes simply because society created them?

Are we a reflection of them or are they a reflection of us? I tend to think we place ourselves into these boxes because society went and created fictitious standards — in most cases, to make a profit. How can we all fall into such categories when we each have a very unique journey of life?

Photo: Thinspiration, documentary.

Photo: Thinspiration, documentary.

You’re not as thin as you used to be!

I went to visit my Grandma a little while after I met my boyfriend. (I see her on a yearly basis as I live on another continent.) When she saw me she said, “At least you put some meat on your bones – you look good.”

Grandma!

Grandma’s do love a bit of cushion — to them it means we’re eating, have money and/or are happy. She was right. I was happy, I had put some weight on and I was okay with it. I had been super thin for years and trying a new size on brought me a new perspective.

Sure, I was in love and all that, but more so, being in a healthy relationship invited me to not obsess and to let go a little, but trust me, I was still judging myself and there’s a cycle I was working on, but enough about me (for now).

The point of sharing this was that, even Grandma’s comment on our weight, showed that weight is often the first thing we see and take note of. Perhaps it’s natural, but are the judgments associated with them natural or just an autopilot confirmation of how we’ve been influenced?

Photo: Google Images.

Photo: Google Images.

What does our weight really say?

Our weight says a lot of things – our history, our life experience, our DNA, how we deal with emotional aspects of life and our selves, how we communicate, what we hide and what we’re going through. It also shows how to what degree we are honouring the space we’re in — and for most of us, it ain’t easy.

Another important question: who and what are you eating for?

Prejudice and stereotyping allow us to justify our inner limitations, confusion, greed and anger. It feeds our ability to shun others based on our lack of connection to them, our superficial programming and the fear of becoming what they seemingly are — which is unacceptable due to society’s ridiculous standards – standards that are typically sold to our insecurities that are solved by a product that doesn’t really work.

Stereotypes convey an immense pressure that you shouldn’t be okay with where you are and that you should be something that you are currently not and will, in most cases, never be capable of becoming.

Photo: Google Images.

Photo: Google Images.

How do we find our real shape? How can I be okay with being myself?

We are all going through something — how are you approaching your life experience? Becoming comfortable with who you are, loving every bit of you, settling into your optimal shape and being healthy is an inward journey and it can’t be defined by anyone but you.

Become aware of your preconceptions, stereotypes and prejudices. They are limiting.

The next time you judge someone — are you just seeing parts of yourself in them that are beyond the shape of their body? Perhaps you do have something in common.

 Share your experience.

*****

Read More:

Eating Life Series: I just don’t want to be fat {sad} anymore.

*****

 

 {Make life a journey of nourishment.}

 

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Tanya Lee Markul
Co-Founder and Chief Editor of Rebelle Society (you are here). She’s convinced that she once swam the depths of the deepest ocean and in the next round, grew over two hundred feet tall. In this life, she’s a vulnerable creation in process. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & a Master’s in Business. In 2009, surrendering to the good fight within, she became a certified teacher of yoga. Now a full-time devoted student to the sacred art of self-discovery and creative expression, she spends her days on her yoga mat, in wellness experimentation and tilling the fertile soil of Rebelle Society, sharing bouts of black sheepish rebellion, self-acceptance and the beauty of darkness and well-being. Tanya is the creator of ThugUnicorn.com and Yoga.Write.Now.org. She is also the co-founder and Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness. Get to know her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and at Yogacentralen.dk. Sign-up for her free, weekly Newsie and contact her via email: tanya@rebellesociety.com.

21 Comments

  • Melissa commented on May 2, 2013 Reply
    After divorce and an addition of 15 lbs. no judgement here. But I feel it from people – they don’t have to say a word. In a job that looks at size = your dedication to the practice ~ even preaching compassion and Yamas and more. It still matters.. To some. And in Asia where there seems to be a severe lack of PC – they tell you exactly how they think you look. It takes a strong woman to live here and be a different size. Thanks for shedding light on this topic. More please. :)
    • Tanya Lee Markul
      tanya lee markul commented on May 19, 2013 Reply
      It’s AMAZING how many boxes we have for what shape our bodies should be — damn, add ethnicity to the mix! Love to you Melissa! xoxo
  • Carolyn Riker
    Carolyn Riker commented on May 2, 2013 Reply
    Tanya, Wow! Brilliant! Weight issues meet dualism…skinny-chubby; gain-loose; witch-fairy…we need both to see our love-hate of it all! YOU, did a fabulous article! Thank you. xoxox
    • Tanya Lee Markul
      tanya lee markul commented on May 19, 2013 Reply
      Thank you sister! How do we love the unloved parts of us? Seeing isn’t always believing. Yikes. ;-)
  • Avnish commented on May 3, 2013 Reply
    Obesity in the affluent societies of both developed and developing countries is a huge problem. One of the major contributors for it is unconscious habits of eating more that the capacity of our bodies. If we can create awareness in people to eat right amount of food based on their individual needs and capacity, it will immensely improve their health & wellbeing. It will also free up their capacity to help others who need help. Benefits can be exponential and solutions are simple and effective.
    • Tanya Lee Markul
      tanya lee markul commented on May 19, 2013 Reply
      I love everything you wrote! I couldn’t agree with you more. We are held prisoner to the habits and nature in which we eat — imagine how much we wouldn’t waste if we just become more aware?! Thanks for being here!
  • Seon Venville commented on May 3, 2013 Reply
    Great to read this article, thank you – really enjoying your posts in this series. I find the question you bring up regarding your Grandma’s comment really interesting. I think it’s a combo of both what a particular individual feels naturally drawn to comment on (often a reflection of what’s going on in their lives/who they are, what they focus on), but also our cultural norms that somehow make it totally ‘okay’ to do so. It seems ‘freedom of speech’ is very literal these days. People do tell you whatever they want, to a certain degree. It’s like one’s weight is lumped into the same category as ‘oh you’ve had your haircut’, or ‘oh, you have new glasses’. Anything appearance based is subject to approval/criticism by the general public, or whoever cares to take notice. It’s tricky when people mean well (like your Grandma), or like one of my friends who used to always comment on if ‘I was looking really good’ (and that I looked like I had lost weight), in that obviously their comment is coming from a sincere place (however perhaps not that well thought through in that having a sporadic, rather challenging eating background myself, I would never offer comments like that to anyone that I sensed weight/food had been/is an issue for). So, I would smile politely and say thanks, while thinking, ‘did I ask you for a running commentary on my weight/appearance every time we meet?’ – but obviously that is ‘my stuff’, and (an internal) defensive reaction to a ‘harmless’ comment, probably made with good intention. I know I am definitely not honoring the space I am in right now, and given if I were to meet my friend mentioned just above, there would likely be no comment on ‘how good I am looking’ (haha). It’s interesting the resulting adjectives you collected from your study too, because in terms of the super-skinny stereotype I know subconsciously I think these stereotypical characteristics add to my resistance in wanting to take care of myself (and hence, eat healthily, lose weight) again… Thank you for these articles, and raising very relevant (and interesting!) questions. I look forward to reading more of them!
    • Tanya Lee Markul
      tanya lee markul commented on May 19, 2013 Reply
      Seon – thank you SO much for taking the time to comment! This is such an interesting topic and we can take it in so many directions – we have a lot to become aware of! Glad you are out there!
  • danielwalldammit commented on May 7, 2013 Reply
    “Have we put ourselves and others into these stereotypes simply because society created them?” What a difference ‘simply’ makes! It would actually be quite an accomplishment to be free of such things. Nigh on miraculous.
    • Tanya Lee Markul
      tanya lee markul commented on May 19, 2013 Reply
      That’s the key word, Daniel! ‘Free’ — how do we free ourselves of all this unnecessary shit aka expectations that don’t truly invite us to evolve but to remain stuck. xxx
      • Erin commented on June 16, 2013 Reply
        I want to formulate this better but its waaaaay past bedtime…Its more of a contemplation as a yoga teacher, than a direct question..referencing your statement about becoming something you may never be or can be. That struck me as such a valid point but then here you talk about “evolve” which to me means progress, which means other than we are today. So how do we set realistic measures on what is possible and what will make us feel happy content and good in our own skin?
        • Tanya Lee Markul
          tanya lee markul commented on June 16, 2013 Reply
          Great question! I suppose the more aware we become, the naturally we start to say, ‘evolve’ – the more we start to make decisions that support our higher Self more naturally. When we become aware of all the ways in which we create and hold onto restriction, or in other words, not love ourselves, we can start to loosen our grip on them. We create space around the restriction and eventually, as we let go, we start to actually appreciate what and who we are, no matter that present shape or form. Doesn’t it start from there? Awareness – the more you use it, the more it will grow. What do you think? Love to you!
  • wintersolsticedreams commented on May 27, 2013 Reply
    Excellent article. Thank you!!
  • jessica clare commented on June 16, 2013 Reply
    love everything you said, THANK YOU!! I can’t stop looking at that google images pic of “body types”. Jesus Christ. No wonder we have issues… we are raised thinking that is the full acceptable range. Love your blog :)
    • Tanya Lee Markul
      tanya lee markul commented on June 16, 2013 Reply
      THANK YOU – and yes, it’s SO crazy!! We really have to find a better way of celebrating our uniqueness — but you know, the more ‘they’ convince us that we should all look the same, the more it influences us to not see our own unique beauty. Let’s cut through the propaganda and get real! :-)
  • Tracy Wisneski
    Tracy Wisneski commented on June 16, 2013 Reply
    Fantastic article and such an important message. I am still thin, but growing up, I was very thin. Girls used to call me anorexic and I was terribly embarrassed. I noticed early on that people naturally came in various shapes and sizes and always hope that others will understand that as well. Very insightful article!
  • artermix commented on November 2, 2013 Reply
    Interesting write up on stereotyping bodies. I am an athlete and a body builder and I cherish very much the image of a muscular body for men and women. Not excessively muscular but in a classic sense of aesthetic. I find that very pleasing to my eye as it seem just be part of nature. It makes us more bodily and “animalesque”. For women this is yet a taboo area and it is still unaccepted (more by women ) in our society. Some people look at me like a freak even when I am not. Stereotypes are a matter of culture as well. I don’t look like other women neither I try to. Also not all overweight women feel insecure, not all thin women feel empowered. I think it is important that we like ourselves first. What are the reasons why someone overweight doesn’t like himself/herself? How about the thin men who dislike not to have muscles or look big and manly? Somewhere there is a middle ground…maybe…maybe not. We should never think our body is to please others but only to please ourselves. When we present ourself to the society, this is what people see of us: our shape, our skin color (unfortunately) and then finally they hear our words. This is why image is important -like it is in the entire animal kingdom-. Of course for humans is more complicated as we mix emotions, morals, religion and so on. The way we “fit” in our skin must be tailored to us by us, but we are not taught that as we are always told to conform (age, social status, religion, ethnicity and gender are all factors that contribute to create and re-einforce stereotypes. We can free ourselves from those only when we begin rejecting the social rules of who we are supposed to be.
  • Sarah commented on February 25, 2014 Reply
    I’m so tired of this ‘body fascism’ but it seems to be getting worse. Everywhere I look are articles on body shape, diets, healthy eating, being body confident, obesity crisis…ENOUGH! We should all be encouraged to be healthy and proud of our bodies for what they can do instead of what they look like.
  • chubsinarelationship commented on July 1, 2014 Reply
    ha-ha. A little overweight is right on the money for me. I am in a relationship (married) and I am middle-aged too. I used to be thin for most of my life until my late 20s and I got lupus and the meds put weight on me. My metabolism was never the same after that. Eventually I lost the weight only to gain back half of it. I’m working on losing it though. I have to for health reasons high triglycerides, diabetes risk, etc.

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