Shame Doesn’t Lead to Change

Today, I’m upset about some joking that I overheard at the expense of “others.” Some people at work were making cruel “fat jokes,” and if that weren’t bad enough, they were saying these awful words within earshot of some very wonderful, lovely colleagues who happen to be struggling with weight and body issues at the moment. When will we all learn that we don’t motivate ourselves or the people we care about (or even don’t care about!) to change by making them feel bad about themselves? Martin Luther King, Jr. phrased it much more eloquently than I can when he said,

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

As LeVar Burton used to tell children on the television show Reading Rainbow, “Don’t just take my word for it…” Below is an NBC News piece by Melissa Dahl that summarizes an article published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE in 2013.  The results demonstrated that not only was size discrimination ineffective at promoting weight loss, it actually led to weight gain. Another study from University College London in 2014 revealed the same pattern. The second link leads to a Washington Post article describing those findings.

http://www.nbcnews.com/health/fat-shaming-actually-increases-risk-becoming-or-staying-obese-new-8C10751491

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/09/11/fat-shaming-doesnt-work-a-new-study-says/

The following is of my favorite Brené Brown quotes, which reminds me that I am constantly in need of practice when it comes to humility and empathy…

The biggest potential for helping us overcome shame is this: We are “those people.” The truth is…we are the others. Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug-addicted kid, one mental health illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being “those people…”1

Fat jokes are a mechanism of shame that is often, inexplicably, socially condoned. This blog post is my plea to whoever reads it that we stop using these criticisms to undercut ourselves and others. I am just as guilty of using shame as anyone else in the world. I use it in a misguided attempt to impel myself toward self-improvement (especially when it comes to matters of body image and professional performance), and sometimes, it just slips right out in conversation or in my body language. I wish I could suck it back in, reverse time, swallow my words and my facial expressions… but that’s not the way it works. The only way to move forward, at least that I am finding, is to ask for forgiveness, admit my mistakes and my vulnerability, acknowledge my weaknesses, and love myself anyway. When I can do that, then I can love the equally imperfect people around me, and together, maybe we can all move toward a brighter future.

I owe a lot of what I’m learning on this topic to my wonderful therapist and nutritionist, the amazingly strong, beautifully vulnerable people in my therapy, groups, and the resources listed on my “Favorites” page. Check it out, maybe find a reason to forgive yourself for a past mistake or to celebrate a current accomplishment, and perhaps find a way to encourage someone else. Let me know what you think!

  1. Cover photo credit: “Cygnes et cygneaux,” by 20100, May 2007. [Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons.
  2. Brown B. (2007) I thought it was just me (but it isn’t):  Making the journey from “what will people think? to “I am enough. New York:  Gotham Books.
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