For some reason our culture seems to give everyone a free pass to abuse those who are overweight.
The problem is the illusion of choice. The media makes it seem like the problem is very simple to solve: simply eat less calories than you take in and you won’t have anything to worry about. If you can’t do that then you are really choosing not to, and deserve everything that comes your way. Just make better choices and/or use a bit of willpower and you won’t be made fun of.
Nonsense. How many obese people choose to be that way? Who in their right mind would choose to get to the point where it has become increasingly difficult to enjoy the everyday things that most people take for granted? People with serious weight issues often have life threatening or life altering (in the case of stomach surgery) medical conditions and I can’t imagine anyone choosing to be that way. I also can’t imagine anyone who suffers to that degree, choosing to continue on with that kind of pain instead of eating less junk.
If it was a choice then we wouldn’t see any obese or severely overweight people.
TV, Movies and Magazines
Our pop culture and media in general play a large role in perpetuating the idea that fat people are losers. When was the last time you saw a movie where a fat person (particularly a woman) was the star? Especially one made for teens and young adults. You can say the same thing for commercials, print ads and most tv shows.
What we are told:
The messages that our culture via TV sends out about fat people are:
– That they are lazy
– Have no willpower
– Choose to be that way
– Are always and often only thinking of food
– Are deserving of verbal abuse
– Are deserving of negative judgement
– Don’t deserve physically attractive people as partners
– Are always eating junk
– Are bumbling fools, socially awkward, anxious or losers
– Are shameful
The Power of the Screen
When we watch TV or a movie we are looking at a screen and, for some reason, unconsciously, we accept the following unconditionally:
This is the way things should be.
Whatever you see upon that screen, over and over again, gets imprinted onto your brain and, unless you challenge what you see mentally every second, you will accept it. The following are just some of the ‘truths’ you have learned while watching TV:
– Good looking people are generally good and the bad guys are ugly. This goes way back to the Wizard of Oz in the 1930’s where the good fairy says pretty much that verbatim. Currently on TV we see more and more ‘pretty villains’ but the concept still stands, just in more subtle ways.
– Attractive looking people are worth more than others.
– Aging is fine as long as you don’t look old.
Seeing these messages as a kid, over and over, almost cements these ideas onto their brains for life.
It is that powerful, and is responsible for much of our suffering and wasted efforts. It is a conditioning that we can’t help but take in for the most part. Much has been done to better the image of minorities and to limit what children can be exposed to on TV, but there is still a long way to go.
Emotional Eating is not a Choice
“Sometimes I eat in secret, in the car, backyard or when everyone’s in bed. I’m too embarrassed to have anyone see. – Anonymous post in a weight loss forum.”
People who eat for emotional reasons can’t just stop overeating anymore than a smoker can just quit his habit because it’s bad for him. The smoker has the choice to try, to make the effort but not to eliminate the behavior. Drug addicts, sex addicts, compulsive shoppers and gamblers, workaholics and alcoholics all share the same internal hardship.
But like I mentioned, most people don’t see it that way and it makes an already difficult life even more so because of the discrimination and altered treatment they face. People who are overweight don’t get as many job opportunities, social invitations and are bullied more as youngsters. But there are other ways in which they are treated differently as well.
All because of the illusion that they choose to be the way they are.
Here are some examples:
Medically – If a patient is diagnosed with lung cancer they are treated promptly and given sympathy (which is valid). But someone who is overweight and has back issues is told to go home (refusal to treat or to try to treat) and lose some weight to alleviate the pain. They are seen as a person who has the choice whereas the guy with lung cancer couldn’t help his smoking habit.
The same is true if a person decides to try a thrill seeking sport and ends up breaking her leg. She is sent to the hospital and treated with love and kindness even though she actually did choose to engage in dangerous behavior.
What doctors should do is help their overweight patients find solutions to the emotional aspect of their symptoms. We need to recognize the importance of the emotional component towards our physical health.
Travel – If an overweight person books a flight, people make jokes about him or her needing to buy an extra ticket and get angry if they have to sit beside them. Again, they are angry because they believe that they have to sit uncomfortably beside this overweight individual, because she is slovenly and couldn’t care less about how her habits affect others around her. Nobody complains about sitting next to a very tall person on a plane. They smile and empathize knowing he couldn’t help his height. The fat person though, should control their impulses.
The first thing we need to do is become aware of how the media shapes our beliefs and how we see ourselves and others because of it.
In general overeating is due to emotional inner turmoil just like any other addiction or vice.
People who have weight issues already suffer enough as is, and suffer even more because their ‘vice’ is highly visible compared to others. Our culture makes the problem exponentially worse by sending us thousands of messages every day that portray fat people as shameful beings.
Empathy towards yourself and from others, as well as emotional inner work, are needed in the same way it is for everyone else who suffers – and that’s most of us to be frank.
We are all the same.
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