What’s a shame?

I was looking at my Facebook News Feed a few weeks ago and saw an item about the singer Pink being pictured attending a gala in a very classy evening dress. The item was not about how lovely she looked or about where she was and what she was doing there, but about her being “fat-shamed” by “Internet trolls”. “Fat-shamed”, “Internet trolls”; a few years ago such terms did not exist. I tried to find out who coined the term: “fat-shaming” but I cannot seem to do it. At the very least, it appears that the term has been around for a couple of years now and is basically defined as calling someone fat. I guess it implies that whoever the object of the verb is, should be ashamed that they are so chubby. As a mother to a daughter, I think that all of this “fat-shaming” is quite concerning for a few reasons.

Firstly, in my life I have been overweight and underweight. I was overweight during a gap year between high school graduation and university when a friend and I spent part of it traveling around Europe and I spent the rest of it living and well…drinking and eating in Northern England. When I returned home, my friends and family were aghast at how much weight I had put on. I was close to 200 pounds. Of course, I realised that I was too heavy for my frame and needed to lose weight but no matter, because during my first year of university a diet of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll did the trick. Unfortunately, after a couple of years they also put me into a depression and my weight plummeted to over 60 pounds less than when I was at my heaviest. The interesting thing was that people who didn’t know what I looked like before, and some who did, praised my figure. At the time, it seemed to me that North American society favored being unhealthily underweight as opposed to slightly overweight. Yes, at almost 200 pounds I needed to lose about 40 pounds to be at my body’s natural set-point but I was hardly obese. There was no undue stress or irreversible damage on my body’s organs or overall system. Yes, my body was overly taxed and not at its optimum but compared to the dangers of being 20 pounds underweight there was no contest. Eating too much, but not enough to be obese, will at least provide the body with the nutrients it requires to be healthy now and even later in life. In contrast, being underweight due to the under-consumption of food can have immediate effects such as anemia, hormone imbalances, and depression and later effects such as lack of fertility, compromised immune system, and osteoporosis. Despite this, the general opinion in North American society, reinforced by the entertainment industry and media, is that people, especially women, should be underweight rather than even slightly overweight. This is sadly, an ideal based on appearance alone and without concern for health.

I did eventually get my weight up to an acceptable range for my almost six-foot frame and stayed at around 155 pounds give or take a few here and there, for most of my adult life. In my later thirties I got pregnant, gained thirty pounds, lost twenty-two pounds, and have a stubborn eight pounds still hanging around. I am now determined to lose this extra chub and get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Ironically, I live in Turkey where the general population has a very different view on the ideal body. Any mention of my desire to lose more weight and I am met with, what…“Thin-shaming”? That’s right. The women and men here tell me that I would not look good if I lost any more weight and that I am fine the way I am. In fact, because the Turkish physique is curvier than my tall, English/Russian one, I am considered quite thin. The Turkish cultural view is very different from the Western one. This also relates to the amount of food one eats. Before I got pregnant my husband’s family was always pressuring me to eat more as they thought I ate too little. When I got pregnant, the pressure was even worse, for instance, if we ate meat or fish, a luxury in their village diet, they would save most of it for me – the pregnant woman eating for two. I was already stuffed to the gills but if I could manage it, would simply shove the offered excess into my mouth. When I really could not fit in another crumb, I would make pained facial expressions and excuses as to why I could not eat any more. This belief-based behavior was in sharp contrast to the Canadian and British pregnancy websites that I read warning me of putting on too much weight and informing me that I really only needed 300 to 500 extra calories a day for my unborn child to grow. If my Turkish relatives had gotten their way I would have had 3000 extra calories per day! Despite our difference of opinion, the Turkish culture is at grass roots level still immune to the influx of Western culture and their preference for a well-fed physique is proof that we learn how our bodies should be from nurture as oppose to nature.

As a mother to an almost two year-old daughter, I want to nurture the right attitude in my daughter regarding her body image. I do not want my daughter to think that being thin is something to strongly focus on in her life. It is apparent from my experiences that the messages we receive from our culture, the media, the beauty industry, entertainment industry and other public entities, all form how we view ourselves. Those messages can be reinforced or buttressed by friends, family, school teachers, Sunday preachers and any other adult that leaves an impression on us as a child. I therefore want to be the biggest influence on my child in this regard. I want her receive the message that she should automatically feel good in her skin just because. Interestingly, it is maintaining a positive body image that will keep her on the right track to maintaining a healthy weight. Feeling good leads to looking good. It is like that teenage archetype of the plain, plump girl who finds her first boyfriend and suddenly loses all of her puppy fat, turning into a confident, glowing looker. It is the act of being loved and accepted by another person which gives her the notion to love herself. This self-love gets channelled into her daily choices so she puts down the potato chips and picks up the carrot sticks. I personally have found that self-love is better than any diet out there. It is the constant hum in the background of the mind, body and soul that helps us to make the daily choices required to not only maintain a healthy weight for our own bodies but to also make all the other important choices that we are faced with daily.

Therefore, culture, media, industry, and other people be damned, they are changeable and fluid anyways depending on time, place and perception. What is constant, is the love and care we show ourselves which allows us to feel happy, no matter if we have a few unwanted pounds to lose or a few wanted pounds to gain. What is really a shame in our modern society, is that we put so much emphasis on the physical body rather than emphasising physical ability, emotional stability, and mental agility, We teach our children that having excess fat cells should make them ashamed to be who they are. The singer Pink as a fellow mother to a daughter understands this. She shot back at those “fat-shaming” “Internet tolls” and relayed to them the message that she was not going to feel any shame at all. Via Twitter, she acknowledged the comments thrown at her and implied that it was unfortunate that people were focusing on her weight rather than on the event she was attending which was in honor of her friend Dr. Maggie Di Nome receiving an award for her work in cancer research. She finally stated: “I am perfectly fine, perfectly happy, and my healthy, voluptuous crazy strong body is having some much deserved time off”. Pink’s words certainly made an impression on me and they can make an impression on my daughter any day. It is these types of role models that we need so that our children are not ashamed to be who they are no matter what the scale says.


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