Ten years ago, I went to a new doctor for incredible fatigue: I was sleeping 12 or more hours a night, having trouble staying awake at work, and was unable to maintain a social life. She sent me for rounds of tests, checked many health indicators, and took a full family history. Despite the fact that I highlighted my mother’s recent diagnosis of low thyroid, the doctor found nothing wrong with me. She wrote me a prescription for an antidepressant and told me to lose weight. (At the time, I was medically classified - by the problematic BMI - as on the upper end of “overweight.”) My doctor, my parents, and some of my friends could not see past the size of my body in order to truly see me and to see that something was wrong.
I had passed the depression screen and no previous conversations or tests had indicated that my weight had anything to do with my fatigue. It took two years and two more doctors before I finally received a diagnosis: my thyroid was underactive, and I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS had never been mentioned or tested for previously. Unfortunately, my story is a classic example of fat bias.
Here are some ways that all of us, no matter our size, can work to build body positivity within ourselves and our society.
Have compassion for yourself
Whatever shape your body is right now, how you regard it is key. The more negative your internal monologue and external speech are about yourself, the harder it is to love your body. While we can aspire to improve our bodies, we should not do so at the expense of our mental and physical health.
Treat others with respect and dignity
Catholics believe that every person is made in the image of God: ourselves and all others, no matter their size, shape, color, beliefs, or lifestyle. Unfortunately, we may judge or dismiss others from time to time, to one degree or another. It’s a good thing to examine this tendency as we strive to grow.
Look around at your friends and family. Do you treat any of them differently if their bodies are larger? Have you ever dismissed a health concern one of them raised because it is a “fat person problem”? Together we can challenge harmful assumptions in the culture around us.
Educate yourself on body positivity and diet culture
Unfortunately, body shaming is one of the few forms of shaming and bullying that is still socially acceptable. The body positivity movement has been around for decades to fight this societal norm - and the movement continues to grow against the $71 billion a year diet industry.
As you start to realize that your fat friends, family members, and co-workers are doing the best they can with the amazing bodies they have, you may want to learn more about body positivity and how to be a friend to them. Here are some places to start:
- Body Respect: An update to the original Health at Every Size, which incorporates systemic privilege.
- “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong”: A lengthy but comprehensive article on the research and lived experience of fat persons.
- Your Fat Friend Blog: A timely article to start with is, “Your Fat Friends Hear the Way You Talk About Gaining Weight During the Pandemic.”
Maintenance Phase Podcast: An excellent podcast, often funny and quite incisive, on the scams and assumptions of the diet industry.