Shallow-Phobia

I promised I’d get back to the idea of body image in Fatties Don’t Get Phone Calls (2), and so here that is.

I get the impression from talking to people about their weight that there is a pervasive fear about seeming to be shallow. This fear of seeming shallow colors a lot of what people think about themselves and their relationships to others, especially if like me they grew up struggling with weight and body image. People will go to unreasonable lengths to avoid the appearance of vanity, to such an extent that they end up making unhealthy and destructive choices in life… because it seems better than appearing shallow. It can keep us from making positive changes in our life and even sabotage us in some ways.

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Self-Criticism: The Easiest Trap

This post is something of a follow-up to that critique I wrote a few days ago about the woman doing her “Everyone is looking at me” art exhibit. But it’s also more than that and it deserves it’s own topic I think. What made me think to write this was reading elsewhere in the aether a post by a guy who thinks he is really, really ugly. The premise of the discussion was that the guy was feeling discouraged about his looks and was asking the forum whether he should even bother working out because he felt like his face was so busted. That is, what good was getting a great body if his face was ugly and there would be no changing it?

I’ll assume the guy was being mostly serious – sometimes people pull the “Why I so uggerz” card as a way of fishing for compliments – and that he really is obsessed about how his face looks. Now I’ll go ahead and say the guy isn’t a GQ model or anything (which is why I think he probably wasn’t fishing) but he isn’t hideous. In fact, he isn’t remarkable looking in general. But he wrote out a long list of perceived flaws in his face that apparently really haunt him: the angle of his ears, the wrinkles on his cheeks (he’s in his 20s, by the by), 2 pores on his forehead, the slight ovoid shape to his cranium… Very meticulous. But again, the guy actually looked unremarkable to me.

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There is this tendency, though, when we are being critical of ourselves to magnify things way, way out of proportion. This is a problem with former fat kids, of course, but is also a problem with anybody who has any kind of body image issue.

I grew up hating myself, hating how I looked, how I felt, and how I felt people thought I looked. It was so bad that for a long time I was immune to compliments. I thought people were lying or joking or just didn’t get me… because I thought of myself as fat and ugly. As a guy who grew up hating himself for how he looked, let me say this about self-criticism.

1) Never describe to people what you think is wrong with you. If you’re self-conscious about something, that thing may be big or it may be small but to you it feels like a head wound or a third eye. Other people, though, are probably not looking at it. They usually don’t notice until you point it out. And yet, when you do point it out, it becomes a thing that people notice. Because you brought it up!

2) No one notices your “flaws” nearly as much as you do. The human eye tends to generalize how people look, so unless you’re a circus freak or a beautiful demigod, most people average out what you look like. I have a lot if things I don’t like about how I look (I won’t say them as per rule 1), but I’ve literally had no one notice those things in me. I have a scar that I used to be self-conscious about and I think only one person has ever even noticed I had it… but to me it felt like everyone was looking and wondering “what the hell is that??” But no one is looking.

3) Don’t obsess over what you can’t change: obsess over what you can. The things you can’t change are the things you need to embrace: own them and wear them like armor. I can’t be “skinny”… I can only be huge. So I’ve embraced being huge. I’ll be huge on my own terms and in my own way, but my size is what it is. Even if this guy’s face were ugly, it would be a footnote if he embraced it (especially in the context of body building). How many people think Vin Diesel has a pretty face? Exactly zero. But it doesn’t matter because he has charisma that partially comes from just being confident.

Finally, and this doesn’t need to be a rule necessarily, just a reminder from the previous post… No one is looking. The thing about self-criticism is that it’s actually a curious species of narcissism. We believe that EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT THE THING I THINK IS IMPORTANT!!1! But that’s the opposite of the truth. No one is looking at you, guys. For the most part, no one cares. And once you stop focusing so intently on the minutia of how you look, you’ll begin noticing that no one saw your flaws the way you did.

Projection (Or “No, Not Everyone Is Glaring”)

A friend of mine linked me this article yesterday from the Daily Mail: Obese woman’s revealing photography project exposes the cruel and judgmental stares she attracts from people on the street. The article is about an artist, Haley Morris-Cafiero who goes around taking pictures of herself in order to document people looking at her in the background. The premise here being that, because she’s overweight, people are being “cruel” to her behind her back by, apparently, giving her judgmental stares. While the article and her website where you can view the whole project are meant to reveal something about our wider culture and the insidious presence of fat-shaming, I was actually struck by what the whole thing said about the woman herself and how much of what we think about other people is actually a reflection of what we think of ourselves.

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Larkin the Hutt

Let’s talk a minute about what I was doing during college. I may have mentioned before that in high school I made some decent progress in weight loss through one method or another. I dropped perhaps 70 pounds during my sophomore and senior years of high school. Pretty impressive, right? Well for various reasons that discipline collapsed the moment I started college… my attitude changed somewhere in there, and naturally my results changed. But it wasn’t just my attitude about pursuing fitness that changed, it was my attitude about myself entirely. I saw myself completely differently… and that seeing myself differently let me really balloon up to epic proportions.

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Mental Discipline

Body transformation obviously isn’t easy. The main reason that transforming the body isn’t easy is because the body isn’t just a thing to be shaped into whatever we want it to be. Our bodies are the evidence of the way we eat, the way we move, the way we sleep, the way we work, the way we play, the way we rest… Our bodies are evidence of the life we lead. Which is why when you are losing weight, a good health professional will tell you that changing your diet or changing your exercise routine isn’t going to fix your problem. If your problem is your body, and your body is just evidence of the life you lead, you have to change your life. People with amazing bodies don’t just have healthy bodies: they have healthy lives.

mindBut there is a tendency, while losing weight is our goal, to imagine our needs in that respect to be physical ones. And why not? It’s a physical problem. We’re fat. We look lumpy and rolly and big and so forth… Of course it’s a physical problem with physical needs and physical remedies. But in my experience it’s not nearly as simple as that. And I think a careful reader will have gathered that from my writing so far: making a physical change requires much more than physical discipline. And this may be the hardest part of the whole thing: changing your mind.

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Making “Fat” Part of the Plan

I’ve mentioned before that part of what was surprising about my epiphany was just how far I’d let myself go by the time I finally got a smack in the face by my own fat. And part of why I had let myself go so much was because I thought I was doing pretty well. I was getting low-fat groceries, I went on a walk now and then, I at least knew where the gym was… I was doing pretty well! At least as good as a normal person. Better than a normal person, I thought, especially if the food selection at the grocery store was any indication of the normal American diet. And yet I was enormous.

What revealed just what was wrong with my situation wasn’t really something that happened to me, but something I saw when I was visiting my family for a wedding. My problem was of course that I was eating poorly in general, but the reason I was eating poorly in general was that, bizarrely, being fat was part of my “routine”.

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