Shame is a topic I've been thinking a lot lately as it applies to my work. I see it in two major places: food shame and body shame. Food shaming is something that has become all too common in our culture. This was recently highlighted in Australia when a mother received a note saying she had sent a 'bad food' with her child to school. We also see it in the judgement of bodies: we saw this recently with the body shaming of Lady Gaga during her performance at the Super bowl and let's be real: if she doesn't meet the standard of the 'thin ideal,' then most of us are in bodies we could be shamed for.
Let's talk about food shaming:
The argument I hear for such judgements is that the person who is shaming the other is trying to change another person's behaviour. In the case of the mom who was sent the note below for giving her child a slice of chocolate cake in her lunch, I'm going to guess the intention was to have parents send options that provide their children with nourishment. I have a problem with this for a number of reasons though:
1) By telling the parent and child that a food is 'bad,' we are placing a moral judgement on that food.
This can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, where there is a need to eat only 'good foods.' This can lead to not being able to enjoy foods like cake without guilt and/or shame, which in turn can lead to restrict/ binge cycles. Not so healthy.
Image source: http://www.kidspot.com
2) You never know the circumstances that someone else is experiencing in their lives.
What if a child was sent that note and the food in question was the only food the parents had the finances/ skills/ knowledge for? Is shaming that child and parent going to all of a sudden allow the parent to send the child with different food? No.
I'm sure I'm going to get some comments along the lines that "healthy food doesn't need to be expensive" and that can be true. When a family lives in a food dessert (no grocery stores around) and doesn't have the time/ transportation to go to the grocery store, how are they supposed to get those foods, let alone have the time and skills to prepare them?
Picture this scenario: you are a single parent with two children at home, working two jobs to try to provide for your family and make ends meet. You do not have a grocery store in your neighborhood, the nearest one is a half-hour bus ride away and you don't have a car. No one ever taught you how to cook so even if you received beans for example, you wouldn't know what to do with them. What is accessible to you are fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
So are you going to take over an hour to take a bus ride to the nearest grocery store, pick out the nutritious choices that are inexpensive, and find time to cook those foods? Or since you're exhausted and want to spend some time with your kids, are you going to get them something you can afford and access? I'm going to guess the latter. So that judgement and shaming? They're not helping the problem.
What about body shaming?
Let's think about this scenario. A person in a larger body is called derogatory names and told they need to lose weight. Again, the excuse the shaming person would use is that they're just trying to help the other person. Yet again, I call bullshit.
Let's think about what this does to a person. First of all, you have NO IDEA what is going on for that other person. They could be experiencing problems with food security like I mentioned above. They could have trauma that has resulted in them learning to use food to cope because it's the only way they know how. It could be that this person has been dieting their whole lives because of jerks who make comments like this, leading to yoyo dieting and subsequent weight gain. Or maybe, the individual's family is just generally in larger bodies.
Whatever the reason may be, it's none of your business.
By shaming them, you are not going to make them healthier. In fact, there is mounting evidence that many of the negative health effects of being in a larger body are from internalized weight bias, where the person starts believing they are less worthy because they are in a larger body. You can read more about that here and here.
Also, you have no idea about the health of another person. Weight does not dictate health. I've seen plenty of clients who are metabolically healthy (normal blood sugars, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc) and are active who are in larger bodies. Maybe that person isn't at an optimal level of health but that still doesn't give you the right to judge them. Your judgement is only going to worsen their health, remember?
As a society, we would be a lot better off if we stopped making assumptions about others and started showing each other compassion. So the next time you have the urge to shame or judge someone for their eating choices or their body, please stop and ask yourself what's really going on. The truth is, that thought isn't helping anyone. If you want to be helpful, learning more about how weight stigma affects others and standing up against it could be helpful. Maybe you get involved with programs that make eating nutritious foods more affordable for families. One thing we can all do is realize that every person in every body is worthy of respect, regardless of body size or shape.
The more we can be kind to others and ourselves, the more we can actually help so let's focus on that, shall we?