This past August I celebrated my one year CrossFit-aversary and wanted to mark the occasion in some way. I had thought about doing a before and after Instagram photo post, illustrating me graduating high school in 2007 at 200lb, and me now after losing about 60lb. I went back in the archives, put the photos together, and…did not push the post. Looking at the photos, it all of a sudden wasn’t sitting well with me anymore. Uh.
I talked it through with my partner, Aaron. I thought at first, it felt very self-promotional, very me me me look at meeeee, ever slightly so douchey. He said he wouldn’t have perceived it that way, and didn’t think the purpose behind the post would be selfish. We talked a bit about authenticity in social media spaces and being ourselves online without looking for validation from others. It still wasn’t sitting well with me.
Amy: Yeah, I don’t think the self-promotion thing is it.
Aaron: Ok, so what are you thinking?
Amy: If I post this then people will see both photos. People will know I was fat.
Aaron: And what’s the problem with people seeing that on social media?
Amy: I can’t share my whole story in an Instagram post! They won’t know everything, they will just see the fat girl from high school.
Cue all the light bulbs going off. We have some shame and fear of discrimination mixing together to block vulnerability (reaches for Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly to begin to work through this).
I had a good childhood and growing up time. My parents were the champion of self-esteem, teaching my sister and I that numbers – on the scale, in our clothing sizes – didn’t matter and made sure she told us we were beautiful every day. I had great friends, dated multiple boyfriends, loved school and was involved in all sorts of activities. We ate healthy as a family and I had a good relationship with food. Being fat did not detract anything from my life or prevent me from doing anything. I was generally happy.
Even with all these positives, there were the moments where the world decided it needed to tell me about the problematic nature of my fatness. There were doctors who warned about diabetes (no family history), told me to stop eating full bags of potato chips (I have never done this), and wanted to diagnose me with depression because there was no other way to explain 20lb weight gain (a lot of issues here). There were the gym teachers who made me sit out of activities and a camp counselor who left me on the side of a mountain because I could not keep up. Each moment created a blip of guilt and shame about my body and abilities as a person.
Losing weight was a gradual process, and therefore did not initially have a huge impact on my sense of self. I was still Amy, and was now Amy with a gym habit. It’s nothing I overwhelmingly celebrated and I never had a “goal weight.” I continued to like myself and began to enjoy the new athletic abilities of my body.
As I lost weight, the world continued to shame and discriminate against fat people. With the expansion of social media, this began to take place in comment boxes, blog posts, and YouTube videos (the latest: Nicole Arbour’s Dear Fat People video). Cyber bullying and online fat shaming grew, and Twitter hashtags like #fatshamingweek were started. I internalized more of these messages than I consciously realized as they pulled on my personal shame triggers and created an emotional response.
I see these internalized messages in some of my current behaviors. I deflect my fat identity with humor by calling my younger self Fat Amy (thank you to Pitch Perfect and Rebel Wilson for this technique). I don’t like looking back on photos of myself growing up. Telling people I used to be fat is a vulnerable process (what would they think? what are they going to say? Quick, get your shame armor ready!) and includes a lot of context about my childhood to avoid labels or the Sad/Lazy/Unhealthy Fat Girl trope.
I did not immediately realize it, but not hitting “Post” on Instagram was dragging this all back up again. I was uncomfortable with sharing a part of myself vulnerably without my deflections or opportunity for context storytelling. I didn’t want to put myself out there on the internet without my shame armors because, even if my body looks different now, the world still tells me that being fat makes us less than.
Thinking about how I feel about my body and sifting through these reflections has been tricky business. I thought I might have a grand moment of overwhelming body acceptance and shame slaying to write about. I’m not quite there yet, and it does not escape me that I started telling this story with shame avoidance tactics by framing my childhood as positive and healthy (Really! I wasn’t that fat girl!)
My brief visit back to Daring Greatly reminded me that naming shame is the first step in the game of vulnerability. Here’s to the next steps towards wholehearted living.