Thursday, January 28, 2021

Shame and Weight

I am always curious how people come to the idea that shame motivates positive change. As a culture, we seem to believe that validation, compassion and acceptance makes for lazy, out of control people, with no moral compass or willpower. Perhaps it’s our “Horatio Alger” myth, our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” notion of personal success.

We seem to believe this idea, despite tremendous evidence to the contrary. Shame does not motivate anything except fear, and not infrequently, rebellion. Shame creates the antithesis of self-care or self-empowerment; it creates self-loathing and self-destruction. Yet we persist.

Take the example of the “War on Obesity.” Somehow we seem to believe that what “fat” people need is a good swift kick in the pants to motivate them to drop those unwanted pounds (never mind that weight is largely genetically determined, and the longest lived people in study after study are classified as “obese”).

It is simply stunning to me that with decades of shaming women (and girls, and, increasingly, men) and billions spent on diets (which boast a 95% failure rate), we still somehow think a frontal attack will solve the alleged “problem.”

And yet the rates of body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and weight-related bullying are higher than they have ever been. Seems only the dieting industry benefits. Hmmm.

Perhaps our goal needs to be advocacy of health; not a “war” on anything, but instead an invitation to people of all sizes to take the very best care of their bodies possible.

I shared these and more of my thoughts about why shaming people to lose weight doesn’t work in a PsychCentral Weightless blog post: Why Shaming People to Lose Weight Doesn’t Work.

Amy Pershing, Executive Director
Pershing Turner Centers
Annapolis, MD

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