This is probably going to make me very unpopular. It is a good thing that I gave up any hope of Prom Queen back in 1994. Even knowing the potential result…
I am going to say it. I believe we have gone too far. It hit me when I was approached by a longtime friend of mine; who though also affected by obesity informed me they no longer felt comfortable interacting with me on Facebook because of all of the “Obesity Extremists and negative emotional projection that they see coming from my friends and followers.
About a week and a half ago I watched as one of my heroes, Celebrity Fitness Trainer Heidi Powell, apologized to fans that she may have offended on Facebook over a post that displayed a photo of six people taking the escalator, while there was not a soul to be found on the stairs beside them along with a caption that read, “What’s wrong with this picture?” [See Heidi’s Apologetic Post here]
Her apology post had a whole different sect of her fans expressing sentiments like; “Well I’m offended that you had to apologize.”
Several days after all of this happened; I had a discussion on a post on my own Facebook page, where I shared a link to Chris Powell’s blog [Examiner.com: Chris Powell tells what it takes to qualify for ‘Extreme Weight Loss’] and a photo of them weighing in a woman on Extreme Weight Loss, which then caught flack for being weight biased. I debated back and forth with some people I respect in the WLS community, whether or not I believe that Extreme Weight Loss is exhibiting weight bias by displaying morbidly obese individuals in unattractive apparel and in ways that could be taken as exploitative, such as having their panus hanging out for all to see. I explained that for me personally, I felt like the point of the show is to show the serious nature of morbid obesity and food addictions. The show is geared to show the dramatic impact obesity has on your health. And as someone originally outside the weight loss community, that show was extremely motivating to me in my journey and I never saw it as exploitative.
I’m seeing a growing trend in the weight loss community when it comes to the anti-bully sentiment: the calling out of weight bias and fat shaming on levels where sometimes–I’m sorry folks–it’s a reach. I believe that there is a time and a place for everything. I believe that as responsible adults, participating in a social media based world where we have the ability to read the published thoughts of unlimited amounts of opinions, as well as publish our own to unlimited amounts of people; We also have the obligation to understand and respect the venues in which we choose to do that in.
As an example I would not go into a venue that used the words like Fat Admirer, BBW, and SSBBW as everyday lingo and start inundating them with information about nutrition, how much I love exercise, how much I believe in living a healthy lifestyle, and how I am so passionate about helping other people take their lives back and fight obesity that I am starting a career as a Weight Loss Specialist. Even though those are the things that I believe passionately in, I would know not to go into these people’s spaces on the internet and interject my feelings. I respect their spaces to be themselves, free from any pressure to consider healthy lifestyle changes of any kind whether we’re talking weight loss or stress management.
I don’t understand then, why anyone would become Facebook friends with or follow someone whose career and social media interactions with people are obviously based on things like Fitness, Nutrition, Exercise, Massive Weight Loss, Personal Training, Behavior Modification Coaching, Weight Loss Motivation, Bariatric Counseling, or anything even remotely affiliated with these things if the methods that they might use to engage their audience could easily offend you.
People respond to different types of motivation. As fitness oriented professionals, is it any wonder that people like this would make attempts to motivate their clients to think to take the stairs instead of the escalator? It doesn’t ALWAYS have to be framed in a negative manner. Heidi Powell’s post didn’t have to be taken as judgmental or possibly offensive to the people on the escalator. The point easily could have been interpreted the way I saw it: There is nobody on the stairs. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the people on the escalator it is merely the point that there is nobody on the stairs. If we were doing a study we could say that only one of 7 people choose to take the stairs when given the option and that one was a fitness enthusiast (Including myself).
I think we are in dangerous territory. We’re starting to see certain populations suddenly having to tip toe and walk on eggshells when they are talking about subjects like fitness, obesity and weight loss. And while I do feel that each and every one of us deserves to be treated in a manner that doesn’t make us feel like we have been Fat Shamed, I also think that we have to understand that just because we feel Fat Shamed doesn’t necessarily mean that the same actions would make someone else feel that way. As such, I think we need to be cautious about projecting our own feeling into someone else’s emotional hula-hoop.
Which brings us to an important point; sometimes more can be said in an action than a reaction. Often times in the social media world we are quick to make a very reactive post or comment when we see something that offends us. We automatically assume that if we are offended, many other people must be offended too. But offense can spread like wildfire just the same, and pretty soon many people weren’t offended until they read somewhere that their friends or favorite social media personality was offended and then, suddenly they are offended by something they wouldn’t have originally been offended by. Sometimes it is better to act in a way that is part of the solution rather than behaving in a way that amplifies the problem.
Less than a year ago I wrote an article about a friend of mine who had written me about how she felt emotionally assaulted by a Primary Care Doctor that she had visited.
[Woman Emotionally Assaulted by PCP over having Gastric Bypass] I brought the situation to the Obesity Action Coalition and asked them to act on in as part of the Bias Busters Campaign.
The OAC did not choose to attack the Doctor in question over the event. Instead, they reached their hand out with an offer to help the patient find a physician in her area that was familiar with Bariatric Surgery patients and help make sure she got the medical care she needed. That offer was extended to her through me by the President of the OAC, Joe Nadglowski himself, in a private email. The OAC is an amazing organization and this was a great and positive response to a negative situation. The OAC and Joe Nadglowski will forever have my loyalty because of that action.
Part of what the OAC does (And if you are NOT a member you SHOULD be) is to educated the masses on the issues those affected by obesity have to endure. They educate corporate and media professional as how to not stereotype with their language. Let’s let them do their job instead of beating up on some unsuspecting soul that may or may not be educated on the subject. [Become a Member of the OAC]
Many people I have discussed this with agree that if we as individuals want to help teach someone else about something insensitive they have said, done or written, then it should be in a manner to educate, not shame, and should be done in a professional and private manner. It’s just like as a manager, you never call out your employee in front of their peers. So why do we feel the need to do this in a social media environment?
I think sometimes we need to remember not to personalize this journey so much when we are dealing with others. I’ve been on the other side of the equation; I know how hard it is to have the subject of weight come up when you are uncomfortable with the situation and you don’t want to talk about it. I know what it is like to have something feel personal, hurt your feelings or offend you.
I also understand the other side of the coin. I understand having lost 250 lb., taking your life back from obesity, realizing how much of life you were missing out on and wanting so badly to be the guiding hand that helps someone else in their fight against obesity. I understand how hard it can be to not reach out a helpful hand when you see someone you think might be struggling.
I battle with being a recovering food addict. Unfortunately, I will always be a food addict. There is a small part of me even as I write this that wants a Fresco Style Fiery Taco from Taco Bell, some of those new Satisfries from Burger King and why isn’t anyone doing some whole grain chicken nuggets yet?! But this is the food addict in me talking and while I might let myself have any of those things on a special occasion, I don’t let those voices win over my healthier voices. So last night, we had chicken tacos for dinner. As someone who tries to help motivate other’s to make these healthier decisions as well, I may very well go to my Facebook page and post something like…
“Its #AlternativeTuesday and I’m encouraging you to find #HealthyAlternatives to the unhealthy things that you might be craving. Today I’m leaving that Taco Bell Fiery Taco behind and doing a healthier option at home: Grilled Buffalo Tacos. What are you doing to leave the Junk Food Behind you and choose healthier options today #SlenderSeekers”
How would you take that? Am I casting judgment on those eating Taco Bell, Burger King and chicken nuggets? Am I making you feel bad about your food decisions? Was I trying to do that? No, I wasn’t. What I was trying to do was help motivate those that are trying to make healthier food selections in their life by reinforcing the positive behavior through sharing my own. If you felt any of the things I mentioned before, you brought those negative aspects of it in with your perspective: you projected them into my meaning. You stood outside my emotional hula-hoop and tried to throw your little emotional sandbags inside. And I fear, that we are becoming guilty of this far too often.
I think we need to remember that obesity is an epidemic in our country. It’s a disease that we are battling together, and that some of us will have different approaches to the fight. You’re rarely going to find a Doctor, Personal Trainer, Nutritionist or Weight Loss Specialist that is going to be posting things that paint obesity in a positive light rather than pointing out all the negative impacts it has on your health. Because let’s not forget, we are fighting obesity for a reason; it’s unhealthy, and the professionals mentioned are in the business of making people healthy.
Perhaps if we find that we are in a place where we don’t want to hear the types of messages that these sorts of professionals might post in regards to these topics, we should start unsubscribing from their feeds and stop following their posts until we are in a place where we are emotionally ready to accept the sort of guidance their profession might offer. Perhaps it is time that we take some personal responsibility for what situations we put ourselves in by way of our likes, follows, subscriptions and associations in the social media world before we create a situation where we are simply left out of it because our population is too sensitive to engage anymore.