I want to tell you a story. It's not my story to tell, but the woman in question has given permission for it to be told. I first heard about, let's call her Mrs X, about a year ago, when I was doing some training in eating disorders at the National Centre for Eating Disorders in London. We were talking about body image and weight stigma, and our lecturer told us about one of her clients.
Mrs X was overweight. Or fat, if you prefer. Not cut-off-the-side-of-the-house fat, but just your normal everyday fat that you'll see in a good percentage of women as you walk down your high street. She had two grown kids, who had left home, and she was living with her husband. Sadly, it was not a happy marriage. In fact, the relationship was abusive.
Mrs X had come to our lecturer for help with her weight, and during the course of her treatment, details of her abusive home relationship began to emerge. Her husband would call her names. Every day. He'd call her fat, tell her she was a pig, that she was disgusting. If he saw her looking in a mirror, he'd tell her that she was so unattractive, nobody would want to look at her. He'd make her cry. He refused to take her out with him to parties or work events. He said he was embarrassed to be seen with her. And he sure as hell wasn't going to give her money to buy new clothes with. He'd tell her if she wanted new clothes, or to go on holiday, or any other nice things, then she should STFU and just lose some weight. He certainly wasn't going to waste time and money on her looking like she did now. And it went on.
As our class all sat stunned listening to this tirade, our lecturer asked us what advice we would give to Mrs X if she were our client. I piped up first (being the gobby one, no surprise there) that I'd give her the number of a good divorce lawyer. Several similar comments followed. Then one girl at the front said, 'He's probably only saying what she's thinking anyway'.
This is really important. Because when people call us names, it usually only hurts if we believe them. Think of all the insults that could be thrown at a person. Then imagine them being directed at you. Some of them, perhaps based on skin colour, or sexuality, or size, may not even apply to you. If somebody said that to you, you'd probably look at them quizzically and wonder what they were on about. But if they called you something that hit a nerve, something that was already in your head, your own nasty little voice, chances are, it would destroy you. Or at least, bring tears to your eyes and hurt into your heart. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
But coming back to Mrs X. That student at the front had hit the nail on the head. The kicker to this story, as some of you may have already guessed, is that there was no husband. At least not the abusive one described above. All of that abuse came from within - that was how Mrs X talked to herself.
Why is it that it is so obvious that this kind of talk is completely unacceptable and nothing short of abuse when we see it in others, but many of us continue to feel we deserve to treat ourselves that way, that we deserve no better, for the sin of daring to be Not-A-Supermodel. Heck, who knows, maybe the supermodels talk to themselves that way too. When did our worth become equated with our looks? When did all that was wrong with our lives become projected onto hatred of our bodies?
Today is Day 4 of the Binge Eating Disorder Association's second National Weight Stigma Awareness Week.* Take this moment to think about how you talk to yourself. And start to treat yourself as you would want somebody to treat your mother, or your daughter, or your best friend. You too are somebody's mother or daughter or best friend. You deserve no less.
*This blog was originally posted at www.neverdietagain.co.uk/blog on 27th September 2012.