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Unboxing Bodyism, Part One

“God help you if you are a big girl,

But too skinny is also your doom,

Cuz everyone harbors a secret hatred,

For the skinniest girl in the room;

“So squint your eyes and look a bit closer

I’m not between you and your ambition,

I am a poster girl with no poster,

I am 32 flavors and then some…”

(Dianne Reeves’ version of Ani diFranco’s “32 Flavors”)

 

What We Do

When most thoughtful people recognize that we have been carrying biases that hurt others we challenge ourselves to unlearn the insidious message and do better. Many of us Gen X’s and even more the Boomers have worked at unlearning binary gender assumptions, sexism, colorism, racism, ableism and any number of other things that were not challenged in the culture at large in our youth. Hopefully, we are lining our language and assumptions up with our hearts.

 

We disallow all kinds of ‘splaining, as discussed in last week’s blog. One of the last bastions of unlearning is “Bodysplaining” what I call “Bodyism.” You will often see me write, “We say what we want to be true. We do what is actually true.” A quick glance at workplace statistics reveals our culturally embedded Bodyism. In a study by Emma E. Levine and Maurice  E. Schweitzer, (referenced in Kate Manne’s book, Unshrinking,)

 

Obese individuals face discrimination across many stages of their careers. Compared to individuals who are not overweight, overweight individuals are less likely to be hired (Pingitore, Dugoni, Tindale, & Spring, 1994), less likely to be recommended (Larkin & Pines, 1979), less likely to be assigned desirable job responsibilities (e.g., Bellizzi & Hasty, 1998) and less likely to be promoted (Rothblum, Brand, Miller, & Oetjen, 1990). In addition, when overweight employees perform the same jobs as non-over- weight employees, they face a host of negative interpersonal behaviors. Obese individuals are more likely to be the targets of pejorative jokes and comments, (Puhl & Brownell, 2006), more likely to face severe disciplinary decisions (Roehling, 1999), less likely to receive high-quality training (Shapiro, King, & Quinones, 2007) and ultimately earn lower wages (Baum & Ford, 2004; Judge & Cable, 2011).

 

We have internalized Bodyism, without doubt.

 

>Insert Unsolicited Opinion HERE<

For all of the areas where we no longer let ‘splaining go unchecked, the many expressions of Bodyism persist. How many times have you heard someone give unsolicited opinions to others about food choices? Whether it’s veganism, intermittent fasting, Paleo, calorie restriction, low-fat eating or any other iteration of food choice that has worked well for someone, the proliferation of unsolicited dietary advice astonishes me.

 

Many people appear to have zero qualms about making assumptions about other people’s bodies, other people’s feelings about their bodies, how/how much/how little a person eats or doesn’t eat, how/how much/how little a person exercises or doesn’t exercise, what a person weighs, how they dress and on and on.

 

Just as with the other versions of ‘splaining, if you are not living in someone else’s body and life, I can guarantee that you do not know how they “should” manage any of these body-related issues. When we find ourselves having these thoughts, we would do well to take a careful inventory of our own internalized Bodyism.

 

The Shame Monster

Even when we have learned not to bodysplain others, an overwhelming majority of us still bodysplain ourselves. We tell ourselves things that we would never tell others. These are the things that leak out of us in our bodysplaining thoughts about others.

 

Most of us have been saturated in the practice of using shame to motivate behaviors that are better accepted in the culture at large. As mentioned in previous blogs, shame is a terrible and ineffective teacher. It only has the power to change specific behaviors for a specific period of time, and the damage it does to our sense of self almost invariably undoes any changes we may have endeavored to make.

 

The fundamental shame lie in Bodyism is that we are not acceptable as we are. Most people in this country consciously or unconsciously collude with the lie that there is one universal way to eat that is “healthy,” one universal body fat percentage, or body tone that is acceptable and “healthy.” Even when we have no problem accepting others in whatever people-wrapper they come in, we demand that our wrapper comply with our culture-bound assumptions and expectations.

 

We feel “not good enough” if we don’t fit into our culture’s “boxes.” That’s shame, dear ones. Let’s flush it.

 

Whole Being Healing

Our bodies look and feel the way they do for a million different reasons. Another one of the “boxes” the culture at large attempts to cram us into is the lie that the linear logic that comes from our neocortices is all that matters when it comes to making change. Au contraire, mon cher! (Watch this quick video for further explanation.)

 

As human folk, we are body, brain and being. Even if we have figured out what “healthy” eating or exercise is for the body we are in, that’s still only one third of what we need. At times, our psychological and/or emotional needs are in opposition to our body needs. If we “white knuckle it” and ignore two-thirds of ourselves, those parts will find a way to get what they need, likely to doing more damage in the process.

 

Listening Better

If we let this be a dialogue, it does not have to be a war. Sometimes a little body discomfort from eating something that wasn’t our best body choice is worth the emotional and psychological victory achieved by the countercultural choice. That kind of unlearning serves us for a lifetime.

 

The information from the other two-thirds of our being points to a both-and and not an either-or. We might be eating for comfort, or to connect with others. Wouldn’t it be healing and important to recognize that we need comfort or want connection in that moment? In this open dialogue with self we can decide on a case by case basis whether or not we wish to use food to meet this need, something else, or food and something else.

 

Can you taste the freedom in that? There is peace and empowerment in choice. There is shame, bodysplaining and bodyism in compliance with the “boxed” culture around us. Let’s unbox Bodyism for good!

 

Next Week

Next week we will take a closer look at the boxes our culture attempts to impose on us, including the healthcare establishment. Let’s own all 32 of our flavors and then some!

 

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For those of you who would like more structured support in unlearning Bodyism, I will be offering 6-session, 12-week virtual “Unboxing Bodyism” coaching groups in the very near future. If you or anyone else you know is interested in participating, drop me a line. I’ll get you on the list. More details to come!

 

 

 

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