Using Shame

Have you heard of dog-shaming?  The basic idea is that a dog will do something bad, like chew up a pair of shoes, and then the owner will write a snarky sign, put it in front of the dog, take a picture and then post it on the internet.  It’s actually pretty funny and I have had my share of laughs over the ridiculous things that dogs do.  There is a new trend going around though that I refuse to find funny and that is fat shaming.

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I was listening to the news last week and heard that there was a facebook group started called fat shaming.  It was based in California and people would post unflattering photos of overweight people on the group and then usually write hurtful comments along with the picture.  Supposedly the group was shut down but then put back up and then shut down again.  I have no clue what the current status of the group is and quite frankly I don’t care.  My question is what were the people of the group trying to accomplish?

My first instinct was to believe that these people were just mean and hurtful and were trying to put others down to bring themselves up.  The thought never crossed my mind that they were in any way trying to help these people better their health.  Then I remembered hearing about a school a few months ago that was sending letters home to parents with overweight children, essentially doing the same thing just using nicer language.  This school thought that it was doing the right thing to help those kids become healthier.  Instead it sparked anger and outrage not only with the parents but the community as well.  In my opinion this tactic should spark a little anger and outrage, because it really isn’t effective at all.

Think of the last time that someone made you feel ashamed about something.  Think of feeling ashamed about a part of your personality.  Did that feeling of shame make you want to get up and change?  Did you feel thankful that someone pointed out your flaws in a possibly hurtful matter?  I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say probably not.  Using shame to make a person change their ways is not very helpful.  In fact, it’s counterproductive in most cases and makes the shamed person fall even deeper into their bad habits.  When it comes to health, if all you’re doing is telling someone that they’re fat or eat too much or look horrible in a bikini and should never wear one, you aren’t doing anything to help them make a change in their health.  You’re breaking them down even more than they already are, and they’ll do the only things that they know how to do to cope.  They’ll eat more food than they should, or sit on the couch all day instead of go for a walk, or maybe even put off a doctors visit because they don’t want one more person to make them feel bad about their health.  Shame can exacerbate the problem.

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It’s not just other people shaming someone that can cause problems.  If you use shame on yourself, you’re doing just as much damage possibly more.  Tearing yourself down will never get you to make positive changes and become healthier.  All it does is make you feel hopeless.  Believe me, for years I told myself I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t pretty enough, didn’t have the right body, wasn’t athletic.  You know what all that negative talk did?  Absolutely nothing good.  I would talk myself out of trying things just because I didn’t want to further embarrass myself.  I kept doing all the things that I knew weren’t good for my health, because there was no point in trying if it was always going to be this way.  I told myself negative things and that resulted in a negative outlook on life and myself.  Once I was finally able to realize that I am so much more than I thought, and once I started to talk to myself in a positive light, suddenly positive changes started to happen.  It wasn’t easy and I definitely still have my days where I start to get down on myself, but things are so much better when I build myself up rather than tear myself down.

I don’t know if those who partcipate in fat shaming are coming from a place of concern and honestly believe that they are helping people.  I don’t know if they are just doing it to be mean or they think it’s funny or they are trying to make themselves feel better.  I do know that it is not helping even a little bit.  In order to help those that are struggling with their health, we need to come at them from a place of compassion.  We need to use positive tactics rather than negative ones.  We need to offer support and encouragement and know when to back off and let them figure it out.  These are the things that will bring about healthy change and a better life.  Dog-shaming can be funny and merit a chuckle or two.  Fat shaming is never funny and we all need to work on being more positive and less negative.

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