Health Shaming: It’s a thing

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We’ve all heard about fat-shaming, and even skinny-shaming – but what about….

health shaming?

As the developed world’s food issues become increasingly polarised – with us obsessing over the latest health fad and unattainable depictions of the “perfect body” one moment, and drooling over hybrid baked goods and melted cheese the next – it’s clear to see that our intensely emotional connection to both food and body image has gotten way out of hand.

Since these two intense desires don’t tend to coexist well, the satisfaction of one of them only leaves us yearning for the other. Is it any wonder that we are struggling to find balance and inner peace?

Not only is this a toxic combination, forcing us to oscillate between self-loathing and self-soothing, and between unhealthy restrictions and indulgences, but we are taking out these internal conflicts on each other.

Let me explain.

Your health choices are no one’s business but yours

Entirely personal choices we all make each day about what, when and how much we eat have become seemingly open to the commentary and judgment of others. As much as society seems to love pointing the finger at people’s unhealthy choices, the pendulum also swings the other way, as many of those of us trying to live a healthier life feel judged for this too.

Because we all know the one who turns down happy-hour cocktails is boring, and the one who passes on the pizza must be up themselves, judging everyone else for not being as annoyingly virtuous, …right?

The idea that those who try to make healthy choices at least some of the time are either arrogant or silently judging all that do indulge is as inaccurate as it is harmful. We have all turned down something tempting in at least once in our lives. Most likely you couldn’t care less whether those around you make the same sacrifice – the decision is between no one but yourself. But when someone else makes a similar health-motivated move, many of us take this as a personal dig at our own choices.

“Come on, just this once won’t hurt!”

Whether it’s some light teasing when you turn down the office birthday cake, a full-blown debate every family dinner about why you abstain from dairy, or your social life suffering as a result of your decision to cut alcohol, we just love to mock the healthy decisions of others.

Sure, a few harmless “come on, this one time won’t hurt,” or “live a little, take the doughnut” can be nothing but friendly encouragement to enjoy yourself and let go of too much self-restriction – which of course can be helpful at times. However, if this evolves into an incessant mocking of your personal goals or lifestyle, then things can rapidly turn toxic…

Health shaming, personal insecurities & the media

This obsession with the health choices of others essentially stems from our own buried insecurities about what we feel we should be doing. It’s a knee-jerk defense mechanism to not take seriously the efforts of others; we laugh them off to avoid really thinking about the reasons behind the self-sacrifice.

After all, we think too much about why that girl won’t eat cheese, then we may find ourselves dangerously close to reflecting upon our own health and decisions.

With images of both unrealistically perfect bodies and food to sabotage any such dreams bombarding us each day in the media, it’s no wonder everyone’s desires are set in a spin. With our ongoing quest for the perfect body as well as the ultimate deep-fried or chocolate-covered indulgence in constant battle, all we ever do is want and crave obsessivelybut for two things which don’t tend to go hand-in-hand.

In the meantime, many of us internalise an ugly loathing – both for those who over-indulge, and those who avoid temptation altogether. While the majority of us are stuck in a limbo of chasing these two insatiable desires, sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum.

How to ditch the shame and better support each other

So how can we do better, to avoid making others feel ridiculed whether they are overweight, underweight, a shameless foodie or an aspiring health guru?

Well, it all starts with us taking a long hard look in the mirror – what is it about the health choices of other people that bother you so much?

Often, it’s those who are depriving themselves too much who target their poison towards overweight people – or simply those who love to indulge from time to time. On the reverse side, it’s those who struggle with their own willpower and health regime who can’t stand those crazy green juice-drinking health nuts who seem to have it all together. This is simply a case of projecting our own insecurities onto others.

We all face our own battles – but these should not be negatively impacted by those around us. If you notice that you have internalised resentment for either particularly unhealthy or healthy people, then consider where these feelings are really coming from. What’s really going on with you?  Focus on your own self-improvement before averting your attention to that of others.

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