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I talk a lot about self esteem and self efficacy in this blog, because I think both of those things are very, very important. I think the way we see ourselves and the way we approach the world helps to shape our world. On the other hand, I think it’s important to recognize that the world we live in shapes us in turn. Both self esteem and self efficacy involve more than just self. Because as John Donne said all those years ago:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main…
We all function as part of the world. Our self esteem is deeply influenced by the opinions of those around us. And frankly, right now, the world is none too kind to people of size. Feeling good about yourself is really tough in an world containing people who after one look at you consider themselves justified in considering you less than human. Even when you approach the world in your best dress and your prettiest smile and your very most positive of positive thoughts, it’s tough going when what the world reflects back to you is pity, disgust, shame, disdain and yes, even fear.
And it’s also important to recognize that the tremendous amount of prejudice experienced by people of size in our culture is constantly reenforced by various factors. The diet and weight loss industry is worth more than 60 Billion dollars in the U.S. alone. And desire for a piece of the grant/research money pie has fueled a desperate fight against fat people also known as the “War on Obesity”. A need to find a scapegoat in our difficult economic times and even more difficult health care landscape has led to the fat person as social pariah–blamed for everything from the high costs of health insurance to global warming.
I’m not telling you this because I want you to be depressed. Far from it. But I also want to pay homage to the fact that feeling good as a less than skinny person in our culture can be really, really difficult. This is reality. And any work that we try to do to feel good about ourselves needs to be seen in the context of this reality.
This is why I think it is so very important to build community to support one another. I am by no means perfect in my self esteem. But a great deal of any of the strength I do possess in this regard comes directly from my participation in the size acceptance community. I am deeply indebted to those who have come before. That’s why I think it is so important to honor others who are building a better and safer world for people of all sizes. This year, we honored some of those trail blazers this year in the Shadow on a Tightrope anniversary. And my dear friend and business collaborator Ragen Chastain is doing very important work in her documentary film project honoring the history of the heroes and heroines of the size acceptance movement.
And beyond just recognizing those who have gone before, there is a veritable army of people out there right now, working to make the world better for people of all shapes and sizes. People like Marilyn Wann and Ragen Chastain. Organizations like the Size Diversity Task Force and ASDAH and NAAFA.
So in your look to bolster your self-esteem, I’d like to encourage you to think beyond yourself. First, I’d like to suggest that you take a look at some of the forces outside of yourself that may be dragging on you. Learning to recognize these voices that send you negative and shaming messages is an important first step towards choosing what to take on board and what to throw away.
Next, I’d like to suggest that you find community. Get together in the real world or the virtual one, with like-minded people who allow you to feel supported and safe at any size. I can’t emphasize enough how much community has helped me and supported me and strengthened me.
Finally, I’d like to ask you to consider how you might help others feel good about themselves. It’s not enough to simply take. Community implies a sharing of talents and resources and our very selves. That’s not to say that we all need to help in the same way. Some of us will march in protests. Some of us will send scathing letters. Some of us will simply support one another with a quick hug or a kind word in the comments section.
None of us is an island. We are all a piece of the continent, a citizen of the world, a member of the universe. It’s up to all of us to make that universe a better place for ALL of us.
Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)