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This morning I ran across a disturbing meme on Facebook. It was a double image: one pic on top, one below. Both images were the same. It was a photo of a doctor measuring the girth of a large-bellied man. The top image had cartoon bubble with the man saying “The problem is obesity runs in my family.” The bottom image had a bubble caption with the doctor saying, “No, the problem is no one runs in your family.”
All the “reactions” registered either “haha” or “like.”
I felt so sad. The person who posted is not someone I know personally. I’m not sure how we came to be connected as FB friends, but she appears frequently in my feed. She posts a lot of memes/jokes, and up to this day, I found most of them funny.
I was about to add a comment registering my feeling that this was insensitive and it’s hurtful to shame [period]. But I’ve learned that commenting on other people’s posts, especially if I don’t know them personally, rarely elicits anything other an attack on me for not having a sense of humor.
I’ve decided that rather than responding directly to the poster, I’ll post my thoughts on my own page or in an article like this. You know…be the change, rather than pointing out to others that they should change.
Shaming is the new black, it seems in our culture. There does not appear to be any aspect of our lives or bodies that escapes the judgment of others: weight, hairstyle, fashion (or lack of), car, home, neighborhood, political choice, partner choice, stay-at-home moms, working moms, vaccinated, non-vaccinated, meat-eaters, vegans, and the list goes on.
Before you rush to point out that I'm shaming the shamers, I have a confession to make.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was one of those “fat-shamers” in past years.
When Joe and I first met, one of the things that attracted us to one another is that we both loved to go to the beach. We spent many weekends on Hollywood Beach in Florida.
Winter “snowbird” populations brought many beachgoers from Canada and the northern states. Quite of few of these seasonal residents were not the trim, fit models you see in the resort ads. And, of course, considering obesity has grown to epidemic proportions, quite a few year-round residents also overextended the borders of their bathing suits.
Joe and I would sit in our chairs and exchange knowing glances as various full-bodied beachgoers passed us walking on the beach or set up their blankets near us. In private, we shared mean, unkind criticism of what we considered to be other people’s lack of respect for their appearances. The phrase wasn’t coined yet, but we were fat-shaming.
Here's another cringe-worthy confession: The above photo, created by Joe around this time, is titled "Love Songs on the Beach." The original, working title was "Fat People on the Beach." I know, I'm sorry, truly sorry. And so is Joe. The "Love Songs" version was always the public title.
Here's the thought that comes to my mind in retrospect. The revised title choice was politically correct. Even so, we would never say or do anything to intentionally hurt another person, either directly or indirectly via the choice of title. And truthfully Love Songs on the Beach was a better fit for the energy of the image…the couple was enjoying a lovely day together at the beach. And he was singing to his love. Who doesn't love romance?
Yet this is the perfect example of not being congruent in thought and action. We fully believed that the right to enjoy life should not restricted by size, color, or gender. So what was the snarkiness about?
When I think back on those days, I remember other things as well. We were both recently separated/divorced (never a fun period). We both worked in the same deadline-oriented, pressure-filled, advertising industry. We both were independent contractors, dealing with cyclical incomes and clients from hell. As frequently happens when couples split, we were experiencing financial setbacks. We both had teenage children, a source of both joy and angst.
So in short, there was a lot of stuff going on in our lives that created a stressful atmosphere. I’m not using the circumstances as an excuse. Quite the opposite.
If I fast-forward about five years from that time, we were married and many of the same issues were still present in our lives. But some things had changed. We had stopped drinking. Joe was active in a recovery program. We became seekers. We weren’t sure what we were looking for, but we knew there had to be something more.
We were happy together. We loved our work and we could choose who we wanted to work with. Our children were of the age that they were becoming more responsible for their own lives. But we felt something was missing, so we began venturing out to find what it was.
We came from different religious backgrounds, but neither of us felt that either, or any, religion was the missing link. We couldn’t say why. Mostly we knew why not—too many rules.
To make a long story shorter, we found that spiritualism filled the empty space. Unlike religion, there were no conversion steps, no tests to pass, no one to say “Now you’re one of us.” Or worse, “You can’t be one of us.”
Spiritualism is for everyone without exception. No us vs. them. If you’re breathing, you belong—We are One.
Joe and I studied many forms or practices of this concept. Some resonated more than others, but it didn’t matter. That was the point. Be who you came here to be and express it as you choose. Most importantly, respect the right of others to do the same.
Of course, this is not an overnight change of mind. It’s been 15+ years and I’m still working on it, still growing in my understanding.
But somewhere along the way, a light bulb went off: It’s wrong to criticize or ridicule others because they look or believe differently. Not that I didn’t always know that on the inside. But for years, I succumbed to the media version of myself. As I held myself to the “highest” standards, I did the same for others.
But who set these standards? And did I even want to meet their criteria?
When I decided I didn’t, I also released my judgment that anyone else had to either.
It’s time to set new guidelines.
Actually there’s only one:
Live, and let live.
Again, not an overnight change. Nature abhors a vacuum. So when we release judgment from our lives, what replaces it?
My mother would say, Gay ga zinta hait. (Go in good health.) It’s a Yiddish phrase often said with a shrug, indicating “I may not agree, but I wish you well. Go for it.”
Ah, the wisdom of the elders.
Compassion. Tolerance. Respect. These are a few good possibilities to replace the void left when we release judgment. It’s a process after all, and different for each person. But we get to choose.
Let’s choose mindfully.
Image: Love Songs on the Beach ©Gemignani. Purchase prints here.
Text ©Shelley Lieber.
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