Saturday, 24 January 2015

Although weight can be shifted, so can the shame

It has been difficult not to notice the increased media attention recently – in regards to weight. The subject of obesity appears a particular favourite – with accompanying television programmes such as ‘Katie Hopkins: My Fat Story’ and ‘Outweighing the Enemy’ .  These shows attempt to project weight as a terror to ‘tackle.’ And why not?  In light of statistics that In the UK, 67% of men and 57% of women are either overweight or obese, according to the Lancet Medical Journal, it could appear that the media is feeding from what is certainly a social concern. It is a concern so apparently acute this includes being bombarded with images of various states of undress; women  weeping in their underwear in front of a camera, Katie Hopkins exhibiting her swollen stomach, and so on. However, this undress is leaving something unaddressed, I believe. In portraying weight as something to be ‘tackled’, like a terror to triumph over, this is ultimately leaving the psychological foundation unaddressed. Cultivating shame in regards to weight refuses to feed the mind with what it really needs.

Too often weight is presented as a spectacle. Too often this is presented as ‘acceptable’.

I am writing this as someone who has faced issues with eating. It is a subject personal to me after all, weight is a personal thing – and throwing it as something to be ‘tackled’ almost seems to advocate a fight with the self. Take Katie Hopkins for example. In her recent documentary ‘My Fat Story’, Hopkins gained an unhealthy amount of weight in a very short time ( up to half her weight in 4 months) – in order to demonstrate that it indeed can be lost again. Indeed, we already know that weight can be gained and lost and having a media figure advocating it with lines such as ‘I hate all you fat people’ and  the calls of 'you chubsters’ are not necessarily encouraging. Considering her comments about weight in general, it appears (though this be my own opinion) that Hopkins was not particularly compassionate despite her determination to diminish human bodies. An area increasingly appearing unaddressed, (rather than undressed) is the psychological issues underlying eating behaviour. It seems almost convenient that the television can make only the external the issue.  Admittedly, in the programme there was reference to a psychologist who discussed the potential factors behind Hopkin’s competitive, even cruel attitude towards weight – but then again, the notion of competition still continued.

What I saw was saddening – both in terms of Hopkins and the emotions she was apparently evading. Here was a woman going against her own apparent principles (her views on healthy eating and exercise) in a course not of illumination, but humiliation.  Still her comments continued ‘I hate you fat people’, stirring again and again the factor at the very centre of the issue - shame. Indeed, many peoples eating behaviour is determined by shame, with what are regarded as ‘abnormalities’ in eating behaviour being especially the case. The reason many people overeat involves features of shame – such as turning to food as comfort from insecurity, having poor self-esteem and continuing to eat, feeling afraid to exercise out of embarrassment, television programmes and articles circulating this continued shame towards bodies and their ‘management’ like it is a competitive task is not constructive. And it is just not the case for obesity. This culture of competitive conditioning  of bodies harbours an unhealthiness towards food, if anything. It advocates that food is not something to be appreciated and enjoyed, but controlled and counted. Such patterns of control and calculation underlie many unhealthy relationships with food, especially in regards to eating disorders.

It is an especially disturbing consideration in accordance to young people who are especially vulnerable to the masquerade the media can provide. According to Schools and Students Health Education Unit, about 40 percent of 10 and 11-year-old girls in the U.K. want to lose weight. That number rises to 54 percent for 12 and 13-year-old girls and to 63 percent among 14 and 15-year-olds. These are ages at which children are also especially sensitive to their own changing bodies ,and the bodies of those around them – and ‘shame’ is one of those emotions we should not want to see becoming associated with natural growth and development. Food has its own particular power to evoke a fondness, especially when reflecting upon childhood favourites – I used to love the slow ceremonial eating of my grandma’s chocolate cake on a Thursday afternoon in primary school. And food can evoke a love which can continue – without the label ‘fat’.

Yes, Televising the issues of weight and weight management may be a way some people see of ‘getting it out in the open’, but I feel that the real issue still lies under wraps. What many people are doing as they unpeel the fickle foil from the chocolate bar, as they wait for the sudden punctured pop from the bag of crisps – is waiting for some kind of comfort, some kind of confirmation. A person’s relationship with food is governed so significantly by the mind -  and yet  the mind appears something the television seems to shy away from. Katie Hopkins' continued name-calling, Christian Jessen’s  ‘Weighing Up the Enemy’ leave only a bad taste, adding to food as a fear factor, something to be afraid of.

Furthermore, for the majority of people with weight issues, unlike Hopkins and the contestants on ‘Weighing up the Enemy’ or similar programmes where losing weight comes with a financial incentive – many face financial worries, may struggle to afford gym memberships or even the time to embrace regimes which are advocated as ‘accessible’.  Hopkins claimed "My project was to prove that all the excuses for being fat are nonsense — and it is proving that" – and this is exactly where the falsehood lies. Hopkins perhaps showed emotional vulnerability as she teared-up in her programme and talked of the negative emotions she felt by being overweight, but neither did she confront the emotional issues as to why people eat what they do, when they do. It is easy to advocate a conceptual regime of ‘eat less and move more’ but what if those comparative terms of ‘less’ and ‘more’ seem only bewildering to a mind which is too depressed to fully comprehend, set in a body it fears and despises?

The word ‘regime’ itself I hate – it emphasizes a lack of accessibility in it’s very self. What is accessible is actually embracing food and its emotional connections. If a person is unhappy with their weight, it is highly likely that they are not fully enjoying their experience of eating – feelings often thickened with guilt and displeasure.  Many people have become trapped in cycles of consuming for comfort, unsure of any way out. In turn, this is why I believe the current media focus upon advocating ‘shame’ in regards to weight and food is only worsening the problem. Instead, by advocating healthier alternatives and by showing food as something which can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, this offers a much more constructive approach . Why not now? I can see no harm in opening minds in this way, but in continuing to shame and shock people into ‘controlling’ their weight (simply the succession of verbs shows how negative it is), the underlying issues of anxiety and insecurity will only continue to swell. That is why  I am determined, even in the days where the depression is difficult, to post a picture or recipe which makes me smile – we should be spreading ideas about eating and showing that a healthy lifestyle can be accessible and is evident when the individual is content in themselves, rather than saturating the screens with shame. 

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