Why Are We So Afraid of Being Fat?

By Miriam Shurpin, MS, RD, CDN

“I hate the way I look.”

“I look in the mirror and I want to cry.”

“If I haven’t lost weight for my daughter’s wedding, I’d rather not go.”

I hear this every day! Women hating their body size. But when I tell them that they look just fine, I get a look as though I’ve dropped down from Mars. They feel disbelief, shame and hurt. Sometimes they tell me that I’m a liar. They have come to my office for my help to change their size. They believe that if they try just one more diet, with the right proportion of fat, carbohydrates and protein; if they fast for half a day three times a week; if they don’t eat fruit; then and only then will they be able to look at themselves in the mirror and smile. Many of them are prepared to travel to the ends of the world to feel comfortable in their own skin. Only then will they believe that they are worthy of love, worthy of success, worthy of whatever they dream of—only then will they find favor in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

I wonder if any of these women have ever asked themselves why they believe that they can only feel good about themselves if they lose weight first. What if the size your body is now is the size it will be for the rest of your life? What if it will never be smaller, however much you try? Will you deprive it? Will you despise it? Will you starve it and neglect it? Will you hate yourself because it doesn’t live up to your ideal?

Consider what the pursuit of a smaller body size is costing you. Think about your relationship with food. Do you label foods “good” or “bad”? Do you feel deprived when you force yourself to eat carrot sticks instead of the lasagna that really catches your eye? Do you go for days being in control but then your cravings get the better of you and you give in? Do you feel guilty, and then binge on the forbidden food? How is the pursuit of a smaller body interfering with your religious practices? How does the concept of oneg Shabbos come into play when you’re so worried about what the scale is going to say on Sunday morning?

I don’t blame any of these women who step into my office for feeling badly about themselves; I blame those who plants seeds in our minds from infancy that in order to be worthy you must be thin. It forces us to accept a body ideal that ignores genetics, environmental factors and our very nature, all of which play a role in making each of us unique. What if all of us felt that we had to be 5’ 9” tall or else we’re inferior? How would it feel if we all had to wear size 8 shoes? What if all babies had to be born weighing 7 lbs. 6 oz.? What do you think about the Chinese tradition of binding women’s feet? You probably think these things are ridiculous, but the underlying message that’s passed on to every contemporary woman and girl is that they have to strive to be a size 0 or else they’re nothing. They are undeserving of love, undeserving of marriage, undeserving of friendship, success and happiness. How is that not cruel?

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