A Reckoning with Fear and Assumptions
What scares you about gaining weight?
What scares you about your body changing?
What scares you about people of color?
The fear of uncertainty plagues our lives in many ways. I spend a lot of time talking about fear with nutrition counseling clients. Typically, the conversations go like this...
Me to client: What could be the worst part of gaining weight or seeing your body change as you recover from disordered eating?
Client: THE worst? You mean there's only 1 worst thing?
Sideways glances from friends/family/co-workers as they mutter "she's let herself go" under their breathe. Having to buy new clothes. Having my partner/spouse not find me attractive anymore. Not getting the promotion I've been working so hard for or getting fired completely. I can keep going...
Fear of the unknown triggers our minds to spiral with worry, anxiety, and what-if scenarios.
Making fear-based assumptions is a humanistic way to keep you safe. "There's a sharp corner coming up, better slow down the car so you don't crash."
But the primal part of your brain has a hard time differentiating between what's an actual threat and what's a perceived threat. It's easy to get caught up in fear-based assumptions created by cultural messaging - "you can't be healthy, attractive, successful if you're fat."
Or more recently, "black people are dangerous!"
Fear, based on assumptions, created by cultural messaging is the root of social injustice and oppression. This includes all the -isms (racism, sexism, ageism, etc) and all the phobias (homophobia, fatphobia, etc).
I heard this quote recently from Michelle Obama as she spoke about her memoir Becoming, "It's hard to hate up close." When you step beyond your fear-based assumptions about people - their body size, their gender, their race, the color of their skin, you create an opportunity to learn their stories. This doesn't mean you'll fully relate or understand their story, it's listening and learning from their story that matters.
When I was in grad school, my neighbor in the dorms was from Baswana. We were both studying nutrition and culinary arts. I loved learning about how she built her entire meal around flavor - spices, herbs, a specific kind of maze. I remember her telling me how even though bell peppers were expensive, she'd always buy them because they were fundamental to her cultural cuisine.
She and I bonded over cooking experiences. And when it came time for her to deliver her baby just before finals one year, I had the honor of taking her and her partner in my tiny Ford Ranger pickup as she was in labor to her friend's to apartment to deliver a beautiful baby boy.
During my career working for a major natural food retailer, I worked alongside people from very diverse cultures. People who came to the US to earn a better life for their families - from Nepal, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tibet, South Korea, Mexico, and many more.
Together we made vats for guacamole, salsa, fresh-pressed juice, cookie batter, and served up holiday meals. I heard their stories. I listen to their unwavering support and optimism for our country while they also shared concern for how white people could make such blanket assumptions about them, their cultures, and religions - without even knowing them!
Remember, "it's harder to hate up close."
I'm not sharing these experiences with the idea that you'll immediately be encouraged to embrace cultural diversity. Nor do I share these examples as a way to pretend that I'm all woke - I definitely have A LOT to learn about racism, privileges, and bias!
If this post feels like a tangent from my typical intuitive eating, body-positive, Health At Every Size® posts, the truth is, none of those ideologies are possible unless we also talk about race and cultural diversity.
The oppression of diet culture is rooted in racism and fat-phobia. It promotes same-ness based on unobtainable ideals to achieve optimal health, beauty, and success. And it does this through evoking fear based on assumptions created by cultural messaging.
The point is to encourage all of us to keep listening, hearing, and learning from people's stories before we make assumptions about them. Reach out to teachers who are versed in areas of social justice and activism. Again, this doesn't mean you're required to understand or related to everything that's said. But creating a world where body liberation is possible for all bodies does require you to at least listen to and consider people's stories that are different than yours.
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