By Julie-Ann Sherlock

I am a large lady. I know this is not the most healthy of states but, since I am lucky to be, apart from my allergies and asthma, in good health, it doesn’t worry me too much. Sure, it would be better if I could drop the pounds, but right now, I am happy in my skin. 

I grew up in a very toxic body image environment. The constant bombardment with images of waif-thin supermodels and societal pressure to conform to what was seen as the “perfect” figure did untold damage to my psyche. I was not always fat, though. As a child, I carried a little “baby fat”, and as a teen, I was a slim-yet-curvaceous size 10 (EU 36). I was active, doing athletics, gymnastics and dance until asthma slowed me down at 16.

Fast forward a few years, add in an abusive marriage, depression, and raising two children on my own, and I piled on the pounds. Throughout the years, I have, of course, worked on my weight. From fad diets to good solid dietician-recommended plans, I tried (almost) all of them, and here is what I have learned. You can’t lose weight until you REALLY want to. 

Body Shaming 

Just like people have preferences for heights, hairstyles, eye colours, etc., in a partner, they are allowed to prefer a specific body shape. But that does not give them a licence to be abusive or belittle someone who does not fit their ideal type. Yet fat-shaming is a massive problem the world over, particularly in western cultures. Some cultures are more accepting of bigger people, but this is changing too. To many, the perfect woman has a tiny waist, big boobs and a pert butt. This image is continuously reinforced through the media and the demon of demons—social media

Not only is this ideal hugely unattainable for most females in the world, but also it carries with it messages that your value as a person is directly related to how you look. How toxic is that?! 

Men don’t escape this culture completely either, with an increasing amount of body-perfect pressure being applied and causing mental health issues for them too. 

Thankfully there has been somewhat of a clap-back of late, and support is growing for the body positive movement. This movement prefers to focus more on the health and wellness of people than some arbitrary ideals of human perfection. 

Diet Culture

As people chase their ideal weight and body shape, the diet industry rubs its hands with glee. They coin it in by selling everything from quick fixes to “life-changing” programmes that more often than not, leave your wallet slimmer instead of your waistline. 

Unfortunately, diet culture can do more than merely damage your bank account—it can be life-threatening. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia or feelings of inadequacy are all side effects of an industry that screams at you to lose weight. Often, what they don’t tell you is that extreme diets can do more harm than good and may damage your liver, as well as your mental health

If you do want to get fitter, healthier and lose some weight, changing your diet can be crucial, but it should be done with great care and under the guidance of a medical professional. The most effective way is to balance your diet by increasing your vegetable and protein intake while reducing your carbs and also increasing your activity levels. 

Taking drastic steps like the keto diet, or other fad diets may initially boost your weight-loss but in the long term may make you feel miserable and less likely to stay the course. Your journey to health and wellness should be about making you happy, not make you obsessed with food. 

In reality, we know that to be fit and healthy, we need to ensure that our diets are filled with nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables, quality protein and good fats. We also know we need to move more. 

Harming One Another

Being mean to someone for being overweight says more about you as a person than it does your victim. It shows that you have bought into a culture of fat-shaming and thin privilege.

But importantly, it can have devastating effects on the person you target. Rarely does telling someone that they are fat help them to lose weight—in fact, it generally causes the opposite reaction. So before you get all judgemental or say something mean to someone who may not have the “perfect body”, think about the damage you could do and instead, smile kindly and compliment them on their hair, makeup or shoes. 

We all have our struggles in life. For some, it is how they navigate the prejudice against bigger bodies. Be kind and don’t add to our burden.