Self-Depreciation Isn't Harmless

[TW for fat hatred.]

A number of years ago, I was involved in an activity that included getting all participants new shirts, and so everyone had to line up and give their shirt size to a woman with a clipboard.

When it was my turn, she asked, "What's your size?"

I sighed, chuckled and said, "Too big."

The woman choked. "Excuse me?!"

Too late, it struck me that she was significantly larger than I was, and that I'd badly insulted her. I stumbled over an apology, mumbled my shirt size and slinked off to be mortified in private.

Off-hand self-depreciation is all too common, and almost no one is aware of how much it hurts. The example above is something I will forever be ashamed of, but I use it to remind myself precisely why this sort of thing is entirely unacceptable.

It hurts ourselves.
When we attack ourselves (for it is, indeed, an attack), we reinforce our own internalized fat hatred. Reactions from anyone who happens to hear the attack also have a powerful effect. There are a limited number of possible reactions: Ignore, Agree With, Disagree With or Teaspoon.

Ignore: Default assumption is Agree With; reinforce internalized self-hate.

Agree With: Reinforce internalized self-hate.

isagree With: Experience the high of receiving compliments but never take them to heart. Continue self-depreciating. Reinforce internalized self-hate.

Teaspoon: Be taken totally off guard by a new approach that, instead of agreeing or disagreeing, provides a different philosophy of body image; learn, grow (or, alternately, disagree vehemently). Do not reinforce internalized self-hate (in the alternate scenario, do internalize self-hate, with a bonus dollop of anger and frustration at the teaspooner). Needless to say, this scenario does not often occur as compared to the other reactions.

Further, it is nearly impossible to maintain a high opinion of someone engaged in self-depreciation. The more the hatred is repeated, the more people around you will agree... or, at least, they will stop commenting and trying to convince you otherwise.

It hurts others.

See my example above. We so commonly compare ourselves to each other; is it any wonder that hearing self-depreciation from someone we like or admire - or even a stranger! - will result in feelings of inadequacy? Too often, people who hear these negative things will apply them to themselves, yet again reinforcing internalized self-hate.

It hurts everyone.
Just as sexist comments don't simply occur without consequence, fat-hating comments also have consequences. They encourage the cultural hatred of everyone who is fat; they present as intolerance, discrimination and stigma against fat people.

If you hate yourself because you are (or perceive yourself to be) fat, how can you possibly regard or treat fat people equally with thin people?

Here's a hint.

You can't.

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