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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

When Our Culture Causes You to Hate Liberatory Movements

A man recently shared with me that he resents the body positivity movement. As a child, he was told it was “okay to be big” and so he ate whatever he wanted, which consisted primarily of sugary foods.

As he moved into adulthood and stopped the sports of his youth, his body rapidly increased in size. He said women did not want to date him and he was mortified by his size.

Furthermore, when he went to the doctor, he was informed he was insulin resistant. He believes this was due to the sugary diet he had throughout childhood.

He now runs five miles every day, doesn’t eat until the afternoon, and blames the body positivity movement for his woes.

I deeply feel for this man. I understand why he feels the way he does. I understand how his sadness has morphed into anger.

I mourn that the body positive movement was distilled down to “be whatever size you want” and “eat whatever you want.” It is so much more than that. It is about a connection with our bodies that is not defined by the outward gaze. It is about acknowledging the complex, contradicting toxic messages our culture gives us. It is about learning how to sustain ourselves in the midst of all of that.

"Multiple Factors Present" Illustration by Jackie Schuld

Being told, “It’s ok to be fat” is not enough. It’s a wonderful start, but more is needed. A person needs a connection with their own body, so they can appreciate it and care for it. So they can listen to it and attend to it. So they can learn what foods they crave, when they are hungry or full, what kinds of movement feel good or do not, and much more.

A person also needs emotional and mental support in a relentless diet culture that equates body size with health.

This man received none of that. Like most people in our culture, he was not taught or given these things.

And so, he hates a movement that he doesn’t even fully understand. That hate and resentment keeps him trapped in a cycle of relentless self-control.

What I wish I could give this man is self-compassion and self-understanding. That he could step back and see he wasn’t given all of the tools he needed in a culture with demanding and mixed messages.

This may or may not happen for this man. Sometimes pain leads us to great unearthing and discovery. Sometimes pain leads us to strategies (like relentless self-control) that create more pain.

It takes a desire to dig deep and look the pain in the eye. This is why I love the work that happens in the therapy room. We don’t just look at how to stop the pain, we look at why the pain is there in the first place.

We free ourselves from the cultural demands, expectations, and beliefs that chain us. We get to see who we are apart from all that mess.

I wish this man could experience that. I do not blame him for his woes, but I certainly wish far more for him.


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