Fat shaming, why we are all fat phobic and what to do

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(illustrations by Mademoiselle Caroline & Mathou)

Fat, whale, chiattona: words that like sharp blades slip into the self-esteem of overweight people and become incurable wounds. The phenomenon, called fat shaming or, if we want to use the Italian word fatophobia, has become a common practice on the Net. But let’s be honest: this form of discrimination is not only rampant on the Internet. It is a real prejudice, a cognitive bias that everyone, thin, fat, normal weight, have internalized in the hyper-competitive society in which we live. We all need to live up to the photoshopped models we see on television, on social media, in newspapers, in the workplace. But is it really so? Do we really “have to” become the Barbie of ourselves to be loved, accepted and recognized?

275462Two French illustrators and writers, mademoiselle Caroline and Mathoutook courage in both hands and decided to tell the world, through a captivating and funny comic, what a fat day is like (At will, LSWR publisher, € 24.90). And before you read on, notice what emotions the word fat arouses in you. In reality, it is just the opposite of lean but if you read them side by side you can already experience how much we all suffer from “fat phobia”. To understand how this syndrome works and how to get rid of it we asked for help at Patrizia Vaccaropsychotherapist at Cognitive Studies in Milan, ea Bruno Intreccialaglipsychiatrist and Sitcc lecturer, Italian Society of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy in Rome.

Identity also passes through body weight

Being fat is a mental state before it is a physical one: it is how we feel inside our body. “From an early age our physical appearance is the business card with which we introduce ourselves to the world and our parents, the mother above all, are fundamental to build the “identity skeleton” we use in life », says Patrizia Vaccaro, psychotherapist at Cognitive Studies in Milan.

“We grow by reflecting ourselves in the gaze of the mother and of the family members that surround us: in this way we learn to love each other precisely in function of what is returned to us. If it is love and recognition, we will become balanced and satisfied people, if it is contempt and disdain, we will be insecure and fragile adults ». So if we were fat children and we lived the relationship with our body with shame, it will be necessary to work on acceptance and self-esteem.

“Not only that,” adds Bruno Intreccialagli. «The space that our body occupies determines a congruence with the environment. Let me explain: increasing body mass is an attempt to be more visible and this is a phenomenon that often occurs within 10 years of age. The overweight child somehow tries to appear because he does not feel seen and recognized by those around him ».

A society tailored to the skinny

In addition to family ties, those who argue with their weight also have to deal with the outside world. Mademoiselle Caroline and Mathou describe it well in their strips. The morning begins with the merciless verdict of the scales. You have been on a diet for a week and the needle remains immovable in the position of the day before. A croissant for breakfast? Here is the glare of a supermom in great shape. A session in the gym? It is necessary to go through the watchful scanner of the fitness addicted who examine all the rolls in excess. Do you go to the doctor for a check-up? The blaming litany is always the same: less kilos, more health.

To console yourself, take a trip to the new chain under the house to see the sales and … run away from the dressing room because sizes only go up to 44. In short, it’s not even noon and the guilt is already a filter that colors everything black. «Anyone who is overweight is targeted by comments, jokesunsolicited advice and recommendations from colleagues, friends, children and even from your partner », explains the psychotherapist.

“The basic idea is always the same: if you don’t lose weight, the problem is you. You are a lazy person, you have no willpower, you don’t know how to take care of yourself, you don’t believe in your abilities and so on. This emotional “bombardment” obviously undermines self-esteem and increases the sense of insecurity of those who do not feel at ease in their own body », continues Patrizia Vaccaro.

You are not your burden

275464Overweight people end up feeling an XXL size and not a person anymore. As the authors of the comic say, weight becomes a scale of personal value, an unappealable equation: Lean = winningdetermined, strong-willed. Fat = failedweak, lazy.

“To recover self-confidence it is necessary to work on the perception of oneself, recognizing one’s emotions and starting to eliminate the sense of guilt, shame, fear of not being loved, fear of being left, hatred of oneself” , continues the psychotherapist. «Accepting oneself also means learning to manage the urge to binge. Ingestion of food produces endorphinsdeveloping that feeling of fulfillment that can lead to a form of addiction, ”continues the psychiatrist.

«Like gambling, alcohol, smoking and in general it expresses a relational dependence: from the family, from parents, from the partner. In order to get out of this short circuit then it is necessary to establish a new emotional perimeter with ourselves and with others. Who I am, what defines me, how I place myself in relationships with others, how much I need it and how much I depend on it. Once this awareness is reached, food stops becoming a compulsive act and regains its joyful and social component. We eat alone, we all eat together ».

Plus, who says thin people are always beautiful, snappy, and happy? “It is also important to observe those around us: even normal-weight people are full of defects and insecurities, suffer from depression or have dysfunctional relationships”, continues the psychotherapist. “It does not define us as a number on the scale, but our ability to feel whole, whole, happy and fulfilled beyond the looks of others.”

The exercise to accept your appearance

“Accepting your physical appearance is a process that requires care and patience but it is worth it,” advises Patrizia Vaccaro. “You can start with this exercise: find 3 beautiful things about yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and start looking at yourself. Start from the head: observe yourself slowly and focus on a part of you that you consider your strength: the mouth, eyes, hair and so on. Then go down and do the same looking at yourself from the neck to the pelvis. Finally, move on to the legs and feet. Think about it whenever you feel uncomfortable.