Shame and Motivation

I have been fat my whole life. From the moment I had my first glimmer of self awareness as a child I felt the sting of body shame. I have been criticized both constructively (“I’m just concerned about your health…maybe we should get your thyroid tested!” — true story) and very unconstructively (being mooed at by some random asshole in a parking lot — also a true story). These events along with countless others contributed greatly to my feelings of disconnection from the people around me and to my self hatred. I remember trying to talk about these feelings with my friend at the time and her advice was for me to use those bad feelings as motivation to change. This is a concept that springs naturally to mind to anyone who is dissatisfied with themselves. Let your self loathing fuel the fires within and you will turn into an exercising, dieting, self denying crushinator to be feared by all!! This has been my strategy for many years and I’m sure you’ll be very surprised to learn that it does not work. But why? If you don’t like something then change it, right?

The truth of the matter is that self care cannot come from self hate. Like oil and water, they do not mix. You might even try shaking them really hard, putting a great deal of time and effort to get them to blend but in the end they will always separate and make you feel like a failure. It’s just basic science! I have fruitlessly labored to neighbour these two concepts in my mind for most of my life leading to feelings of failure leading to more feelings of shame, and so on and so forth, forever and ever, amen.

When you hate your body anything to do to ‘improve’ yourself feels like a punishment. I’m on the treadmill because I’m fat and I hate myself. I’m eating lettuce because I’m fat and I hate myself. I’m staying in alone tonight because I’m fat and I hate myself. I made a mistake, I’ll always be fat and hate myself, time for bacon with a side of bacon (another true story). I may have been able to make some temporary changes but I always ended up feeling like a failure with every little mistake.

Since I started my body love journey I have found that a side effect of loving myself is a natural inclination to want to take care of myself. I want to keep more healthy to take care of this gorgeous vessel and when I don’t eat healthy I can forgive myself and let go of any feelings of shame. I want to participate more in life instead of shy away from it because I no longer feel unworthy. My goals are not to lose 50 pounds or fit into a certain dress. My goals are to do things that I had told myself that I am too fat for, or maybe to wear something that makes me feel extra awesome just as I am! And the crazy thing is that I already feel like I’ve ‘self improved’. None of this, when I lose 20 pounds then I can feel a little better about myself bullshit.

I had always thought that I needed to hate myself so that I would be motivated and that by loving myself that I would be satisfied to sit and rot but it is simply untrue. Shame is an extremely poor motivator. You may think it’s working for a time but in the end your feelings of self loathing on the inside will show on the outside too.



21 thoughts on “Shame and Motivation

  1. All of those principles you so aptly articulated are completely transferable to every other area of life, including how to get free from religiosity and how to be successful in you business or career and relationships. Life is so much easier when we accept our strengths and beauty. Sincere congratulations on not being 40 when you started having these revelations. I’m so proud of you. You are amazing and you are stunning.

  2. Excellent post Amy. I agree with your mother good on you for seeing these truths before you are 40! I see the writing gene is strong!

  3. Oh Amy while you don’t know me – what an awesome blog. Sooo many young girls, teens and women need to read this and so many will feel, understand and come away stronger from reading your very strong and powerful words. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more from the beautiful you! Ok I’m off to get a tissue or 2, sincerely De Galesloot.

  4. Thanks for the insight Amy. It makes so much sense. Why would we be motivated to care for something we hate? Love is a much stronger motivator.
    I hope to apply this to my 12 year old daughter. She is struggling with disliking (hate is such a strong word) herself. In her therapy sessions she was encouraged to write down all the positive things about herself and to remind herself of what a wonderful person she is when she’s feeling down. It is a never ending battle since she struggles with low self esteem every day. Even if no one comments on her weight (which they do) she knows she’s not as slim as her sisters or classmates and she knows she can’t wear the same clothes they do.
    Do you think you could have come to this realization as a 12 year old? Is there anything I can do or say that would help her in her journey?

    • Hi Joanna. My recommendation is to expose her to body positive media. Reading blogs like Body Love Wellness or The Militant Baker really helped me. I don’t know that I would have gotten there at 12 years old. The pressure to fit in when you’re that age is so overwhelming. But being exposed to positive body media on Pinterest or on groups on Facebook has been a huge help to me. There are also Body Love e-courses available through Body Love Wellness that have introduced me to a community of people with the same struggles. Community and positive media are the way to go!

    • Another thing to keep in mind is your own attitude toward your body. Growing up, I never once heard a female authority figure say how happy she was and how positively she felt about her body. I learned to take whatever they were unhappy about and add it to my own feelings of unhappiness. There are also a lot of articles available on how to talk to your daughter about her body.

      • This is harder to take. How did you know that I’m not happy with my body and have never talked positively about my own body – in fact I’ve probably shared negatively more than I should have. You’re right, I’ve most likely transferred my feelings on to her. I don’t know that I can change how I feel about my body but I can definitely keep my feelings to myself. I know that’s not the right answer but I’ll work on it okay. How many women are actually happy with their bodies?

      • I had no idea if that was the case or not since I do not know your family that well. I just know that it is the case the majority if the time. Nearly all women have not heard their mothers speak positively about their own body image. Being happy with your body is a journey. It is hard work to weed out the negative and embrace the positive. The number of women who embrace these practises (whether they’re fat or not) is so small it’s scary. Loving your body is almost considered an act of subversion! It’s counter culture and that is so sad. I would encourage you to join your daughter and grow with her. If you like I can share some of the resources I have been using and if she needs to hear about body love from someone who has lived through grade school as the fat girl I am available to talk to or meet with any time.

      • Thanks for the offer, Amy. That’s very sweet of you. I did look up Body Love Wellness and The Militant Baker. I don’t think these are the best resources for my daughter but I do have some other books on positive self image for girls. I have the head knowledge; it’s more a matter of putting it into practice.

  5. Powerful words Amy! Your comment about the lose twenty pounds bullshit hit home. Whether we set a twenty, forty or five pound goal it is all the same. It does not guarantee happiness. We need to celebrate where we are now and let go of the crap. Keep the blogs coming!

    • Thanks Leslie! The body love movement is not just for people with weight issues. Everyone everywhere struggles with the idea that they need to be a certain way to be successful/accepted/worthy and therefore we all need to embrace body positivity to some degree. Thank you for the positive feedback! It is very encouraging!

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  7. Hi Amy, I think it is amazing that you have come to this conclusion not even before you’re 40, but 50! As one who continues to struggle with her weight and still struggles not to define herself by it I’m glad that you’ve come to this realization early.

    Even as an adult my mom would say things (not meaning in anyway to critisize or demean me purposely), that would leave everlasting impressions on me that are burnt into my memory, now healed, but ever scarring, like the time my husband and I with our family finally found a place to live away from my parents when we first moved to BC. It was so lovely that one of the neighbor ladies brought over a cake to welcome us to the neighborhood. I was so touched and moved by this, having never experienced this before, excitedly told my mom about it. Her comment back to me? “Oh, was she fat too?”.

    We as parents have to be so careful what we say around our children, ESPECIALLY about ourselves as this poison follows us and will flow through not only our veins but through our children’s veins if we don’t. I pray my grandchildren grow up in this new generation who seem to have grasped “the inner beauty concept” earlier. Maybe because social media has exposed it more? Who knows and really who cares, as long as the message gets out. Great message Amy.

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Roelie! It’s difficult to have a positive relationship with people who are negative towards you. I agree, parents have to teach their children to love themselves!

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