Self-Hatred for Better Health? I Don’t Think So!

Last weekend I stumbled upon the blog of a very angry woman. I’ll call her Sally Sargeant.

Ms. Sargeant is fed up with all you namby-pamby New Age types – all of you who fill in your Louise Hay workbooks in ink. She’d had it up to here with giving your anger a color and playing patty-cake with your inner child.

And that whole treating-yourself-lovingly thing?

Ms. Sargeant sighs, When did logic disappear from our culture?

If there’s something about you that might need healing or changing, Ms. Sargeant believes the best way to accomplish that is to force yourself into a life of despair.

First and foremost, you should hate yourself. Treat yourself like a criminal. Like someone who swindles pie-baking grandmas out of their paltry savings, or throws newborns and kittens over the white cliffs of Dover for sport. So if you find yourself feeling proud or pleased with yourself, be sure to lambaste yourself immediately. Such feelings were not made for you.

Second, you should convince yourself that everyone else hates you, too. If you think someone might actually try and trip you up by being nice to you, cultivate a repellent demeanor. Practice a downcast gaze, a despondent shuffle and an ogre-like snarl.

Third: reject all joy. You have no right to feel happy until you’ve met your goal (or someone else’s goal for you, in a situation where another person knows what’s best for you). Joy is completely off-limits. Just to be safe, don’t even watch Joy Behar. She might say something to make you giggle, and you’d only be cheating yourself.

According to Ms. Sargeant, if you’ve executed steps one, two and three correctly, you should find yourself remarkably motivated — passionately determined to be the healthiest, happiest, most well-rounded you you can be.

Listen, I’ve only been around for forty years. I’m no guru. I don’t even have a college degree. I watch “Hoarders” to feel better about myself. I don’t have all the friggin’ answers.

But in my humble experience, I’ve learned at least this much: that self-loathing and shirking happiness don’t fire most people up. If anything, self-abuse awakens a deeper part of ourselves that wants to mother us and protect us from cruelty, even when it’s self-inflicted. We respond to feeling like crap about ourselves by trying – often clumsily – to comfort ourselves. We reach for short-term solutions and cheap thrills to balance the bloody blows.

If an individual wants to affect some kind of change or healing in herself — like stopping smoking, as an example — she deserves to live a rewarding, passionate and loving life while in pursuit of her goal. And if she fails to reach her goal, she still deserved every moment of happiness she found along the way. There’s enough misery and hatred in the world already.

Does Ms. Sargeant’s disdain for positivity, gentleness and self-love make you want to write her an angry e-mail?

Unfortunately, you can’t. Not unless you’re willing to do a lot of typing and get very little sleep.

Why? Because Sally Sargeant isn’t an indivdual. That’s right. I lied. She’s actually a lot of individuals — a representation of millions of people who think just the way she does.

The most reliable place to find Sally is among the commenters on blog posts and articles about anything that encourages fat women to feel good about themselves.

Take my book, for example. It’s a memoir called Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large.

Read My Hips is primarily about refusing to put off happiness until one is thinner. It’s not a book addressed specifically to fat women because, sadly, most American women “feel fat” or fear fat — something I did for too many years, and I regret it deeply. In fact, I feared and fought fat so hard, I made myself fat in the process. For real fat.

Many people have a knee-jerk reaction to the title of my book. They’ll see it reviewed or read an interview with me and immediately start pounding away a nasty, critical e-mail or online comment — without ever having read the book. The title is enough. There’s something about a fat woman’s resolve to love her body, stop dieting and live happily and fully while fat that really galls some people.

It’s the same reaction they have to things like the availability of plus size lingerie and bikinis, or beauty pageants or fashion shows for bigger women, or — God forbid — a fat woman getting appointed to a position of power and prestige. They write things like, “Fat is unhealthy, period. It’s dangerous to encourage a fat woman by rewarding her with these things.” The assumption is that fat women, given something pretty to wear and a place in the world where they can fulfill their potential at any weight, will eat with wanton abandon and get fatter and fatter and fatter.

If you believe that it’s irresponsible to allow a fat woman to feel confident and beautiful, to pursue her fondest dream, or apply her strengths in the real world, then you must also believe that a fat woman should be denied happiness until she’s willing to lose weight. You must believe she deserves a life of total misery. Unless, of course, you’re a real softie. Then you must only be wishing her numbness.

Oh — there you are, Sally! We’ve been looking for you!

It’s a common point of view, one that many people adopt without thinking: don’t “encourage” fat women to experience pride or happiness, it’s “dangerous”. But it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t come from a place of compassion or, for that matter, logic.

Whether or not a particular fat woman should even try to lose weight is another topic entirely. (In my opinion, putting the focus on body weight and dress size instead of habits and behaviors is a sure-fire way to get obsessed about all the wrong things – and get fatter.) But regardless of your opinion on weight loss, no woman – or man – or child — deserves to be denied the full richness of life because of his or her size.

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