Shame

God called to the Man: “Where are you?” He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.” – Genesis 3:9-10 (MSG)

Shame starts early. At least it did for me. This is not a post I want to write, but it’s one I’ve been fighting with for over a year.

I found myself in discussion on Twitter today with Jo White (aka @Mediamum) talking about body image.

If everything had gone to plan, the photos below would have been a “before” and “after” shot, showing my success at my “#LessWaz journey” that I started at the beginning of last year (and properly, November 2008).

Things have not gone to plan. I started 2012 at 149.8kg, and on the 7th of October, I reached an all-time adult-low of 108.4kg. Unfortunately, the week before that low, I hurt my back while moving house which led to me being banned from the gym by the physio; the legs slowly fell off my weight-loss stool.

I’d promised to write a “Part III” follow-up post to these posts, but never really got around to it (Go, go, Gadget-depression!).

As my weight started to increase, so did my sense of shame. I’d made a conscious decision to be public about my weight loss, and seek out that accountability, but I slowly stopped vlogging, then stopped Instagramming pictures of my weekly weigh-in, then eventually abandoned even trying. By the beginning of 2013, I’d put 10kgs back on, and my weight has hovered around 125kg since the end of April.

The smaller clothes that I’d been enjoying wearing had slipped, one-by-one, back on to the coat hangers, and to the back of the wardrobe. I still had a few “larger” shirts, and found myself caught between wearing shirts that were too big on me, or shirts that were a little too small; I preferred the larger shirts, because they hid my shape “better”.

Oh, the shame…

Even at my lowest weight, I still hated looking in the mirror. People would say to me “Oh, you’ve lost so much weight! How different do you feel?!?”

“I don’t feel… any different.” Even though I knew, objectively, I was wearing smaller clothes than I’d at almost any time in my adult life, I knew what my body looked like under my clothes. How it was just a smaller version of the same thing. I knew about the saddlebags on my inner thighs and under my arms. I knew the uneven texture and balance of the spare tire around my waist. And my man-boobs. Oh, how I hate them. How I hate all of it.

I wish I could speak in the past tense, but I can’t.

This body of mine has gotten me through a rollover car accident. It’s walked my beautiful bride out of the church on our wedding day. It’s made love to her, and it’s fathered five children; it’s thrown four of them in the air and caught them again, and laid one of them to rest in the ground. It carries the scars of my depression, the genetic baldness of my maternal DNA, the weak dental enamel and proclivity to ingrown big toenails of my paternal DNA. It’s walked over 500kms intentionally since the start of 2012.

I should feel proud of my body! I don’t. I’m ashamed of it.

Everywhere I look I see the same narrative, over and over. Being fat is bad. It’s unhealthy. You’re miserable being fat, so try this 12 week program to get to a better you! Buy this customised calorie controlled food system! Buy this exercise equipment. Look at how unhappy these fat people were and now we’ve humiliated & berated them on national TV for your entertainment for the last three months, look at how happy they are to be thin!

If an actor gains weight for a role, he’s hailed as a consummate method actor (Jared Leto playing Mark David Chapman, Russell Crowe for Body of Lies, Robert DeNiro for Raging Bull). But when they’re not bulking up for a role? The gossip rags in the supermarket screaming out headlines like “HUNK TO CHUNK! Look how these once-sexy movie stars have let themselves go and… GOTTEN FAT.”

That message right there. They’re not sexy or attractive any more because they got fat.

There’s a growing backlash, and rightly so, against the messages society sends to women about their weight. I was surprised to notice a female mannequin with an average shape when shopping for clothes with my wife a few days ago.

And let’s face it: as a tall, caucasian Australian male, I know I already have an undeniable level of privilege. Even in that privilege, I’ve struggled with my sense of gender. One of the unspoken, but powerful messages inherent in this culture is “this is what a REAL MAN” looks like. Rugged. Square-jawed. Inverted-triangle-broad-at-the-shoulders-and-narrow-at-the-waist.

You don’t look like this? “You. Are. NOT. A. Real. Man.” You’re not attractive. You’re undesirable. You’re not really masculine.

What to do then, when you don’t fit the gender stereotype? Unpacking that is a whole other blog post. In many cases, money, or power, or both; those can be methods to cut across or ignore the stigma of being a fat man. I lack money, and I don’t desire power.

What I desire is to not be ashamed of my body. But it’s hard to ignore thirty-plus years of being told “You’re fat, and fat is ugly, and you should be ashamed. You are not desirable. Don’t go shirtless at the beach. Don’t sit next to me on the bus. How can you let yourself get that big?”

Here’s a little thought experiment: think back to the last action movie you saw where the hero was fat. Not just pudgy, but honest-to-God fat. It’s OK, I can wait.

How about RomComs? At least I can answer this one. The only three I can think of: Seth Rogan in Knocked Up (let’s face it, he’s just a bit chubby), Marlon Brando in Don Juan DeMarco (if you can remember back that far) and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets – and the last two were older guys with some serious issues. You pretty much need to get to straight comedy to find an overweight male lead. Yay for Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

When I see fat men in the media, they’re not the guys getting the girl (or the guy). They’re almost never the hero. They sure as hell aren’t doing the voiceover for a black and white ad for Chanel No. 5. More often than not, they’re dumb or a buffoon and/or the butt of the joke (Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, Daddy Pig on Peppa Pig, Pierce Hawthorne). They might be the comic relief for the hunky lead. Occasionally they’re the bad guy/anti-hero (Tony Soprano), or the bad guy’s enforcers.

That’s not to say there are no positive portrayals. John Goodman as Dan Connor in Roseanne. Robbie Coltrane in Cracker. Oliver Platt in The West Wing. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

The message I’ve received and internalised for over thirty years is “You are fat, and unattractive and you should be ashamed”.

A few years ago, a Christian friend of mine wrote an amazing play. I’ve been privileged to read and provide occasional feedback on a few of his scripts over the years, and this one blew my mind… then I got to the last scene

“Uhhh… Fraser? These stage directions indicate you’ll be… naked.”

“Well… yes. About that…”

He went on to tell me about his fear of being naked on stage, but that when he got to writing the end of the play, it was the only way the play could end. It was done very tastefully, and it’s amazing what you can do with light and shadow. It was an extremely powerful ending, and he was absolutely right. It WAS the only way the play could end.

That’s almost the only way this post can end, too (well, I’ve retained a little modesty!). Oh, I’m afraid. I’m leaving myself wide open to become a meme, to have people laugh at me, to have my friends and co-workers never be able to look at me the same again.

I’m tired of being ashamed, so this is where I make my stand. This is my body. It is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I am loved. I am beloved.

I will not be ashamed any longer.

____

Postscript, 18th September, 2016: Thousands of words written in journal entries later, and I’ve never managed to live up to the last couple of paragraphs.

shame

  • mediamum

    I am incredibly grateful to you for sharing this post, and it made me cry. The last few days have taught me that when we are brave and share our vulnerabilities, we become stronger than ever. I am so proud of you for doing it. We have to stop the self-hate. Our bodies are not the things others see about us. Beauty and dignity are not skin deep. Our lovers, husbands, wives, family adore us for who we are, not what we look like. Yet so often, all we think of is that body-conscious all pervasive thinking that holds us in a depressed state. If only we could see and love ourselves the way those who love us do, I believe it would release us from that depressive state. I think through this post, you’re starting to do that. Hugs!

  • Amber

    I love that you wrote this. So often the sentiments you shared are only voiced by women and men are left in the shadows. Thank you!!!

  • Debi Ryan

    You, my friend, are very brave. You voiced the words I have been unable to say. Thank you for you candor and honesty. You are braver than any Super Hero I’ve seen or heard. Shame is neither your banner or namesake. We must remind ourselves… we are not a pants size, we are not a job title, we are not a spouse or parent of someone, and we are more than someone else’s opinion of us. We are awesome!

  • Kristin O’Donnell Cruz

    Do you know what I see in those pictures? I see a man who has lost a lot of weight (you can tell by the skin sag) and who is showing an amazing amount of courage in talking about his body image. Kudos to you.

  • Melissa Ruppert Olivero

    I have loved the voices standing up for body image issues, but those have all been women. Thank you for being so brave and for being so inspiring.

  • Amy

    Thank you for being so courageous and vocal about your weight struggles, especially as a man. There are other men out there like you who are afraid to speak up because to worry about weight is categorized as a “woman” issue. But it’s a human issue. It’s a human struggle, especially in a world where no matter how we look, we are told it’s never good enough.

    I have been overweight nearly all of my life. My weight has gone from around 150 lbs. at my lowest back in 1996 to 274.5 lbs. in 2004 to 226.4 lbs. in 2007 to 264 lbs. in 2009 to 224.2 lbs. in early 2013 to where it currently sits at 235.6 lbs. My body looks nothing like what I’m told a woman is “supposed” to look like. I have saggy skin and stretch marks just like you. And honestly, there are times I sob because I have never had a “bikini body” (as society deems it) and never will and for all the damage I’ve done to my body with food and yo-yo dieting.

    But I am coming around. My body has done amazing things for me despite how I’ve treated it and how ashamed I have felt of it. And from what you write here, so has yours!

    So kudos to you for speaking up. Kudos to you for not letting shame beat you. Shame only hides in silence and you have shone a huge spotlight onto it with your vulnerability here. Be proud. You are amazing just as you are. 🙂

  • Stu Andrews

    Courage brother, great post.

  • Jennifer Kaufman

    Thank you for your bravery and honesty. Good luck to you as you continue learning to love your body for what it can do!

  • Ariane

    I don’t think you can ever make the shame go away completely, but a few years back I made a decision to reject body shaming and the diet industry, and it’s made a huge difference. It’s a slow process, but I have days where I look in the mirror and am happy with what I see. I buy myself clothes that fit, because I deserve them as much as a thin person (although I recognise the options for plus sized men are even more abysmal than for plus sized women). I dance, and I’ve even managed to convince myself to perform. All as a fatty. There are precious few men’s voices in this space, and I’m so glad to have heard yours.

  • I admire your courage in sharing your very personal and inspirational story. I love that you know you are dearly loved and that you have come to accept your wonderfully made body.

  • fifikins

    Thank you for being you. I think you are pretty awesome and amazing. In South Africa, shame can be used similarly to how we use ‘cool.’ It is almost a sense of pride- my niece took her first steps- “Oh, shame!” it is an amazing cultural difference and after two weeks recently gave me a new sense of what shame is. It’s hard to put into words, but it showed me that shame can be a positive force in your life. Waz, you amaze me in the way you tackle life and all it throws at you. Your sharing and reflection is something I truly appreciate. Thanks xxx

  • Vivienne

    I too have had a lifelong battle with my weight (and depression) and I very much relate to everything you’ve said.

    Being a woman, I’ve been keenly aware of the labelling, stereotyping, relegation, ridicule and humiliation of overweight people since I was a child. I was dieting at the age of ten.

    I am slowly learning that the road to change lies along a path of accepting, respecting, valuing and, yes, loving myself.

    Whilst I despise myself and my body I don’t treat myself or my body with respect.

    Whilst I don’t treat myself with respect, I encourage negative behaviour from others. It creates a vicious circle of an ever worsening perception of “me” and I comfort myself with indulgences. … food, slacking off, etc.

    I am learning to love and respect this body. It is far from perfect but, as you pointed out, it is fearfully and wonderfully made, it houses a person I have learned to appreciate, and it is the only one I’ve got!

    From this standpoint I am bringing about positive change in my body for the first time in about four years. They are gradual but they are lasting, because they come from a positive motivation (loving myself) rather than negative.

    This time I am really doing it because it’s what I want, not what others make me feel is expected of me. Previously I’ve always managed to convince myself it was what I wanted, but in reality, what I wanted back then was for other people to make me feel “valid”.

    I’m not doing it because I feel worthless; I’m doing it because I am worth it.

    You are so definitely on the right track!

  • Waz, you are the bigger man than I.

    Now, before someone howls me down for making such a huge faux pas, I will point out a couple of things.
    Yes, Waz is taller than me, but from a weight standpoint, I’m definitely holding down the scales on that one.
    I believe that my current weight is coming in at 135kg.

    I know I haven’t been happy looking in the mirror since I was about 17. I was never sporty while I was at school, so I just became the Big Guy. It’s progressed from there.

    From a romantic standpoint, I have never done that well. Funnily enough, I never believed in myself, or that others could love me. How could someone love me if I can’t even love myself.

    To a point, I definitely understand what Waz has and is going through. I’m not sure I could go as far as posting a photo of me in just my boxers. Hence, Waz, you are the bigger man than I.

    I’m with you, and always will be, 100%.

  • Daria Drago Giron

    You are so brave to write this post and it resonates with many. I think you are right – people will never look at you the same again. Not for the reasons you fear, but because what shines out for those of us that have read this post and seen these pictures is how courageous and beautiful you are. No, we won’t look at you the same – instead we will wish we had the courage you have shown. We will wish more people were willing to speak up and be vulnerable.

    Fabulous post. Thank you.

  • Wow, what courage. Thank you for putting out there what you’re journey has been like, the messages that have messed with you. The lies. You stepped into truth. And you are not shameful.

  • Ash

    @warwick You are someone whose actually made a difference in my life. I know all too well that the Black Dog’s reality filter makes that sound cliche and untrue, but let me *virtually* stand right next to you: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7988053/397596_10151424999005087_1337084739_n.jpg

    Im not a brave as you to discard my shame, but I can put it aside long enough to be a friend, even if we’ve never met…

  • Wow, Ash.

    I’m awestruck, mate. I have no words, but the deepest respect for your solidarity.

    I’m honoured. Thank you!

  • rosered60

    As full size woman, I hate to go shopping! It seems that all the cute clothes are made for the size 1-10. It is so discouraging at times. I have felt shame as I reached for my size 14-16. I have had store assistants ignore me as I shopped in the Plus sizes. I have heard the crude and rude comments. I have left stores completely and utterly shamed and disgusted with myself.However, I have made my mind up that I love myself because God loves me. Jesus died for this body. I started changing my view point. Every time I look in the mirror, I say,”YOU are a beautiful woman! YOUR husband adores you! God adores you!” I should hold my head up and carry myself not in shame, but with dignity. Gradually, it shifted my thinking about how I felt about myself. When we stand in front of a mirror and criticize ourselves, we are allowing the outside forces to dictate our peace and happiness. I know it’s just as hard for men as women these days. Women should be Barbies, (Grrrrrr) and men should be Ken. Women are suppose to have the perfect figure, flowing hair, and all that. Men should have the coveted six pack, great hair, and perfect teeth. Get real! I will never have my twenty year old body again. I accept that. It’s time to move on! It’s time to work on changing my food habits. (I could and have eaten an entire bag of Cheetos!) They are my guilty pleasure. The key with me and my husband is getting healthy! Just because someone is thin does NOT mean they are healthy. I have known people who were too thin and they would have given anything to gain weight! They were shamed because they were too thin.Shame comes in many shapes and sizes. BTW… I HATE exercising! So I do what I enjoy whether it be dancing, (I just bought “Sweating to the Oldies) walking, swimming etc. Even if you just walk 30 minutes a day, you’re still running laps around those stagnating in front of their computers or TVs! Shame has no place in my life. I will not let the world shame me. It has taken years for me to get to this point. I will never be that size 10. I will never be able to wear those pretty little clothes. You know what? I can live with that! By Grace was I formed, with Grace will I walk with dignity, by Grace will I walk in health.

  • I’ve been surprised by the responses to this, to be honest. Seems I’ve touched a nerve.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Bro, you know we love you.

    I’m still trying to lose weight, but for my health, no longer for other people. Love yourself, as you are, because you’re loved.

    Thanks for standing with me.

  • I’ve read a few tumblr posts over the past year, but I think you’re right; there do seem to be very few male voices speaking up about this. I don’t want to take away from the conversation about the messages that society is sending to women (because I think they’re far more pernicious, and frequent), but the messages are there for men too.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Thanks, Kristin.

    I appreciate that, and I’ll try and own it.

  • Wow, Debi. Thank you!

    I still don’t feel brave, but I wonder if that’s true for any bravery…

    Be awesome!

  • Thanks, Jo. It really was our conversation that triggered me to finally pull the trigger on this post.

    Over a year ago there was a discussion on Twitter & Tumblr about a fit guy who’d un-selfconsciously posted a shirtless photo of himself, and how women couldn’t do that because of body image and fat-shaming issues.

    I withdrew from that conversation because I realised that I didn’t want to take away from what is an important conversation; it was, however, the genesis of this post.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your post!

  • Hi Vivienne

    Keep it up! It’s a daily battle, not only to eat healthier (thus looking after our bodies), but to also realise that our bodies are wonderful as they are. Not just a shell that carries around, but they are *us*.

    We can’t all look like what society narrowly defines as “beautiful”, which means to me that it’s not *us* who are wrong, but the definition of “beauty”.

    You’re totally worth it. Thank you for commenting.

  • Thanks, Stu 🙂

  • Thank you, Amy!

    It’s still a process, but it’s an interesting step to have made. I’m quite conscious now of the fact that my near-naked body is publicly visible on the internet, and I don’t know which of my friends have read this post.

    i’m moving forward now. Our bodies are amazing, and are capable of so much. Why should just those that society says are “beautiful” get to define what a “bikini body” is? Love yourself, realise that you’re loved. If you want to be healthier, be healthier! Not for the sake of society’s view, but because it’s what you want.

    You’re amazing too!

  • Thank you for commenting, Amber.

    It’s surprised me a little that it’s not more common for men to speak up, but hopefully more men will. We all need to question society’s definition of “beauty”, and make a chorus that can’t be ignored.

  • Thanks, Jeff.

    It’s still something I need to keep telling myself, though. Taking a stand is one thing, but owning that continuously is proving to be another!

  • Hi Daria. Your reply blew me away, because I just hadn’t seen it like that. Thank you so much for that insight 🙂

  • Thanks, Fi. I really appreciate that. A couple of people pointed me a Brené Brown’s videos on vulnerability and shame (respectively) after I posted this. I’m coming to understand that speaking my story touches other people’s lives. Thank you so much for your friendship.

  • Thanks, Lori.

    it’s been a long time coming to get to this point, and there’s still a bit of telling myself something I don’t believe some days, but it’s worth it.

  • Thanks, Jennifer!

  • Thanks for your comment, rosered!

    In my case, my 20-year-old body was about the same size as my 39-year-old body, and I’m never going to fit the great hair/six-pack/great teeth stereotype – I lost the genetic lotto on two out of three of those things! 🙂

    You’re totally right though – being thin does not equal being healthy. There’s no denying we need to look after our bodies, but we also need to embrace them for what they are.

    Keep loving yourself, and enjoy being you!

  • Fighting shame is indeed a battle, and battles require all that we have. I know this personally, and have found the holding tight to what God says to be true to me is key to winning this fight. Not only holding to what He says is true, but holding tight to Him in relationship…going back to Scriptures that speak this so well to me. You are in a good fight. Keep fighting this noble battle, and don’t resign yourself to the lies.

  • This is one of those “I meant to read it when I saw someone’s link (Jo’s) to it, but I’m only just now getting there” moments for me. I think I’m glad because I needed this more tonight than when I first saw it. I’m glad I went back to find it.

    You are amazing and this post? Well, it hits all of the right note – so many of which are hard to hear. We live in this modern age where anything more than the “ideal” weight is treated as some sort of mark of lack of worth. Just like alabaster skin once meant that you were not obliged to toil away in the fields, subject to the sun has shifted over time to a suntan being the hallmark of having leisure & resources to not slave away in dimly lit cubicles all day? Being overweight has gone from the hallmark of someone who can afford to regularly eat (Henry the VIII was considered more handsome as he got older) to the glamour of the wealthy who can afford organic food cooked by personal chefs and toned abs sculpted by personal trainers during hours at the gym.

    But those body-shaming myths? They’re meant to keep us in a never-ending cycle of striving for something that so few people can ever really achieve. How many supermodels are there in the world? How many men who make People’s Sexiest Man Alive list every year? And the rest of us too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, too old, too hairy, too bald, too… human. The rest of us nearly 7 billion people out there? We are supposed to strive for the package rather than the contents, right?

    As a child, I used to look at dust jackets on books and wonder why someone went to such great lengths to put art over the outside of a nicely bound book instead of just doing what they did with paperbacks and putting it right on the cover. As an adult, I’m stretching a metaphor too far – because I know exactly why now. When I look in the mirror and see this torn, stained, water-logged, half-ripped off plain leather cover on the outside of my book? I want to wear a sign that says “but the story inside is really good! A book doesn’t get this way by sitting on a shelf unread because it’s boring!!” But I also kind of want someone to come along and rebind the book, get me a cover artist, and make the rest of the world realize that it should look inside the cover.

    I love your post. Thank you. And thank you again. 100% on the money… and no need for shame!

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  • snipergirl

    This is a great, and really brave post. And I think it really highlights one of the big problems with how society sees obesity, as a statement about morality or beauty. Why should being overweight (or underweight for that matter) have anything to do with being thought of as “bad” or “lazy” or “not a real man” or “ugly” or “unworthy”? The answer is it shouldn’t. And we shouldn’t be feeling ashamed of our bodies no matter what they look like, and no matter what our health is. Certainly, the desire to lose weight should never be about wanting to ‘look good’ or ‘stop being fat’ or conforming to look like an unhealthy societal ideal.

    Having been underweight- and ridiculed for being so for many years- now being overweight is something I struggle with. I don’t like the way I look, my confidence is low, I no longer fit into my old clothes. I have an obesity related health problem. I tell myself that the reason that i want to lose weight is for health reasons (like it should be in my case) but I haven’t been able to get away from how little I like the way I look too. Which is dumb.

    Posts like this help a lot, thank you for sharing.

  • Melissa Ruppert Olivero

    You did! In a good way. 🙂

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