I attend a hospital based weight management group on Wednesday nights. I have not done very well on the scale. I'm mainly dancing up and down in the same ten pound range, and my sole goal right now is to get into and stay in the ten pound range below the one I am in. But being in the group is good, in that I haven't regained the fifty pounds I lost the first time around. Better still, I get to spend a couple of hours each week with a very bright and thoughtful roomful of people who are intimately acquainted with the shame of walking through the world as a fat person. My experience has always been that if you get a group of fat people together, you will have some of the kindest and most perceptive humans on earth. Walking through a fat shaming world in a heavy body makes one hyper attuned to the shifting air in a room. It's the imperative of self-protection, to notice how people are responding to you. But it's a prison, too. You're comfortable no where in public, except perhaps in that room full of fat people, who allow you the space to just be, because they know what it feels like to be judged ignorant, slovenly, and a moral failure simply because you came into the world with a particular genetic map. They would never inflict that judgment on anyone else, because they know how it hurts, they know the harsh self-talk it fosters, and they want no part of that.
From Ryan Holiday in The Daily Stoic:
There’s no question that much of what we talk about in this philosophy is hard. Specifically, it’s hard on the person practicing it. Stoicism asks you to challenge yourself. It doesn’t tolerate sloppy thinking or half measures. It wants you to undergo deprivation, it asks you to look in the mirror and examine your flaws.
But it’s important that we don’t mistake all this with self-flagellation and a lack of self-esteem. The early Stoic Cleanthes once overheard a philosopher speaking unkindly to himself when he thought no one was listening. Cleanthes stopped him and reminded him: “You aren’t talking to a bad man.” One of the most beautiful passages in Seneca’s letters is the one where he talks to Lucilius about how he was learning to be his own friend. He wrote that as a very old man. He was still working, even then, on being kinder to himself. The same man who was so hard on himself—practicing poverty and diving into freezing rivers—wanted to make sure that he was also loving himself like a good friend.
The point of this philosophy we are writing and talking about is not self-punishment, it’s self-improvement. Nobody improves for a teacher that loathes them. No one trusts someone that is out to hurt them.
Forget cutting yourself a break today. Instead, just be kind. Be your own friend. Catalog some of your strengths. Smile at all the progress you’ve made. Tell yourself, “good job.” And then promise that you’re going to keep going and keep working because you know you’re worth it.
Photo of stones by Arrianne Williams