I enjoy the start of a new year. Optimism’s well feels a lot fuller in January, and it’s refreshing to have a blank slate and a fresh calendar with 365 new days just waiting to be filled. The spirit of the New Year is contagious–unless you’re dead inside, like the jerks that mock people who want to get healthier.
Unless you’re competing in a Best Villain contest, no good comes of saying discouraging things about people who have resolved to lose weight or change their diet. I’ve noticed more of these griping Facebook posts and flippant remarks in the years since I lost weight. I was probably less aware of the skepticism when I was heavier because I was so ashamed of my body that probably got lost in the deafening noise of my own insecurity.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that taunting New Year’s Resolutioners is expert-level fat shaming. The start of a new year is the only time large groups of people will admit that they want to change their eating habits or get stronger. And sometimes, circumlocution aside, people just want to lose weight. Rather then encourage these hopefuls to do what society – and very likely friends, family members, partners, and anonymous people on the Internet – has long insisted that they should do, some schmucks take pride in complaining that their beloved gym is going to get more crowded and that these resolutioners are only going to give up or fail, anyway. Is it really just about the inconvenience of sharing the treadmills and seeing some new faces that may not stick around that bothers these people? I don’t think so. I think that these jerks are threatened by the idea that someone wants to change and is brave enough to try, because if they succeed, there will be one less person out there who is – to their eye – inferior to them.
What these scumbags are doing – whether they realize it or not – is shaming people for not being healthy all along. That’s how pervasive the stigma of fatness can be–it can be adjusted to suit any circumstance. There’s shame and intimidation even in trying to make a change at a certain time of the year. But when it comes to diet, fitness, and weight loss, setting humble goals is a milestone unto itself, even if it happens during the clichéd new year window.
In every other aspect of life, we champion people to work hard and keep trying; the only reason the same logic doesn’t apply to everyone who’s trying to improve their health in the new year is because it involves body image and food, which are both areas of life that are source of pride and consternation for everyone. It’s easy to cheer for people who are out there achieving things that have nothing to do with you, but when those achievements might affect your self-image or your tightly-held stereotypes? It’s just easier to knock people down and count on their failure.
To anyone who hasn’t felt disappointed by their body and who has never tossed gym advertisements in the trash because the prospect of being new at a facility is so terrifying that it’s easier to just stay in your comfort zone, even if it’s not comfortable there anymore, I can see how it could be easy to be dismissive of the people they see as soon-to-be quitters. The truth about weight loss is this: you will fail many more times than you will succeed. I think most major weight loss successes are preceded by a long string of failed diets, canceled gym memberships, and unused home fitness equipment.
If you’ve always been disciplined with your diet and exercise, I have a question for you: What more do you want? You’re already society’s expectation, do you need another pat on the back? Is it so difficult to be encouraging – even if the odds are against it – toward people who may not have the same will power, genetics, and opportunity that you have?
Instead of rebuffing resolutioners, be a source of inspiration, encouragement, and knowledge. Don’t look beyond your own burpees if it helps, and when you’re searching for Facebook material, consider sharing what keeps you on track instead of condemning someone else’s good intentions. We all start somewhere different, and for some people, the journey to confidence, health, or strength is longer and more complicated.