I don't believe that anyone should be judged or bullied for their body, but I still catch myself being judgemental towards people based on how they look. I also know that I'm still making a lot of assumptions about fat people for their size, even though I really do think everyone has a right to accept themselves. How do I stop judging?
I'm going to break out a piece of Tumblr wisdom that an account called nikolaecuza wrote in response to someone saying that they were a bad person who judges others based on appearance: 'the first thought that goes through your mind is what you've been conditioned to think. What you think next defines who you are.'
You've spent your entire life existing within a culture that is fatphobic, misogynistic, racist, queerphobic, ableist and ageist. And every single one of us soaks that shit up, whether we want to or not. It's impossible to take in so many harmful messages about bodies, day after day, since the moment we were old enough to become conscious of them, and not let them become the basis of our opinions.
Let's think about it with the example of... jelly beans. Imagine that you've been raised since you were born to believe that blue jelly beans are poisonous. Your parents tell you every day that blue means poison. The newspapers print front page stories about people who've died from eating blue jelly beans. TV shows constantly have plotlines about escaping the terror of the blue jelly bean. You spend your whole life flinching whenever you see a small blue sweet being eaten.
Then one day someone does a study showing that actually they're not poisonous at all. But when you go to eat your first blue jelly bean, even though you know better now, you're guaranteed to have a thought pop up about them being poisonous. Because that's what you've been conditioned to believe.
Everyday we're faced with the narrative that fatness is something to be feared and judged, whether that's another headline about 'obesity' with what Charlotte Cooper has coined the 'headless Fatty' image. Or another TV show where fat characters are either the butt of the joke or absent completely. Or the thousands of images we've seen in our lives where fat bodies are only ever the 'before'. This narrative is the lens that we see the world through. We are conditioned to be fatphobic, and that takes a hell of a lot to unlearn.
That doesn't necessarily make you a horrible person, it makes you a person living within this particular cultural landscape, who is now starting to question things.
All you can do is challenge those thoughts every single time you have them, and work on de-conditioning yourself. If it's fat bodies that you find yourself judging, then I would suggest filling your social media with people who are fat and breaking the stereotypical narrative of what fatness means. You can start by following pages like @fatwomenofcolour and @shooglet that showcase fat bodies in a beautifully human and celebratory way.
You can read more books and articles written by fat writers, listen to podcasts that highlight fat experiences, and immerse yourself in a narrative that's the opposite of what we're all raised with. And when you hit on something, an image or an idea that makes you uncomfortable in some way, sit in your discomfort. Think it through, unpack where it's coming from, don't back away from feeling it. There's growth on the other side of that discomfort.
And while you're doing the work of unlearning your internal bias long-term, you can interrupt the judgemental thoughts in everyday situations by being nice to the person you're judging – give them a sincere compliment, ask them how their day's going, or just catch their eye and smile. Keep working on that second thought until it starts to overtake the first one.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.