Updated: Mar 20
Why Do I Think Other People Look Good in Larger Bodies But I Don’t?
Something I’ve noticed in the years that I have been coaching is the evolution of what it means to accept our growing bodies.
Two years ago, I worked with a lot of people who had never before considered that it might be okay to gain weight, and who were learning to see fatness as neutral rather than inherently problematic.
These days, I’m noticing that more people are coming to coaching saying that they’ve already done a lot of that work; that they’ve “addressed their fatphobia” and see all bodies as good bodies – except, of course, when it comes to their own.
What is this phenomenon about? Why are so many people learning to diversify their socially constructed ideas of what is acceptable, but then somehow their new worldview doesn’t apply when it comes to their own bodies?
Here are 3 common reasons this might be happening for you:
1. Lingering Fatphobia.
Doing the work of untangling fatphobia is an ongoing process, with layers. As someone who lives in a mid-size body, I am still learning so much about the ways in which subtle forms of fat bias exist within me and around me. I am slowly and steadily being made aware of the ways in which I still lack awareness and am prone to enabling marginalization of fat bodies without realizing it. And I’ve been working on this for years! To assume that work is ever “done” would be remiss and irresponsible.
The idea that others can be “okay” in larger bodies but not ourselves may indicate that some layers of fatphobia have been untangled, but not deeper ones. If we still don’t feel that we are acceptable in a larger body but we might be in a smaller body, what might that say about the ways in which we still judge bodies? The idea of “it’s okay for you but not for me” might suggest some feeling of: “it’s okay for you to be less-than but it’s not okay for me to be less-than.”
It may be worth asking ourselves in what ways are unconscious and implicit bias still at work when it comes to fat bodies? How might these biases be harder to undo than previously thought, especially when we consider the chronic onslaught of messaging in our day to day lives? What beliefs still exist about having a larger body that we aren’t comfortable taking on personally, even if we are willing to overlook them for others?
2. Shadow Projections.
Another reason we might see others differently than we see ourselves is shadow projections. When we see someone else, we tend to see them at face value – there is no emotional energy behind our assessment, even if there are thoughts (positive, negative, or neutral). When it comes to our own self-image, however, we don’t see ourselves at face value – we see our history, our insecurities, our mistakes, our secrets, our shame. The emotional translation of our own image can be heavy, and carry with it all the “shadows” we know about ourselves.
For example, when I see someone wearing a black sweater, I see someone wearing a black sweater. I might have thoughts about the sweater (I like that sweater, I don’t like that sweater, I see the sweater). However, when I see myself wearing a black sweater in a photo, I immediately see myself the way I imagine others seeing me – and I remember how my mom always told me that wearing black made me look pale, that it made me seem depressed, that I should really wear colors. Without conscious permission, I associate my reflection with feeling misunderstood, with feeling unacceptable to my mom, with feeling dark and sad and insecure. In other words, I don’t just “see,” I “feel.”
If you notice yourself standing in your own judgment where others may get a pass (for example, “that outfit looks good on her but not on me”), ask yourself where you might be showering your reflection in subjective projections instead of objective estimations. What are you seeing that only you can see? What associations are you conflating with your own visual input? How are your categorical self-definitions showing up to oppress you?
3. Trauma & Safety.
Not entirely separate from shadow projections is the explanation of safety, especially when it comes to those who have experienced trauma. Body image is, at its root, not really about our bodies. It is usually more a conduit to safety, whereby we believe we need our bodies to appear a certain way or meet a specific standard in order to keep us safe.
For example, our bodies may help us access belonging, or give us access to power where we otherwise feel helpless and vulnerable, or protect us from criticism. For marginalized bodies, safety is not just rooted in a belief system but in actual sources of threat, as in medical weight stigma (lacking access to appropriate treatment due to weight bias) and outright trolling.
When we accept others in larger bodies but not ourselves, it may be because we are not projecting the lack of safety onto others. If we grew up, for example, in a household where acceptance and respect came alongside maintaining a certain body size, we may understand that level of conformity as necessary for getting our needs met, but wouldn’t necessarily assign that expectation to others.
Whatever the reasons for finding difficulty accepting your own body, try not to pathologize it. We are all human, and complicated! Leaning into curiosity about what might be driving your difficulty with self-acceptance is a good place to start.
Remember that time is a factor – the more we notice, and the longer we stay with ourselves through the noticing, the more likely we are to evolve through it.
Which one of these reasons do you resonate with the most?
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