Do you ever find that you categorize yourself, or others that you meet, based on one thing about them? Maybe their weight, or gender, or culture – anything that might differ from the norm.
Have you noticed if you do that, that suddenly you see everything that person does through that lens, as if they only have one story?
This is all too easy to do, but I didn’t think much about it until recently attending a workshop at my church. The workshop was to help us get beyond the biases that encourage us to categorize people based on one thing about them, and one of the key messages was not to reduce someone to a single story.
This is important to apply to other people, but something else occurred to me after the workshop.
It’s also important to apply this to ourselves.
Do You Believe Your Weight Is All That Matters?
I remember when I thought the only thing that mattered about me was my weight. I interpreted everything that happened in my life based on my size.
For example, if someone was rude to me, I automatically assumed it was because I was fat. The rudeness was my fault, not because the other person might be rude in general or in a bad mood.
Similarly, if someone was nice to me, I didn’t trust it at first. Why would you be nice to someone overweight unless it was a prelude to making fun of them? It took me a while to accept that some people might actually like me. Even then, I thought of it them liking me in spite of my weight, like they had to overcome some immense obstacle.
Intellectually, I knew this made no sense, but emotionally, I couldn’t let go of it. I couldn’t see myself as a person, only as a fat person. It became what defined me.
Beware of Stereotypes
The problem with thinking you’re a single story, of course, is that it’s simply not true. But if you convince yourself that it is, you’ll start seeing yourself or other people as stereotypes, not unique individuals.
One of the stereotypes of fat people is that they don’t have any self-control, and I applied that to myself, even though I had no evidence for it. I simply assumed that since fat people don’t have any self-control, and I was fat, that meant I had no self-control.
I never bothered to examine either the general assumption or how it applied to me. If I had, I would have discovered multiple problems with this particular stereotype.
First, this idea that weight and self-control go hand in hand is not true. People’s bodies react to food differently, and some people have an easier time managing their weight than other people do. This may be true even if the thin person doesn’t exercise very often or pay much attention to what they eat.
Plus, if heavier people have problems with self-control, how much of that is because of disordered eating caused by diets, leading them to have a difficult relationship with food?
Then, even if it’s true that some heavy people (and some thin people) don’t have much self-control, why would I imagine that’s automatically true for me?
Looking back, I know I assumed it was true because I felt like I couldn’t stop eating sweets.
But I realize now that a lot of my eating came about because I had convinced myself that I didn’t have self-control and made it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is just one example – you probably have your own or can think of others.
You’re More Than One Trait
Finally, if you only think of yourself based on a particular trait, you miss everything else about you that makes you who you are.
For myself, I couldn’t seem to think of myself positively because of my weight, despite everything else I had going for me. I got straight A’s, I was a good friend, I took excellent care of all my pets, I did my chores (mostly without complaining), I didn’t get into drugs or drinking, I cared about the environment and helping others, I was a good flutist and writer, and more.
But none of that mattered. Because I was fat.
What’s Your Story?
What about you? Are you only telling one story about yourself? If you are, I hope you can start to change that because trapping yourself in this single viewpoint is a tragedy all around.
If you can get out of that mindset, though, and recognize your whole self, you might be surprised at what you find, and how many stories and facets you have to your life.