Being Wounded and Changing Oneself As a Result
Back when the fatpeoplehate sub was banned, I remember reading an offmychest post written by someone who had formerly been obese. She wrote that the shaming she read on the sub, though it hurt, had actually been the only thing that had motivated her to change. As a result, she lost a tremendous amount of weight that she had been unable to previously.
A fundamental foundation of morality is the prevention of harm (see Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory). Certainly, I wouldn’t want to harm anyone needlessly. Yet, I recognize that so much of my life is the way it is because of the “psychological harm” I experienced early in my life.
I was a little overweight in high school, and got made fun of by friends. Now at 25, I sit at around 10% body fat and am in the best shape of my life. My fitness transformation was inspired in part because of the way I got made fun of in high school. Losing weight (and keeping it off) unfortunately isn’t simply a matter of eating less, but entire lifestyle change based around building muscle mass, eating properly (not just less), and sleeping enough, among other things. However, I wouldn’t have started that journey had I not been told by friends that I had man boobs.
During high school, I was also told I was socially awkward by a girl I was friends with. She suggested I would make a good couple with our other friend, because we were both awkward. She made the comment in front of some of our other friends, and I was incredibly embarrassed. I worked hard on my social skills because of that comment, and ended up dramatically improving my social skills in college. There are plenty more examples from my own life of how “bullying” I experienced in high school changed my life, and I’m sure many of us, if not all, have them. The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that had I not gone through the shame and suffering from all of these experiences, I may not have made any improvements in my life and would still be that socially awkward, skinny-fat kid I was at 19 (though probably worse). I’m of the view that we shouldn’t stop shaming people because it’s can be helpful to be shamed. We’re often unaware of our blind spots after all, and being insulted can point them out.
Robert Bly’s “Iron John” is a book that uses one of Grimms’ fairy tales about a boy reaching adulthood as basis for exploring modern masculinity and what it could be. One of the ideas in it that stuck with me was the exploration of the “wound as the male womb”. Wounds are like wombs in that they create an opening. That could be a literal opening like the wound of a sword the boy in the story receives, or in our case, psychological wounds. It’s a painful process to receive a wound, but like a womb, it can produce someone new from it (someone who won’t be wounded in that way again, hopefully). Compare this with the story of Christ on the cross. Christ bears his suffering willingly, and is “reborn” three days later. Or the idea of a Phoenix, if you prefer something more secular/pagan.
The idea of being wounded and changing oneself as a result is an incredibly old and incredibly powerful idea. When done out of a desire for wanting the best for another, shame can be an incredibly powerful tool. Sometimes we have to harm the ones we love. Every parent goes through this, where they have to force their child to experience something unpleasant because it’s good for them. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs as parents. Similarly, we owe it to our friends and our families to hurt them sometimes, if it’s in their best interest. I’m not going to advocate for insulting random people on the street, but a lighthearted jab at a friend or family member’s weight might just be the motivation they need to make a change. Will it always work? No. Might it have the opposite effect? It could. But saying we should stop doing it because it’s “rude”, when it could dramatically improve, or even save someone’s life? That’s a chance I’m willing to take, even if it means our relationship takes a temporary hit.