Have you ever been ashamed? Not just a little embarrassed, actually ashamed. Did you do something you knew you shouldn't have; something really, really stupid, and got caught by someone you like and respect? Did you tell someone about your huge crush on them, and have them respond by laughing at you? Did you have to walk the famous walk of shame, and unfortunately felt neither cool nor ironic, just ... ashamed? Whatever it was, I bet you remember the feeling.
Let me guess: You blushed so hard you felt your cheeks burn. The phrase, "I wish a hole would open up and swallow me whole" was suddenly no longer just an abstract idea. Your stomach dropped so low, you thought you might have to check the basement for it on your way out. Perhaps you felt nauseous, or even lightheaded. You had the thought, "I will never ever be in this situation again" running on repeat inside your head. However you felt, I bet you wanted to escape. I think most of us would want that, I think most of us would do a LOT to avoid feeling truly ashamed again.
"Go on a diet, fatass! You're disgusting!"
I wonder how you felt about yourself the day those two guys shouted this at you, from their passing car. I think you felt a little insecure about your body, maybe you had been feeling that way for a while. I don't think, however, that you were thinking about what a 'disgusting fatass' you were, right at that moment. I know the shame washes over you like a tidal wave; you look around and realize that at least a couple of people walking close by also heard them; the tears sting in your eyes.
Maybe that is the day you decide to go on a diet.
Maybe it goes well for a while. You're losing weight, and people are paying you compliments. "You're looking great, what are you doing differently?"
"You look good, have you lost some weight?"
"I see you've lost some weight, good for you!" It makes you feel good!
Maybe it's not going so well anymore. Maybe, like at least 95% of the people who go on diets (even the diets that are 'lifestyle changes'), you gain the weight back. Maybe, also like most dieters, you end up fatter than you were before you started dieting. (Not that you were actually that fat before, but you definitely are now.)
You're reading an article about actor/filmdirector Kevin Smith being kicked off a plane for being too fat. In the comments below the article, a large amount of people are sharing 'horror stories' about the time they had to sit through an entire flight with a smelly/ugly/sweaty/just plain fatty pressed up against them.
Maybe you start to wonder if you might be too fat for the plane. You weren't too fat the last time you flew, but you've gained weight since then, and, come to think of it, you did feel cramped the last time you were on a plane. Maybe you start thinking about how absolutely, terrifyingly awful it would be, to be on a plane full of people and to be kicked off it for being too fat. Maybe you begin to feel like flying might not even be worth it anymore.
Maybe you start a new diet the next day.
Maybe it goes well for a while. You're losing weight again, and people are paying you compliments again. This time you don't enjoy them as much though, because what if you're too weak willed to keep the weight off this time too?
Maybe it's not going so well anymore. Maybe you gain the weight back. Maybe you end up fatter than you were before you started this new diet. (Not that you were actually that fat before, but you definitely are now.)
You're dating a person you have a huge crush on. Everything's going well, until one day when they tell you the reason the two of you never go out, is that they're ashamed to be seen with you, and, by the way, won't you lose some weight?
You stop seeing them. But maybe, every time you fall for someone new now, your subconscious reminds you how it felt to have someone you care deeply for tell you, you aren't good enough. Maybe your subconscious is very effective in it's messaging, and maybe, without noticing it, you start shying away from relationships.
Maybe you start a new diet.
Maybe it goes well for a while. You're losing weight, and once again people are paying you compliments. Maybe it's not going so well anymore. Maybe you gain the weight back. Maybe you end up fatter than you were before you started your diet. (Not that you were actually that fat before, but you definitely are now.)
To be honest, when I first thought about writing of shame as a motivator, I thought I would be telling you it's a useless tool. As I've since realized, that is not true at all. Shame can motivate you to a great host of things. Indeed, shaming someone can have lasting effects on a persons life. Which is why, while you have the right to free speech (I hope), shame is a weapon you are not entitled to wield. Because, as with all weapons, it has a vast capacity for destruction, pain, and upheaval, and a very limited capacity for anything else. So don't even pick it up, just leave it be, and you won't end up doing something you (should) regret. We, the shamed, will be truly grateful to you.
This post is is my first guest post over at Oi With The Poodles Already, a great, feminist blog you should absolutely be reading! I am feeling completely honored that they wanted me to guest blog for them!