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The Difference Between Inspiring and Shaming

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You are a singularly unique individual. Just like everyone else.

I don’t dig this whole special snowflake syndrome where everyone needs to be handled with kid gloves. Some people are awesome, and others just suck. If you go through life thinking the world owes you something wonderful, then the world is going to say screw you and kick your ass.

So suck it up.

I mean, if you want to, that is. It’s really none of my business if you suck things up or not, or what you choose as your method of up-sucking.

There is merit in focusing on what you feel you need to do with your life, and not what others think you need to be doing. Again, what YOU need.

My dad lives in the middle of nowhere in northwest British Columbia. He has no running water, heats with wood, poops in an outhouse, and has to turn on a generator to watch the hockey game. For company, he has a large chocolate lab named Buddy. I remember him telling my daughter, “I sleep warm, dry and with a full belly every night, and that makes me happy.”

Number of fornications given regarding others’ opinions of his living conditions = zero.

There is a shirtless photo of me splashed all over this website. I joke that I drink six packs of beer and have four-pack abs, and that’s good enough. I’m proud of the way I look because I worked hard for it.

But I don’t expect others to look like me. The only thing I expect of other people is to try to be decent human beings.

I am not your family physician. I am not your son, father, brother or husband. I’m just a fitness writer. And so I’ll never tell you what to do, and I sure as hell won’t ask what your excuse is for not engaging in a certain fitness regimen or eating a certain diet.

If you are 350 lbs and happy being that way, then that is fine with me. I may write about the dangers of abdominal obesity to dispel the myth some have perpetuated that obesity comes without health consequences, but I’ll never shame anyone, because the research shows that shaming people about their weight leads to the opposite of the intended effect. It’s also mean.

What you do with your life is none of my damn business.

But if you want help, I will give it. If my story inspires you, I’ll tell it. If someone is selling miracle weight loss bullshit, I will expose it. If there is insight I can offer into healthy and sustainable weight loss, I will write it.

Shaming over body weight is stupid. The evidence that the obesigenic environment and capitalism run amok are the primary culprits in the obesity epidemic is overwhelming. Being obese is rarely a choice people make. In most cases, being lean is a choice, and a damn hard one to follow through on. So I won’t ask what someone’s excuse is for not making that choice. And I’ll never imply that someone is inferior for not making it.

Alas, some fitness people don’t think this way.

They believe they need to be in your face. Yeah, I know my Tribune column is called “In-Your-Face Fitness,” but the grills I’m getting up in are usually the crap-filled weight loss industry in order to protect the typical consumer from the rampant bullshittery.

I think it’s great for people to show off their accomplishments. When a singer performs in front of an audience, she’s showing off years of hard work. When a boy plays at his piano recital, he’s displaying what he’s learned. When a man has his paintings showcased at a gallery, he’s putting his talent on display for others to admire. When a comic in a club makes people laugh with her jokes, she’s revealing how hard she’s worked to excel at her profession.

When some writer dude takes a shirtless photo in his yard while hoisting a gigantic glass of brown ale, he’s exposing his dedication along with his abs and his love of beer.

It’s okay to show off what you can do and what you’ve accomplished. It’s okay to inspire and be inspired. It’s not okay to be an asshole and ask people why they haven’t done what you’ve done.

Sure, you’ll hear the apologists who say, “I know a lot of people who get motivated by that kind of thing.” Maybe some do, but again, the research shows that shaming doesn’t work for weight loss, so the default should be to not shame! With two-thirds of the population being overweight or obese, your so-called tough-what’s-your-excuse-love approach to motivation is going to upset a lot more people than it helps.

So, if you’re a fitness personality, and your approach to inspiration is raising the ire of a lot of people, then perhaps you should rethink that. Instead of saying you have no excuse, and thereby implying negative behaviors in others who don’t look or behave like you, why not just change the caption to: “Look what my mom did”?

That’s inspiring. I’d get behind that, but I’ll also admit that it wouldn’t be newsworthy. Shaming people grabs the attention of the Internet, so bravo for the awesome marketing gimmick.

And boo for the lack compassion.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com.

 

 

 

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