Eighty-one percent of ten-year-olds have an unusual greatest fear. It’s not of Cancer. It’s not of losing their parents. It’s not even of zombies or war.
It’s of getting fat.
I understand it well. I held the same fear for decades and it caused me to lead a life of disordered eating and frequent anxiety. I just didn’t know it. I couldn’t discern that the reason I struggled with my body image driven more by my fear than it was my weight.
Fears are funny. Sometimes they are rational. Often they are not. But always they present themselves to be much worse than they actually are.
My four-year-old demonstrated this to me today. Using a dishtowel, he covered an action figure clenched in his fist.
“I have something really big under here, Mom!” He said. “It’s really big and scary! You better watch out!” He waved his fist towards me as if the hidden object would attack.
I knew there was nothing to be scared of. Yet this is how fear operates. Fear tells us that it’s really big–it’s the giant scary monster that will get us and eat us alive if we don’t run from it.
But once you take the dishtowel off, you find that what’s underneath is only as terrifying as a three-inch Batman action figure.
The only way to help us overcome the fear of fat is for us to unveil the fear.
Here’s how we do it.
First: Discover why being “thin” means so much.
If the next generation is to have any hope of overcoming this predominant fear of being fat, then the change has to start with us and what we believe.
What do we think “thin” really means? Do we, internally, define “fat” as bad? Then it logically follows that we associate a lot of (undeserved) good into “thin.”
Do we view a thin body as a symbol of beauty? Do we equate being thin to being successful or popular?
To me, thin meant status. The “thin” girls always got the guys, the best roles in the school play, the best position on the sports team. The “thin” girls also had this freedom that I craved–they could eat whatever they wanted and still be thin (at least that’s what I believed.)
Identifying what we believe about being thin is vital to understanding any associated fears of being fat.
Second: Identify who shaped these beliefs.
Did your dad make negative comments about overweight people? Did your mom only seem happy when she was dieting to get thin? Did a certain boy pay attention to you only after you lost the weight? Did those pictures in the magazine tell you your body was too big? These behaviors, words and images have a powerful influence on our belief systems.
Ask: Who defined for you the value of being thin? Should their opinions still hold this power in your life?
Third: Define the truth.
Our culture touts a dangerous ideal of thinness. The consequences of not measuring up have nothing to do with potential disease or limited physical abilities. Instead, the fear of belly pudge, thighs that touch, or jiggly arms haunts our youth because they feel these traits will devalue them.
The real fear for most of us–what’s hidden under what is mistakenly called “fear of being fat” — is that we won’t be accepted or loved. We fear that our body size will prevent us from ever being known in the deep way they desire.
The truth is: Fear of not being accepted, loved, or known has nothing to do with one’s weight or shape. It’s a battle we all face–whether our size tag reads extra small or extra large.
Yet fear feasts on the lies. It uses what we believe about thin to make us think fat will keep us from happiness. Fear keeps us divided into these two categories and fibs that one group has it made while the other struggles.
Defining the truth we find something else at the heart of our fear. We discover that it’s all idolatry.
Believing that a certain body type will bring us love or happiness or rescue us from struggle is really just replacing a true savior–Jesus–with a substitute.
The fear pretends to save us from the scary monster, while, instead, it keeps us from looking to our Savior.
Confessing to God and repenting for the ways we’ve looked to our body image to save us, are the most freeing things we can do to loosen the fear of fat’s grip on our hearts.
When you are tempted to over-value thin and fear fat, remind yourself that salvation doesn’t come from a certain jeans size. Repeat to yourself that your Savior loves you right now, just as you look physically and that he won’t love you any more or any less if that weight changes. And, whip the dishtowel off the fear. Remember, our God is greater and his frequent commands to “Fear not” applies to the number on the scale just as well as the Boogeyman.