Laura here: Yesterday Fluffy talked about food shaming and guilt and why it does not need to happen and how to be better at avoiding it.
This week’s MoFo topic is “Changing vegan perceptions.” Today I want to talk about another big bummer that plays into the topic of guilt and shame that I see happen within the vegan community a lot. Shaming people (or yourself) for their whole body or an aspect of it, beyond their daily food choices.
When I say the term “body shaming” let me be clear. I mean that these are negative comments directed at someone else’s (or your own) size (small or large or in between), disability, health status (such as a chronic illness, having a cold/flu or colds more frequently than others, or any other diseases, as well as general ideas about a person’s overall health, etc.), appearance, gender presentation (for instance, whether they look feminine or masculine or are non-binary), choice of aesthetics, and can go on to include even more. I think you probably know the type of comments associated with these areas, so I’ll spare you the added negativity.
But here is a personal example of body shaming from my own life and my experience in the vegan community. Several years back, I read this statement from a prominent vegan activist or media source that said, essentially, we cannot be good vegan advocates if we look unhealthy (as in fat).
I considered their rationale and took it to heart. I lost around 70 pounds. But I was obsessed with being thin to the point I was kinda miserable (I didn’t realize it right away because I was getting so much praise and attention for the way my body looked.) I was training for and ran a half marathon that I wasn’t quite ready for because I thought that was what good, successful, and most influential vegan advocates did.
Before the half marathon, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. Shortly after I thought I had recovered from my half marathon, I tried to start Crossfit in addition to running again, and I badly injured my back. I couldn’t even stand with my spine up straight, and I was barely able to walk and in excruciating pain.
After almost a year in physical therapy and chronic pain that continues long after I was discharged from physical therapy, and having gained a lot of the weight back due to my thyroid condition, my injury, reduced ability to exercise and no longer depriving myself of foods I love, I appear to be back to the body they said couldn’t be a good advocate for veganism.
Except they were wrong. My body is not wrong. I can assure you that despite my larger size and illnesses/disabilities, the fact that I do get colds once in a while, that I don’t conform to certain standards of beauty, etc. that I am just as good an advocate for veganism as I was when I was running half marathons and thin. In fact, I’d say I am now a better one because:
- I am not grumpy and miserable all the time from depriving myself of foods I enjoy. Veganism should bring joy.
- I have time to focus on my graduate studies in humane education instead of spending most of my time training for runs and doing a half-assed job at school
- I can help vegans who get sick realize it is beyond their control and that they are not a bad vegan because of their illness
- I can show vegans that you can still be a healthy vegan if you are a larger person, as my blood work levels are the same as when I was thinner
- I have found a form of mind-body exercise that leaves me feeling restored and in less pain overall, that I devote a manageable amount of time to practicing and is ultimately a form of self-care so I don’t experience as much burn out when I’m wearing my vegan advocate hat.
- I have been going to talk therapy and working on loving my body for what it does for me and how strong and powerful it can be rather than attaching it to others’ ideals and ideas of perfection or what kind of a body is suitable to be a vegan advocate, which is what I am and will always be
Says Fluffy: All bodies are magical bodies. Never assume you know someone’s health story by looking at their body. Humans are complex and their uniqueness and differences make them beautiful. Vegans can come in all shapes and sizes, it’s not a one size fits all movement. Now it’s time to eat some cupcakes and do my Prancercise. (In case you were wondering, that is the official exercise of choice for unicorns).