by Jenny Copeland, PsyD
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
~ Horace ~
On some level I am convinced that members of the size acceptance community are superheroes fighting for social justice and against the muddled ideals of modern medicine. I picture us in fabulous capes and tiaras, brandishing our own lasso of truth, justice, and compassion. Our ideals are just that, a strong moral code which keeps us fighting against impossible odds and fighting for the future we know the world around us deserves.
Superheroes and villains alike each have their origin story – an overarching motivation or reasoning for fighting the good fight. Spider-Man had his toxic spider bite and the loss of a father figure, Captain America overcame polio with his spirit intact to fight for what he believed to be right, and Wonder Woman left her home to battle injustice. Each of these stories teaches us to overcome adversity with the hope of some greater good in mind.
The problem with the origin story comes when our superheroes cannot move beyond it, and become so mired down in this adversity that they neglect the greater picture. For Batman and Spider-Man this meant, at times, that they became so obsessed with revenge they neglected the love and relationships in the present moment. It becomes a balancing act between honoring their origin and fighting for a better future.
As individuals I think there are often regrets and hurts that motivate us in moving forward. The holidays lead us to confront our origin stories, as celebrations often take us home and to old stomping grounds. Arriving home for each visit, it is difficult to not recall memories of my ‘wayward youth’ and ‘mistakes’ which may or may not have made me who I am today. There is an instinct for regret or embarrassment for the things I have done. Yet I think it is important to not emotionally flog myself for the events which are – in all reality – a natural component of maturing and becoming an adult. Had I known then what I know now, would I make the same decisions? Unlikely. But that’s not the point.
If I think about how I stumbled upon size acceptance and the Health At Every Size® principles, I realize now that I probably caused more harm than good for those around me. My thoughts and actions were representative of the biases I carried at the time. I thought weight loss was the ‘right’ approach to achieve health, and encouraged loved ones around me to work towards it. I wish I could undo the hurts I certainly caused during this process. But I do not want to forget these. It is my origin story. At this point I have some choices.
One option is to work to help others erase their biases, preventing harm similar to what I (and others) inflicted. On some level this is a revenge-oriented origin story: society taught me to implicitly hate those of higher weights and I could work to destroy those systems to keep others from thinking in the same way I did. Although this is tempting, the thought is problematic. We cannot erase our history. It is a part of who we are today. We cannot destroy only the bad as some of the good will inevitably break down as well. Working to eliminate the impact of those previous biases on my present and future decreases the richness of my painful but necessary journey. Ultimately, the journey is where change happens.
I propose another option. Like all superheroes before us there comes a moment when we turn away from shame and a desire for revenge. One of Spider-Man’s greatest lessons came from his uncle, who taught that “with great power comes great responsibility.” I believe we as a movement embody power that others have not yet discovered. And with that comes responsibility. Perhaps this is to include helping others discover the need for the journey of growth, and to guide them along that path. To do this we must honor their origin stories – why they believe what they believe, and what inspired them to consider an alternative. Some catalysts will be more dramatic than others, but they each deserve to be honored and harnessed for good. Because from these moments of adversity comes strength they may not have otherwise realized, and that is something to be cherished – not shamed or erased.
Here is what I have learned as I have come into my grown-up super powers. The past, whether good or bad, is something to be honored. It is easy to fall into regrets for what went wrong. But regret distracts us from the present moment, and keeps us from being grateful for how adversity has shaped us. Our stories, our biases, are a necessary component of life. What is important is what we do with them. The question, then, is what kind of superhero do you want to be?
Hey, it could happen – right?