The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is notorious for making their message known in an in-your-face and difficult to forget way.
I'm usually all in favor of guerilla theater, nonviolent resistance and other forms of getting the word out about particular causes in creative and colorful ways.
But I'm never in favor of shaming and degradation.
Recently, PETA put up a new billboard in Florida with the words “Save the Whales” in bright pink letters.*
Next to this slogan was an image you might not expect-- it was a drawing (pictured above) of a large white woman's torso with a bikini on, complete with flesh hanging over her waistband.
Yes, this is PETA's latest effort to encourage people to adopt a vegetarian diet-- by making them feel probably more self-conscious and negatively about their body size than they already do.
This is not a blog post about PETA and its media strategies. This isn't even a blog post about vegetarianism.
Instead, this is a no-shame motivator to help you move closer to loving the body you have and having the body you want.
PETA is just the recent voice in a long-line of public outcry against the obesity “epidemic” in the U.S. Headlines scream at us about the health risks of weighing too much and eating a diet too heavy in sugars, fats and processed foods in general.
Yet we still reach for the cookies and ice cream when we're stressed out. We continue to munch chips with abandon when we're bored. And we prolong our time on the couch watching a favorite show instead of heading to the gym.
Is it because we're lazy, addicted or even apathetic?
I don't think so.
I believe that, in many cases, the guilt-inducing stream of images and rhetoric out there about our bodies, diet and exercise actually contribute to the actions (or non-actions) we take that keep us in bodies that may be heavier and unhealthier than we'd like them to be.
Instead of PETA vilifying people who eat meat and insinuating that vegetarianism automatically equals a thin and fit body, I'd like to see them uplift people of all sizes and then talk more about the many benefits of living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
Let people make their own decisions about what they eat-- educate and motivate using methods that support dignity and respect.
Sit with It Before You Act
We all make choices. Every time each one of us eats or drinks something, it's a choice.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, I sometimes reach for the bag of chocolate chips that I know is in the freezer. In such a mode, I often mindlessly shovel handfuls of those sweet morsels into my mouth.
The result of this coping mechanism for stress is almost always that I stop and realize what I'm doing at a certain point and then I feel bad about myself.
The pounds seem to multiply with this realization and-- the biggest kicker of all-- I am still stressed and overwhelmed.
If you can simply sit with how you are feeling before you reach for your stash of chocolate (or whatever it is you use to try to cope with difficulties), you are taking a huge step.
In her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of the Buddha, Tara Brach suggests that you pause and “not do”when you feel driven by wanting. In other words, sit and notice how you are feeling before eating that chip or diving into the pint of ice cream.
Set aside even a few seconds to acknowledge how you are feeling and what you are truly wanting at this moment. Remember to breathe deeply.
After this noticing, if you still want to eat chocolate chips, do so. But know that you will be making a more conscious choice.
This can actually make a difference. You are choosing to eat or not to eat chocolate chips rather than devouring them in an out of control manner.
The eating of the chocolate chips becomes separated from your attempt to cope with stress as you take the time to offer your attention to your emotions before taking any action.
This can help you to feel more empowered and may lead to you making a different choice-- perhaps eating fewer chocolate chips, eating something more nourishing instead or maybe taking a walk to relax.
Stand behind the choices you make in your life-- including what you eat, how physically active you are and what your body looks like.
It is from this place of self-acceptance and self-respect that you can more easily make changes and celebrate the strides you are taking toward your goals along the way.
*In response to an outpouring of negative public response to this billboard, PETA changed it. Visit this blog for more information.