Am I Wearing the Mask of Obesity?

Obesity may be caused by childhood sexual abuse. A shame-based personality results from a dysfunctional home. The good news is that Christ can and will set you free from shame and your dysfunctional family background. Read my article and discover how to take off your mask of obesity.

Charles C. Finn

“Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the face I wear, for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I am afraid to take off and none of them is me.” – Charles C. Finn 

If our family of origin was a dysfunctional family meaning that members of that the family focused attention on a needy family member, chances are that you have a shame-based identity. The emotionally needy member most likely had either an addictive/compulsive personality. 

A shame-based identity develops because of shame for a parent’s addiction such as alcohol addiction, food addiction, or from a rageaholic, abusive parent. Your emotional needs were not nurtured or met. You probably weren’t even allowed to express your emotions in any way. 

Moreover, you may have become enmeshed with the emotionally needy parent or adult depending on his/her feelings to determine how you should feel. 

If the emotional needy person was depressed, you felt compelled to make her happy. If he was drinking to much, you tried to make him stop. If she went into a rage, you wanted to calm her. And emotional needy family member drains the personhood out of the rest of the family members. 

When we are children, we are taught by adults on how to act, how to think, what to believe and who to be. We were given messages that if we behave certain ways to please the emotional needy family member, it still was not good enough. We were taught directly or indirectly that certain behaviors, emotions and ways of thinking are bad.

As a result of this early conditioning, we created masks so that we can fit wear in order to gain the approval and acceptance of others. Many people live behind their masks, and they never have the opportunity to experience the richness of who they really are. One of these masks is the mask of obesity

Shame could have been communicated directly with harsh words such as “You’re no good. You’re the reason for all our problems. When you leave home, we will have peace! You ought to be ashamed of your fat self!”

Children raised in such a dysfunctional home and develop a shame-based personality, often try to run from the shame. They may get married at a too young an age. They may try to kill their shame with alcohol, drugs, food, or even work turning themselves into a workaholic or foodaholic in attempts to numb the pain from shame.  

We discovered in our dysfunctional family how to hide our true feelings from ourself and others. We learned to falsely express our emotions by acting to please the significant emotionally needy adult in our life. We never developed the ability to recognize, feel and act on a full set of emotions negative or positive. We learned to wear a mask to hide behind. One of those masks is the mask of obesity

For girls, especially those who were sexually abused, some dealt with their shame-pain by eating and eating and eating.  Out of deep fear, they unconsciously make themselves unattractively fat and hide their true self behind the mask of obesity

One lady wrote, “I am certainly no exception to the rule. From an early age I wore the mask of being a “good girl.” This was the role I played so that I would be accepted by my family, friends, and other adult authority figures. Unfortunately, the person that I truly am did not completely mesh with the persona I presented to the world. As a result, I attempted to stuff down who I really was, and I mostly did this by overeating. All the while, the true me was calling out to strip away the mask and allow myself to finally shine through. 

“Denying who I was led to years of struggling with anxiety, depression, and massive weight gain. I weighed 265 at my highest weight because I was denying my true self. I lost who I really was because I was busy trying to be who everyone else expected me to be.”

Obesity also becomes an excuse to not be held to the same standards as others. Most men don’t expect sex from a morbidly obese woman. Their obesity is an ugly mask that keeps men away. And, that’s exactly what the obese woman wants. Yet, at the same time, she wants affirmation and love from a man but can’t risk ever being in a vulnerable situation again. She may lose weight, and then gain it back again and then some out of fear of getting into a relationship. 

The mask of obesity hides our inner beauty concealing our true inner self. It hides who we really are and allows us to become either who we wish we were, or to enmesh ourself into others as a codependent people-pleaser under the codependent’s control.  Like a chameleon, we change into the color that others want us to be. 

An obese woman can give sex in order to feel valued and wanted. But too often, she is discarded after his lust is fulfilled leaving her feeling worthless, alone, and shamed. This can cause even more emotional eating. 

Obesity can be a mask to form an image to the outside world of “who you are.” However, it is not who you really are!

Masks are created out of fear. We think that if we project our true, inner self, it will result in loss, or not getting something we want. We want to trust and have meaningful relationships, but we are afraid to trust anyone out of fear of being used and rejected again. 

All masks are a form of repression. We want to be accepted and loved, but at the same time, we paradoxically repress our true feelings out of fear that we might actually be loved and accepted. So, we eat to deaden the pain of our fears. 

If you eat emotionally to dull your pain, you are not being emotionally honest with yourself. You are wearing the mask of obesity. 

This mask may be traced to your childhood or teen years. As well-intentioned as many parents are, sometimes they do more harm than good to our self-image. Having high or unrealistic expectations, making negative comments, or even comparing you to your siblings can all lead to feelings of low self-worth. It goes something like this. “You say I’m no good and have let you down, well, I’ll show you!”

Thus, emotional eating may be caused by some pain in our past. 

All of these messages we get during our growing-up years gives us one basic feeling. “We’re not good enough.” Even after leaving home and school where mean kids ‘fat-shamed’ you, you may have kept the fat on to keep people away. It’s like, “I don’t want to get close to people and risk getting hurt, and my fatness is a very effective way to keep them and me at a distance.” This mindset can include family and friends and cause sabotaging our own efforts to lose weight by trying multiple diets and weight loss pills. Such desperation over the years is because of emotional fears like not meeting other’s standards for beauty or never feeling quite ‘good enough.’  

If we think that we’re not good enough, then we assume that maybe people won’t love us or accept us as for who we really are. So, we hide behind the mask of obesity. 

After wearing the mask of obesity for so long, we forget who are were and suffer from an identity vacuum. You’ve been playing parts for other people and wearing masks to cover your shame. You have lost the ability to see yourself as you really are. You’ve let other people tell you who you are. It’s time to take off the mask of obesity and discover who you are and how you really want to look. 
Eventually, we discover that we had learned to hide our true feelings from ourselves in childhood. We were only allowed to express nothing but positive emotions. Negative emotions like anger or depression displeased adults. 

We can’t feel real as an adult because we were unable to recognize, feel and act on a full set of emotions including our negative emotions as well as positive ones. Our interactions with others were false because they had no firm foundation in real feelings. As a result, we buried our emotions by eating which led to hiding our true self behind our obesity. Wearing the mask of obesity wears us out. Faking who we are is fatiguing. 

(You can read the stories of those who wore the mask of obesity by clicking this link).

All of us have the basic need to give love and receive love. It’s damaging to our personhood not to have these basic needs met and feel rejected. So, the need to wear masks comes out of our fear of being rejected. This is a big reason why many women become codependent people-pleasers or eat their way into obesity to prove that they are as bad as their parents think they are. “You say I’m fat, well how’s this?  I’m really fat now! So, there!”

I have a friend who told me his story of bringing home a ‘C’ on his report card in the 7th grade. His mom criticized him and said nothing about the A’s and B’s. “To show her and get even with her,” he said, “I brought home all F’s the next six weeks!”

I suppose we’ve all had that kind of self-destructive behavior including eating to get fatter. 

The mask of obesity will always be related to some sort of fear. The high price of wearing the mask results in stress on yourself, and even after you’ve left home long ago and left the school where you were ‘fat-shamed,’ many people continue to wear their mask out of fear and habit. 

Prohibited feelings like anger in dysfunctional families can result in acting out by eating as an adult. That’s why we must learn how to properly express our anger rather than acting out and stuffing our anger with food. 

You may have spent your entire life feeling you were different because you were overweight. “Something is wrong with me. I’m not like everybody else.” But really, who wants to be like everybody else?  Rejoice in your uniqueness!  God has made you one of a kind. Through Christ, we discover that we are special and can rejoice in our uniqueness. We can be ourself in Him. We don’t have to hide anymore.

Our emotional health depends on taking off the mask of obesity. Most obese and overweight people are self-conscious, have issues with self-worth and self-image, feel unattractive and unappreciated, and are at an increased risk of chronic depression. When, we are depressed, we eat to make us feel better and lift our mood which only adds on more pounds. 

It’s hard for us to fit into an airplane seat or a stadium seat. We have to squeeze into an automobile or SUV. It’s embarrassing. I’ve thought about buying a pick-up truck just so I could easily get in and out of it. But, it’s a lot cheaper to lose some pounds than buy a new truck!

Your uniqueness combined with Christ’s love offers wonderful possibilities. Our union with Christ not only helps us survive our painful past but offers great potential to live free and unhindered making food our slave rather than being bound as a slave to food!  Now, that’s freedom!

I think they are several keys to unlocking the mask charade and getting to the root of the problem. Then, it takes inner strength with God’s help and self-discipline to stay with it for the rest of our lives. 

First, love yourself the way you are.  That’s really the most important thing of all. Once you love yourself for all your gifts as well as your imperfections, then you won’t feel compelled to hide fear or shame behind the mask of obesity. 

Love, accept, and affirm yourself above all others. Love, accept, and affirm your fat body. That’s right. You will never be able to begin to walk the path of improvement until you accept yourself with all of your flaws and weaknesses. You have to first fall in love with yourself and your body. 

Isn’t this the way of God’s love?  He doesn’t demand we have the ‘perfect’ body before He loves us!  He lives us just the way our body is!  Give yourself ‘God-love.’

Your shame-based identity will be transformed if and when you love yourself fully and completely the way God loves you. It’s like emerging from the darkness of past abuse and shame into the light of freedom. It’s like a worm turning into a brilliant, multicolored butterfly!  The Scripture says this about you and me.  “I am chosen. I am royalty. I am holy, separated from my past by God, and I am His special possession. I can now declare the praises of Him who called me out of darkness into his wonderful light” (based on 1 Peter 2:9). 

Just as wonderful as our personhood in Christ is the fact of His transforming power that continually makes us into the person He wants and we want us to be. That is amazing. In other words, God loves us too much to leave us the way we are.

Our love for Him and for ourself motivates us to action to change for the better. This includes being empowered by His love to change our body. “For Christ’s love compels us that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died for us” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).  

This transforming change brings untold benefits to us emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Physically, we adopt healthy eating habits and leave the couch potato crowd behind. We get active by doing something positive like walking 30 minutes a day. 

These two lifestyle changes can not only help with weight loss, but they can reduce blood pressure and reduce the triglyceride and cholesterol levels in our blood. This reduces our risks of a heart attack, stroke, or coronary disease. 

Another benefit of this makeover is improvement in our insulin sensitivity. This means our body will be better able to  metabolize glucose which is a carbohydrate that energizes our body.  This is why a lifestyle change gives you power replacing that lethargic, tired feeling. 

Moreover, I found that old melancholy mood isn’t around so much any more. Not only does our body benefit, but our emotions do too!

I am amazed at how I feel now since I began my simple walking program compared to when I was inactive. The energy and cheerfulness in my mood is striking. The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).   I would add that a good daily thirty minute walk is the good medicine that makes my heart cheerful!  

The Scripture says, “The LORD sets prisoners free!” (Psalm 146:7).

It’s a liberating feeling to take off the mask of obesity that has been hiding our beautiful and magnificent personality. The sunlight of joy and peace radiates from us when our real self is exposed. No longer are we imprisoned in the darkness of past abuse and shame. We are free to be me with nothing to hide. And, if people don’t like us for who we really are, too bad, so sad. I’m not putting on that mask ever again! It’s really OK to just be myself with nothing to hide. 

We can face the pain of the past, talk about it with a safe person, process it, and at the same time, give it to Christ. Let His love come in, and with Him, you can overcome. “We are more than conquerors through Him” (Romans 8:37).  

Well known pastor and author of The Purpose Driven  Life, Rev. Rick Warren, wrote, “The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren’t.”

Then we have to forgive the one who abused us “Forgive what my father did to me? Don’t you understand how badly I’ve been hurt?  Don’t you understand why I hide behind the mask of obesity?”

Forgiveness means that I am more interested in moving ahead with my life than in being controlled by the past. As long as I am unwilling to forgive, I am chained to the past. 

We may resist forgiving because we think it is condoning behavior that hurt and wounded us deeply. Our tendency is to require justice. But remember, “God gives justice to the fatherless” (Deuteronomy 10:18). God will handle it!

Forgiveness is not condoning or pretending nothing happened. Rather, it is canceling a debt.  It is like a bank canceling an unpayable debt when the bank forgives the debt. Not paying back the debt is not OK. There are consequences to be born such as a lower credit rating and most likely, the bank will refuse another loan if application is made again. 

When God forgives, it is similar to a bank forgiving a debt. God is definitely NOT saying it is now all right for us to go on sinning. Forgiving our debts costs God a great deal – the death of His Son!  And remember, Jesus told the adulterous woman after He forgave her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). 

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation with the offender either. Forgiveness is something I do. Reconciliation is something both parties must do together.  

God is patient with us. Only in His power and forgiveness can we forgive others who have hurt and abused us. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). 

Finally, we must stop being angry with ourselves for our obesity. Self-anger causes depression and lethargy. It makes us want to give up the fight for health and weight loss. We must forgive ourselves for the obese condition we have. That’s one of the first steps necessary to begin and maintain a weight loss program. 

With God’s help, we can do it! “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up our wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

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