by Nikki Massie, MA
I learned a new word last week: Ubuntu.
Now, computer programming enthusiasts might recognize ubuntu as an open-source operating system for computers, but before it came to mean that, it had another very powerful meaning.
It is a word that originates in Sub-Saharan Africa and can be loosely translated to mean, “I am, because we are.”
When I first heard the word and its meaning, I felt an instant connection to it and for one very obvious reason. I. love. Community.
I love community! I love everything about community. I’ve always believed that people are stronger and better when they pool their collective positive energy for the common good. I’ve built my whole life around the concept of community. So, in a sense, I have built my entire life around Ubuntu.
One of the places I’m excited to live out the spirit of Ubuntu is in the forthcoming OAC Community. Sure, there are many online communities. And even many online communities of people who have been affected by obesity. But I truly believe that what the OAC has been building is special. And I’ll tell you why.
As a person affected by obesity, I can say that one thing which has marked my journey to better health is a lack of cohesive information about what my weight really means, how it has affected and will affect me, and most importantly, what I should do about it.
I had a family who loved me and doctors who meant well, but there is still this pervasive feeling that obesity is some sort of character flaw. That it’s an “impolite” subject of conversation, and that by broaching the subject of my weight, people were breaking some sort of sacred social contract.
Now, it is totally possible to do all those things when talking about weight — if the subject is addressed poorly. But done right — in a manner that is respectful, informative and well-intentioned — a conversation about obesity can be not only life-transforming but, in some cases, life-saving.
It wasn’t until I became a member of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) that I understood the power in talking about obesity through the lens of solutions – not blame. After attending the OAC’s Annual Your Weight Matters National Convention for the first time, I got the sense that I deserved to be able to have an honest and respectful conversation about my weight without my character as a person being judged. And it was the first time I realized the magnitude of the culture we live in which tries to push people of size to the margins – making them feel as if a medical problem is the main determinant of their worth as people.
Needless to say, these revelations lit a fire in me. I wanted everyone to know what I’d discovered. Obesity is a chronic disease. It’s multi-factorial, which means that it isn’t just about self-control or will-power. I wanted folks to know that seeking out solutions doesn’t make you a failure as a person. It makes you a person willing to fight for your health. I wanted to tell as many people as would listen that most importantly, obesity is something we can solve – if only we are willing to shed our preconceived notions and have honest conversations about real solutions.
That’s what the OAC fights for every single day. It’s why I’m proud to be a member. But I have to admit, outside of the annual Convention, I craved a way to connect with my fellow members more closely – to keep building on the positive momentum that starts when we share information and learn.
When I found out that the OAC was opening up a community just for us – people whose lives have been affected by obesity – excited doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt. As an avid citizen of the social media world, every day I hear so much misinformation being spread. I see people shamed online. I hear people engage in negative-self talk – a defense mechanism that essentially says, “I’ll get myself before you can get me.”
This is a strong statement, but true. The only reason I am no longer prey to those factors is because I have a strong community to support me. I have people who, like me, believe that your weight matters, but it’s not all that matters. And I have a community that supports me by reminding me of the facts behind this disease which have shaped so much of my life existence. I am not my weight. The scale is not the sole narrator of my story. I deserve to be treated with respect and I deserve to be happy and healthy, no matter what size I am.
Do you need a community like that? Where you get straight answers instead of judgment? Where you get support instead of sabotage? Where you can take real and meaningful action to improve your life and the lives of others affected by obesity? Where you can ask questions and learn and equip yourself to make the best possible decisions for your own health?
If so, I am here to tell you the spirit of Ubuntu awaits you in the OAC Community. I can personally attest to this. I am — informed, empowered, loved, respected — because we are. And you can be too. Please. Join us!