Has your GP ever sent you an unsolicited triggering text message about your weight? Mine did – Screen Shot
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Has your GP ever sent you an unsolicited triggering text message about your weight? Mine did

The other day, mid-commute, I received an automated text from my local general practice surgery (GP). I’ve received messages from my doctors and the National Health Service (NHS) before and, quite like a dodgy dark alleyway, they’ve always filled me with anxiety. I remember during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, I’d freeze whenever I saw those three letters pop up on my screen—worried that they’d inform me that I’d need to start isolating immediately.

That sense of dread has now subsided and so, extremely innocently, I peered down from behind my copy of Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and scanned the message nonchalantly, thinking that the text might have something to do with new appointment guidelines or something administrative. Unfortunately, this memo was far more upsetting than I could’ve imagined.

The text read: “Hi Charlotte, are you concerned about your weight? If this is something you are thinking about, there is a weight management service available to you. If you would like to use this service, please reply yes for a referral or no to decline. If you feel you have received this message inappropriately, please respond with your current height and weight to prevent further messages.”

I don’t think I can accurately express how truly devastating it was to receive this message. My stomach immediately dropped. I quickly put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and shoved it into my work bag—seemingly thinking that that would make the message vanish into thin air.

I arrived at work and spent the entire day thinking about this text. Why had it been sent to me? Was it a personal attack, or a general automated message sent to every registered patient? And if it was personally meant for me, why? Did I have a weight issue? I’d always been insecure about my body, and I had recently put on weight. But I’d never expressed interest in a weight management service and I’d never had a one-to-one consultation with my doctor about this particular issue.

Regardless of its intent, the text had seriously rattled me and subsequently sent me into a highly toxic thought loop of self-deprecation and body insecurity. One that resulted in me completely panicking over lunch options and then guzzling two litres of water in an attempt to flush my system.

It’s clear that the NHS, as well as private GPs, are under immense pressure currently. Nurses are on strike for fair pay and better working conditions. Meanwhile, hospitals are completely overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. It’s understandable that sometimes, these kinds of automated messages occur without any forethought or pretext.

However, the bluntness and unanticipated nature of this particular message has somewhat derailed my confidence in the health services I’m heavily encouraged to trust.

Promoting health services for those who’re interested and keen to join them is one thing. Practically forcing them upon disinclined individuals is a completely different story. Confronting weight change is a highly sensitive and anxiety-inducing process and pedalling out unsolicited weight shaming texts is the last way a GP practice is going to encourage any of their patients to pursue in-person consultations.

My qualm with this text is not to do with the clinic promoting what they consider to be a ‘healthy’ weight or lifestyle—although that could be an article in itself. My issue with this text is the delivery method. Out of the blue, zero context, zero follow up. I’m not sure what the practice thinks it’s accomplishing with this method, because personally, it’s only going to lessen my desire to ever seek help or guidance from them.

The Slumflower on the price we’re all willing to pay in order to present perfection on social media

At some point in childhood, most of us came across the realisation that the world is conditionally accepting of us and we must earn love by being ‘good’. For the people who grew up in an environment where the unstable love from our caregivers felt conditional, unpredictable and monopolised, there was no escaping the binary thinking of only either being a ‘good child’ or a ‘bad child’.

As confused children on the receiving end of mixed messages from adults we deserved better from, when we are ‘bad’, rejection and disproportionate scolding is used to make us understand the weight of our behaviour—but instead of the outcome actually being better behaviour, it often results in self-loathing.

When you hate yourself, you create a tried-and-tested self that gains the approval, love and favour of others. The purpose of this false identity is to protect your real, hidden self from re-experiencing that abandonment. So my question is: Can perfection (both online and in real life) truly protect us?

The problem is, when these neglected children grow up, they tend to have issues regarding self-worth due to never having known unconditional acceptance. Presenting perfection online can therefore be rewarding as it often replaces the praise we never got as children.

What’s different about the praise in adulthood is that, a lot of the time, it translates to power—and in an age where the most interaction we have with other people is through the internet, being visibly liked by many people makes you powerful and therefore, finally worthy of love.

But when things go wrong and we do something netizens consider ‘bad’, the pile-ons, mass unfollows and experiencing character destroyal by complete strangers feels oddly familiar to the disproportionate scolding from the adults who once called you a ‘bad child’. This time round though, the scolding feels more traumatic because instead of two adults calling you bad, it’s thousands of adult strangers tormenting you and questioning your moral character.

Beyond outward projections of attempted perfection, there is also an inward grapple that is often overlooked and, in my opinion, worth observing. The internal feedback loop of shame and self-blame often presents itself as a form of hyperfocus. It leads you to obsess over how you could have done something differently and resent yourself for not having manoeuvred a situation in a manner that the current version of you, who now knows better, would’ve done.

This keeps you in a spiral of thinking you’ll never be good enough, plaguing yourself with endless ‘if onlys’ and ‘I should haves’. Other times, the shame and self-blame presents itself as you try to find ways to prove to others that you are lovable—even if on false terms built upon a version of you that exists because of approval, not authenticity.

We know that ‘perfect’ people aren’t happy but we still want to be like them. Why? Because it’s the closest we’ll probably ever get to the happy ending we’ve all been promised. And because looking happy is more accessible than being and staying happy.

But what do we tell ourselves that perfection is actually protecting us from? Because clearly, the fear of judgement and rejection is as universal as the human desire to experience nourishment and pleasure. Being scared of not being good enough has so much governance over our lives, that when the fear really takes us there, we are prepared to embody the lie that we have told ourselves to such a degree of realness that often times people who encounter us can’t even tell that we are in performance of a self-assigned role.

For some of us, we develop a codependency to constantly having achievements and moments we can brag about on social media as proof we are ‘good enough’. We put all our energy into getting as much attention as we can, as a version of ourselves that we only embody when the internet is watching.

Maybe we’re all in our own curated reality shows? So when it comes to consuming the lives of other people who are showing you exactly what they want you to see, remember: no matter how good it looks, don’t envy what you don’t understand, because you don’t know what they’re tolerating to have a seemingly perfect life.