Katie’s Hopkin’s error in black and white thinking about weight gain and loss is one that we all share to a certain degree, though not as much as she does nor, hopefully, we aren’t as dogmatic and unaware of the error as she is.
During her “documentary” Hopkins sees a psychologist during the weight loss portion of her experience. The psychologist correctly comments that all her “experiment” has proved is that she, Hopkins, as a slim person, can gain weight and lose it and then confronts Hopkins on the way she sees the world in black and whites “much like a dictator”. Hopkins responds that she is not interested in gray areas.
It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if everything was clear cut and black and white. A person eats less and exercises more; they lose weight. A person works hard at their education; they will get a good job. A person avoids dark alleys; they won’t be mugged. A person wears modest clothes; they won’t be raped. A person is wise with their money and saves; they will have enough for their needs. A person obeys laws; they won’t get arrested. The problem is that we live in a world full of diversity and grays in every area of life, however our own minds try to hide that fact from us.
The cognitive bias of the just-world fallacy is the idea that a person’s actions are going to have just or fair consequences, with good deeds being rewarded and bad ones being punished. In real life, many times good and bad consequences do occur immediately or eventually. A person works, they get a paycheck, they buy food, they cook dinner, they get to eat. However, because we live in and imperfect world, many times what we would consider the fair or just process is interrupted with no fault of the person doing the action. A person goes to work , gets a paycheck, gets mugged on the way to the store, can’t buy food, and can’t eat.
The just-world fallacy causes people to look at the victim for the explanation to why the bad thing occurred. Perhaps he went the wrong way to the store (I won’t go that way so I won’t get mugged). Perhaps he withdrew the money instead of keeping it in the bank (It won’t happen to me because I always keep my money in the bank, not out in cash). Maybe he had bad Karma because he cheated on his income taxes (I am always honest on my income taxes, so good Karma will happen to me).
When in all actuality, the person was mugged because some jerk decided to mug him, instead of blaming the jerk, we start blaming the victim. This occurs because we are designed to keep ourselves safe in two ways: learning what not to do by studying those around us and protecting our psyche by believing that we have power over our destiny.
This is a similar process to developing superstitions. In the case of the superstitions, no obvious wrong doing or right doing occurred so humans must find something to attribute good and bad luck to (walking under a ladder, carrying a rabbit’s foot, wearing a lucky jersey). It is too terrifying for the human psyche to live in a world where bad and good things sometimes happen at random, yet this is precisely the imperfect world we live in. Natural disasters, crime, sexism, racism, and sometimes what can only be described as bad luck happen to people who work hard and try their best to do the right thing.
Hopkins wants to live in a world where things are fair. Don’t we all? She believes that if a person works at something they must get results. However what she doesn’t realize is the very basic fact that life is not fair. When she works hard to lose weight, she is down to a healthy weight in 10 days. When I put in just as much effort, I lost almost nothing and three months later, was still not down to a healthy weight. Why was this? I was working just as hard. However, I was born with different genes than she was, with a different metabolism, and have a different body. It was the body I was born in. I have no control over what genes I was born with, where I was born, and into what family, just as she doesn’t. Should she feel guilty that she has a fast metabolism? Absolutely not! She can’t control that either. However she should have compassion and empathy for those who do not have the privilege she has.
This applies to all of life. I am extremely lucky. I was born into a stable and loving Caucasian, Protestant Christian family in the United States. I have no physical or mental disabilities, am cisgender, strait, and in my 30’s. I don’t have control over any of those things, however all of which give me a certain level of privilege that for the most part seem to be a normal part of life for me. Just as Hopkins thought it was quite normal that she could eat quite a bit of food per day and keep a reasonable amount of activity and stay fairly thin. The problem lies when we take our experience and expect the same from other people and blame them when it doesn’t happen. Hopkins blamed all overweight people for eating too much and exercising too little, when in fact, they could be eating less than her and exercising more. People blame African American’s in Ferguson for committing more crime so being harassed more by police, when in fact, they were committing less crime. Peolple including Michelle Duggar protested to stop transgender people from using the gender appropriate bathroom since she believed they would be more likely to sexually abuse children, although in fact, transgender people are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population and people who sexually abuse children are much more likely to be straight males (90% are male and 95% are heterosexual like her son, who actually did sexually assault children).
The core idea is the need to realize that life isn’t fair. I may have privileges that you don’t and vice versa. The appropriate response isn’t to feel guilty for things you cannot change, which helps no one, nor to be unaware of your privileges and use them to unfairly judge other people, but rather to acknowledge those privileges you have, acknowledge not everyone has them, and use the ones that you can to help other people rather than hurt them, to build others up, rather than to tear them down. We need each other after all. It’s an unjust, unfair world out there.
Read more about my experiences imitating Katie Hopkin’s weight loss journey and other thought errors in my previous posts below: