If I Can’t Change My Conditioning, How Can I Expect Others To?

I’m fascinated by what makes people change their minds, as demonstrated in this post about a self-identified misogynist who ultimately became sympathetic to women’s positions. I like to see this process happening when people’s beliefs become more tolerant rather than going in the opposite direction, even though I recognize that these are subjective values.

In my ideal world, everyone who holds beliefs that are misogynist, transphobic, racist, homophpobic, and so on would realize, eventually, that they’ve been wrong this whole time. We’re all human, and we shouldn’t discriminate against anyone for who they are, right?

But then I had a sobering realization. During my recent experience on the Whole30 eating plan, I lost a bunch of weight. As I wrote a blog post reflecting on how I felt about weight loss, I had to face the fact that due to my social conditioning, I may never be happy with my weight. I’ve run a marathon, I dance professionally (usually 5-6 days per week), I do all kinds of other activities from rock climbing to hula hooping… and  there’s still a part of my brain, thanks to my enculturation, that will always be convinced that I could stand to lose another few pounds.

This makes me wonder: how can I expect anyone to challenge their social conditioning of hate/intolerance if I’m having trouble challenging my own social conditioning? If I can’t kick the dumb and contradictory messages about body image and weight that I internalized while young, how can I expect others to do something similar?

It happens, of course. I’m proud to count a number of people among my friends and chosen family who were raised in environments that were homophobic, but who now are staunch supporters of gay rights, for example. I’m wondering, though, whether I should be a little more lenient with the rest of the world, with people who aren’t necessarily that hateful but are still muddling along in their worldviews of early years, unable to easily change.

It’s food for thought, if nothing else.

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.