Thursday, June 21, 2012

Body Shaming

This has been something that has effected me since I was in elementary school. That's right, when I was still in the single digits in terms of age! I still remember the first comment made about my size when I realized that someone was giving [me] a backhanded compliment in order to make themselves feel better about their own body image. That comment was one that will probably never leave my memory. I was just seven years old and it was made, actually, to my mother in my presence by another adult. She said, "Oh, she's so skinny! Don't you feed her?"

(laughter ensues)

My mother said something about me being a picky eater and then the other woman followed up with something to the effect of, "Well, that might come in handy when she's older and needs to diet like me."

(laughter again)

I just stood there watching, swinging my arms to keep my bored self busy. It wasn't until a few hours later that I realized what just happened. Since that day, I've heard many similar comments. Always disguised as a compliment and the hurtful comment always justified with the excuse of jealousy over my figure or diminished with a halfhearted story of how they use to be "skinny" too so they know how it feels.

It may surprise you to read that I'm a thin person with body image issues. No doubt, most of the people who started reading this assumed I was being made fun of for being overweight. But I'm writing this to speak out about another issue. One many people don't seem to realize exists and I fight with myself as to whether or not to call it a "new trend." The bashing of thin people under the guise of  "promoting healthy body images for all."

Only, there is one huge problem with this well intended idea. It forces everyone of a thinner build to feel bad about their bodies. So how does this promote a healthy body image for everyone?

This is a meme that has been traveling around Facebook for some time now. I would suspect that at least 90% of my friends have posted it at one time or another. Usually the comments are pretty harsh about the thin girls on the top row. There are about half a dozen similar ideas floating around as well. It's all done in an effort to make those with "curves" be more accepting of the way they are. I'm all for that but I'm against the way it's being done. In fact, it's being done in a way that I feel I can't even help empower these women about their bodies because it's as if my very being causes them pain.

In a conversation about body image, whether on the net or in person, I always get a pit in my stomach. Usually it starts as something harmless, like a friend who wants to share their joy over losing weight or getting back into shape after a baby. But it's only a matter of time before the thin bashing starts. And when it does, I can feel myself shrink in my seat and try to cover myself so no one will notice that I'm one of those evil "gym bunnies" that are blamed for all body image issues.

What do I say to that? How could I possibly be included into this conversation? Does it matter that I'm on my own journey to get healthier? Does it matter that according to my body fat percentage I'm "obese"?  No, usually not. In fact, depending on the person, sometimes I don't give a congratulations at all on their progress (even though I really want to). Why? Because with certain people it opens a door in which they pull me into a conversation about how I'm so lucky I don't have "weight/body issues" and that it must be nice to not have to work for the "perfect" figure I have. A simple congratulations from me, a thin person, turned into an inadvertent attack on my own body image.

So what's a person to do?

Unfortunately I don't have an answer. That's why I'm writing about it. I think one of the biggest reasons it's allowed is because everyone assumes that if you are "model thin" that you must have a high self esteem and a healthy body image. In fact, many people wrongly assume that thin women are even on the border of narcissistic and put up our nose to those who are "bigger" than us. Most people would blame Hollywood but I don't think I can even do that. I see those women as victims of this as well. Who remembers when Jessica Simpson spoke out about the pressure she was under to lose unhealthy amounts of weight when she started her singing career? So then, if celebrities are also victims where does it start?

I don't think there is a place to lay blame on this actually. Even if there were one source for the problem of body shaming, regardless of shape or size, I don't think it's important. The problem isn't that it's been started. The problem is that society is not speaking out against it in a healthy way. Rather than attacking those on the opposite end of the spectrum, we should all be more sincere and compassionate in our speech and actions toward all people.

When someone posts a picture of their pregnant body and you are surprised at how small their stomach is, don't ask them if they ate a big lunch and laugh. 

If you know someone who has trouble with weight gain during their pregnancy, don't joke and ask them if they are *sure* they aren't having twins.

If someone shares their frustration with their body image, don't tell them to grow a thicker skin or to be happy they aren't in some worse situation than they are.

And never, ever, tell someone that it's just how society is, a fact of life, the way the world works or in any other way imply that there is no hope for change. Because I honestly believe that the loss of hope and the thought that you are powerless to end this pain is the most damaging of all. If a person has no reason to believe that anything will change, that they're pain cannot be eased, and that even when they seek help for the pain that is so real to them is brushed off as just something that *they* are responsible for working through... that is the type of damage that takes lives in the form of suicide. That is the type of damage that causes young girls to cut themselves to relieve the pain they feel or creates eating disorders in an effort to find the end of the pain.

Everyone should be extremely careful with their words, especially around children (boys included!). In my opinion, it's best to just not make statements about body type at all. I admit, I have a daughter who is about to turn seven and she's built like me. I'm guilty of making comments that she's too thin, she needs to eat more and that she is our "picky child." Out of fear for her health, I've said unmindful words that could have potentially been more damaging than her being a tad too thin and each time I've been horrified with myself as soon as the words left my mouth.

Think. About each word before you speak it, think and stand up with me and refuse to take part in any body shaming. It's hard because something you honestly think is a compliment might hurt the feelings of another. If such a thing happens, do not try to justify it by saying you are just jealous or that you are sorry "they took it that way." We must stand up and take responsibility for our careless words. Beg their forgiveness and attach no "but" to the end of your apology.