Tag Archive | self image

Stop Body Shaming!

all different bodies 2

“Oh, No! This is the section for Fat People.”
Yesterday, at a large department store sale, I was perusing the racks in Juniors Plus when a mother and daughter entered the area. At first, I hear Mom say, “Check the sale rack first; you’ll be able to get more items that way.” Smart. But, then directly on the heels of this advice, I hear a comment, spoken loudly and dripping with disdain, “Oh, not here! This isn’t your area. These are for Fat People.” Ending with a barely concealed “Ewwwww…”

Equally embarrassed and curious, I risked a glance over my shoulder to see the source. I discover that, yes, the teen in question is slender and fit. But, the mother is not. In fact, she looks like she shops for size 16, the same as me. As found in most plus-size sections.

As much as I felt like hiding my face behind a rack for fear of being seen shopping in the “Fat People’s section,” I found myself even more concerned with those shopping around me. Because I happened to be browsing in the juniors section, filled with impressionable teens. The store was packed with large groups of young women shopping for semi-formal dresses (Homecoming, perhaps?) and they were all shapes and sizes.

Luckily, it seemed I was the only one close enough to be hit with this verbal vomit. And, honestly, my gut reaction was to say something to this woman. But no matter the pithy comment I thought of, all of them seemed as if they would only exacerbate the situation; and give weight to her words. But now I wonder. Should I have said something? So that if, by chance, any young mind had heard, they would know that not all people agree with this statement nor think that it is right.

But, I admit, in that moment I fell victim to Body Shaming. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. Worse, I didn’t feel like I had the “right” to say anything to that woman because “technically” I am a “fat person.” It seemed like it would be better coming from someone with a slimmer silhouette.

In less than 30 seconds, I felt less than.

But, perhaps, I could have calmly said, “I understand this section isn’t right for your daughter. But it is right for lots of young woman and your words were hurtful and inappropriate.” What do you think?

I started to observe the groups shopping. I noticed that groups of peers were generally supportive of each other. Each group contained a wide range of body types but instead of comparing or belittling, they lifted one another up. They suggested flattering outfits, complimented each other, and when in the changing room, if something didn’t fit or look right, they giggled about it instead of making disparaging remarks.

Conversely, I witnessed a different type of reaction between mothers and daughters. Moms were quick to point out things that wouldn’t look good when their daughter excitedly held up an item. Most often with a “Really?!” and a raised eyebrow. One word that can speak (negative) volumes. And the parents who had slim children seemed to flaunt them; many of these parents being less-than-fit themselves. As if their child’s attractiveness was a direct (positive) reflection on themselves.

Yes, I know it was clothes shopping, which directly lends itself to “body talk.” But why can’t it be positive, supportive body talk?

Soon after this, I found myself in the dressing room. As I faced the daunting task of trying on a pile of clothes, knowing that if I found 1 thing that fit well, it would be a success, I was presented with two options. One, to let that woman’s voice seep in and take up court with my mental judges, or, two, to dismiss her as an ill-informed person.

I chose the second, and this is what happened:

  • I actually felt some compassion for her. How? You may wonder. I realized she must feel so uncomfortable in her own skin, she needs to belittle others and take on her daughter’s identity in order to feel better. What a painful way to walk around.
  • I looked myself straight in the mirror and reminded Me that we each have our own story. My weight is from years of physical conditions, surgeries and side-effect laden meds. I used to “pre-emptively” want to explain that to people (strangers, that is!). Even going so far as hoping they would think I was pregnant instead of “abdominally challenged.” Now, I remind myself we are all walking around with our own stories, no matter the exterior appearance. Being overweight comes from a variety of sources, whether it is physical or emotional.
  • I also looked myself square in the eye and made myself stand tall and proud. I committed to trying on clothes with a critical eye; not one of a critic putting myself down but critically, assessing which things compliment me and which aren’t suited to my body type. Period.
  • And a funny thing happened… I ended up finding too many items that fit me well! Wherein I needed to pick and choose and leave half in the store for another time. That rarely happens!
  • I also walked through the store proudly. I didn’t let one person’s shaming shrink me. Depending on the brand, I can wear anywhere from a Lrg to a 2x. That’s a wide range! It also means I shop almost every section of the store. I committed to acting the same way no matter the area; to not feel like a fraud when I’m in the “regular sections” and to not slouch and hide in Women’s or Plus. I am who I am. And I belong here too.
  • Finally, I started to positively pay it forward. I complimented women of all ages and sizes on their outfits or accessories I found flattering. I encouraged someone checking out an item to try it on: “Wow. I think that will look great on you!”

As a society, we need to stop “Body Shaming!” That includes making negative, derogatory comments about people or celebrities wearing (what we think is) an unflattering outfit.  We need to refrain from making comments about what others choose to eat. We need to cease the “non-verbal commentary” of a pointed look, raised eyebrow, smirk, or the good ol’ eye-roll. Or even the sound effect comments: “Hmmm…,” “Eww,” “Ugh,” *sigh*, etc. We all know what I am talking about.

Body shaming isn’t right. Worse, it isn’t supportive. As women, we should constantly be lifting each other up not tearing away at each other so we feel better about our own selves. And this includes people who you do not know… It is ALL wrong.

All that mother needed to say was, “Oh, hon, this section doesn’t have your size. Let’s check over there.” Instead, within her original comment, she not only put down anyone shopping in that section, she also put down herself, and her daughter. Because I was once a slender and fit girl, too. I no longer fit that body type. No one knows where our lives will lead. And we all deserve the unconditional support of our mothers, sisters, and Sisterhood at large.

How can you support a fellow woman today and Stop Body Shaming?

Stuck in What I “Used” to Look Like

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Sometimes I get so stuck in what I used to look like, what I used to be like, that I cannot find any appreciation for who I am today…

Recently, it was very difficult to hear a loved one saying, while looking through old pictures, “That’s what Tamara looked like before she got really sick. Wasn’t she beautiful?” Not that I don’t say these very words myself, a disclaimer so to speak, letting others know I haven’t always been heavy, puffy-faced, pale, fill in your own negative adjective here:_________.
But this time, I wasn’t the one to point out my “different self,” it was my husband. And I know, in my mind, that he was saying this with pride, letting someone who has only known me post-sickness in on what I looked like in a healthier state. In fact, he most likely was just mimicking my own words. But, all my heart heard was, “she used to be beautiful.” Translation: I am no longer beautiful.
And as I am writing this, I realize I perpetuate these stories. Because I don’t want to appear less than (or more than, in regards to my weight- LOL!), so I make excuses. I act as if I already lived my glamorous life. Or even more so, that given just a little more time, I’ll get back to my “old self.” “Just you wait and see!
But that’s not humanly possible. For any of us. Each day we wake up, we are a newer version of ourselves. We move forward, not backwards, in time (or so we hope!).
This attitude doesn’t just pertain to the ill. Comments like these are recycled in the media and in our communities as we disparagingly remark on the aging… a “condition” that occurs in each and every one of us, no matter how hard some try to stop time. We talk wistfully about our youth… our past selves. Or we make side-comments like, “Wow, she has really gotten old.” Or even worse, “What’s up with that grey hair; why doesn’t she color it or something?!” Like aging is something we should fix instead of celebrate.
And let’s face it; the majority of us don’t recognize beauty in ourselves in the moment. It’s only years later as we longingly talk about our youthfulness/healthiness, that we shower ourselves and others with high praise.
Looking at it in this light, who’s to say we’re not missing out on the beauty of our present selves, by keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the past?!
In a stunning sermon by Rev. Tina Simson on the topic of “Fat Ankles and Personal Dragons,” she states, “We do this often… make fun of our own bodies; we talk about them as if they are a distant relative we wished lived somewhere out of town.” She goes on to reflect, “Hidden just out of sight is my flawed self-image that is fed by our culture and its unattainable singular standard of beauty. But also, I know it is fed by me as I critique and doubt my own self, my strength and value… only because by body doesn’t conform.”
So, I realize that this shift in attitude towards those of us who have been “transformed” by illness (and all of us who haven’t discovered the fountain of youth yet) needs to start with me. I need to refuse to keep on feeding that dragon!
First, a note to the friends, family and caregivers of someone who is chronically ill:
It’s okay to reminisce, but try to avoid the words “used to be.” They only denote that we are no longer a whole person as we are… today. Try instead to recognize all the positive traits that you see in us, in the present. For ex, “______ amazes me with her/his strength and resilience.”
For intimate partners: look for all the things you still find beautiful about your mate. Tell your partner, tell others, and most importantly, tell yourself. We all miss things that once were, but by dwelling in the past, you’ll also be missing out on what’s right in front of you. Perhaps we don’t look the same as we did when you first met us, but what are the things that make you pause and feel lucky that we’re still together? Practice falling in love with me all over again.
• This may sound contradictory, but it is okay to also celebrate my beauty and strength of the past. Just, please don’t get stuck in the past. Perhaps marry a reflection on how beautiful I look in this picture from 8 years ago (or the career I used to have), with a complimentary comment about me today.
And for my part:
I will try to stop putting myself down; stop being a bad example of all the ways I don’t want you to act.
I will focus on all the ways I am a success today. I may no longer be participating in a daily, more traditional job. But I don’t sit on my laurels, either. I’ve reinvented myself and found ways to engage in my life, in new and different ways. I am an artist, a writer, an editor, and supportive wife, friend, sister and daughter. I am a survivor.
I will focus on one thing I love about myself, today. It can be an external or internal attribute. I will fall in love with myself again (or perhaps for the first time). Today I looked in the mirror and realized I love my hair… not only do I like my current haircut (hurrah!) and the thickness of my mane, I love what it represents. Just 4 years ago, I had lost 75% of my hair; it was see-through thin, stringy and kinky. But as my body healed from the trauma inflicted upon it, so did my hair. It is a shining symbol of my resilient nature. Give yourself the gift of celebrating the beautiful person you are.
I will engage in activities that lift me up instead of drag me down. Instead of sabotaging my self-image by trying on clothes I know won’t fit me, I will take a yoga class that reminds me of the beauty and strong attributes my body possesses.
These exercises are not only for the benefit of our own self-worth, it is an important shift in societal attitude we are all responsible for. Studies now show that girls’ self-esteem peaks at age 9 (!) and goes down from there and that 80% of children (boys and girls) at 10 years old are afraid of being fat. Let that sink in for a moment.
Together, we can start to re-shape the current mentality of our society. Let’s celebrate the diverse tapestry that makes up our world… all the different colors, sizes, shapes, abilities, ages, and gender orientations. Do we really want a “Stepford Society” after all?

More thoughts on body image:

Mirror Mirror On The Wall