Body-shaming is so ingrained in our culture. It can be disguised as concern, a compliment, or thoughtless complaining. There are people in my life who are guilty of speaking without thinking on a regular basis. One specific example of this is my mother’s favorite line —
“Just because they make it in your size doesn’t mean you should wear it.”
In my adolescence, she’d throw this phrase out anytime she’d see a plus-sized person wearing clothing that was more popular among straight-sized individuals.
Her intention was to say, certain body types shouldn’t dress in certain fashions, because it doesn’t look as good on that body as it might on another. She wasn’t trying to degrade that person and she wasn’t intending to shame them either— but that’s exactly what she did.
The fact of the matter is my mother was not entitled to an opinion on what that person chose to wear.
How that person felt about what they were wearing was the only thing that mattered regardless of their body shape or size.
What Qualifies as Body-Shaming?
Body-shaming can be presented in many ways. I’ll never forget the time my father-in-law told me that I should move more because I was so big that it couldn’t have been healthy for the baby I was carrying. Please note I was 41 weeks pregnant with my first daughter when he told me this.
Some people are outright disrespectful and have no consideration for how their words impact people. Others take a more subtle approach. Their body-shaming is masked as concern, a compliment, or thoughtless complaining.
“Have you lost weight? You look amazing!”
Well, was there something wrong with me before?
This is a “compliment” I used to crave at the height of my eating disorder. It wasn’t until I reflected on it many years later that I saw this “compliment” for what it really was. My body was finally able to fit the mold of what society deemed as beautiful and worthy. My value was placed on my body and how it looked, not who I was as a person.
“You’re so brave to wear that in public!”
What is brave about wearing a piece of clothing?
Here is another example of a compliment, with a hint of concern. This example reinforces the concept that certain bodies are glorified, while others should be shamed for looking different. This comment was made the first time I ever wore a two-piece swimsuit to the beach, something that took me over two decades of self-love and acceptance to do.
“I feel so fat today, I don’t want to even leave the house!”
Imagine, being fat every day, and somehow I leave the house…
I am guilty of engaging in this type of body-shaming. Fat isn’t something you feel, and it isn’t something you are. Fat is something that everybody has. Some bodies have more than others, but there is no shame in that. When you make a comment about fat and then slap a negative emotion on top of it, you’re unintentionally sending the message that fat is somehow a bad or negative thing.
Body shaming can happen to anyone.
Something important to understand is that body-shaming isn’t just for one group of people. It doesn’t matter if you’re plus-sized, straight-sized, male, or female. It doesn’t matter your race, religion, ethnicity, or heritage.
It is interesting to note that while men have a societal pressure to be fit and in shape, they can always opt-out and have the “Dad Bod” to fall back on. Where is the acceptance for Mom Bods across the globe? Society expects mothers to maintain a beautiful, glowing representation through their pregnancy. They should then snap back to their pre-baby body while navigating intense emotions, hormones, and sleep deprivation.
The bottom line is this: Anyone can be the victim of body-shaming and the damaging and traumatizing repercussions it can have.
Body-shaming can be intentional and obvious, or it can be subtle and unconscious. Unfortunately, it is so ingrained in our culture and life as we know it that many of us say things without thinking them through.
Throughout the early and mid-2000s, when I’d hear my mother respond with her judgmental line about what people should and shouldn’t wear, I internalized it. This resulted in me being insecure about what I chose to wear.
I was more concerned about how people would judge what my body looked like, instead of being comfortable in my own skin.
Keeping the conversation going and rewriting the narrative
I have no doubt being raised with body-shaming as a normal and accepted practice influenced my relationship with my own body as it changed and developed over the last almost 30 years.
It is incredibly damaging to the recipients’ self-esteem and body image. It can take years to reverse that damage, not to mention low self-esteem can cause a ripple effect of ongoing problems in your mental, emotional, and physical well being.
Being aware of what body shaming is, understanding how it can be presented, and empathizing with fellow human beings about how it makes them feel, is essential to creating change.
In our home, we are not skinny or fat.
We are smart and we are kind.
In our home, we are not beautiful because of what we wear.
We are beautiful because of the love that is in our hearts.
If you have experienced body-shaming, or if you have been the person who body-shamed someone, take time to think about how we can continue to talk and educate our communities about this. How can we change the narrative to ensure that every body is represented and shown respect, acceptance, and love?