Body shaming rears its ugly head in so many conversations:
“Oh, I can’t believe she’s showing that much skin at the beach!”
“You need to eat a hamburger!”
“If I can’t unsee this, neither should you (insert naked photo taken without consent).”
Let me be perfectly clear: Talking about someone’s body can cause shame. Women who are thin are often teased to eat more. Women who are fat are snickered at when wearing summer clothes. It happens all of the time. Some women may appear to let it roll off their backs, but make no mistake, those words are internalized over time, and become a part of our inner dialogue – our Mean Girl voice. As young girls, we learn from our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and our favorite television and movie characters to speak negatively about their bodies without ever praising them. Comments like, “Oh, my thighs are so big, ” or “I’m too fat to attract a boyfriend” are heard by little ears and become their truths. With our words, we are training little girls to hate their bodies and, to add insult to injury, they learn that this is an acceptable form of conversation. In most cases, this is the only acceptable form of speaking publicly about our bodies. How often do you overhear a woman say, “Have you seen how strong my hips are? My body is incredible!” G-d forbid a woman looked in the mirror while bathing suit shopping and said, “Oh I love the way my butt and belly look in this suit and I can’t wait to wear it without a cover-up!” We are not given the chance to love our bodies because we are flooded with images of “the ideal” body – the seemingly only acceptable form a woman’s body can take in order to be considered beautiful. The constant criticism that the Mean Girl voice provides for the women in our lives blocks our ability to see that women come in all shapes and sizes. Big ones, little ones, straight ones, curvy ones, lumpy ones, bumpy ones, flat ones and muscular ones.
We need to change the conversation. For the sake of our daughters. For our own sake.
First, we need to stop body shaming others. Whether it’s skinny shaming or fat shaming, commenting on someone else’s body should not be acceptable to anyone. How someone else’s body looks or moves is none of our business. If you see someone wearing something you wouldn’t wear, or showing off body parts that you don’t think is appropriate for someone who does not fit “the ideal,” get into the habit of saying to yourself, “Good for her, but not for me.” While it’s still passing judgment, it reflects more on what you might do, rather than setting rules for someone else. If you are around others who are body shaming passersby, celebrities, or friends, make the conscious choice and don’t engage in the hate speech.
Second, we need to quiet the Mean Girl who lives internally. Your Mean Girl voice doesn’t serve you. She’s the voice that believes all of the false truths you have been told about women’s bodies: They should be small, they should be thin, and depending on the era, they should have a small waist or a big booty or thigh gap. The real truth is that your body is supposed to be what it’s supposed to be. That might be large or small, it might be covered in stretch marks, birth marks, or no marks. Whatever your body looks like doesn’t (and shouldn’t) determine your self-worth or character. Quieting that Mean Girl will make believing that the false truths are just that – false.
Third, remove from your constant informational feed any image or words that support the Mean Girl. Cancel magazine subscriptions, unfollow pages on social media, and the like and stop feeding the Mean Girl more bullsh*t.
I won’t fool you into thinking that ending body shaming conversations, both externally and internally will stop just like that. Think about how long you have been on this earth. Think back to a time when you didn’t believe these false truths. Can you think back that far? The point is that it took a long time to build up the Mean Girl, and while it won’t take as long to tear her down, it does take time. Time and practice.
I had time to practice recently…
The video from my Bat Mitzvah (from the ’80s!), was played in front of my family at a weekend gathering. In the past, I avoided viewing the recording because I remembered the shame I felt watching it the first time back way when. I was ashamed of my chubbiness. I was ashamed of my full face. After learning how to quiet my Mean Girl, watching it was enjoyable. Not only did I watch it, but I watched it with a full room of family, who did comment on my chubby cheeks (and not all in a nice way), and you know what? I had empathy for that 13-year-old girl who was embarrassed by her face, and I realized that she was beautiful, and joyful, and had lots of friends around her. She studied hard for her Bat Mitzvah, chanted the Hebrew text with ease, and celebrated with friends who only wanted to hug her and dance with her for the rest of the afternoon. She was pretty awesome.
Had the Mean Girl not possessed me at the age of nine, I might have spent more of my time building myself (and others) up instead of constantly comparing myself (and others) to the “ideal.” Imagine all of the things we might try if we weren’t so concerned with what we looked like, and focused on our abilities and accomplishments as girls and women. So much wasted time hating ourselves instead of loving ourselves!
Body shaming ends today.
Start practicing. Tell that Mean Girl to shut the f**k up. Strengthen your Kind Girl voice by her telling truths about yourself. Practice it on others as well. Focus on character instead of clothing size. Focus on ability instead of abs. Focus on intelligence, kindness, and morality. After all, aren’t those the qualities that develop your relationships, land you your dream job, and make the world a better place? I know it can’t be all about the size of your ass.
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