How many times have you heard someone comment about someone else’s body? She is too tall, she is too thin, she is too fat, she has too many tattoos, he has too many pimples …. and the list goes on and on.
Is it ok to comment about someone else’s body? That is the question I would like you to keep in the back of your mind while you’re reading this post. But, first things first, what is body shaming?
What is Body shaming?
According to yourdictionary.com, the definition of body shaming is; ‘The definition of body shaming is the practice of making critical, potentially humiliating comments about a person’s body size or weight.’
I asked 2 friends of mine what they thought body shaming was and this is what they told me:
Michael: ‘I’d say any comments or actions that can make you feel uncomfortable with your body. This includes comments about how you look – your shape, size, colour, skin, even clothing and piercings. There are even adverts that make you upset/anxious about how you look.’
Laura: ‘I would class it as making anyone feel bad or ridiculing someone for their appearance, that could be for being fat, thin, tattoos, different fashion sense, birthmarks, just anything that makes someone feel bad about their body. I have a birthmark on my face, and people keep asking me why I don’t wash my face properly to remove the stain.’
With these in mind, I want to share my experience and the experience of a couple of my followers who have shared their story with me.
Marilyn was looking forward to starting school when she was young. Her mum and grandmother always told her she would have so much fun and make so many friends. She hadn’t long started school (aged four) before another child decided to call the little girl ‘fat’. Unfortunately, Marilyn wasn’t just getting called fat. She was also getting called stupid, a loner, strange, and nobody would stand next to her as they claimed she would give them germs.
Marilyn felt that everybody hated her and that nobody wanted to be her friend. Her grandmother and mother lied to her when they told her that school would be fun. That three-letter word became stuck to the girl like glue, affecting her in more ways than one. Food became an enemy and sitting around the table with her family was a nightmare for her – she even refused to celebrate her birthday as she knew there would have to be cake.
That little girl (now aged 10) decided that after many fat comments, she was fat and food no longer passed her lips unless necessary. She eventually developed anorexia. No matter how much weight she lost she always felt fat and refused to eat at all costs. Negative thoughts about her body image plagued her mind. She lived in absolute fear of going out to eat in a restaurant.
At 13 years of age Marilyn weighed 27kg, all the other girls were getting their period and developing breasts – but she was not. Now the girls made fun of her because her chest was bony and everyone asked her whether she had gotten her period yet. She would stuff her bra with tissues when she went to school – just a bit so that they would stop taunting her but not that she looked fatter. Eventually, when she turned 17 her weight had increased to 32kg. She could not believe that she did not eat but she was putting on weight – this was unacceptable and she had to do something about it – so she started wrapping herself up in cling film and workout in secret this way so she would lose weight faster and go down to her 13-year-old weight again.
Her parents pressured her to eat and fought every single day because of her weight; her doctor threatened to put her in a psychiatric hospital if she did not start eating and they would put a tube down her throat to force her to eat.
Marilyn has eventually sought help and is now weighing 45 kg, but the struggle is not over yet – people still comment about her body and most of the time even if it is a compliment it feels like an insult. What hurts the most are comments coming from strangers saying she looks ugly and sick.
Alexia suffered and battled childhood depression. Her doctors prescribed anti-depressants from age 14. Up to the age of 9, Alexia had friends at school who loved her, a close family of parents who appeared to love each other and love her and her sister. But then her body started changing. She developed breasts and hair on her legs and upper lip, and she was made fun of at school and even at her ballet class because of this. She quickly decided she did not want to go to ballet anymore. If she could, she would have also stopped going to school. At age 11 her life came crashing down. Her dad decided he would leave them without warning. They came back from school to find their mum crying hysterically, and their dad was gone, and they had no way of getting in touch with him.
She felt even more marginalised from her peers at school and could not talk about what happened for a very long time. She often dreamt about killing herself, and when she was 14, she tried to slit her wrists. That is when her doctors prescribed anti-depressants. From that point on her body did not feel like it was hers anymore. She put on a lot of weight; she was always hungry and no matter how much she ate nothing satisfied her hunger. Now the fat shaming started. She was often called a pig and ‘oink’ sounds made whenever she would walk by – this continued for several years. Her aunt would tell her that if she was not careful, she will never find anyone to love her because who could ever love a fat girl?
For her 17th birthday, her mum invited the family over for dinner her aunt and uncle got her a gym membership as a birthday present and told her that it was time she started losing some weight. When it was time to cut the cake her aunt pulled out her plate from underneath her and told her – you shouldn’t be having any. We just spent so much money on your gym membership and you are going to eat cake. She went up to her room and cried and after they left ate half of the cake all alone.
When she turned 20, their father tried to reconnect with her and her sister, and that is when she decided she will try and deal with her weight problem as she did not want to give her dad the satisfaction of seeing how much his leaving them affected her. Fast forward 12 years she has lost weight, is finally off antidepressants, got married and had a baby of her own. Her weight is healthy and she feels great. Last year she decided to get two tattoos one representing her battle and the other her love for her child.
She posted a photo of herself on social media in a bikini with her tattoos showing. Instead of seeing this as an expression of joy, some unfortunate lonely person thought the best use of their time was to try to hurt Alexia by shaming her.
In a cruel message, one of the commenters wrote “Disgusting. You’re a Mother now showing off your body, tattoo and all.”
Because apparently moms can’t have fun, wear bikinis, OR have tattoos.
I have experienced fat shaming, and acne-shaming first hand throughout my life! As I have said in posts before I was bullied from a young age with regards to my weight and body shape.
If I could earn 10 cents for the number of people who either commented on my weight, on what I eat both when I was obese and even throughout my weight loss journey – I would be a wealthy woman by now.
Recently it’s turned to warnings as well ‘don’t put the weight back on now!’ or ‘Are you still on a diet? Because you look the same’. One guy even told me – ‘video yourself while working out so I can see you are going to the gym because you always seem to look the same to me and have not lost any weight’ – please note he proceeded to ask me out after that happened.
Last year whilst I was posting photos of Instagram of my progress. Someone I do not know decided to comment on my post calling me unattractive, full of cellulite and that I apparently look like a man. It was a sensitive time for me – so I deleted her comment but I did screenshot it and good thing I did as now I am strong enough to share it.
You Can Have Your Opinions…
Seriously, it’s fine that my body is “not attractive” to this person (which is quite fortunate since I’m the one living in it, not her).
Imagine the self-loathing.
Oh wait, I can. I’ve lived it. I have hated my body for so damn long it makes me sick!
I must admit this comment when it was posted sent me into a mental and emotional tailspin. I battled with body dysmorphia as recently as 2017, believing that I was fat, deformed, ugly…and wrong.
I vividly remember, when I took that photo the scale dipped to the lowest ever. I was so happy that I posted about it. The elation was only momentary as I was made to feel that my body was all wrong by a comment from someone I did not even know on the internet!
Some people believe that making overweight people feel ashamed of their weight or eating habits may motivate them to get healthier. However, scientific evidence confirms that nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of motivating people, fat shaming makes them feel terrible about themselves, causing them to eat more and gain more weight.
So why am I talking about this now? Over the past few weeks, I got a couple of messages on facebook from people who have been experiencing body shaming. This is one of the messages:
And I decided to deal with this topic.
I want people to begin seeing conversations around body-shaming like this clearly
Research shows that much of the discussion on obesity on social media involves fat shaming, which often turns into harassment and cyberbullying — especially against women.
In fact, there are entire online communities where people gather to make fun of overweight people.
However, stigma and discrimination against overweight people cause major psychological harm and worsen the problem.
The harmful effects of fat shaming go beyond increased weight gain. These include: Depression, eating disorders reduced self-esteem and weight discrimination as well as the risk of suicide. There are studies showing that people who are obese and depressed are 21 times more likely to think of suicide and 12 times more likely to attempt suicide.
The Bottom Line
It took a long time, and a lot of work, for me to be okay with me. I have tried and failed many times, and there are days that I sometimes still feel affected by comments. But I am learning that
It matters a lot more to me how I feel…
I am Strong, capable, healthy, energised, vibrant, alive.
So really, I don’t care what anyone says about my body or if it doesn’t match up with their likes. But I’m lucky to be on the other side.
It’s taken me a lifetime not to need the opinions or validation of others to prop up my slipping self-worth. But here’s my worry….
Many, many women I know and work with aren’t there yet.
And they read hurtful comments, internalize them, and believe that they’re worthless for having cellulite (hey, thanks for pointing that out…like I didn’t ever notice!) or a weird nose or a big tummy or chunky thighs.
And those words become the very fiber of their being – they feel like they are so wrong that nothing can ever be right.
When I started this website, it was purely for fun with my bestie – we thought it would be something fun to do together. But now, I realize I have a duty and a purpose and a responsibility because so many are messaging me regularly with issues and questions.
So if for whatever reason, you cannot see how beautiful and worthy you are and this post can help you just a bit then I am already a success.
Now, I know from conversations with men in my life that body image/body shaming is real for them too so it is not only a woman’s issue. It happens to men and it hurts them, too.
But I need to point something out here:
The kind of body shaming and body obsession perpetuated against women today (often by other women) is a very real form of internalized misogyny.
Yes, I just went there.
Never before has it been harder to be a woman.
We’re either too “manly”, too busty, too skinny, too fat, too prudish, too slutty, too opinionated, too submissive, too perfect,…I mean, it just never stops, does it?
We’ve got to develop awareness when it comes to internalized misogyny…even within ourselves. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Please do not comment on any other persons body! You have no right to pass any judgement – no one is made the same and that is the beauty of us all – in that we are all unique
So let us all live by this rule: You do you, and I’ll keep doing me. Things tend to turn out better that way, anyway.
For those of you who find comfort in food, my program in binge eating is for you. Get in touch to schedule a free consultation.