Body shaming is a hot button issue in the age of over-posting, -tweeting, -gramming, and -sharing. But, with as much as you hear the term, do you recognize it when it’s happening? And, when you do witness it, do you know how to react?
What Body Shaming Looks Like
Traditionally, we think of body shaming as the vocal outright criticism of another person’s body, but today body shaming takes many forms, including self-imposed shaming.
You may recognize it when it’s blatant, like when a friend notes that another girl, “really can’t pull of that dress with those arms”, but how about when you’re scrolling through your Instagram, see a #fitspiration pic and lament to your BFF how you will never have abs like that? Or, when your sister describes running into an old friend, saying, “I guess she’s not going to the gym like she used to!”
Celebrities are a target for this negative talk, getting backlash for their award show attire, not loosing baby weight fast enough, or loosing it too fast. Looking at the comments on practically any picture of a woman – celebrity or not – and learn just how harsh people can be to those they don’t even know!
For whatever reason, people feel they can comment on other women’s physical appearance, and we even compare ourselves – for better or worse – about things that are often out of our control but rather a result of our genes. Hearing, reading, and thinking these comments take their toll on our psyche, making it easier to believe these negative comments hold (excuse the pun) weight. We start to believe we should look a certain way, be a certain weight, have a specific physique, when in our logical mind we know it’s not actually true
How To Stop
Once you can identify body shaming when it’s happening – especially in not so obvious ways – now you’re ready to act. If you’re a quiet person like me, you’re thinking, “there is no way I’m hopping on a soap box!”. Relax, you don’t have to constantly and publicly blast offenders to have a positive effect and actively be anti-body shaming.
Let’s start with self body-shaming. You likely do this more than you realize, so when you have these negative thoughts about yourself, stop and confront them with what’s true. Here is a great post on how to deal with these thoughts and diminish the effect they have on your self-compassion and self-confidence.
Next, when you have a negative thought or utter something about someone else’s appearance, stop and try to pinpoint the root of these feelings. For example, you meet up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, and notice her arms are looking more muscular, and you later relay to your husband how, “she’s too buff, she hardly looks feminine anymore”. Could you be upset that she’s stuck to a strength training routine, something you’ve tried to do on and off? Are you jealous you can’t put muscle on that fast? Do you feel women shouldn’t have a certain amount of muscle? Why is that?
This may be a comfortable way to stop and check in with your own judgements and pressures you feel from social media, but speaking up when someone else is body-shaming takes a little more confidence. As we know, just because you don’t join in, staying silent isn’t helping, although literally walking away can send a strong message that you won’t participate.
We’re all used to the negative comments our friends say about themselves, only to set off a spurt of everyone else in the group pointing out their own flaws! Instead of joining in, say something you’re proud of, and it doesn’t have to be a physical trait. Simply stating, “I started running again and I already feel more energetic”, or, “I cut back on sugar and have been sleeping better.”
This doesn’t have to be done in a combative approach. Here are some examples of responses to common body-shaming statements:
Offer an alternate view
Shaming: “Her arms are manly.”
Anti-shame: “I would kill to have that muscle definition!”
Point out arbitrary societal standards
Shaming: “She would be pretty if she lose some weight.”
Anti-shame: “What does that have to do with being pretty? Who says she should weight less?”
Play devil’s advocate
Shaming: “She should lay off the dessert if she doesn’t want to be so fat.”
Anti-shame: “Maybe this is the first treat she’s had all month.”
Be direct and stop it
Shaming: “Did you see that dress Ashley was wearing? It’d look better a few sizes bigger!”
Anti-shame: “That’s rude, why would you talk about her like that?”
Don’t be a lemming
Shaming: “Let’s skip dessert, we don’t need the calories!”
Anti-shame: “I was looking forward to a sweet treat, anyone want to split?”
Show your confidence
Shaming: “You’re like me, we carry our weight in our hips.”
Anti-shaming: “I’ve always liked my curves!”
The more you confront body-shaming statements – whether with yourself, your friends, or strangers – the easier it will get, and the better responses you’ll have at the ready. When you feel you don’t need to say anything because you aren’t hurt by these comments – you’re confident enough to brush them off – think of those it deeply effects. Think of the younger girls growing up in a society where it’s OK to casually say hurtful meaningless comments. Do your part to point out when someone’s comments are rude, they honestly may not realize how uncalled for it is and how painful their words can be.
My favorite quote from Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, is that when she finds either herself or someone else comparing themselves to another woman she simply says, “great for her, not for me.”
Let’s be a little more like this!
If self-compassion is something you’d like to work on, join my 7 Days of Self-Compassion Challenge! You will receive a daily email with an exercise in self-compassion starting February 12th. Sign up here and give yourself a pat on the back!