Confessions of a Body Shamer

I write this while my fitness ball stares at me. Earlier, I was working out at home to burn calories and get to work on the body I want. Let me repeat that: the body I want.

My husband would tell me, almost repeatedly to my selectively-deaf ears: there’s nothing wrong with my body and I have to love it.

“I love my body! But I don’t mind getting leaner and firmer.” Why? Because the perfect body in my head is still so much “better” from the body I own.

This self-image deficiency makes me body-shame my own body. And yes, I confess. I body-shame other people, too.

I cannot forget being 5 years old and mocked for being fat. I recall hearing that taller girls are more beautiful because they can be models and beauty queens, as if being beautiful is singularly measured that way. I remember how in all-girls school, I was made to feel too simple because my hair wasn’t long and wavy and my skin was too brown.

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These judgments for a child, along with Barbie and the highly visual use of women’s bodies in all imaginable media, lead to a limited frame of beauty–that of Victoria’s Secret angel proportions. Expectedly, little girls grow up miserably trying so hard to change their bodies and barely coming around to love their own.

Growing up, finding my independence and self-identity, and challenging my body through some sports and varied workouts made me appreciate beauty found in a body’s strength. I would highly recommend every girl to push her body’s limits in sports and physical activities because these give a different perspective. These will allow a girl to love what her body can do, more than how her body looks.

CrossFit, running, biking and surfing have opened my eyes to loving a stronger physique in a woman’s form. But I must still admit that my own journey inadvertently added a lens to my eyes to make me see when a body shows lack of strength and agility. A common sarcastic remark heard in mirror-lined gyms: DYEL for “Do you even lift?”

But even getting a stronger body becomes subjected to body-shaming, the most famous line I get is: “Be careful. You might look like a man.”

It cannot be undone. We live in a world that is quick to judge. We place increasing value in visuals and there is a glut of images and videos in our social media feed: selfies, bikini photos, glam pose, OOTD, etcetera that are easily aided by filters and graphics for enhancement. It’s a Trump world, and Kellyanne Conway’s alternative fact, albeit outrageous, rings true with people’s penchant for spins.

Recently, in the Miss Universe pageant articles being shared by my Facebook friends, I have read body-shaming comments against Ms. Canada particularly about how she is beautiful but fat.

Lady Gaga’s halftime performance at the best Super Bowl in history (thanks to the Patriots’ record-breaking play) was spectacular, and I would rank it up there after Michael Jackson’s 1993 show and arguably, U2’s emotional tribute in 2002. But her neck-breaking stunts and showmanship were marred by nasty comments about her fat belly.

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I will come clean. These same thoughts entered my head, and I had to consciously push them out and stop myself from verbalizing negative thoughts.

That some people went to the extent of expressing their opinions on Ms. Canada and Lady Gaga’s bodies prove something so simple: to a large degree, we all feel entitled to have an opinion about other people’s bodies.

And the culture of body-shaming is what it is. It is seemingly inherent in our modern culture, intuitive among us, and absolutely intrusive to other people, most particularly girls.

So let me come to terms with it. I am a body-shamer. I subject my own body to standards that breed my own discontent. I am no better. How do I keep myself in check?

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No matter which point in the fat to skinny spectrum a body belongs, it is no one’s business but the person’s own. The moment we assign our chosen adjective; we begin the shaming. We need to know that a person’s physical features are off limits, even if a person is a public personality. The conversation should stop being about a person’s looks because these conversations distort the reality of universal beauty.

When people wear clothes that are too tight, when someone’s belly unknowingly sticks out, when a person looks “too skinny” even, there’s no place for commentary.

I have laughed at and made dadbod jokes, and have bullied my guy friends about their belt-changing weight, simply because I was too comfortable with them and was trying to be funny.

We need to shift our humor towards the body-positive and body-neutral. When asked, “How do I look?,” it is prudent to think twice about speaking the truth without speaking to create more self-consciousness, or shame.

We need to consciously recognize and honor diversity. Beauty need not have a prototype. We ought to love different bodies and not make a person feel any less beautiful for her body type. I now understand mommy friends who cringe when people compliment their little girls by calling them “sexy” and “pretty,” mistakes I unknowingly make when our vocabulary for praises have likewise been so limited.

To h*** with our own and other people’s standards, every body is beautiful.

We need to shut our own thoughts and biases and stop making girls get depressed because they’re too fat, too short, too tall, too skinny, too ordinary.

Reversely, this may mean that we need to watch our own bias when praising physical attributes limited to popular definitions of sexy. When we see long legs, flat abs, and toned arms, it’s good to know that praising these can affect people who don’t have the same.

In a 2015 Huffington Post article by Rebecca Adams, it is shown that women experience an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day, while 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” moment each day.

More women should stand by women in a revolution of less judgment, more kindness. Parents can raise their children to respect their own and other people’s bodies and not poke fun at or be miserable for them. Schools and teachers can help kids become mindful of our language and disallow body-shaming bullying in its many forms.

I will start by challenging my own thoughts and biases before I speak them. And of course, by listening to my husband for real and loving my body for what it is, and not for what it can be.

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