I don’t know why this case of body-shaming has hit me especially hard. It’s not as if it’s surprising. People of all walks of life, particularly women, experience it regularly, and much of my energy is dedicated to fighting it.
Maybe it’s the way it was stated. After losing ___ amount of weight, “Precious is finally living up to her name,” numerous media outlets have stated of actress Gabourey Sidibe’s weight loss, gleaning likes and shares o’ plenty. As prevalent as this kind of messaging is, there’s something particularly painstaking when it’s so blatant. You are not precious—not loving or valuable—it instructs, if you do not live in an “acceptable” body. And when it’s said about one person, it’s arguably said about us all.
Regardless of why, it hit me. Hard. My heart aches, not only for Gabourey Sidibe, but for all people who face such brutality, and a culture that continues to allow it. The kind that too easily creeps into the fabric of our being, affecting everything from our sense of self-worth and moods to our relationships, health and ability to soar in life.
Many people have been dumbstruck by the “Precious is living up to her name” messages: How the hell could someone actually say such a thing???
Trust me, I agree!
But the truth is, many, if not most, folks express these ideas in all sorts of obvious and subtle ways at some point. I know I have, and it’s taken a great deal of awareness and effort to make changes. The learning never stops.
In honor of Gabby, here are just some examples of body-shaming I see often. They not only chip away at others’ sense of self-worth, but perpetuate the misguided idea that our value depends on striving for or maintaining narrow, generally unrealistic definitions of beauty.
“You look amazing! How did you lose the weight?”
“Wow. How much weight have you lost?”
“No offense, but they do not have the body for that (outfit, bathing suit, etc.).”
“You’re wearing that? So brave.”
“Sure, she looks good—but she’s obviously had work done.”
“You’re too skinny. Eat a cheeseburger.”
“That costume is way too ‘slutty’ (or ‘sexy’).”
“I hate my thighs/belly/fill-in-the-blank.”
“I’m too fat/flat/flabby for that.”
“I can’t believe you can get away with eating that. I’d gain weight instantly.”
“Yay, me! I lost 10 more pounds!”
“Wow, you don’t look that old!”
If you tend to think or say any of these, I urge you to stop. All it takes is a bit of commitment, awareness and catching yourself when you slip up. Better yet, catch others, too. Say, “I know you didn’t mean to, but that’s actually a pretty harmful thing to say.” If you don’t feel up for discussion, point them here.
I’m sure someone, if not many someones, reading this will assume these statements are no biggie, that I’m overreacting or word-policing. But as someone who’s survived an eating disorder, stays on top of research on this subject and has worked and interacted with countless beautiful souls who struggle to embrace their bodies and selves, I can tell you with certainty that they matter. If you’re on the fence, please consider this:
There is zero risk or harm in altering our words and behaviors to make the world a safer, more compassionate place for all. I suspect that if you give it a try, you’ll benefit personally, too.
If you yourself are struggling with poor body image, please know that you’re not alone. You are not the problem. Society is. One of the most powerful weapons we have is to embrace ourselves.
*For more on this topic, including explanations of why these types of messages cause harm, check out my earlier post, 6 Ways You May Be Body-Shaming Without Realizing It.
KM Huber says
“The learning never stops”–that’s a key reminder for me, August. I’ll make mistakes in my speech, even when my intention is the opposite–it’s being human, as you say–learning from my mistakes is the compassionate response, IMO.
Thoughtful post as always.
August McLaughlin says
Cheers, Karen. I think we can all use such reminders now and then, and I agree about learning being compassionate. Beautifully put!
Matthew Wright says
Great post! There is no call whatsoever for people to be judgemental about others – for ANY reason. To my mind, ‘body shaming’ (aka, ‘ignorant bullying’) is a pervasive symptom of much that is ethically wrong with western society at deeper level – one society is conditioned into and which is expressed, thanks to the nature of commercialisation, in constantly changing pop-culture definitions of what is currently ‘cool’. It’s been given a personalised force, in recent years, by social media. And it’s totally geared towards ‘validating’ those who express ‘shaming’ of any kind at the expense of those defined as ‘wrong’ by it. To me, it’s a particularly nasty form of a conceptual failing that is probably part of the human condition historically, but which the industrial revolution focused and from which we haven’t yet escaped.
I think that among many other things western society has re-defined ‘worth’ in commercialised terms – which include a definition of physical appearance that isn’t actually realistic in a biological sense. We have forgotten, as a society, how to accept people for their own qualities, as people – and as you point out, that means that individuals are conditioned not to accept themselves. I think it’s a general human failing – many other societies have done it historically – but our western industrial one seems to have made it into an art form. Damn.
August McLaughlin says
Such excellent points, Matthew! The rise of social media surely has played a role in all of this, and while it can be used for good, there’s far too much bullying. I love what you said about redefining “worth” in commercialized terms, and the conditioning that happens. So very, very true.
Shan Jeniah Burton says
I missed the entire thing , because I was doing other things. But, seriously….are people saying, or even implying, that a talented actress and a real live woman is only “precious” based on the size of the body she inhabits?!
No matter how thick or thin our vehicles, we can all be like TARDISes – bigger, and deeper on the inside, with more textures and layers than can ever be seen from the outside in. Since there’s only one of each of us, that makes us pretty precious to begin with, doesn’t it?
When I moved from being a dominating parent to a partnering one, I spent months trying to pay attention to EVERY word I said to my kids. I backed up and REsaid – a LOT! Eventually, it became more natural, and I became much more conscious of words and their power.
This post is a powerful reminder!
August McLaughlin says
I’m glad you missed it, Shan! It’s been brutal. Your kids are so blessed to have you – the world needs every positive influence it can get.