Last week we published an article titled, “The Problem with Skinny Bashing.” Born from my own frustration with how women were insulting other women’s bodies on social media, the article explored how hurtful it can be when people proclaim their body type to be superior to another’s. The most recent facebook phenomenon of posting images like this one, the subject of my last article, shows that skinny-bashing has become acceptable, and even encouraged, as a way to fight against the worship of the size two bodies we see in movies, magazines and on TV. But no one should be body-bashed. And insulting one another certainly isn’t going stop the cycle of verbal abuse that has damaged our confidence and our love of our bodies.
The article went viral. With over 4,000 likes on facebook, over 300 comments on the post, reddit threads and blog responses, women and men came out to share their stories and frustration with a society that shames women (and men too), no matter what they look like.
It was inspiring. Most women who chimed in shared their desire for creating a kinder world. One where we value health and confidence over fitting into the narrow category of beauty that fashion magazines and Hollywood promote each day. This longing to change the way we think about others and ourselves is something we can and should put into action. With the force of women who want a more supportive and safer world to live in, I really believe it can be done.
The question becomes: in a society where people are insulting one another to make themselves feel better at the expense of others, how are we supposed to be comfortable with our natural shapes? Based on the comments and my personal experience, insults are flung from friends, family and even total strangers about everything from cup size to waist size. Some didn’t even realize they were being hurtful, but after further discussion, saw that it’s inappropriate and even cruel to make comments about the shape of another person’s body.
Even after reading the article, some chose still to bash.
One man posted on facebook in response: “+ 1 on the fuller body. I don’t know any man who would prefer the skinny body presented by the woman on the far left.”
My response to him: “It’s not about your preference. It’s about women not worrying so much about what men want or what the media says we should look like, and instead striving for a healthy body. Whatever shape that may be. By the way, I’m skinny and my husband likes me just fine.”
I purposefully left my size out of “The Problem with Skinny Bashing.” I didn’t want my own body to become the focus (and isn’t that the point?). But, inspired by so many women who came forward to share their own stories, I can say: I’m 30 years old, 5’9” and a size two. I’ve always been a size two. Like many of the thin women who commented, I was made fun of for being flat-chested and skinny during puberty. Other young women made fun of me in the locker room for my gangly limbs and training bra. It wasn’t until college that I became remotely comfortable with myself.
If living in my skin sounds like something to be envied, be warned. If you want to trade your body for mine, you have to take with it the scars from cancer and a permanent disability. No body is perfect. We all struggle. We all have insecurities, and we all hurt when others bash us.
With all women, no matter what the size, facing emotional issues with their bodies (insecurity, insults, fear, health problems), how can we pool our resources to change something that has so skillfully invaded–and created–our feelings about others and ourselves?
Here are some thoughts that I had. I’d love to hear yours, too. After all, if we’re going to build a better way of talking about our bodies, it needs to be a conversation everyone is a part of.
1. I’m a big fan of personal responsibility. If you find yourself looking at another woman’s body and tearing it down in your mind for being too fat, thin, busty, flat-chested, short, tall, wearing last season’s clothes: stop. Retrain yourself to look beyond the physical. I too am guilty of doing this. I’m trying to retrain my brain to be more positive and less critical, both of myself and others. As I’ve grown older, it has gotten easier, but like any change in behavior, it takes work. Knowing the effect one person can have on the world (positive or negative), I’m doing the work, and it’s making me into a happier person.
2. If you hear others tearing someone down, don’t join in, and don’t be silent. Bullies aren’t just in junior high. Adults can be bullies, and bullies need someone to stand up to them, even if it’s gently pointing out to a friend that no one deserves to have his or her body be insulted, criticized, or critiqued.
3. Let go of the way magazines and movies tell you that you should look, and let go of the way they tell you other people should look. Make health and comfort in your own skin your ultimate goal. When we appreciate ourselves and let go of the jealously we feel towards others, we are able to truly be at peace with our bodies.
4. Each person has their own vision of beauty and their own goals for how they want to look. We need to stop expecting other people to agree with our own unique vision and find joy in the fact that our society is built out of all different kinds of people. The “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
5. If someone body-bashes you, don’t politely smile and wish you could disappear. (That’s what I used to do.) Instead tell them that their comments make you uncomfortable and you don’t wish to discuss your body with them. If they protest or say that they were complimenting you (so many backhanded compliments!), forward them the article “The Problem with Skinny Bashing.”
Do you have any other suggestions? If so, we’d love to hear them in the comments. And, on twitter, use the hashtag #bodybashing to keep the conversation going. I’m inspired by your stories, and I know others are too.
Ali Berman is a writer/teacher/activist. She works as a humane educator for HEART teaching kids about issues affecting people, animals and the environment. She is also the senior editor for Ecorazzi.com and a fiction writer.