I want to preface this post with a big ol’ disclaimer that my life is beautiful and this summer has brought me so much joy. However, the past few months have been incredibly difficult for me, because I found myself in quite a toxic environment.
While this summer has not been my first struggle with body shaming, it has been the first time that I have been acutely aware of other people’s comments not only about my body, but about their bodies as well. It has felt suffocating and defeating to not get through even one hour of the day without someone making a self deprecating fat “joke” about themselves, attributing morality with the food they eat, and it was the first time a mentor and a teacher flat out told me I was “carrying around too much weight” and how I needed to lose at least 30 pounds.
I have done a lot of personal searching and discovery to become at peace with my body and where it is in its current journey. I have vigorously fought against beauty standards and insecurities that have been thrust upon my body from other people. I have fought. However, this summer has been the first time that I felt myself digressing into bad thoughts and habits that I honestly haven’t struggled with since High School.
All of this had me scrambling for help. And I realized that I would never want another person to go through the things that I did this summer. I would never want another person to feel like they have to make themselves small in order to make other people comfortable. And here we are.
I’m hoping that if you’re struggling with what other people have said or done concerning your body, you can read this and find peace and maybe some new ways to move on from the situation.
Morality & Food
Meal times have been particularly difficult for me this summer. The program I was participating was on a college campus and we all ate three meals a day out of the cafeteria. I cannot tell you how many comments I have heard where someone tied morality to the food they (or someone else) were eating.
“I’m being so bad right now! I shouldn’t be eating this ice cream..”
“I’m still so hungry but I know I need to be good and not get more food.”
“Wow! That’s your second plate? You should enter a food eating contest!”
“I’m going to gain soooo much weight this summer from eating all this food. Ugh!”
I have heard all of these and so many more things said about food and associating it with morality all. summer. long.
For a while, it was very triggering for me and I had to eat my meals alone, because I didn’t want to feel ashamed for eating food that my body needed.
Whenever these comments were made, I felt very exposed. Living in the body I have, a body that is constantly questioned and seen as “unappealing” in our society, I felt these comments on my ribs. They cut me. They made me incredibly self-conscious about myself at meal times.
I didn’t want to put too much on my plate, because maybe someone would make a comment about it and embarrass me in front of 20 other people. I didn’t want to eat too quickly, because maybe someone would notice how hungry I was and then I would never be able to shed the image of the fat girl who just couldn’t control herself.
I struggled silently and I struggled h a r d.
I wish someone told me:
Your integrity as a person is not tied to what you eat.
Eating ice cream does not make you a “bad” person.
How good you are as a human being has nothing to do with what is on your plate.
You are not a bad person if you eat sugar, or bread, or lasagna.
Approaching food with a sense of fear will lead to a disordered relationship with food.
Morality is not tied with the size of your body.
Being thin does not automatically make you a better person.
Being fat does not make you a bad person.
Being fat does not make you invalid. You are allowed to eat. You are allowed to take up space.
Since joining the body positive movement, I have stopped hiding behind fat “jokes”.
I used to use them as a tactic to gain people’s admiration and respect. If I made the joke about how fat I was first, other people wouldn’t have the chance to hurt me by making the same joke. If I made myself small and was self deprecating, maybe other people would find me relatable and useful and befriend me, rather than tease and bully me.
When I realized that my body deserved a lot more than just being a punchline, I stopped making these statements. However, this summer I heard so many references and “jokes” about being fat and becoming fat.
(I’m putting “jokes” in italics, because they’re not actually funny. They’re not really jokes, but more like internalized insecurities attempting to be sold as humor. )
What people don’t realize (or maybe they do), is that when they make these jokes about having a bigger body and being fat, they were specifically singling me out.
How was I supposed to feel when another woman, similar to my size, referred to herself as a “fat cow”?
How was I supposed to feel about my body, that was bigger than the girl next to me, who kept “joking” about how fat she was going to get over the summer and how her boyfriend is just going to have to “deal with it”?
“Jokes” like these told me that having a fat body was shameful and distasteful. My body was shameful and distasteful.
I wish someone had told me:
You don’t have to laugh at things that are not funny.
My fat body is worthy of love and respect.
My fat body is not a punchline.
I deserve friendships with people who value and respect me and my body.
All people are on different journeys of loving themselves and just because someone is taking a little longer to accept their body, it does not mean you have to love yourself any less or dim your light because someone else is stuck.
I am incredibly loved and supported and even if I’m far away from that support, I still have it.
Start looking at people with your whole heart.
Look at their statements about themselves and ponder why they’re making them.
Maybe they’re a little broken.
Maybe they’re scared.
That doesn’t mean you have to be.
Limiting Ourselves as Women
100% of the comments and jokes that have been made this summer that have made me so uncomfortable, were made by women.
They were made by young women, who are still trying to find their footing in the world. Young women who are struggling to love themselves and their bodies. Young women who are still stuck and trying so hard to feel good about themselves. Young women who point and laugh at their flat stomachs to get you to notice their “food baby” after eating a piece of lettuce. Young women who, unwittingly projected their deepest insecurities onto bodies that absolutely terrify them. Fat bodies that terrify them, because they think being fat is one of the worst things that could happen to them. They were made by fat women who were lost and ashamed of themselves. They were made by women drowning in their own insecurities.
They were made by older women, who have been beaten and broken down by a society that holds beauty on the smallest and most unreachable pedestal. Older women who have been shamed into dark corners. Older women who are stuck because they never accepted or truly loved themselves. Older women who think making comments about bodies that are not their own are okay. Older women who tell you to “burn” pieces of your clothing because they don’t find them appealing. Older women who have set up a foundation in self-hatred and disguised it as concern.
They were made by women who found themselves grasping for connections. Women who thought that the only things we would have in common were how we were going to change our bodies. How we were going to make ourselves “more appealing” and “fix” ourselves.
When I came to this realization, that these women were saying these things to me to connect with me and find “common ground” my reactions changed. I was seeing these women with my heart and I saw so many different colors of insecurity, doubt, nervousness, and fear. It stopped feeling like personal attacks and more like tragically sorrowful exchanges with women who were trapped inside their own misconceptions and pain.
I wish someone had told me:
You can connect with other women and not have every conversation revolve around your bodies.
You can change the subject when someone brings up diet pills.
When someone makes a comment about their body being “too fat” or “gross”, you don’t have to match it with a comment about your own body. You are not required to RSVP or attend their destructive body image party.
You can love and connect to other women through so many different channels of discussion.
Ask them about their mothers.
Ask them about their favorite lipstick color.
Ask them about their hometowns.
Ask them about their first kiss.
Ask them about their favorite movie.
Do not limit yourself to discussions about how you hate your bodies. You are all so much more than that.
Caring for Yourself
After struggling with these comments and moments, I had no idea what to do with myself.
I felt myself feeling dark and empty and I needed help.
I realized no one had ever told me what to do after facing this kind of conflict. I had to figure it out for myself.
Here’s what I wish someone had told me:
1. Reach Out After a particularly hard incident, I reached out on Instagram to @NatalieMeansNice and I told her what had happened and she responded by logically talking to me about the situation. She never made me feel invalid, or crazy, but she also never fueled my emotional state. I’m really grateful that she responded to me, because it really helped. It can be so exhausting to constantly battle things like this, but sometimes it can be liberating just knowing that one other person understands you and your struggle.
2. Get Angry
For me, anger can sometimes be a superpower. Because I am a naturally caring and involved person, becoming angry opens up the greatest door of “I-Don’t-Give-A-F*ck”. When I get angry about a situation, that’s normally when I decide to do something to change it. Of course, with all things, anger is only good for me in moderation–but it personally helps me to be angry. When I’m angry, I’m not scared. When I’m angry, I’m not apologetic. When I’m angry, I’m a little fearless. Anger sometimes feels a little like armor. I can wear anger for a little while and it makes my exterior a little harder, a little tougher. Eventually, I have to put it down and move on, but in the midst of all of the chaos and struggle, my anger helped me.
3. Say What You Love About Yourself Out loud Boldly love yourself, even when the world seems to be telling you to do the opposite. Look in a mirror every morning, look yourself in the eyes and say four things you love about yourself out loud. Your smile. Your lipstick. Your determination. Your laugh. Your love of writing letters. Your insatiable need for books. Whatever it is, say it to yourself out loud. All the time. Repeat them throughout the day. Don’t forget them. They’re how you keep your inner light alive.
4. Watch Bob’s Burgers or Parks and Recreation They’re just fun and they’ll make you laugh and everyone needs that after a hard day.
5. Temporary Know that these feelings and situations are temporary. You do not have to become a resident in these dark feelings. You do not have to live inside self-hatred, propelled by other people. Know that you are strong enough to dig yourself out of the holes that other people leave. Know that you are going to come out of this alive and vibrant.
A lot of these feelings are still very raw for me.
My skin still stings a little when I think about these things.
I’m still in progress.
I hope none of this comes off as an attack against other people, but sometimes we have to be uncomfortable to get better. We have to be called out on our behaviors that can be harmful, in order to change and be better people. Better humans.
Like I said, I’m still in progress.
Other people are too.
We’re all trying.
I hope you keep trying, even when faced with hard stuff like this.
I hope you keep trying and loving one another even when you feel like you can’t.
I hope that despite the thorns, you keep looking for the blooms.
I hope you keep trying.