If you are a consistent reader of readneena.com, perhaps you will recall that in a previous blog post, I expressed a sadness over the epidemic of negative body image, particularly affecting girls and women, and a hopefulness that we can each work on changing that. However, the way we each view ourselves and speak in reference to our own bodies is only part of the problem.
The inspiration behind this post, or at least its timing, came from a conversation that made smoke come out of my ears and sent me furiously grasping for my megaphone/soapbox/keyboard. It involved a very dear, petite friend, and a woman who refused to let my friend sympathize with her negativity towards her own body because she’s “so skinny.” This woman, and so many others, need to be reminded that shaming someone for their body, regardless of its size in relation to your own, is harmful, and merely spreads your small circle of negativity further out into the world.
How have we developed this notion that it is acceptable to offer commentary on anyone else’s body? Its shape, its color, its BMI, its muscle tone, its lack of anything we think should be present, or presence of anything we think should be lacking. Even when qualified with a “compliment,” unsought opinions are still criticisms. “You look beautiful” is not the same as “You’re so skinny. You’re lucky.” One person’s ideal is another person’s problem area.
Actually, let me repeat that: One person’s ideal is another person’s problem area. Every single person is made up of different genes, of different habits, of different metabolisms, yet there is some arbitrary shape that we are all supposed to strive for. It’s like making a cake with beef instead of sugar; you can mix and mix, but it’s just not going to be the dish you wanted. A little refocus and you might end up with a great meatloaf, though.
There has also been a troublesome side effect of a movement that, at its core, is healthy and positive. Fitness, strength, and healthy eating have been making a stronger presence in places that used to just focus on weight loss. Exercise and healthy food are both things that inarguably benefit every person. But when the information is not presented correctly, or when the same arbitrary body type is shown to everybody as the fit ideal, we are left with the majority of the population feeling badly about themselves for not being able to achieve that same shape. Fitness is not an “all or nothing” concept. Lacking visually defined abs does not mean you should give up and plant on the couch. Allow me to include a real life example. If you have met me, you know that I am neither lean nor lanky. I’m short, I’m curvy, I’m soft, and I’m strong. My sister is built just like me. She is extremely dedicated to her health and fitness. She hits the gym nearly every day, has run multiple 10k races, and prepares food with more vegetables and obscure seeds than I knew existed. She’s also beautiful and hilarious and smart, but that might be the big sister speaking, and might also be outside the scope of this post. Upon moving to a new neighborhood recently, her membership at a new gym included a free consult with a personal trainer. Instead of asking her what her fitness goals were, based on her individual body type and lifestyle, the trainer asked her what weight she hoped to get down to. Oh, HELL no. This is from a supposed fitness professional, who one would hope has a greater understanding of health than just what a scale says. She left feeling badly about herself, which makes me want to go to that gym and either burn it to the ground (again, sister talking) or at least share a few choice words with that trainer, his boss, and the corporate owners regarding the “healthy” experience that their customers are getting.
Shame is not the way to achieve anything. Shame will not slim your thighs or inflate your breasts. It will not make your free-trial fitness clients refer their friends to your services, and it certainly won’t help end the cycle of self-loathing many women find themselves in.
Some of us are meatloaf, and some of us are cake. We’re all delicious.