This is the story of a handful of women, representative of untold numbers of people in our world. This is what body shaming looks like and how you can help.
My dream to heal through photography is most often to help heal unhealthy body image. In my social circle and with clients, I try to untie the devastating knots that are caused by a few harsh words. Body shaming tends to stick with us and become entwined with who we think we are. It’s important to talk about what body shaming looks like so that we can unravel those pieces and let them go.
Most of my blogs are image rich. This blog is mere words that I hope have power. This blog contains accounts from real people of body shaming. Age doesn’t matter. Thin doesn’t matter. Curvy doesn’t matter. It’s a symptom of a bigger issue. Judgement. And learning to keep outside judgment from polluting the insides of our minds and hearts. We have to learn to base our self-esteem on something inside us versus something others have said. It’s your work to let it go and find the beauty in yourself.
My friend Christine posted on Facebook and inspired this blog.
No joke, if one more ‘trainer’ compliments me then proceeds to say ‘I could help you reach your weight loss goals,’ I’m gonna flip. I’m 191 pounds, have a 36D bust, wear a size 8 jeans, have an ass and I’m proud. I exercise for my health not the scale. — ￼feeling pissed the fuck off.
She responded to the trainers simply, “I got this.” I’m so proud of her! I’m not sure I could have been as brief or eloquent. I imagine expletives would be involved.
Her story is an example of what body shaming looks like.
Approaching someone and assuming that they’re not happy with their body is body shaming. It’s a different situation entirely if someone seeks out a trainer to work towards fitness goals.
Christine trains to cultivate a strong body. I admire her goals. She told us,
I am not training for Ironman, I want muscle. I LOVE it. I like being able to leg press 225lbs and the kick the soccer ball the length of the field. I’m not training to lose weight, I’m training for strength and advantage on a soccer field. I’m happier when I am strong. I don’t want anyone to ever assume I WANT to be thin… because that is not my goal.
I decided this deserved a blog and put a call out for firsthand accounts of body shaming and how each person got past it.
I was not prepared for the avalanche (Facebook and my phone blew up) of submissions and comments. It’s heartbreaking.
Another friend Desirae is mostly off of Facebook due the negative and shaming posts she’s seen. Her story is one we hear too often. Past abuse starts a negative record that her brain records and plays over and over. She’s working hard to overcome it. She candidly described her feelings,
In fact, at a size 6, I am lean and still “technically” 25 lbs overweight. My very loving and supportive boyfriend has told me if I get any thinner I am going to be too thin. I feel mentally, physically, and emotionally more in charge…. But I still feel “fat, disgusting, and worthless.” I can’t seem to get away from the microscope view I have of myself, regardless of how beautiful everyone around me views me to be (and it has always been that way). It’s painful and it makes me feel deep shame about myself. Despite the fact that I work hard, and my work is very accurate and respectable, I find myself shaming myself just in general.
It’s like everyone has an opinion. I tend to agree with the negative words even though I exude confidence on the outside. I am constantly battling with myself, the humility, and the plague of my past. I have licked the wounds of my sexual abuse. I’m doing the hard spiritual/mental/emotional work to get to where I am. I’m not perfect but I find it peaceful that I am capable of having a healthy physical/emotional/mental relationship with my boyfriend. I feel very safe with him and for the first time ever I will walk around in my underwear or naked. I find this a huge milestone for me. Above all things it’s empowering and I feel like the missing piece of my womanhood is in place.
I don’t care if this is anonymous because I’m happy to share. These things are important, deeply and sincerely important.
Another friend, Didi, had boys at a mall laugh and say obscenities to her in front of her toddler for being overweight. She struggles to do things like go shopping because she feels so much pressure for being overweight.
I feel for her. This is the time that people need empathy. I didn’t lose 100 pounds overnight. The beginning was painful and lonely. This is what body shaming looks like.
Didi describes what she felt after the boys laughed at her,
Once they were out of sight I grabbed the shopping cart and my daughter, checked out, and left. I went straight home ignoring the other errands I needed to do. I felt so humiliated and defeated. I had thought I had come so far and yet I was so easily shaken. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized I have come a long way. Before I learned to sooth myself and my fears I would have: Cried. Cried for hours and destroyed myself worse than they had. I would have ripped myself apart and taken the blame for their actions. I would have hurt myself.
She did the most amazing part of this work. She chose to let their actions say more about them than her.
I now feel stronger and more confident in my mind and body because I did not allow it to hurt me. I may not have stood up for myself to them, but I feel I stood up for myself against myself.
Honestly, there’s nothing she could have said to change their behavior. She had no control over them. But she had control over herself and I’m so very proud that she loved herself through that.
Body shaming isn’t limited to shaming people for not being thin.
It’s a double edged sword that attacks people for being the coveted thin body type too. I think this is actually less reported. I got three times as many submissions from thin women than curvy. I’ve spent so long trying to give curvy women a voice… I should have been focusing on all women. I did not mean to leave them out. I was speaking from my own experience. So I’d like for you to hear their voices now, this is what body shaming looks like.
My beautiful (and talented, and smart, and funny) cousin Olivia has always been naturally thin. She recounted,
I’ve found that I’m often made to feel guilty that I’m naturally thin, and that since I’m thin, I’m not allowed to have any body issues or be self-conscious.
I can remember going shopping with friends in high school. In high school everyone is self conscious. Everyone was complaining about the difficulties of shopping for their body. I joined in, saying I have a hard time finding clothes that fit, and complained that there are certain trends I can’t wear (like strapless shirts), and I was immediately shot down. “Ugh, but you’re so skinny, I hate you!” That really stuck with me.
When asked how she’s overcome it (she’s a stylish confident gal) she told me,
I think I’ve changed my view of what’s flattering. I don’t base it necessarily on trends (though I do love fashion and trying new trends), but I’m learning to embrace my body and be more confident no matter what I put on. It helps to talk to people who have similar body types and share secrets like “that one store with the jeans that actually fit!”
If I enjoy what I’m wearing, then that should be good enough. I actually have found that I get more compliments, especially in the past few years, since I started being a bit more bold and dressing for myself!
I agree with her. The more I focus on clothes that fit ME and less on trends, the better I feel in my skin.
Linda is an amazing photographer and friend. She told me how she was body shamed,
I was thin all my life until I hit 50. Even as a child of the 50s and 60s (when everyone was much thinner than they are now) I was considered skinny. I can’t tell you the times I was asked by adults if I had worms. How embarrassing!
As a young adult people would greet me with, “I hate you, you’re so skinny,” and think it was fine. How about, “I hate you because you’re so pretty?”
My daughter is built similar to me and came home from junior high crying when someone wouldn’t give her a cookie. They didn’t want to because they didn’t think she needed to go throw it up. Anorexia and bulimia were terms to be thrown around to explain her body type then.
These comments are just as damaging as the reverse.
We have to STOP talking about bodies this way. Weight and body type don’t make a person. Actions, empathy and humanity make us people.
Jenny is someone who’s strength and beauty in pole dancing would take your breath away. She may be small but I promise your jaw would hit the floor to see her in action. She shared,
I posted an article very recently about things you should never say to a thin girl. I’m constantly being guilted for being thin. I find myself having to apologize to people because I’m thin and they aren’t. If I act proud of my body people act disgusted with me.
First. Jenny, stop apologizing. You shouldn’t have to. You’re beautiful. And strong. And that’s nothing to apologize for. This is what body shaming looks like.
Nina is another friend I met shaking up the pole dancing world. I’ve admired her body and it’s abilities for some time. She recounted,
When I saw my mom for the first time in 2.5 years after moving to the US, she told me I should eat more and stop working out so much because I looked “scraped thin” (bad translation). Not cool, especially since I eat A LOT and she knows it.
But Nina has a firm sense of self. After I told her that her body is incredible and does incredible things she responded,
Oh I know that! My ego/confidence is strong enough that no one’s going to tell me otherwise.
Nichole’s experience is similar to many thin women,
I’ve always been told that I’m too skinny or that a man wants a woman with some meat on her bones. I always took it with a grain of salt, but in the back of my mind there is always that little voice of doubt.
And for a final example of body shaming I’m sharing this. Scientists link selfies to mental illness. I recently wrote a blog about selfies being empowering. The article in this case is discussing how a need for perfect selfies can be a symptom of a bigger issue. It saddens me that a boy gave his life because he could never be what the outside voices wanted him to be. But this article takes a steep turn and then includes examples of the various “types” of selfies. And shames every person featured.
Body shaming is body shaming. Whether the body is perfect or the person is famous it’s still body shaming. We are alarmingly quick to normalize this kind of negative talk.
We’ve made it normal to make fun of someone’s appearance. Shame is so pervasive in our culture we don’t even realize the impact mere words have.
I have to fess up that writing this blog has been more difficult than others.
There were moments I stared at the screen and wondered if I had chosen a career that will forever be a single grain of sand against the raging sea. Would my pontifications ever make a difference? I’ve spent almost 14 years working to grow healthier self-esteem in the women I come in contact with. I don’t save this just for my clients. I live and breathe this stuff. I try to help everyone I meet from a woman in the dressing room next to me to someone I meet at a party. I share this stuff with everyone I meet that says something disparaging about themselves.
It’s a constant battle I fight because I believe winning will heal so much unnecessary hurt and transform the next generation into kinder more confident people. Our kids learn body image from how we perceive our own bodies.
But the battle I face seems overwhelming. And writing this blog, collecting the stories, reading the heart breaking comments, knowing that so many women aren’t able to enjoy their bodies… Scares me that I may not be making a dent.
I need help. I need YOUR help.
I need you stop saying bad things to yourself. I need you to stop your friends and family members from saying bad things about their bodies. I can’t do this alone.
This can change. Help. Share this blog. Say something nice to yourself today. Just ONE thing. Change the conversation from comparison to reveling in the beauty of the body God gave you. All your forms are perfect. At every stage you’re perfect. I don’t care what size or age or skin firmness you are. You’re perfect dammit. Imagine me saying that to you through the computer screen in my most imploring voice. YOU ARE PERFECT.
Iman Woods is an American artist who specializes in pin-up photography. Through a unique and therapeutic process, she’s spent over a decade in perfecting, Iman helps women undo the damage from a negative self-image and unrealistic beauty industry expectations. She helps women embrace their own style of beauty and see themselves in a new light. You can find her on her website, Iman Woods.