I was in a conversation where I was pointing out how completely screwed up I think it is to body shame strangers for sport on the internet, and someone responded to suggest that what I was doing was “the same thing I was arguing against” by speaking out against the behavior, and that I was “bullying” people for thinking that something (“something” here having the meaning of a video of a person none of us knew) is funny, and that they have a “right to their opinion.” This is a common reaction to being called out on stigma, shaming, and bullying – try to paint the person who is pointing out your bad behavior as the bully.
Here’s the thing. There is a vast difference between shaming, stigmatizing and bullying, and pointing that behavior out. (I certainly wouldn’t walk past someone bullying someone else and not intervene because the bully has a right to their opinion.) Making fun of strangers for sport is not even close to the same thing as pointing out why that is problematic. This is a tactic that is often used to try to shut down civil rights activism, or to silence those people who point out behavior that shames, stigmatizes or bullies other people.
Another excuse used in the conversation was that I was directly “bullying” people in person by pointing out that their behavior was hurtful, because they’re behavior of body shaming her didn’t hurt her at all. The truth is that we don’t know the affects on this woman because we don’t know if she’s seen the body shaming that people are engaging in and if she did, how she felt about it. What I do know is that this kind of behavior reinforces a culture where women are punished with shaming and derision for existing in bodies that don’t meet a stereotype of beauty. It’s about the fact that people making negative comments about her body don’t just affect her, but everyone else who sees the comments and gets the message that some bodies are good bodies, and others deserved to be shamed and made fun of because of how they look.
You are under no obligation to speak out against this kind of behavior, but if you do, and the people engaging in shaming, stigmatizing and bullying someone try to suggest that you are the problem, you can speak out against that too.
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