Recently I witnessed a conversation where two people were bonding over their hatred of their own bodies. I said nothing, because nobody asked my opinion and it was over immediately (so I didn’t need to remove myself from the situation or create a boundary.) But luckily I have the blog where I can write about it.
Bonding over body shaming. I’m not talking about bonding over body shaming other people (that’s for sure bullshit, it’s just bullshit for a different post,) I’m talking about bonding over body shaming ourselves. I’m sure we’ve all heard it, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been a part of it in days past. It goes like this:
“I hate [insert body part]”
“Ugh, me too…and my [body part] is way worse than yours for [bullshit beautystereotype reasons]
Sometimes more body parts get brought into the mix.
“Ugh, my [body part] is so [negative thing]!
“At least your [body part] is better than my [different body part.]
“Ugh I hate my [that new body part you just mentioned] too! It’s just so [quality that is supposed to be negative.]
Before someone freaks out in the comments – you are allowed to do whatever you want with your body – including hating it, talking negatively about it, and bonding with other people about the hating via the use of negative talk. My goal here isn’t to be the boss of you, but to make the case that we might want to knock this the fuck off. Also, I want to acknowledge that this can be made more complicated for those dealing with intersectional marginalization related to things like disabilities, chronic illnesses and/or pain, body dysmorphia, Trans and Non-binary experience, racism, ageism and more.
We all live in a society where the diet and beauty industries work hard to steal our self-esteem, and sell it back to us at a profit. (With eternal thanks to the brilliant Courtney Hanneman for that phrasing!) In a world where the stereotype of beauty is completely digitized (where not just almost every photo but even videos and movies are retouched – frame by frame – so that the people in the photos and films don’t look like the final versions of the photos and films,) this is an extremely profitable business model.
From the youngest of ages, we’re told to spend tons of time, energy, and money to climb the hill of beauty and thinness. But it is, by design, a Sisyphean task. You know that, right? You know that, no matter what we do, no matter how many times we say “I just want to fix [this one thing] and then I’ll be happy,” the diet and beauty industries will try to make sure that never actually happens. They want us to be climbing that mountain our whole lives – trying to look older while we’re young, trying to look younger while we’re older, trying to be thin not just our whole lives, but worried about leaving a thin corpse. Meanwhile they keep raking in mountains of money.
Now, you are free to believe that trying to render yourself as close as possible to the stereotype of beauty is “self-improvement.” In fact, you’re allowed to do it for whatever reason you want to. But we don’t have to. And we certainly don’t have to do it out loud in a way that perpetuates dangerous diet culture. If we want to move away from buying into beauty stereotypes and then disparaging the only body we have, we have some options. I try not to be too hard on people, because we all live in a world that constantly encourages us to hate our bodies, so in this case (where someone is using body shame as self-deprecation,) I try to be gentle, but also set boundaries, and make sure that they know that there are, in fact, options here.
Someone says: “I have a big ass.” You can insert whatever body negative is happening
“I know, right! Big asses are so awesome!”
“Me too, I love having a big ass.”
“I think asses of all sizes are fantastic.”
Someone says: “Blah blah blah body hatred blah blah blah.”
You say:”Sorry, I’m doing a thing where I don’t talk badly about my body or anybody else’s.”
“Of course you can talk about whatever you want, but I just don’t do negative body talk. I’m happy to talk about something else though.”
“I wish we lived in a world that didn’t teach us to hate our amazing bodies.”
Sometimes people will push back and I’ll combine the two:
Them: I hate my big ass.
Me: I think asses of all sizes are fantastic.
Them: Oh, other people’s asses are ok, I just wish mine was smaller.
Me: I wish we lived in a world that didn’t teach us to hate our amazing bodies.
Again, people are allowed to think and say whatever they want about their bodies. How we respond will depend on our relationship with the person involved, and if we don’t know them we have to realize that telling them to feel differently about their bodies may be unwanted (and may be coming from a place of privilege if their feelings about their bodies are affected by things we don’t experience such as chronic pain, chronic illness, disability/ableism, and/or Trans and Non-binary experience/transphobia.)
Body love is never an obligation, but is ALWAYS an option and we do have the right to set boundaries around what they say to us, and how we engage with people who engage in negative body talk. The way we feel about our bodies affects every area of our lives, and so we can give our bodies our full-throated support, and refuse to engage in any conversation that questions the value of bodies.
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