Self-Ownership in a Culture of Shaming

 

At a previous job, I was being harassed about my weight. I was working at a progressive nonprofit full of feminist do-gooders, yet my female boss would make comments and pepper me with questions in one-on-ones, during lunch and in staff meetings. 

She’d say things like: “Your face looks thinner.” “I think you’re losing weight! At least five pounds!” “You’re looking great, what are you doing differently?” And when I came back from having my tonsils and wisdom-teeth removed, she said “You’re so lucky that you had to go on a surgery diet.” ….Really?

What’s worse is I didn’t know I was being harassed. I didn’t know I had grounds for a complaint or to ask her to stop. It wasn’t until I was going through employee training for a new job I learned that, while her behavior is culturally rampant and accepted, it is actually illegal. BOOM.

Our culture makes harassment against females, minority and LGBTQ identities  –  whether obvious or covert, well-intentioned or malicious, back handed or pure –  a given. We treat it like an uncomfortable yet unavoidable consequence of not being a white, straight male. The emotional impact is huge, but we feel obligated to grin and bare it, to hold our breath until we can escape it and hope we grow tougher skin with fewer stretch marks.

Like most women, I’ve struggled with body appreciation, feeling safe and respected. It hasn’t mattered what my weight or shape has been. It didn’t matter when I was a multi-sport athlete or when I was depressive and overeating. There has always been negative attention in the mix. You can look like you belong on “America’s Next Top Model” or “The Biggest Loser” –  you are not immune to harassment.

But shouldn’t I at least feel safe at work? At my place of worship? In my yoga class? At my favorite cafe with my nose in a book?

I thought I had to choose between being attractive and feeling safe, and that you could not have both. So I chose safety. But then I learned there is no such thing as a safe size or weight. There is no weight or shape that renders your body practically invisible.

I watched and heard about gorgeous girls getting attention they couldn’t control and didn’t want, so I somehow got this idea in my head that it was a good thing if I was a little overweight. It meant that only nice and well-intentioned guys would give me attention, right? A natural quality control if you will….NOPE.

Weight loss is a private decision on public display, and our society treats what is visible as FullSizeRenderclaimable. Finder’s critiquers. I practice claiming and supporting my body, but how am I supposed to keep doing that when people around me are acting like invasive Italian grandmothers? Knowing how to take care of yourself and feeling ready to take care of yourself are two very different things.

What people don’t seem to understand when acting as a weight loss cheerleader is they are, in effect, dissing a person’s previous form. And since we are not separable from our bodies in this life, no matter how much we wish we were, that means they are dissing a whole person, not a container. Our bodies are not blouses that are two years too old or hot off the rack. Our bodies are an intimate, yet public part of who we are. They reflect pieces of our journeys, our struggles and our conditioning, but they do not reflect our passion, our intelligence or our worth.

In my ideal world, the aim of most attentions paid would be to my mind, my talents, my energy and how I treat the people in my life – because that requires knowing me, not just seeing me. It requires respect. My body allows me to explore different cities, to create, to sing, to dance, to give the best hugs, to do yoga, to laugh, to feel everything and to think a lot of cool thoughts.

So when we do want to bring positive attention to each other’s vulnerable yet visible bodies, let’s take the back hand out of the compliment and leave our Critique Christies and Christophers at their boring ass party. To celebrate the new version, you don’t have to diss the original (that goes for outsiders AND our own voice). You just have to be genuinely happy for yourself and the people around you.

Here’s some 100 percent pure juju remarks that are diss-free:

“You look so happy! How do you feel?”
“You look awesome/fabulous/badass.”
“You’re beautiful -plain and simple.”
“You seem so confident! I’m so happy for you!”
“Damn girl, you’re lookin fly!”
“Dude, you look good/awesome.”

Originally published on FindYourMoxie.com October of 2015. 

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