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Body-shaming can appear in many different ways. I’ve had people tell me when I was 30 pounds underweight that I looked “fabulous” and they were jealous of my abs. Or, take the ubiquitous “are you going to eat all of that?” while ogling at my plate piled high with healthy food. Yes, yes I am.
My personal favorite is the time a nice-looking woman standing behind a club table on the central walk of my college campus said to me, “Do you want a cookie?” I replied with a “No, thank you,” and she sneered, “That’s why you’re so skinny.”
Did she consider maybe I just ate lunch, maybe I already had three cookies today, or maybe I just plain old didn’t want a cookie? Heck, maybe I’m allergic to chocolate. No, she didn’t, and that’s okay.
No matter how it looks, it’s important to recognize that body-shaming is not personal.
They are just words–brain-generated thoughts spewing on automatic. Yet, it’s interesting to notice how our minds come up with interpretations of these words. Notice in all of the above examples, no one said, “you’re a fat pig, Laura.”
It was the little voice constantly chattering away in my head who created this. It is its own persona. I imagine it as one of the characters in Mean Girls, spewing venomous insults left and right–a glutinous machine drawing words in through my ears and cunningly twisting them into a poisonous concoction. It is the voice in my head, the one that makes me blush and glow with pride at the comment saying I look fabulous at 30 pounds underweight.
If I hold onto the resentment I have toward the people who have body-shamed me or contributed to my body dysmorphia, I am only poisoning myself. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not these people intended harm. I can forgive them because they simply didn’t know.
They had no way of knowing how their words affected me.
My co-worker who said “are you going to eat all that?” didn’t know when I sat down to dinner that night, I hesitated before spreading butter on my roll, her voice playing in my head on repeat while my hand shook as I picked up the butter knife.
The woman on the campus walk who offered me the cookie didn’t know when I got home that day, I scrutinized my “skinny” body a little more closely in the mirror, conjuring up more and more imperfections.
Whatever their motives were, I get to choose how I process these experiences.
I choose forgiveness, which allows me to make peace with these past experiences.
When I let go of resentment, I am free to create new and empowering experiences which do not react to or repeat the past.
I can start a dialogue. I can share my experiences, I can ask questions, I can listen. We can learn from one another, and I can begin to create a world in which human beings respect and accept one another.
If I am to create a world of respect and acceptance, then it must begin with me; I must embody these qualities toward every person I interact with, including people who have body-shamed me.
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