Is there any way or any time that body shaming can be productive? My short answer is no. While I did talk about how shame can be a defense, even when it is a defense….eventually, for true healing, we need to get under that defense. In the history of the world, when shame is used to change behavior, even your own, it is barely effective….if at all. Sometimes shame and disgust and humiliation cause change. But to truly incorporate that change, we have to continually shame and humiliate. If you are the target of shame or the instigator of shame (or both, since we often shame ourselves)….the thoughts, feelings, and actions are going to cause pain and destruction.
I may get some push back on this. I know there are communities of various folks dealing with various things that feel they need to be “called out” on their behavior. And it is true that we have multiple defenses that will pop up, out of our awareness, that it can be helpful for those who love us to help us see. But it is WAY more powerful if we see it and own it ourselves. Gentle awareness is what we need.
I want to be accepting of where we each are in figuring things out, as I alluded to when talking about how we evolve and then cringe when we think of things we thought and said. I do believe we can each grow. So let’s look for opportunities to grow in the body shaming arena. I see 3 potential points of view we can come from when we body shame:
- The peanut gallery—this is where we sit on the sidelines and see people’s bodies and have private commentary. Maybe it is someone we don’t know well, just in line at the grocery store or see around town. Maybe this is someone we see on social media. Maybe it’s a celebrity of some sort. The comments are inside our head or whispered to a friend. The way to grow from this is to look at yourself when you do this and ask, “why do I feel the need to have this kind of reaction?’ I can pretty much guarantee you that these thoughts and comments are a reflection on the way you feel about yourself and very likely your relationship to yourself and your body. If you notice yourself judging someone else that you don’t know, pause and take a breath. There is something inside you that needs your attention. I like to take it a step further and send loving energy to the person I have just judged.
- The next point of view is noticing someone we have a loving relationship with and feeling like we need to “help them out.” We can often justify this, and we have been conditioned by society and the diet industry to reinforce this. We think they will just feel better about themselves if they change their body. This is just not helpful. Let’s play this out for a second….if they are self-conscious about their body and you “help them” by pointing out that you are noticing their body and they need to be ashamed and change their body….what just happened? They have bought the lie SOLD to the world by the diet industry ($66 billion industry and going strong) and believe their self- worth is wrapped up in their body’s appearance. And now you have reinforced that lie and it is coming from someone who loves them. Or…..maybe they weren’t self-conscious of their body but now they are. And someone they love just gave them the message that the bulk of their self-worth is based on their appearance. So, right….our idea to help them feel better just did the opposite. And if you believe it is about their health, you are probably fooling yourself. Start doing some research so you are well-informed, but also…..ask yourself is it really their health you are concerned about? What about their mental-health? Reinforcing the idea that our value is all about how we look is not good for our mental-health…..and it is so not true. A person’s worth and value is so much more than how they look. If you don’t believe that, you might want to look within yourself and see how your relationship to your self is.
- The third point of view is shaming ourselves for how we look. Our relationship to self is huge. Who do we love and pour shame on? What does that do? If we need to change the way we look to be loved and accepted, is that true love and acceptance? Shame doesn’t create lasting change. If you want to know what is transformative….it’s love. I know the idea of loving yourself and your body can seem so foreign. Our bodies endure so much abuse. I find it super helpful to think of my body as a child. I like to ask her what she needs. I like to show her that I truly love her. If I am being honest, that is hard for me at times. If it is such a foreign concept, start where you can. Respect your body and the amazing things it does for you each and every day. Maybe start accepting it where it is. Would a child need to change to be deserving of love and acceptance?
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