Some women I know like to joke about my physical appearances. My breasts are too small and so are my eyes. To them my small eyes and fair skin exemplify a particular race. They tease me for lacking the so-called womanly curves or criticize my choice of make-up and dress. I thought bullying was a thing that I had left in high school, but I was wrong.
Sure I can easily shrug it off and not take it personally. But the more stories of body shaming I hear from my girlfriends and how it affects them, the more it bothers me. Body shaming manifests in many ways, but, essentially, it is a form of bullying. It leads to comparison and shame. It’s rude and it’s not funny.
I know I’m not the only person experiencing these uncomfortable situations. I was a victim of verbal bullying in school decades ago. Some seniors, all girls, often shouted at me for my choice of sweater (they said it was too bright and provocative for a junior) or for being bubbly. They ambushed me after school, shouting nasty words. I remember how words hurt, causing me deep shame and pain. But I’ve learned the hard way to never let bullying put me down again, but it took me some time to get there.
We were not born hating our own body or how we look until society teaches us to, one of which is through the media’s reinforcement of the patriarchal view on body image. So why is body shaming so common among women? Don’t all of us want to be appreciated and not torn apart?
Here’s what I’ve learned about body shaming and those who do that:
1. It’s never about you. The mean things other women say reflect their own judgment and misconception about their own body image. Perhaps putting down other women is the easiest for them to feel better and to compensate their own insecurities. At least now you know which are your real friends and which are not.
2. If you want to confront them directly, go ahead and speak kindly. But if you don’t, that’s okay. Let it go. Some people don’t deserve your energy and your sanity.
3. Anger is okay. Feeling humiliated is human. But turn the negative feeling into real action. Buy yourself a nice dress, book a manicure-pedicure session, do yoga or go to the gym, watch a movie, feast at a nice restaurant – anything that makes you feel better. Take a break from the nasty groups, or leave them for life if necessary.
Some may say: “Oh, relax! I’m only joking, don’t take it personally.” Still, you don’t have to listen to their explanation. Body shaming does not merely reflect female misogyny, it’s also about compassion, the lack of empathy. It is neither tough love nor funny jokes. As body shaming is bullying, it is never okay. It’s not okay to bully fat or skinny people. It’s not okay to bully people with fair skin or those with dark skin. It’s not okay to joke about certain race. Whatever makeup or wardrobe we choose, we don’t deserve to be shamed. We must not tolerate it.
We have an obligation to kindle compassion and kindness in the next generation. We also need to teach them manners, and that freedom of speech does not equal commenting freely about other’s physical appearance. Instead of body shaming others, our daughters and sons must learn to empower each other.
Inka Prawirasasra is a specialist on building TV stations from scratch. She is an ambivert who doesn’t tolerate banality, nonsense and small talk and a selectively social creature, who prefers being alone and read book, than being a sheep that goes with loud herd.