By: Erin Brown
“Be careful you don’t lose too much weight” It had become a collective warning from co-workers, acquaintances and even family members. “You’ll lose your boobs,” they’d say, “You’ll stop looking like a woman.”
I found this all so surprising. Having spent most of my life obese or obsessed with the notion that I was, I had long thought all I needed in my life was weight loss. If I could only get skinny, I would be happy. Everyone would think I was beautiful. If only I could lose weight.
Now, years away from that mentality and taking good care of myself for the first time in my life, I was losing weight. In the end I lost 100 pounds in total, leaving my body at a healthy size for me. I was exercising, eating fresh foods and feeling great. Even though I was no longer attached to those old notions that I’d be happier (or people would like me) if I lost weight, I was still shocked to see how many new standards I would be asked to adhere to.
It turns out that if I listened to others’ opinions I not only needed to lose weight, but retain body fat in specific places, not get “too much” muscle definition, train my waist to be tiny but retain my hips and on and on and on. It’s exhausting to think about. It’s impossible.
I know what it’s like to be bullied for my size. In elementary school the kids chided “Boom bada, boom bada” as I walked across the classroom. I was called “Buffalo Butt,” by everyone. I’ve been oinked at, laughed at and mocked. I quit ballet as early as 4 years old because I thought I was too fat to be there. So I can tell you with absolute certainty that the constant warnings I was “getting too skinny” felt exactly the same as the warnings of “too fat.”
I don’t know that I would have understood that had I not walked in both sets of shoes. It seemed like a compliment to be told you might be too thin. It was closer to what our culture calls “ideal.” Isn’t that kind of like complaining that everyone thinks you are beautiful?
The problem is that in both instances someone was saying to me, “Your body doesn’t measure up to my expectations of it. It is here to be looked at and critiqued. You should be dissatisfied.”
I see this happen in ways that I believe are well-meaning all the time. Internet memes about “real women having curves” or “men want meat not bones.” I truly understand where those come from, and I don’t believe it’s malice. It’s years of certainty that your body isn’t ok. It’s a belief system that says “Shrink yourself. Be as small as possible. Then you can be beautiful! Then you’ll be worthy of love.” It feels really good to see a message that affirms your own body. That says you are ok, as is. It’s freeing.
Except that that messaging is damaging to all of us. There is no type or size of woman who escapes so long as we believe we are here to be looked at, critiqued, and should live in constant dissatisfaction. Changing the dialogue of what body type is best is just more of the same. It’s doing to another what you don’t want done to you. It pits us against each other. Empowerment comes from lifting yourself up, not knocking others down.
In my case, it was jarring to see that I was still being critiqued. That it hadn’t been my body that was the problem. That all along I had lived in a culture that told me my body was to be defined by everyone but me. No amount of weight loss would change that. But it didn’t hurt my self-concept, as I’d been on the path of loving me, as is, for some time. In some cases this shaming can be dangerous.
My sister was weighing in at under100 pounds when her bones really began to show. She looked sick. She was. We knew she had been struggling, but she had finally voiced what we’d all suspected, she was suffering from an eating disorder. It was a challenging time for my family. Eating disorders are hard to understand, and trying to piece together what resources would help her was an uphill battle. She needed support to get through. She was so sick.
It was during this time that the people in my sister’s life were the most cruel. Friends and strangers alike would point at her bones. Tell her to “Just eat a sandwich.” Were more critical of her appearance than ever before. As she was struggling to fight for her own life, she was being disgraced for her illness.
The thing is, we never know the story behind what is going on with someone’s body. We can’t possibly know where it’s been, what it’s struggles are, or why it appears the way it does. Big girls don’t deserve to be attacked for their size. Small girls don’t deserve to be attacked for their size. Healthy girls don’t deserve to be attacked. Sick girls don’t deserve to be attacked.
We have to decide together that we are here to do more than be looked at. That the constant and belittling critique of one of us effects all of us. None of us deserves to live in constant dissatisfaction with our homes. We have to do the work to decide that for ourselves, and we have to be the voice that gives permission for others to declare it as well. It doesn’t work to just chime in that one size of body is ok. All bodies are good bodies.
I won’t stand for my own bullying. And I will not be “uplifted” by a message that puts down my sisters. No body deserve shame.