I don’t have cable, so aside from my must-watch shows – a list which seems to grow every week – I miss out on a lot of the stuff that shows up on TV. You wouldn’t be wrong if you guessed that the only thing I miss is watching my Canucks alternate between whipping butt, and playing like Toronto’s Leafs. We have a consistency problem, for sure, but I do miss watching games live, without having to sit amongst drunken people in a pub and arrange for babysitting to do it.
The point is: Because I don’t have cable, I rely upon Twitter to keep me informed about important things, like when Kanye West speech-bombed Taylor Swift. Which is how I got to know about the American Music Awards’ broadcast last night – and the reactions to it, inspiration for this piece.
Within a 20-minute period, I saw a large number of people I follow tweet about female musicians’ weights. More than a dozen people, and likely more than two. Not all of these tweets were negative, and in fact, some of them promoted a positive image of the female shape. Some of them, I can only assume, attempted to promote a healthy female shape – but they fell short and that led to me getting vocal.
I got a lot of response from the above 140 characters, ranging from people simply retweetng the message with or without comment, to people sharing their own experiences being told such things. It opened up a conversation that explained the parallel that markedly-thin people have to overweight people, especially in terms of social acceptance. Skinny people experience whispering and snide remarks, their appearance is often made a topic and what can even be more insulting, people will often joke about our weight, even in friendships. Just like people tend to, on the other end of the spectrum.
Whether we’re fat, average, skinny, muscular, lithe, tall, short, wear size 10 shoes, shop for our Converse in the kids’ section, blonde, brunette, raven-haired because of a box, or ginger because of genetics, it shouldn’t define who we are to the world. Those traits are just the cover of the book, and there’s a whole lot of marrow inside it.
Logically, it shouldn’t define who we are to ourselves either, but it does for what seems like the majority of women. So I said:
And at least a dozen women wrote back immediately about how hard that would be for them, and how they are super-critical of themselves. They spoke of how they tell themselves admittedly horrible things about their weight and bodies – things that they would never say about another person. Some said that their weight had been the focus of others and eventually, themselves, for eons. Some said that they made fun of their weight because it made them feel less upset about it. And less like a loser
Not all, or many, of these women were what I would consider over-weight, and I admit to thinking most of those self-messages, too. I wear a size 0.
bul·ly [buhl-ee] – noun
a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates people.
Do you look in the mirror and say abusive things to yourself about your body and beauty? You’re a bully. Do you base your self-worth upon how successful you are at achieving an ‘ideal’ body-type? You’re a bully. Have you gone on dozens of diets unsuccessfully, so now use that as proof that your weight is a problem and you lack willpower? You’re a bully. Have you considered or engaged in disordered eating (starvation, bulimia, over-exercising, laxative use, over- and binge-eating, or chewing-and-spitting) to try to force your body to look different? Then, you’re not just a bully, but a violent one.
You would never tell your daughter these messages, or your best friend, or even a stranger on the street. You would never force someone you loved to feel pain or risk their health to submit to a visual standard, and if they didn’t, withhold love. And if you saw someone ranting these messages at someone else, you’d probably feel like you should speak up to defend the victim. Possibly loudly.
But it’s okay for us – it’s common practice, in fact – to deconstruct ourselves and base our worth on physical shapes. We evaluate celebrities, friends and our children’s bodies constantly, often for signs of illness or proof of thriving. But ourselves? It’s rare to find the woman that feels remotely secure in her own skin, and who doesn’t imagine a happier life if she was just 5, 10, 25, 50lbs. lighter (or heavier). Conversely, when you do find a woman who isn’t ashamed of her body, she’s often been judged negatively, or assumed to be egotistical. Society, on some level, tells us to be bullies to ourselves – otherwise, we’re being vain.
Why do we do this to ourselves and how can we change it?
Besides my social experiment listed above, I have a few ideas. But you’ll have to wait to read them because this piece has grown long enough. In the interim, will you share your own suggestions, experiences, or even about the people you look up to that don’t engage in this kind of self-bullying? This is a dialogue that I think is important for us to have, as women, as parents raising little girls into women, and as bullies who want to reform. What do you think, gang?