There’s a XXI century brand new epydemics in town. Yet this time, calling a doctor will not help. The name? (Body) shaming.
When you say “bodyshaming” people will immediately think of one thing only: fat women trying to pass their weight as normal. At least that is what I’ve been told when I first ventured into the wild waters of Instagram. 33 years old, absolutely not a model (nor aspiring to be one), your girl next door with love for fashion and zest for life, including food. If I had to judge what that experiment would have lead to, I would have stopped after the first month: I’ve never seen such wave of negativity and venom both online and offline.
Online I had fellow women (it’s mostly women attacking other women, sadly) calling me fat, ugly, deluded and everything in between. When I did the normal thing and blocked them, they would come back with multiple fake profiles and would inundate my instagram of horrific comments, normally by night, so that it would take me at least half of a day to delete them all. Nothing I did seemed to be good. If I posted a picture of me wearing a nice dress outdoors, they would say go hide somewhere, nobody wants to see you, with the added bonus of comparing me to a picture of a celebrity wearing the same item, of course a size 0 and universally accepted as worthy of being photographed. If I posted a food pic – what 99% of Instagrammers do – people would accuse me of not being able to think of anything else but food. I mean, I do like food, but not that much. I prefer shoes, to be honest.
Offline, I had more women talking behind my back and smiling to me in person. I was the bored fat housewife (and to think I’ve studied and worked my whole life), I was bad to be associated with in terms of image, because you know, she’s uninteresting, who would ever follow THAT: I had people getting warned not to work with me if they wanted to work with others. If I attended events, people would somehow be undecided between the curiousity of wanting to get to know me and the social stigma of the non-size-0-lady. Well, fashion has always promoted extreme thinness, so why the surprise?
Call me naïf but I never judged people by their looks only. I like to maintain a certain decor in my appearance and I want others to extend the same courtesy (I’m talking basics here, clean hair, nice hands, no stains) but I wanted to see how people were inside and how was their personality before I passed any judgement whatsoever. Yet somehow I seemed to notice nobody cared in this city of mine. If you were on social media, you automatically were the image you projected and you were what your comments below said of you. If you weren’t on social media, you were invisible anyway, therefore irrelevant.
The whole phaenomena got me thinking about what was the fil rouge for every one of these examples, and it came down to a very simple notion of hatred. Negativity, lack of happiness in the person writing the comments, a bad day, or just plain bad personality: it all comes to the notion of hurting someone else in order to feel better, which is absurd but works in the bullies’ world.
Yet can you hate other people into oblivion?
That depends entirely on the recipient. I have friends who are very sensible to criticism and would rather have their nails pulled out than go public on social media, or simply wear a particular outfit that would make them stand out. I also know people who are impervious to any insult you could hurl their way and just do whatever they please and how they please. Personally, I am in the middle: I do read every comment, good and bad, but while I’m not entirely insult-proof I do not think that a stranger’s catty comment should concern me. You know the saying: What Susie says of Sally says more of Susie than of Sally. Therefore: you call my body ugly? It’s actually you who has body issues, not me. You think I am stupid? Well I don’t see you with a degree in your hand teaching international geopolitics, so what’s the point in listening?
I’ve told my personal story here and I’ve shared a few tips on how to overcome trolls, but make no mistake, this is not only about the size you wear. People get trolled over their race, the colour of their hair, body ink, their lifestyle, the choice of partner.
Most of us try to avoid any sort of situation where judgement is passed, because we do not really know how to deal with it: the first reaction is shame. Yes, my body must be ugly. Yes, my hair is awful. Oh God, my clothes are horrid! Something happens in the moment you get under attack and you just shut down: no defense mechanism whatsoever because hey, nobody taught us that some people might be shameless enough to shame another human being over something that does not touch them in any measure. Some of them are just naturally mean inside because of their own insecurities, or they have been thrown the wrong curveball in their lives. Yet nothing you’ve suffered authorises you to take it out on another: somebody’s mother did a bad job in explaining that being overtly ugly in your actions does not make you pretty. On the contrary.
While my social media adventure grew I started to discover the art of passive-aggressive compliments. All I could hear was: Oh, she’s not a size 40, but her personality is incredible! As if I needed to compensate anything! And the funniest part of it all was that the very same people extending me that “compliment” would expect me to nod approvingly and smile in gratefulness. We all seemed to ignore the elephant in the room – which in this case, sorry, wasn’t me: oh, she’s fat, but we hang out with her because she’s funny. Yes, I am funny and I appreciate irony above everything else, but I also own enough brain to realise when people are being less than transparent with me and smile for the wrong reasons.
Pretty soon I found myself allowing only few people to the inner circle: those who I felt were genuine became my friends, they encouraged me and appreciated me for me, not for the brand I was waring or the lovely pictures I posted. And all the others were kept at arm’s length. You can call it harsh: I call it beneficial selection. Why would you keep weed in your lovely garden?
There was another groundbreaking moment in my life: I joined gym. To be honest, I did that because my friends insisted it would bring me stress-relief and would help me vent. Vent what?!, I asked. Well, after some initial moaning and anger due to muscle pain, I became quite addicted to the rush that comes after a good workout. I felt I was doing something good for my body, giving it more energy, resilience and shape. My goal is not and never was to become a size 0: I love my natural shape too much. I love what I see when I look in the mirror, it’s as simple as that. Yet what I do want is to do whatever it takes for me and my body to feel great, whether that might be a good meal or a good workout.
Again, I saw comments: Finally you realised you need to work out!, which was a passive-aggressive way of saying I finally realised I was fat for the fashion standards.
Another mistake: I realised working out made me feel great, exactly as a good meal, a great trip or a good dress does. And once more, I was indulging, not punishing myself.
The underlying problem is our society and the way it enjoys shaming others. We fuel this by buying gossip magazines who actually thrive and earn good money on pointing out celebrities’ flaws and encourage the misshaped culture of laughing at the victim. It may sound innocent enough: you buy the magazine, read it, laugh a bit (which is human) but then you’ll soon discover you’re doing it online. You’re doing it offline, to your friends. You’re doing it to your neighbour who has no style. You’re doing it to the elderly. You’re bullying in no time, and you don’t even see it. Our curiosity over how other people live, how they dress and who they are involved with is morbid and we are feeding that beast every passing day.
Every single time I go to an event, I am 100% certain someone will say to me: Oh you look amazing, you’ve lost weight! And every single time I will get irritated with that person. The temptation to ask: Is your life so focused on weight that you think it’s appropriate to greet me with THAT?! This goes to show you nobody is completely impermeable to judgement, not even those with a good background of love and family.
Yet while you cannot change people, you can change yourself. You can understand that you are within your rights to turn the tables on those attacking you. Just remember, do not get mad and never, ever take the mean route on your own. Anger feeds trolls, and gives you anxiety you do not need. Use irony, use jokes, use everything you need in order to let them have a taste of their own medicine: nobody expects you to fight back, you’ll have the element of surprise on your side. 🙂
And if you feel that is not enough, never fear to reach out to someone. Your best friend, your parents, someone you admire and respect – just do it. Shutting down will not help you, but you will pretty soon realise that others will. Nobody is an island, and nobody is flaws-free: if you’re open to it, you’ll discover some people are just better than others, and that positivity will spread on you too.
Because, that is what I did when nobody believed I could: and with every passing day I discover many more ladies and gentlemen who write to me, saying I’ve been slowly but surely changing their mindset and their approach to any sort of shaming. We can all see that elephant in the room: why don’t we just react to it?