Don’t Look Me up and Down: Look Me in the Eye – a Fit Woman’s Opinion on Non-Verbal Body Shaming

For some time now, we have been witness to wonderful campaigns directed towards the acceptance of all body types, especially, if not solely, the various body types of women. The Dove campaign is to be applauded for giving every woman a chance to champion themselves and identify with an image much like their own on television, the internet, billboards and in magazines.  In a world where you have to look deep beyond the surface to find what is real, it is important for people to see a reflection of themselves in advertising.

On social media the acceptance of self was such a hit that there were even spin off topics borne by the politically correct righteous that made me hold my tongue until now.  Let me elaborate.  As a woman, I feel strongly that every person (men included) should feel good about themselves.  I believe that everyone must have as many (if not more) attributes that they love about themselves than ones they dislike.  I, and some who share my belief, feel that people must have a sense of self worth that allows them to veer away from behaving and or dressing inappropriately to prove to themselves and possibly others, that they are cool, young, sexy, hot, in control or whatever tier of esteem they are trying to attain.  There is something about showing less to ever so coolly reveal that there is so much more to who you are.  There is something to be said for elegance and grace and quiet confidence at every age, size and shape.  But whenever anyone implores others to really reach for something more substantial within themselves, they are criticized by the politically correct others who feel we are “shaming”.  These people like to say if a person (and let’s use women in this example), a woman in her 40’s feels to dress like her 14 year old daughter, who are we to judge her?  If she wants to let her butt cheeks hang out of her shorts or she wants to wear a tight crop-top with leggings, we should applaud her courage. What then do we say about a scantily clad  teen girl at a dance not walking away from a group of boys until each one of them upon her request, makes out with her and her friends?  Is this group of young teen women empowered? Are they controlling their sexuality?  Dictating to the opposite what they want done, when and how?  Is she empowered when she takes to social media and posts revealing photos of herself?  The “selfie” takes on new meaning then, doesn’t it?

Okay. Sure. Maybe I’m a prude. Maybe I am guilty of “shaming” other women but looking in from the outside, I can’t help but wonder what there is to gain when children disassociate themselves from their mother’s attire or demeanour in embarrassment?  What is there to gain when the persona that accompanies the outfit draws the people who want to be a part of the show for a moment, who then walk away speak insults under their breath?   Why do my sons have to be privy to your exposed self in a public place that is not a beach?  Congratulations, Mom for looking “hawt” and sexy at a Minor Level Sporting event.

In the spirit of championing oneself I am going to take my turn to lash back in defence of women like me – active women whose bodies are perfectly imperfect.  We have muscles and are generally strong and in good health.  We are the women who like our sports, our dance, our yoga and whatnot and we play because it’s fun and relaxing and we are okay with a little sweat and okay with our post partum bellies that could, in the right light look like a deflated beach ball.  We are the women who LOVE to eat but stop when we are full.  We eat junk sometimes only without the excuses and we own the consequences and do something about them. We never criticize anyone’s appearance yet so many people have no problem telling us how we are lucky we are to be skinny (when clearly we are not) and have no problem calling us names in jest (in jest my ass) because you are dissatisfied with yourself. We are the women who don’t dress to flaunt, don’t triple coat our faces with makeup yet look beautiful, comfortably wearing what we love and being who we are. So for those of you who talk to us but deep down dislike us, do us a favour – stop trying to shame us with your quick head to toe glances of jealousy.  I have been exposed to that since I was 6 years old.  I have noticed grown-ass adults  – family friends, 4 specific high school teachers of mine and worse, a couple relatives who would stand right in front of me, talking to me doing the head to toe scan sometimes even telling me what they did not like about me or what I was wearing in the poor guise of a joke. And again, I was a child at the time.  It was evident they were not listening to a word I was saying. I knew it at age 6 and I have always known it.  They did not hear one iota of the conversation because they were busy scrutinizing (or like we say in Trinidad, macoing) every aspect of my body , my face, my clothes, my shoes and my hair.  Hating ALL of what they saw because they truly LOVED what they saw and just could not have it, or develop it because it was MINE.

I remember telling my mother I noticed when some people had conversations with others, myself included, they tended to look not at the face when they spoke to you but did what seemed to be several critical, quick glances at a person’s clothing and body and did so quite frequently as they spoke. I asked her why this happened and my champion mother simply said, “Jealousy, baby”.

But, I was a child and I had nothing.  Nothing at all except my childhood, my imagination and myself.  I had what everyone had and in the case of adults, you could say I had even less so why would they be jealous?  Then my mother said to me ever so calmly, “I am sorry people look at you like that.  I know how it feels because I have had that happen to me too. – I think it is really rude.  Perhaps they don’t realize they are doing it, but I think deep down they do know.  I think they did it once, then twice and then it became a rude habit.  That is their problem, not yours.  In your whole life there will be many people who glance at you up and down repeatedly because their parents did it and they unfortunately learned to do it too. They may be smaller than you, bigger than you, older or younger or the same age, They may be wealthier, poorer or of the same income. They may be a different colour or religion than you; they may not. These  people may never look at you in your eyes when they talk to you.  It is an attempt maybe to make you feel self  conscious. In those moments I want you to feel self assured that you are perfectly fine. Just remember that is their jealousy, their lack of confidence and therefore their problem, not yours, ever. You must always draw confidence from those people and never let their glances get you down. Be your comfortable self.”

My mother may not have gone to a fancy university or held a position of power in the world but she has always been powerful to me.  My mother knew her role as a mother.  There was a friendliness about her without her trying to be our friend.  Lines were never crossed by her or us and she injected into us the power to be quietly confident and when we needed to, be boldly so.  Because of my mother, my sister and I have been able to give our children the confidence they need in what is a tougher, more bullied society and dare I say, I think the confidence she gave to us and indirectly to her grandchildren can be considered life saving.  We all hear the stories of the kids who tragically end their lives because they just couldn’t “shake it off” or “get over it” as some people like to say.  There are so many people who just love to dig and dig at you until you start to doubt yourself.  They are annoying and they make life uncomfortable and the best thing you can do is turn it right around and show them that you are not the problem. They are the problem.  They are the ones spending time trying to figure out how to bring you down and in reality it stems from their self dissatisfaction. They say things to make you feel insecure because they are insecure.  They reject your knowledge because they are ignorant. They scoff at your attempt to lead because they are born followers. They mock your talent because they wish they possessed a fraction of it.  They pick on those who have disabilities because the determination and accomplishments of the disabled scare the shit out of them because they have no courage.  They criticize your clothes because they dare not dress like you because they can’t buy your personal cool.  They like to bare it all when they should be covering it up because to wear something decent is to admit they have shortcomings, I suppose.

So while I agree we should all be happy with ourselves, our varied skin tones and shapes and sizes I do not for a moment think that people who have been made to feel shunned and bullied are not guilty of bullying.  They are often adults who have taken the bitterness of the pain they felt and instead of using it for something positive in their lives, they ever so subtly twist it into other people who have done nothing to them personally…except of course showed up looking healthy or tastefully dressed.   I had yet another one of those up and down glances happen to me today, way before I had my morning coffee. I decided right then and there that I was going to write about it once and for all.  I am going to champion myself because I don’t look anyone up and down and scrutinize them and I am tired of having it done to me.  In fact, I have spent many years teaching my boys, especially my autistic son, to look people in the face when they are speaking to them, yet so many people don’t do that to me.  I remember Adam telling me that looking into people’s eyes is too much. Too much information so he looks away so he can focus on what is being said to him yet he has learned to glance at a face in order to illustrate he is engaged with a person.  That is so much work for him, yet he tries so hard to do it because he has figured the value in it and he knows he needs to embrace some of these traits to function in this world.  Meanwhile, people with no sensory processing disorders, people who don’t have to organize anything at all in order to have a conversation give me the up and down scan when they are speaking with me?  To hell with you and your rudeness.  Here’s a news flash on behalf of women and all people who are fit and healthy who try to take care of themselves.  We have reaped what we have sown and if you don’t like it, or have that little zing of envy or hate when you see us because you feel we don’t understand what it is like to be you with your issues – too bad. Champion who you are and own it. This is called life and everybody’s got something…some shit that grabs us by the gut and we have to deal with it.  God knows I was dealt a hand and a frigging half in my life.  Would you up and down scanners preferred if I looked haggard and worn because my life has not been easy?  Would that have made you feel better?  Would you have looked me in the eye then? Perhaps you would have pitied me.  I have never needed pity thanks to my upbringing and I am glad my retaliation to adversity was strength and wellness – of mind, spirit, soul and body.

If you ever had a conversation with me and you’ve looked me up and down (and you damn well know if you do it because you have control of your eyes) please don’t talk to me again if you are going to do that. It’s rude and you are wasting my time and you are making me waste precious breaths and words. Don’t talk to me if you aren’t going to engage or listen.  I’m really okay with that. I’d rather sit quietly alone with my thoughts  for company because I am comfortable with myself. I was taught and I teach my children to look people in the face when speaking to them and I expect the same from others. So all you head to toe scanners out there, know this – the group of us you love to hate in your head because we chose to work at taking the steps to fell healthy and well – we make no apologies for the way we are so enough with looking us up and down and look us in the eye.  What you are doing is distracting, rude and disrespectful and when you do it to me, it only reveals how insecure and vulnerable you are.  Worry less about me and work more on you because you are just as bad as the cretin bully who spat out hurtful words to you.

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