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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Let’s Fix Christmas

This year, more than any other I have been noticing people tweeting and posting on Facebook the importance of remembering people for whom this time of year is difficult.  The posts focused on those who are lonely whether surrounded by people or not and those who simply are suffering inside, in silence from depression.  There were posts that begged for re-posts or requests for people to simply say” I’m here” or “I’m listening” and the thing that struck me the most was that this was a worldwide plea. I have friends in Germany, England, the US, Canada and even in my sunny, happy to fete at Christmas, isle of Trinidad, (where I remember the best Christmases of my life) pleading for people to reach out to others across the miles and over the internet to clasp proverbial hands and hold on tight to each other so we can all make it through the holidays and safely into 2017.

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This disturbed me greatly.  Christmas is the one time of year I could always count on to bring us all together. Christmas is supposed to create that warm, loving feeling within all of us and give us renewed connections and most importantly, give us hope. Yet, here we are urging one another to hold on to each other tight because something is so very wrong this time of year for so many.

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I love Christmas and yet I too, over the past few years have been feeling that it has become overdone, frivolous and by the time Christmas Eve comes around, a little stale.  I have become so sick of the talk shows and their “12 Days of Christmas Giveaways” and all the ways we can eat and still stay thin over the holidays and how to impress the guests at your holiday home soiree and all the shows radiating the pseudo importance of all the material shit that has been shoved down our throats since Oprah wanted us to have all she deemed worthy to be her favourite things.  We have been choking on all of it since television became 100% sensational and we have been dying from the overdose of “must haves” that have been instagramed, messaged, Facebooked, pinned, tweeted or tagged to us in the past decade.  Yet so many people are too hooked to turn a blind eye to it all and what it’s doing to their lives.

When my husband came upstairs, I mentioned what I was writing and he made a valid point.  People have gone from anticipating the magic and wonder of the season, to expecting things and or hoping to be impressive.  Whether it is a thing, a feeling, a person, at some point the purity, wonder, magic and holiness of Christmas slipped away when people started to get what they wanted year after year. People started wanting more and when what they had was no longer enough, the bar was raised a little higher and now it is too high. Many people cannot keep up with themselves. Christmas is becoming less about what we can do for someone else humbly or what we can give to someone to make their Christmas better and now instead of fewer of us in need, there are more of us in want and no matter how much we get, something is missing and what is missing is the true meaning of Christmas, it’s religious significance and simple humanity (all these ideas and observations from my guy who is not a religious person). Take away the hype and the material stuff and that warmth and glow we seek will re-appear.  People will be fulfilled again. We can start fixing it now. Start with ourselves and our children.

Many of us have something good we associate with Christmas.  Maybe it is an aroma, like that of a favourite dish or the smell of a real tree.  For some of us it is a sight or a sound, an ornament, church or a story a parent or grand parent would tell us about their Christmas.

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A good memory could be of a card we saw on a mantle,, singing carols by a creche … whatever it was, something made us feel good.

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Rich or poor, most people have something they remember about Christmas that makes them smile. The more Tom and I talked about Christmas when we were kids, we noticed our story was the same even though we grew up in two completely different countries and cultures.  His was snowy and white, the way it was projected throughout toe world and mine was hot and green and rich in a culturally diverse tradition but we both woke up way too early, filled with the same excitement with the same innocence of childhood and that wonderful feeling and longing that came about because of this wondrous time. What happened? Did he come? Did I get a gift?  – all questions that stir up the essence of Christmas morning.

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As we grow up and fantasy becomes reality, it changes, but it shouldn’t mean we have to lose the essence of Christmas.  As a father, Tom still loves seeing what happens on Christmas morning when we get that reaction out of Logan and  Adam  when they see we actually listened during the year to what they liked and we were able to get it or at least come close to getting it, especially with our autistic son Adam as in his childhood he was so hard to figure out sometimes. Over the years we have watched Adam smile and Logan get so excited he could hardly put a sentence together when they saw the tell tale cookie crumbs and empty milk glass  – clear evidence that Santa stopped by. The reaction has become “cooler” now  – broad grins, high fives and tight hugs having replaced the jumping up and down and squealing.

In addition to the Christmas morning reaction,as a mother, it is about taking in who and what Tom and I have created and loving them so much and taking care of them everyday, teaching them, guiding them, helping them in any way we can …all that we do during the year as a family coming to a crescendo on Christmas morning because no matter what happened all year, good or bad, ease or struggle, we made it, we are together and we are healthy and happy and so grateful for who we are and whatever we share.  It is about making Logan that pumpkin pie he loves so much and the garlic butter party mix snack Adam looks forward to every Christmas Eve.  It’s about baking our un-decorated, very plain looking yet tasty cookies, or Tom making that chocolate cake with red and green sprinkles.  It’s about having whomever of my close friends (of various nationalities and religions) over to our house the week before Christmas, excited to cook for them and serve the sorrel I was able to make because I just happened to be in Pickering and was able to stop by the West Indian grocery one night.  It’s about hearing mummy talking excitedly about making pastelles and remembering how she, Reina and I would talk into the wee hours of the morning, tipsy from the scotch Dad would serve us whenever he woke from dozing on the couch in the living room. As a sister, Christmas is about making my sister her favourite cherry pie and receiving her home made cranberry pear preserves.  Its about Tom bringing the garlic bread and me bringing the roast to their house and about the young children in our family and getting them a special present I know they will love. It’s about watching Logan and Adam devour my stuffing and sipping a drink next to my husband on Christmas Eve night, grateful that we spent yet another one together, toasting the ones who are unfortunately gone but not forgotten. Christmas is about mass and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christchurcha

and what that means to me and I think it is unfortunate the re-enaction of the three wise men’s gift giving got out of control or as we say in Trinidad, “gone haywire”.

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We live in a time when we can get anything and everything in person or on line.  Black Friday and Boxing Day sales have gone from a day to a week.  Perhaps it is this drive for the material that makes us obnoxious and unsatisfied,  You see it in the people who love to let you know what they drive or “who” they wear and they don’t even realize they are showing off.  I’m not saying you should not buy what you want or treat yourself to something you think you deserve. Just do what you do in moderation, have some tact and don’t show off.  When you die, your body will decay and like everyone you will become just dust. Your clothes will be donated (hopefully) for someone else to wear and they would not have paid what you paid for it and your car will be driven by someone else and hopefully in spite of your possessions you will be remembered for what you did while you were on the planet and the manner in which you lived your life.  What people don’t blatantly know about you; the stuff they just happen to find out is much cooler than when you brag about your possessions. Humility is far more admirable than flaunting. Our children are spoiled and so are we and as we tend to do with so many things, Christmas is dying by our hands. So, (big sigh) as I type this and can hear my husband’s Christmas music playing in the basement as he prepares to stuff the kids stockings – I am going to do my part to fix Christmas and I am going to start with my little family and friends. And I urge all of you, especially the ones who reached out on social media to do the same.

Let us think about what we can do to change Christmas and make it what it used to be.    What can we do for someone or make for them that will put a smile on their face. Let’s spend more time and less money. Spread more joy, laughter, ole talk as we Trini’s say, and peace.  Let’s enjoy the food and resolve to work it off later. Let’s share the food we have with those who have little to none.  Let’s listen more and offer words of support to help lessen another’s pain. Let’s teach our children to do the same.  Let’s boost the importance of family and friendship and keep the magic of the season alive for little ones. Let’s make memories about whom we share the season with and not about what gift we gave or got. Let’s keep a part of the season quiet, humble and exclusive to your household and let us take the time to remember what Christmas is. Let’s remember generosity and kindness and let us be thankful that we were able to take it all in yet another year.  Let us live out the season in love and let’s turn our backs to the media that pull us in all the wrong directions. Let’s take a good look at what we do have and what we stand to lose and find ways to be grateful for our blessings – for every breath, every sunrise and for every day that ends with the ones we love, still a part of our world.  Let’s send out our greetings and well wishes and go off line for at least one day. Let’s take Christmas back. Let’s fix it because we can and maybe next year fewer people will feel lonely, depressed or unhappy and hopefully no one will need reassurance that people are actually there for them, ready to listen; ready to love. They won’t need reassurance because they will feel it.

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It is way past midnight now.  It is Christmas Day, 2016. In a few hours my boys will be up and will make their way to the tree to open their presents and their father and I will watch and take in every second  and savor it.  Later, the phone will ring and the calls from the family will come – the hardest being the one from Mom as it will be the eighth one where we would hear her voice without Dad’s and she will stoically try to hide her grief and sadness over how much she misses him and we will tell her it is okay to feel the way she does; that she should remember how much he loved Christmas and how many,  good ones we were so blessed to have shared.  I will remember a funny Christmas moment with him and she will laugh and for a while it will be better until later, when she is in bed alone.  She will cry, say a prayer and pull herself together again, for herself, for us and because he would want her to, even though he would have struggled more than she would if the situation was reversed.  But in the end, we will all take comfort in the living and we will know and accept that we have been blessed to celebrate another Christmas with our family and friends.  I don’t take this for granted. And if f you have stumbled upon my blog and read this, don’t take it for granted either. I may not know you but I do want to wish you a Merry Christmas.  I don’t know why I chose to write this today.  I felt that I should – that I had to … that it was important that I did.  Like me, you too have been blessed to celebrate another Christmas.  I wish you the joy, peace and love this season is intended to bring.

 

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If you feel lonely, know that you are not alone and that even though I may not know you, I think you are a gift and that you are absolutely significant to making this world a better place and you are important.  You are here for a purpose and it doesn’t matter if you know what that purpose is. You will not have all the answers.  I do not have all the answers but I know you are not a mistake. None of us is.  Believer or not, God bless you and keep you and may His light shine upon you and may you feel the warmth and power of His love, today and everyday.

 

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