Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mothers Against Body Shaming

MABS? If this is a thing, I'm in.

So today I posted about the mother who called out a saleslady whom she felt body shamed her 13-year-old daughter. Read about it here.  I posted the story on my K.L. Montgomery, Author Facebook page because I often share body image-related news stories with my readers. A couple of hours later, I was surprised to see some pretty mean-spirited and ignorant comments on the same story shared by other news outlets. Basically a lot of people were bashing the mom AND calling the teen girl fat.

After I got over my initial "What the fuck is wrong with these people?" reaction, I started wondering how people could be so misinformed about what body shaming is or what kinds of detrimental effects it can have on victims. Yes, I used the word victims. One of the criticisms of the mom was that she was being a whiny, too-easily-offended "pussy" victim. Not even kidding, the P Word was invoked.

Before I go into how troubling that is and why, I want you to imagine this for a moment:

You're in a store shopping for clothes for your 13-year-old son. The salesman says, "I think his body would look just PERFECT in this outfit if he put on this undergarment."

How would you react? I personally would be having a major WTF moment. That's because men and boys don't typically wear undergarments to perfect their bodies. Men and boys aren't typically sent the message from birth that it is their job to look pretty and to maintain a certain figure while still managing to have big boobs and curves. But wait! Not too curvy! That's why we have Spanx, right?

Body shaming happens when someone is told their body is not normal, not attractive, unlovable, undesirable, or somehow inferior to an arbitrary societal ideal. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best or to dress to flatter your figure, when someone ELSE judges what would be best for your body (telling you to lose weight, tone up, wear shapewear, get breast implants, undergo plastic surgery, etc) then THAT is body shaming.

The reason I applaud the mother for bringing this issue to the saleslady's attention - and really, to everyone's attention - is because it probably was a well-intentioned suggestion. We don't think anything of wearing or selling articles of clothing that flatten, compress, or conceal bulges. But this was a 13-year-old girl, a girl probably still getting used to her newly-minted adult-shaped body. I think we need to be careful what messages we're sending to girls and young women. We need to be more careful what messages we send to every woman. We're so conditioned to try to achieve this narrowly-defined societal ideal of "perfection," we don't even realize when we are body shaming. It's just that prevalent.

Oh and, seriously, if you think this girl is fat, then you have other problems entirely.

Body shaming and its cousin fat shaming produce negative effects. Neither activity results in "shaming" victims into eating healthily or taking care of their bodies. Research shows that this type of bullying reinforces bad habits and has serious psychological consequences. For me personally, being body shamed by my mother and others has led to a lifestyle of weight issues and eating disorders.

I applaud this mother who told her daughter that there is nothing wrong with her body the way it is, and she doesn't need to achieve society's very messed-up perception of "perfection." She is beautiful just the way she is. I know so many girls and women who need to hear that message. I'm so glad this young woman did.

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