By MELISSA WELLHAM
One of the least offensive insults related to my body image I have received throughout my life – but one that has oddly stuck with me – happened when I was about 7-years-old and a teacher told me I had “yucky coloured” eyes.
That’s a direct quote.
My class at school had a replacement teacher for the day, who had decided to take it upon themselves to teach us unruly kids how to tally – and so the classroom was creating a tally on the board of what colour eyes each student had. The teacher would call us up to the front of the classroom one by one, take note of our eye colour, and add it to the table drawn on the whiteboard.
When my turn came the teacher called me to the front of the classroom, stared deep into my eyes, and then announced, “Oh my, you have quite yucky coloured eyes, don’t you!”
She then created a new column for my particular eye colour on the board – from memory it was labeled something a bit kinder, like ‘murky’ – and two other kids were added to the same column during the tallying lesson. OH, THE SHAME.
Obviously, this kind of comment is quite low down on the ‘body-shaming comments’ scale of offensiveness. It was more of a Chinese Burn than a full-on assault to my sense of self-worth.
But I think it has something in common with every body-shaming comment I have received since. The body-shamer has usually not thought at all about how their comment might be interpreted; or they don’t care. Body-shaming comments are often delivered flippantly and dismissively.
They can be pointed, certainly; but the person delivering them has probably moved on and is thinking about something else within about five minutes.
For the person on the receiving end of a body-shaming comment though, the effects can last a lot longer.
I am certain that my replacement teacher in primary school didn’t mean to cause me undue embarrassment when she called my eyes “yucky coloured” (but seriously, in front of the whole class?! Whhyyy?!). Just as my friend who told me on the first day of Year 7 that I shouldn’t wear shorts to school anymore because they showed off too much of my thighs and soon everyone would be talking about me, didn’t mean to make me obsess over my legs for years.
And the boys who made fun of the size of my teeth, and the girls who commented on the non-existence of my breasts, and my classmates who over the years pointed out that my ears stuck out, and anyone who ever commented on my hips/stomach/thighs… Well, I doubt that any of these people thought about what they were saying before opening their mouths (or intended any more malice than your regular obnoxious teenager intends to inflict, anyway).