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).
That’s the thing about body-shaming comments. We have probably all made somebody else feel crap at some point in time, without even realising it. Because the words we were saying didn’t mean much to us, or didn’t seem that offensive.
But what we say could still mean a lot to the other person.
The thinnest teenage girl might be the one who is made to feel ugly because she is too ‘bony’; or be made to feel that a boy will never look at her because her breasts aren’t big enough. A woman who is a typical, average size might be made to feel ugly because she’s not as perfectly toned and tanned as the images she sees in magazines.
A teenager with large breasts might feel uncomfortable and awkward, as if she is the owner of a body that someone twice her age should have. A woman with a slight smattering of hair on her upper lip or on her forearms will be made to feel that she has to wax or shave, because otherwise she doesn’t conform to a hairless, smooth ideal.
Every woman – every person, regardless of shape or size – has probably been body shamed at some point. And maybe by someone who didn’t even mean to do any harm.
With this in mind, I’m going to make it my mission to not be offended by body-shaming comments going forward. Because the person who has said something hurtful probably hasn’t thought about how their comment might affect me (and if they have, well, they’re an arsehole and I don’t want to listen to them anyway).
So yes – I’m going to wear shorts, regardless of what other people have to say about my thighs.
But I am also going to challenge myself to be a little more careful about what I say to other people. I am going to be a little kinder and more considerate. Honestly, I think we could probably do away with commenting negatively on other peoples’ bodies altogether.
There’s much more interesting things we could be talking about.
CHALLENGE 6: The body shaming comment I won’t let bother me anymore.
It’s time to tell that rude person who made a disparaging comment about your stomach how unwanted their opinions are – via a photo, of course. Take a picture of the body part that you won’t be ashamed of anymore, and then share on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #mmbodypositive.
Alternatively you can email your photo to us on email@example.com or you can upload the photo directly in the comments section. We will then collate the images and bring you an amazing gallery of beautiful faces, as they were meant to be.
You can learn more about the Body Positive Project and read about the other upcoming challenges here.
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