Here are some of my thoughts on bullying and body image…and how we can rise above self-doubt, comparison, and learn to value ourselves and each other.
Sometimes the cruelest, harshest, and most hurtful voice is a quiet one, creeping in when we catch our reflection in a shop window, when seated next to a friend whose thighs are smaller/larger, or flipping through our Instagram feed where there's just so much bronzed skin to scroll past.
For a long time "the voice" was LOUD in my ears.
At times, it sounded like my parents:
"Stand up straighter."
"Your hair is so oily."
I heard that I wasn't good enough, didn't measure up, and had to be better.
Other times it sounded like my friends:
"I wish I had thighs like that."
"If only my nose were smaller."
"What did you eat today?"
If they thought these things about themselves, then surely my thighs needed slimming, along with my nose, and possibly every other part of me.
It also sounded like celebrities on the TV screen, made up and decked out by a team of stylists. It morphed from an image in a magazine to a paper doll of what I should look like. It came on strong when in crowds of people, gatherings with friends, swimming pools, the beach, anywhere and everywhere (*Except, interestingly, I realize as I reread this, when I was/am reading fiction.) It fed me a constant message of inadequacies: too big, too little, too flat, too round, too bumpy, too smooth, not enough, too much, and on and on and on.
Girls hear it. Boys hear it. Young and old, fat and thin, black and white, and everyone in between and along the seams.
Close your eyes. Listen.
Do you hear it? I hope you don't. But if there is a pernicious voice telling you that your arms are too skinny, that your ankles are too fat, that your hair isn't shiny enough, that you're too short, too tall, too freckled, your hair isn't straight enough…
Take a moment.
Take a breath.
How do you feel? Crappy? Lousy? Inadequate?
Listen again; really hear it this time. Is the voice an octave too high or low? Are the -ing's are missing or are they there to begin with? Is it husky or shrill?
What you're hearing isn't your voice. It's a bully. A "perfection pusher." A liar and a thief, stealing moments away when you could be splashing in the pool, showing up at the party wearing that dress, enjoying a cupcake because it tastes good. When you could be thinking up the next big thing, writing your song, creating your dreams. It robs us of the truth of who we are.
We can blame the media and companies for perpetuating the model perfect body, for telling us we need longer lashes, fuller lips, and silkier hair. We can blame our parents, our friends, strangers on the street…
We can ask ourselves why. Why do I want to look like her with those wide eyes, the guy on the football team with the big pecs, or the girl who can get away with wearing anything?
We can hire therapists, doctors, a team of people to poke and prod and figure out why. Sometimes that's necessary. It has been for me. It might be for you and that's okay.
We can search for approval, seek likes, favorites, and followers. We can insult others. We can change ourselves: new clothes, less food, more exercise, self-tanner, extensions, make up. But the high is temporary. The voice comes back. More, more, more. Or as the case may be, less, less, less.
Over the years, I've listed the accused and the reasons I've struggled with food and my figure and how it's associated with my self-worth and how looking in the mirror is an exercise in deflecting criticism. I've listened to the voice; I've told it to shut up and told it where to go; I've ignored it. In my experience, it only mutes the voice temporarily. The bully came back. The messages kept coming, some days louder than others. I've written about my relationship to my body/self-worth publically and privately. I've dug deep and then deeper trying to understand why and what and where.
And one truth has emerged…
Comparison is a trap.
I'm me. I have this body. This brain, heart, lungs…skin, hair, fingers, chin, tummy…
This brain that helps me create worlds on paper, this heart that is so full of love, these lungs that move me through every day. My skin that holds it all together, my hair that is, despite my attempts to make it otherwise, greasy, a chin that is sweetly round, and a tummy, well, that too. And if I took any of that away, even just one part of it, somehow I wouldn't look like me anymore, and worse, I wouldn't feel like me.
So what do we do?
Instead of the shoulds, the criticism, the body judgments and the booty judgements and the eyes, nose, mouth judgments—instead of focusing on all of the things that we think we don't like, what if we listed and told "the voice" what we do like?
Close your eyes. Pick one thing. I like my fingernails.
How did that feel?
Try again. I like my wrists.
Keep going. My elbows are pretty cool. I have nice eyes. My neck is lovely. My backside is a top-notch cushion, baby.
Try for one more. Maybe two. Do this again in an hour. Again, next time you hear the voice of comparison, the bully, the harsh critic. Tomorrow and the next day. Keep going. You can say the same things over and over. Then, if you're feeling brave, do it in the mirror. Look at that gorgeous, buxom, slender, athletic, brave reflection of yours. You can do it. You, my darling, are worth it. You're worth the effort to change the sound of that voice, one syllable,—that becomes a word that is strung into a sentence—one compliment at a time, until it's tuned to the same pitch of your own voice, reminding you that you are beautiful, just as you are.
And you might say, but my nose IS big. I AM fat. My arms ARE short. And I say to you, compared to who? Surely, not compared to you, the only measurement that matters, because you are imperfectly, perfectly you already, no changes necessary.
Why is this important? Because you were put here for reasons, big, small, and in-between, amazing reasons. You have a gift, a voice other than the sound of the bully. And that voice is meant to be heard. You may be meant to sing, or have fingers that were meant to sew, or a brain that can figure out something so mind boggling no one else can perceive it yet. Or you'll mend broken arms, or help other girls or boys who look in the mirror and see someone other than gorgeous, or write a book, a play, a song. You are unique, inside and out, and they are related, interconnected to how you see yourself—the big and intimate picture of you, and when we shortchange one, we spite the other.
The truth is, we deserve better than a bully. We've got this vessel, this body, our gifts, secret talents—whatever they are and whenever they emerge, now or in ten years—and it is up to each of us to be a super hero, whether we wear our capes in a quiet gray or boldly with sequins and streamers.
I hope there's a quiet whistling, a raucous applause whenever you walk into the room and not because you’ve whittled your waistline, or lifted your booty, or fit your form into someone else's mold. But that voice in your head, in your own unique tone, who isn't a bully, but a best friend.
I'm here to tell you that you're beautiful. As you are. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. You're beautiful because you're you. There isn't anyone on the planet exactly like you, inside or out. So what if. What if instead of comparing, criticizing, and listening to the voice that tells us to—fill in the blank—we accept ourselves, where we are, now.
So what if?
A revolution, I suspect. Be the change, the revolutionary, because your self-worth matters.
Over to you. How do you practice self-love? How do you stop the body shaming? How can we, together, lift each other up? And thanks again, Jackie and everyone who's read this far. <3
*Portions of this post originally appeared at No Bent Spines during Self-Worth Week.