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Guest Post: Changing Shame into Love

Hey everyone! Today’s post is a very special one about a topic that is very near to my heart. My cousin BreElle is working on her Masters at NC State and reached out recently about a project she’s working on. For her Youth & Family Education class, her group wrote a fantastic paper about body shaming in today’s society. One of the requirements of the project is that the paper be shared on a public blog. I am so happy to share their work here with all of you, because everyone needs a good read like this! I know body shaming is something I have personally struggled with in the past, and I think there is something everyone can take away from this paper. Enjoy!

Changing Shame into Love

As a young woman, there was nothing that I hated more than standing in front of my mirror. In that mirror, everything that I hated stood out: my thunder thighs, my weirdly full eyebrows, and my so called “baby-face”. All of these things were things that my so called “friends” had said about me and things that I had heard from some of my closest family members. I had an ideal image of what I wanted to look like, but because of genetics, I would never have that perfect body that  I was told was “perfect” in the eyes of those around me. As girls, we have so many pressures that surround us, with one of the most prevalent being about our appearances. Is our contour looking good? Do my selfies on Instagram look like I have never had a blemish? Do I look skinny enough in these jeans to post a full body picture? We fret about all of these little things that are supposed to make us popular, cool and lovable, but really, does our body image really define our self-worth?

What is Body Shaming?

Body shaming is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size”. Body shaming is something that goes much further than just the shape of our body; it extends to how we wear our clothes, to what we are wearing, going as far as our make-up and hair. For us, body shaming is anything that someone says negatively about your body that lowers your self confidence and self-esteem.

For most of us, there is the one girl we all aspire to be: Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, etc. Maybe yours isn’t a celebrity at all. Mine was the most popular girl at our school:Destiny. She was blonde, petite, had all of the best clothes, and had a personality that drew everyone in to make them feel as if they were part of the group. I wanted to be her, and oftentimes, downplayed myself. I had always thought that I was the only one who ever had issues with myself and wanted to be better or prettier, but as I started talking to my friends, I realized I wasn’t the only one. Turns out in a 2005 study, 50-88% of girls feel negatively about their body size or their shape.  And some of those girls in another study were quoted as saying that they would rather be be run over by a truck than be overweight (2016). All this time, I had felt alone, and maybe you do too. But as you can see, we’re not alone, and together we have to change this.

How and When Does Body Shaming Start?

Thinking back, I could never pinpoint a time when I thought that I needed to lose weight or when I began to think about how chunky my cheeks were, but I can always remember finding the perfect Barbie. Growing up, this was something that my mom always let me get when I behaved like I should at the store i.e. I didn’t throw a temper tantrum like my older stepsisters did when they couldn’t get the coolest make-up. I remember running to the toy aisle and staring at each and every one of the dolls until I found the perfect one. Her hair was long and blonde and she better have had the cutest shoes and the perfect outfit. Turns out that maybe it was Barbie who started telling me I wasn’t “pretty enough”. Numerous research reports tell us that Barbie and her “perfect image” may be the culprit of why so many of us hate the way our bodies look. In a study done in the United Kingdom found that girls who were exposed to Barbies at a young age reported lower body esteem and a desire to be thinner. The girls in this study were five to eight years old. At the age of 5, most young girls have chosen an ideal body size that is much smaller than they are. Just when you think that you should be loving life, a six year old starts to think that she’s fat because she doesn’t look like Barbie with her long legs or her perfect curves. It hurts to know that as a small child, we already are finding faults within ourselves and in others.

So… What does that have to do with me now?

Let’s be honest for a second. Being a teenager sucks. We are weird, awkward and have all of these weird emotions that suddenly show up out of nowhere. According to study seven in ten girls believe that they are not good enough, or don’t measure up in some way in their looks, relationships, and in school.  We all want to look like those stars that we see who wear the most expensive clothes, and always have their hair done. We as girls are always comparing ourselves to those around us. As weird as I was (and probably still am) I would never go out of my way to tell some girl that I liked her shirt. In fact, I was more likely to compliment a girl when she was downright ugly and her shoes didn’t match the outfit she was wearing. Of course this girl would smile and feel better about herself, but I knew internally that it was just a shallow compliment that I knew was just pure hateful. I would then go back and laugh with my friends, that always turned back to what kind of surgery we would get if our parents would just let us have one plastic surgery. Coming from a small town in North Carolina, there was no way that was going to happen, but actually studies have shown that nearly a quarter of girls age 15-17 would actually have plastic surgery if it was available to them. As I look back, I am ashamed, but that was just how others were doing to me. And because my self-esteem was so low, I had no reason to work to change that. I continued that trend of body shaming because I didn’t feel good enough about myself to stop the negativity that was impacting me and those around me.

Even though we may think that it sucks to be a teenager, we also have some of the best times of our lives. We have our first loves, we get our licenses, we start high school and really start to find out who we are. When we have to worry about Tracy talking about how big our thighs are, it just makes life that much harder. So forget you Tracy, the next paragraph is how we, as bold and beautiful teenage girls, are going to change the world.

Let’s Go Ladies

In the next sections, I am going to give you ladies some ideas on how to change the stigma that we have around body shaming and the low self esteem that us young ladies have. We are the ones who have to start the change: build each other up TRUTHFULLY and honestly. So many times we are brought down by others, but now it’s time for us to grab each other and build us all up to where we never have to feel less than who we are.

Let’s Talk About It

My grandmother is one of my biggest role models; she is a strong woman who worked hard for everything she has and has been someone who I have always valued spending time with. There have been many people who have let me feel less than myself and my grandmother did it once. It was the middle of soccer season and of course, I was exercising hard and found myself eating more to keep my body happy. I made a laughing comment to my grandma about being hungry and maybe, just maybe my five foot three self was actually growing. She scoffed and responded “Growing the wrong way.” ONE. SMALL. SCOFF. That one time was enough to plant that little seed in the back of my mind that maybe I was too fat and maybe I wasn’t looking as good as I may have thought. A simple influence was enough to make me rethink my entire world. A study was done and they actually found that as young women, we just want to have a conversation about our bodies. We want compliments and not derogatory comments. We want to know that you think we look nice and are growing into a beautiful woman. (But no creepy stuff). We want to hear it from our friends, from those who surround us and most importantly those who we strive to be and want to spend our time with.

We also need a talk from those who have influence in our lives. Moms, grandmothers, mentors, best friends- we need you to love us, even if are jeans are a little tighter than they should be. We see beauty through you- at the age of three, we have no concept of what perfect is, but if you tell us we are beautifully and wonderfully we are made in the years leading to self-esteem, we may see less of a solution in eating disorders and more in loving who we are.

Changing “Beautiful”

What does beautiful mean anyway? Everyone has their own definition based on their views, on their culture, and many other things. As women who want to end body shaming, we have to throw out what we think beautiful is and accept it for what it is: something that is unique to each and every person. Remember when I was talking about Barbie basically being to blame for all of our body issues? Well they have joined the fight to change how young girls feel about themselves. In 2015, Barbie introduced dolls with different skin tones and hair color as well as different body types. How awesome would it have been as a young girl to find a barbie who looks like you or an impactful woman in your life? Not only does this help out the young girl, it forces parents to have a conversation with their young girls (remember, we just wanted to talk!) about what makes all of us beautiful. We’re all different- unless you’re twins, there are few people out there who look just like you. Own it girl and work it!

Being Social with Social Media

Social media is a big part of today’s culture- we are constantly snapchatting, grammin’ it or tweeting about something. In fact, we actually spend at least 11 hours on social media each day and that’s only the average. If you’re anything like me, you’re checking every outlet when class is boring, or when you want to look busy so no one tries to talk to you in the hallway. But, what would happen if instead of judging someone’s selfie, we put a compliment? What if we took the extra measure to love things without all of the extra filters? Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t filter your pictures, because I am the queen of filters, but what if we did it just to enhance, not to remove? Instead of taking 400 pictures because we don’t like our chins, we just accepted it because someone loves all twelve of them. We are here to build each other up- but it starts with one person. I challenge each of you to go past the fire emoji and actually put something meaningful and worth the read. You do it for one person, they can do it for the next, etc. Keep the ripple effect going.

Another way to get social and to stop the constant tear down of each other is to join the conversation! Stop Body Shaming is a group on Facebook that allows people to share their stories of body shaming and how they are working to overcome. You can join many of these online groups who are working with youth and adults alike to end the negative talk and to start building you up. We are the future; we need to be confident about who we are and what we aim to be.

Body shaming is an epidemic- it is something that is so easily spread through rude comments, cyberbullying, through parents and through the media. We need to support those individuals who are working to change the stigma of what beautiful is and change that idea to what it should be: love everyone despite their skin color, their body size or any other beautiful characteristic they may have. We are the generation who has to change things. I hope in my life I never have to hear about a first grader feeling as if they are too fat or too ugly because they don’t look like Disney stars. I hope I never tear my children down; instead build them up for the beautiful creatures they will be. By starting one chain of change, we can make a difference. As young girls, we must take a stand in love and make the wrongs right. Body shaming should be a thing of the past; we are the future and it’s a beautiful one at that. Be beautiful and be you, sweet souls!

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