In her 2004 book, The Good Tree, feminist writer Eve Ensler compares all bodies to trees, and asks – “Do you hate that tree ’cause it doesn’t look like that tree? Do you say that tree isn’t pretty cause it doesn’t look like that tree? We’re all trees.” It’s a lovely thought, to look at yourself as this pristine gift from nature. But too many of us don’t. What’s worse, too many of us rudely, mechanically, sweetly tell others not to see themselves in a positive way. The body positivity movement, which relies a lot on online tools, has taken it upon itself to spread messages of acceptance and self-love to people of all body types. It’s important that we engage with the culture of shaming so that we can end the moralizing, policing and stress caused by it, but to do so, we have to recognize all of its varied forms:
For someone on the fat side (no I’m not just saying this to get sympathetic reassurances of “no, you’re not fat!”) I get that thin-shaming can be just as painful. For a long time, I thought thin people were living the dream, getting all their clothes in their size, and looking a lot like the actors and models everyone wants to be. Because thin people are somewhat closer to the ‘ideal body type’ (decided by whom, we’ll never really know), I’d always assumed they had it easy. I didn’t think even think thin-shaming was a real thing. That is until I actually heard and saw it happening. The same intrusive questions about diet and exercise and illness plague people who are thin, as they are for fat people. Thin people are often followed by casual snickering about anorexia or bulimia, or pushy relatives with their noses planted firmly on your weighing scale needle. While I’m not denying that beauty standards force many women (and men) to obsess over their bodies, it’s also not okay to label all thin people are vain, conformist and brainwashed, just as you shouldn’t label fat people as slow, stupid and lazy.
It should be a truth universally acknowledged that any human in possession of a body will grow some hair. Sorry, if that soured Austen a bit, but it’s true! Body hair is 100% natural! Hair removal creams and epilators are not – which by the way are marketed almost exclusively to women. Hair shaming is gendered. This is because hair has traditionally been seen as a symbol of male fertility and power – women aren’t allowed to have any of that. Ever heard of the No-Shave-November campaign? The idea is to get all the men with facial hair to grow out their beards and donate the money they save from not shaving to a cancer fund. But would we encourage women to grow out their leg hair? Cancer patients may lose their hair because of illness and chemo, but women are told to lose their body hair or lose their self-worth! Cosmetics and grooming company profits tend to depend on their ability to make you feel bad about your body hair, and so far they’ve done a great job telling you you need to be hairless. At the same time, there is a lot of backlash for people who do choose to be hairless for whatever reasons. Everyone needs to take a chill pill and remember that our bodies are our own, and what we do with them is up to us.
After a casual remark was directed at marathon runner Amy Rose, the internet soon became cognizant of this little thing called sweat-shaming. Think of all the sports brand advertisements you’ve seen. You may not have noticed this before, but the majority of visual depictions of women working out or running are missing something pretty basic: sweat. Before you break out your middle-school “ews” and “ughs”, allow me to remind you that sweating is an actual thing that humans do. Just like growing hair. Sure, a lot of us tend to squirm forever if we have sweat-patches on our shirts. If anything, this should be because of hygiene reasons, but in reality we are made to equate sweat with something profane, something lesser. And if you though there isn’t a class angle to this, there is. Labourers sweat, we don’t, because we have antiperspirant and air-conditioning; we’re civilized, and we’re flawless. We’re buying into a reality that doesn’t exist.
Yes, this made the list because the way we tend to police men, women and non-binary people’s bodies – that is their sexual choices and histories – is very much related to body shaming. You don’t get to call a woman a ‘slut’ or a ‘ho’ just because she knows what she wants and gets it too! Not only does making unsolicited comments about people’s sex lives make you sound judgmental and intrusive, but it also perpetuates unhealthy ideas about containing and controlling women’s sexuality. And why just women? Speculating about anyone’s sex life should not be on your agenda. People also tend to make nasty remarks about the kind of clothes women wear and how sexually ‘loose’ that makes them. Is there honestly nothing else you could be doing right now? Just stop.
So here’s the thing. Sometimes trans people do not transition. And this can be for any amount of reasons – finances, access to safe surgery, or maybe they don’t feel the need to change their bodies in any way. Expecting all trans people to magically transform their appearance into Heidi Klum-looking or David Beckham-looking bodies is not ok. Game developer Amy Dentata has written that “‘Passing’ is an inherently broken concept. You can only ‘pass’ as something you’re not. To say a trans woman ‘passes’ as a woman, is to say she isn’t really a woman.” We need to stop shaming trans and non-binary bodies, by pinning trans people into narrow constructions of gender – the very thing they want to get away from in the first place, remember?
Shaming culture is based on the assumption that people’s bodies are on display for constant evaluation. And to tell the truth, we’ve actually let it get this far. What we need now is to work hard to eliminate these and other micro-aggressions from our own daily speech and actions. Seriously, the world will just be that much nicer a place to live in.