Body shaming is a big topic these days. In fact, when you start to write about health and fitness it can kind of feel like a minefield. How do you write about changing a lifestyle or making good decisions, without people feeling like they are being pressured into making those decisions? So right off the bat here, I want to deal with the topic of shame.
First: shame is the most ineffective force for change. Guilt and shame don’t motivate; they paralyze us.
Second, the most debilitating shame comes from within. Sure, it starts with those around us telling us we are imperfect, but once we’ve internalized shame, it becomes a constant ache.
One beauty pageant judge, a couple of grownups commenting on my weight, some snide remarks from the girls at school … that’s all it took.
I remember the first time I tried to shame myself into losing weight. I was in about fifth grade. It was beginning to be summer in Mississippi. My dad’s friend had just bought the dollar store in town, and he wanted to highlight their clothing selection, so he decided on having a fashion show. My sister and I were invited to participate. We would get to choose any outfit we wanted and it would be ours after the show.
I found a cute skirt in the shade of turquoise that is still my favorite color, and a checked shirt that was bright and cheery. Problem: the skirt was just a little too small.
“Are you sure you want to get that?” my mom asked.
I was sure. I thought this could motivate me to lose some weight before the fashion show, which was still a few weeks away.
Of course, I didn’t lose a single pound and I was miserable and embarrassed during the fashion show. In fact, I grew some. The skirt was even tighter. I looked awful and I knew it. I was so ashamed.
That incident stands out to me, but there were so many times I tried to shame myself over the years that I had lost count by the time I was 25.
The vow usually lasted about 36 hours, or maybe even just until dinner if we were having something I liked. Then I would indulge, ashamed of my lack of self control. Adding shame upon shame, weight upon weight. That’s how shame works — or rather completely fails to work, at least not the way we want it to.
If you’re trying it now, just stop.
Shame doesn’t make you feel energetic or capable. It erodes all of the things you need to accomplish your goals. It takes away much, and gives nothing.
If you’re trying to shame someone else, anyone else, for anything, stop that too.
Sure, it would be a great idea if everyone could achieve their goals and dreams for everything. Not just losing weight, but being a better parent, having a clean house, running a certain distance, keeping to their schedule, etc.
But to the people who try to use shame — bosses, exes, supposed lovers, “well-meaning friends,” even some (the worst) coaches — they are destroying the thing they are trying to build.
To those who are trying to build something: let go of shame. Look at that person you are. Love them. When you start loving that person you are, that’s when you start wanting to do your best for them.
Three words and they all start the same way: shame, should, shit.
Shame starts with “should.” Someone is beating you up psychologically by telling you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be. Or, worse, you’ve internalized it enough that you are doing it to yourself. Suggestions, requests, advice, are all great, but once someone pulls that Shit of Should on you, time to walk away, baby.
The other side of shame: I can remember, too, the first time I looked at myself with compassion. I walked away from all the Shame and Should and Shit and really looked at myself. Some friends helped by telling me how they saw me. A weight dropped from my mind, from my body. I was on my way.