Body Shaming Survival Guide
By: Rachel Taylor It started off as a good day. I woke up before my alarm went off, which is the best way to wake up. I was ready for work early and was able to stop for coffee, where the baristas already had my coffee waiting. As I drove to work, I felt excitement in my chest and swelling in my belly with the thought of a trip my mother and I are taking in October to an open house for a school I was thinking about applying to.
Yes, everything was great. At 10am I started work at a job I love (I’m one of those odd people who loves working retail) and I was feeling extremely happy and content. The customers were in a friendly mood and because it was the weekend, there was plenty of work to keep myself busy. Yes, things were great—until my last hour of work.
The fitting room was overflowing with clothes to be placed back on the sales floor. I saw a boy around my age talking on his cell phone. I didn’t take much notice of him other than to smile at him as I do with all customers. I bent down to place some shorts on a rack when I overheard his conversation.
“You’ve got to see this fat, cheddar-ass bitch. I’ll take a picture and send it to you.”
After hearing that comment, I became intensely aware of his every move. For a while he did not move from the bench he was seated on so I continued my work. Time passed and I actually began to believe that he was talking about someone else, but I was very wrong.
Suddenly, I became aware of a camera flash going off and noticed the boy taking my picture. For a moment I was stunned. Was this actually happening? I’ve experienced plenty of hate in my life because of my weight, but since leaving school it’s been either online, behind my back or thrown at me out of anger, never simply because I was just there.
After he took my picture, I gathered all the courage in my body, chanting my favorite quote from Disney’s 2015 film Cinderella, “Have courage and be kind,” over and over again. I marched over to him and asked if he had taken a picture of me. To which he replied, “Worry about your work, you fat bitch.” In that moment I was embarrassed. Who was he going to send that picture to? Would he post it on the internet and it would be Reddit all over again? [Ed note: Rachael previously wrote about her experience with online harassment for Proud2Bme] I still to this day don’t know.
Although I had very little courage left, I used what I did have to tell him to leave the store. I lost it as soon as I could scamper back to the fitting room. I didn’t finish shelving the odd number of clothes that were in my hands.
After explaining what had happened, my manager said I could leave. There were only 25 minutes left to my shift so I clocked out and drove home. I was angry that I had not been able to control myself and that I was crying like a baby, because words do still hurt me.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve been in recovery for over a year and am making great progress or that I have more confidence now than I ever had before. Words still have the ability to hurt me and on that day they felt like a slap in the face. Even now when I think back I can’t help but respond with anger. Who raises a person to think that they are entitled to treat others so poorly?
The sad truth is it doesn’t just happen to me. All types of people are body shamed every day for no reason other than that they exist.
However, if you are body shamed in any way, here are some tips that may help:
1. It's okay to cry when it happens. Crying does not make you weak and it is not embarrassing. It simply means that you are human and that you have been hurt.
2. And it’s okay to cry and be upset afterwards. Just because hours, days, weeks or even months have passed doesn’t mean you should be over it. Trauma from being body shamed whether in private or public can take more than a mere minute to heal.
3. It's normal to feel anger and lots of other emotions. Don’t be surprised if you feel a wide range of emotions. There are many stages of acceptance, including, but not limited to, shock, grief and anger.
4. Don't take those feelings out on yourself. When it happens try to get away from the situation and go to a safe place.
5. Venting can be very helpful. Go to someone who will listen empathetically and who you trust.
6. If you can’t leave (for example if it happens at work) ask a manager for a break and take time to breathe; maybe even walk it off.
7. If you are prone to panic attacks, have an emergency panic attack kit ready. These kits can include:
- An iPod or phone with music
- Instant ice packs or instant heat packs
- A small stuffed animal that you can hug and that gives you comfort
If a friend is ever body shamed, the best way to be an ally is to:
1. Help them feel and be safe. When you’re body shamed it can lead to an extremely triggering whirlwind of emotions.
2. Listen to what they have to say.
3. Be encouraging and ask what you can do for them.
4. If they ask you not to confront the person than don’t! You may not be aware of the dynamics between your friend and the person that body shamed them.
5. Learn from their experience so that you’ll know how not to body shame someone.
6. Make sure they know they are not alone. Sadly, body shaming is common, but by sharing our stories and supporting each other we can change that.
This post originally appeared on proud2bme.org
About the Author: Rachel Taylor is from Tacoma, a city not far off from Seattle, Washington. She is attending college for her degree in creative writing. Her goal is to be a writer and public speaker and to break the stigmas with eating disorders, mental illness and fat acceptance.