As a teacher and speaker on body image issues, I have the good fortune of going around the country to help people process the experiences that have formulated their body image while encouraging them to take control of that image– not letting it be something that someone gives to us and, instead, being something that each one of us owns and controls. It’s not an easy thing for a person to take power over, but it’s an important thing to do.
As I talk with various people about the experiences that have created their body image, I am always struck by the damage that individuals do to one another, the pain we inflict. In the seminar I teach on body image, the second topic we look at is “Parents, Peers, and Body Image.” In that class, we examine many things including what our loved ones say to us that ends up creating dings in our armor. Last year, one of my students lamented how her mother always said to her, “You’d be so much happier if you just lost twenty pounds.” I like to talk in those classes about the importance of finding your own voice in those situations and finding a way to make some sort of remark back, raising the awareness of the person speaking that your body isn’t up for grabs and that how they are treating you is not okay. When we were talking through what the young woman could say to her mother who believes that she would be so much happier if she just lost twenty pounds, there were some really great suggestions. My favorite? “Don’t you mean that you would be so much happier, mom, if I just lost twenty pounds?”
A few weeks ago, I was having this discussion with the students in my body image seminar this semester and someone told a story of the unbelievable thing that a loved one said to her. I remember standing there dumbfounded and then, all of a sudden, I had a crystal clear vision– one that I had never entertained before but, all of a sudden, it was fully formed in my mind. Here’s what came tumbling out of my mouth:
“See, this is why I need to be given my own reality television show. It would be called Shut Up! I would either travel around America and eavesdrop or be invited somewhere to intervene in someone’s bad behavior. Specifically, my job would be to teach people to be more careful about what they say and how they say it. So when a mom says to her daughter that she’d be happier if she lost twenty pounds, there I would appear to teach that mom why she shouldn’t be saying that sort of stuff. You know that voice in your head that pops up with the perfect comeback an hour after someone has said something mean (and when you are long gone). My job would be to be that voice in the moment and then supply the teachable moment.” The show wouldn’t be limited to just body image issues, though. We would deal with all levels of inappropriateness.
For example, Jen is a dear friend who is the mother of a cute one year old boy. One of the things we often talk about is how people believe that moms and pregnant women are up for grabs in a way that’s just not appropriate. Strangers walk up to you in the grocery store and rub your belly. They tell you whether or not you have gained enough weight. They tell you how to parent or what’s wrong with your parenting. There is infinite judgment of mothers, and it just wears us out.
Well, I just got this great email from Jen on Friday, and I had to clap right at my computer when I read it:
I had a parent moment yesterday, and I thought you’d appreciate it. After getting ice cream, I was strapping Wil in the backseat of the car, and you know it takes some time. I had the door open not all the way but open as I tried to quickly get him in. After shutting the door and going to my door, I noticed a car half in to the spot next to me but waiting for me to shut the door and get out of the way to fully park. I waved and apologized and quickly got in my car. As I was, I heard a man who was waiting for the man parking the car say, “I mean that woman was really taking her time getting into her car wasn’t she?” I mean, come on. I was strapping my kid in, not eating bon bons back there. So, I buckled up, rolled my window down and told him, “you know I heard you and just so you know, I was buckling my child in the car.” There was a woman with him, and I hope he was embarrassed. I finally found my voice in saying things back to people who say rude things to people with kids and pregnant women.
I emailed her right back and told her about “Shut Up: Bringing America’s People to Reality,” and she agreed to co-host. We may not have funding or a network or anything else that gets the show on television, but we’re, nonetheless, on a mission, one person at a time, to bring people to the realization that no one’s body or being is up for grabs. Don’t you want to co-host, too?