Body-shaming has officially come to an end — at least in London where, according to the New York Times, they believe the solution is to ban ads featuring beautiful and toned models that make us average Janes feel bad.
The reality is, who needs an ad when we — especially girls — have other women?
My shaming began upon entering high school via family members' passive/aggressive compliment "You have such a pretty face," so often reserved for sweet-looking chubby girls. By the time I graduated, the accolade became "If you were a few inches taller, you could be a beautiful model." To the naked ear, this sounds like the typical caterpillar-to-butterfly story often portrayed on Lifetime TV. The truth is my transformation led to double body-shaming, as in damned if you do, damned if you don't lose weight.
I had been slim as a child, thanks to ballet lessons. Foolishly, I gave them up in sixth grade without replacing the graceful physical activity with another in order to hang out on my Bronx stoop with neighborhood kids. I was afraid if I didn't, I'd miss something. (Nothing ever happened in my outer borough, hence the word "foolishly.")
Around this time, the girls on my block, all a year older than I, got into boys and clothes, as well as dances, group movie dates, and parties. The stress of trying to be accepted by them caused me to start emotional eating, and by the time I was in seventh grade, if I stood next to any of them, we added up to the number 10, with me as the zero.
Although they never called me fat, at least not to my face, they'd make a show of borrowing each other's clothes, a ritual I could not participate in. While they were swapping sweaters — or worse, pants — I'd stand there watching them laugh, zip each other up, and tell one another how "great that looks on you." Inevitably one would look over at me, shrug, and smirk, "Sorry," though it was clear she was anything but. There seemed to be some sadistic pleasure in being able to wear something I couldn't, as though I was this barometer they used to make themselves look even thinner.
In the summer, they'd ask me whether it was uncomfortable being so big when it was so hot. I got the increasing impression that they were embarrassed to be seen with me. I didn't exactly up the group's game, especially when we ran into neighborhood guys. I proved myself right the time they headed to Alexander's department store for bathing suits, telling me I couldn't come because they wanted to "get in and get out." There would be no time to stop off "in the chubby department."
By eighth grade, I was able to move off my block to hang out in the park with my school friends, who were all in the same shape I was. When we started at our new high school, the new girls we met were in the same body boat. It felt great to finally be part of crowd, and I got to do clothing swaps and go to sleepovers without feeling self-conscious about changing in front of people who had the same muffin top as me.
By the time the summer between sophomore and junior year was upon us, I realized proms were on the horizon, and if I went, I wanted to go with a date. I also wanted a boyfriend. I started to get down on myself because of my weight, tired of not being able to wear Levi's and baby tees that the cooler, more popular girls wore — the ones who looked at me with disdain because I couldn't. And I had to admit that my old cronies had had a point: It was uncomfortable being so big when it was so hot.
I had an unglamorous summer job as a supermarket cashier and worked extra hours when I could, not so much for the money (which was helpful), but because I figured idle hands would wrap themselves around ice cream cones. I had tea for breakfast, a fruit or green salad for lunch, and small portions of whatever my mother made for dinner. On the weekends, I'd let myself have dessert. No one knew I was on a diet, so there were no antagonistic temptations to "just have a bite" of someone's pizza, nor was there a barrage of questions about how much I had lost. As my job was about half a mile from my house, I walked there and back six days a week as my workout.
I began my upperclassman years looking quite svelte. My squad's thin-shaming jealousy was as palpable as the disdain of the fat-shaming neighborhood girls. I had one BFF who would constantly tease me about my pared-down frame, asking if I would now be easy to screw because I was suddenly flat as a board. Another would not go shopping with me to avoid trying on clothes next to someone she believed would make her look fatter than she already felt. Another, whom I used trade outfits with, refused to accept my wardrobe that was now too big for me.
After graduation, I was glad we went our separate ways. I was on to college and then my professional life. But even though the players changed, the shaming remained the same. The "gain it, lose it" yo-yo that had been my life was just beginning — so much so that I wrote a book about it called Fat Chick. Honestly, the comments never end, whether they're resentful backhanded compliments like, "Wow, you've lost a TON of weight," or a sniping insult from a cousin: "Potato chips? I guess you're not a beach person, so that's why you don't care how you look in bathing suit."
I don't need an ad or billboard or Victoria's Secret catalogue to make me feel self-(body)conscious. All I have to do is show up somewhere, and a family member, friend, or colleague will do the honors.