The Harsh Reality of Body Shaming

I was body shamed today.  Or perhaps fat shamed.  Or both.  I wanted to write about it because it shocked me, stunned me, upset me, and because the way I make sense of things I don’t understand is often to write about them.

I’ve read a lot about body shaming of women. I know it happens.  I know it shouldn’t but I know we are heading away from progress in that area.  Just this morning I read a feature about the top 14 photoshop fails where magazines or advertisers had attempted (and failed) to make women look different, usually by making them thinner and/or younger looking.  So, I know it happens.  And as far as my own body-esteem goes, I’m no supermodel.  My body is average and it looks like the body of a 36-year-old woman who likes to eat chocolate and has an allergy to exercise.  I don’t kid myself that it is any different.  But the shaming experience this morning really hit home.  And I felt frustrated with myself for allowing it to.    How does that happen?  How is it that something horrible happens to us and then we still somehow manage to find a way to be pissed off at ourselves?

I won’t go into the minutiae of the event but, in a nutshell, a man I didn’t know shouted at me from a car I’d never seen before, whilst I was walking along the road to a volunteer placement at a local nursery.  The words he shouted were “Fat Arse”.

It seemed to happen pretty quickly.  Quick enough for the word Arse to fade into the distance as the car sped away.  For a moment, I wondered if it had been about me.  It’s easy to feel paranoia when you hear shouting from a car whilst your walking and I imagine we’ve all been the people waving back at people who aren’t waving at us.  So, I almost thought that perhaps it wasn’t at me.  And then I realised it was.  There was nobody else around.  The shouting came right at me as the car passed me.  And I kind of froze in a way.  Although I carried on walking, it stunned me.  A moment earlier I had been feeling pretty good.  It was a gorgeous sunny morning.  I was looking forward to seeing the children. It was a nice end to a tiring week and I felt good.  And then Mother Universe dropped by to remind me that things are not always that simple.

I put the incident out of my mind for the rest of the day, telling myself that he was just a t.w.a.t. who had nothing more interesting to do with his morning than shout obscenities at women he didn’t know.  I didn’t even know what he looked like or whether he was alone.  I didn’t look into his car.  The rational and reasonable part of me understood this was a silly incident by an unpleasant man.  But slowly my mind started to digest what had happened and all of the doubts and low self-esteem started to creep up and by the end of the day I had decided I was going on a diet, starting now.

There are moments in life where it would be handy to step outside of yourself and give your other self a good shake.  This was one of those.  I needed the shake.  From the other me.

But deeper than this is a real issue with the way women are viewed, for it to be considered okay by some people, even if it is a minority of people, to openly pass a judgement about a woman’s body.  It’s the old cliché that some women and girls have been cat-called in the street and now apparently it is considered fine to actually shout out of a car at a woman based on her size.  And I know this isn’t even about my weight.  My weight, my body, they’re my business.  If there is a diet to be started, it is because I want to do it for me, not because some low-life in a car felt nothing more in him this morning than an ugly thought.

I’m not sure why I decided to write this and I imagine I might read it again and feel shameful for experiencing this and shameful for admitting it.  It would have been very easy not to tell a soul and keep it hidden in the basement of my self-esteem.  But then that would be doing an injustice to women and girls who experience things like this every day.   There is no shame in bodies.  There is no shame in large or small.  And there is absolutely no shame in women and girls.   The only shame here was the sad man in the car.

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Panto Season

It’s panto time this week. (Oh no, it isn’t).  Oh yes, it really is my friends.  Panto time again.  Since the kids have started to become a little older – full and proper members of the pre-school collective, they have started to love, nay, adore, pantomimes.    I say this as if it is something they have chosen to love, but it obviously could not have happened if I not taken them to see a panto in the first place.   So, it’s pretty much my fault.  I can’t even lay any blame at my husband’s door.  He’s brutally honest about his hatred of pantos.  So, unless the tickets are for a weekend show, I’m on my own.

I don’t remember loving pantomimes as a child.  I remember going to them.  I remember all the chanting and audience participation.  I remember the cast chucking sweets into the audience and me being secretly crushed every time because they never landed on me.  But I don’t remember loving them, the way my children do now.   Perhaps it really is personal preference rather than an in-built sense of panto-love purely because they are children.

I opened the doors to a future of pantomimes when my daughter was about 3.   During a nursery half term holiday, I took her to see a local showing of The Wizard of Oz.  We only lasted the first half.   The wicked witch person was too scary and we left at the interval.   Not a success.  Although, a very funny first half for the grown-ups, beginning with the scenery nearly falling over and then some horrendously bad warbling of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, followed by some inappropriate jokes.    Later that year, we went as a wider family to see Peter Pan.  This time we lasted the whole show and I think that was the moment my children decided that pantomimes were the future.   Since then, we’ve seen The Wizard of Oz again (this time with a funny and not scary bad witch played by Cheryl Ferguson aka Heather Trott) and I now feel like we are seasoned pros, ready for the next show.

To be fair, the theatre we visit is a lovely little local theatre and the actors who write and star in the shows are under-rated and under-noticed.  They don’t appear to be aiming for the big-time and they write funny little shows that entertain the kids and manage to keep the adults’ attention with a few blue jokes dotted around.   I suppose it would be an idea to see pantomimes at other theatres.  Mix it up a bit for the kids, but we are (I am) creatures of habit and we carry on doing what we’re comfortable with.

And I suppose, for all of my sneering at them, pantomimes are a lovely introduction to theatre for children.   And as somebody who used to work for a world-famous theatre group, I saw first-hand how wonderful it was to be able to bring theatre to so many people and especially to young people.  So perhaps I should look at this as the practice for later when I start taking them to theatre shows.

For now, I’m going to get my tickets out, get the Haribo and juice ready, and brace myself for the annual booing, hissing, and the secret hoping that the sweets will land on me.

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