Earlier this week, one of my friends posted on Facebook that her not-quite 8-year-old daughter came home from school in tears, because some kids in her class had body-shamed her by calling her fat. Let that sink for a minute. 8. Years. Old. Being taunted for such a terrible reason by other 8-year-old kids. I’ve let this sink for a few days, and let me tell you, it does not sink well. Because when one daughter comes home crying like this, it is a collective punch in the gut to all of us who are raising girls. It is a feeling of helplessness for the child, who does not need or deserve to receive such a bullshit message at her young age. It is a feeling of gut-wrenching empathy for her mother, who, like all of us, would do anything to protect her children. It is a feeling of animosity and intense anger towards the other kids who decided it was appropriate to body-shame their peer.
My friend’s Facebook post has had me thinking all week – how would kids so young think it is in any way appropriate to shame someone like this? Where are they learning it from? At what age does this kind of thing start happening? Because I can guarantee you, if you put two young babies next to one another who cannot yet speak, they would see nothing but the beauty in each other. They would see each other’s souls. If one baby was adorned in scrumptious baby-rolls, topped up with a few extra chins and cheeks for weeks, and the other had a more petite, lanky frame, neither baby would notice or care. Both babies would interact with each other the same way, whether they both had a similar physical appearance or not.
I can remember as a young kid, being body-shamed on both spectrums. As I approached age 6 or 7, I was prescribed heavy-duty steroid medication by my physician due to being a severe asthmatic. The medication caused rapid weight-gain and moon-face on my formerly lanky frame. Two of my friends in the neighbourhood wrote me a note, saying “we don’t want to play with you anymore, Jenny Buffalo.” That’s right. They called me a buffalo. You’ll be happy to know that I completely forgot about this incident until this week (and I also made new friends), but that doesn’t negate the fact that it happened. A few years after being called a buffalo, I became heavily involved in competitive swimming. My health slowly improved, and I was able to come off the steroid medication. Between hours of daily exercise in the pool, coming off the medication, and a rapid growth-spurt, by about the age of 12, my body type rather quickly became lanky again. It didn’t take long for people to start calling me anorexic, telling me things like “go eat a hamburger.” I think of this now especially, as a mother of two – one with a larger frame and one with a lanky frame – and the day one of them comes home saying they were shamed for either reason is the day I’ll probably end up in the news.
It doesn’t really matter where we are on the body size spectrum to be considered as an object for shaming, but that is not revolutionary information. What I really want to know is, where does this urge to shame another human being come from?
Since my friend posted about her daughter this week, I have been trying to figure out when and why this degree of love and innocence seen in babies somehow disappears and is replaced by desperate attempts to put one-another down. Sure, we can blame the media – social media in particular, with it’s world of filters and nonstop diet propaganda, and I’m sure that plays a huge role, but honestly, I think it’s bigger than this. I think it’s bigger than body-shaming. It’s about the spread of negativity between one-another as women, no matter what the topic. It’s about “you look different than me” or “you do things differently than me” or “you act differently than me”….and rather than embracing our differences, we reject them. I’m not sure whether the urge to judge someone is fuelled by too many rampant insecurities or too many holier-than-thou attitudes, but regardless of the reason, can we all just collectively agree to try a little harder next time we feel the urge to judge or shame?
There are a lot of ways that women shame and judge one another, but one thing I’ve realized since becoming a mom, is that there is no greater prevalence in the shame-game than in the mom community. Ladies, if we can’t fix this insidious outpouring of hatred between ourselves, how are we supposed to teach our children to do any better? We are teaching our children with every action we take and with every word we utter. Can we all raise a glass to one another, in unison, and once-and-for-fucking-all call ourselves an actual village? Can we all agree to listen and be present for another mom’s struggles without an iota of judgement or “Just-You-Waiting?” Can we all agree to support another mom’s victories without hints of “well that’s about to change.”
Can we all say, here’s to the mom who breastfeeds, regardless of whether or not she chooses to cover up. Here’s to the mom who bottle-feeds, whether by choice or necessity, because she’s making the best decision possible for her and her baby. Here’s to the mom that spent hours preparing an organic feast for their children, because she’s doing so out of love. Here’s to the mom that fed her kids frozen nuggets for dinner because she had a long day and that’s all she had time to make, and her kids are still loved and fed. Here’s to the working mom who sends her kids to daycare, because she’s working hard for her family and enjoys her career. Here’s to the stay-at-home-mom, who spends most of her time with her children, doing the hardest job there is. Here’s to the mom that got hardly any sleep last night, who is barely surviving but tackled the day anyway. Here’s to the mom that got a full-night’s sleep and found an hour to herself to get a pedicure, because she deserves the self-care. Here’s to the mom that exercises on a regular basis, because it makes her feel better and more energetic. Here’s to the mom that has no time or desire to exercise, but focusses her energy in other places that work best for her and her family.
Now, let us try to temper the mommy-wars and body-shaming-wars all in one step here, because the bullshit talk of “losing the baby weight” and “bouncing back after baby” still exists, and whether you do or don’t lose the baby weight, the labels and judgement will fly. And guess what, ladies, this labelling is heard by our daughters. So, let’s raise a glass again:
Here’s to the mom who lost all her baby weight, without trying that hard.
Here’s to the mom, who lost all her baby weight, and worked really fucking hard for it.
Here’s to the mom, who never lost her baby weight, and is perfectly happy just the way she is.
Here’s to the mom, who never lost her baby weight, who is struggling and trying her hardest to be the best version of herself.
Because all 4 of these moms are beautiful warriors. Just the way they are.
Here is to the moms of all shapes, sizes and worldviews, because if we cannot find it within ourselves to embrace our own differences, our daughters won’t embrace their differences either.
We can do this, fellow moms. We can go back to that pure-souled baby mindset, and learn to see each other, and more importantly, ourselves, with love. We can be confident in our own choices without being judgemental of others, and in doing so, we will teach our children to do the same.