While I don’t want to tell you this story because it left me feeling pretty icky, I think that it might help someone. So I will press on with hope that you don’t think less of me - and if you do, please don’t tell me.
I grew up terrified of athletics. Gym class was horrible for me - from kickball to trying to learn layups. I felt self conscious about my body because I had boobs starting in the 5th grade. Kids called me a slut because I was new to school and physically developed. I didn’t even know what that meant. Instead of athletics, I played piano and read a ton of books, and I rode horses. I didn’t play sports. In fact, I was the only person in my family who did not play soccer.
A College Crush
When I was in college, I was enrolled in the musical theatre school. We had dance classes every day, along with singing and scene study. During that time, I developed a crush on one of the few straight guys at the school. He was a bodybuilder, and so several of us started going to the gym after school to work out more. His name was Michael, and he taught me how to lift weights and how to warm up and cool down. This was in Dallas, where your body image was and still is very important.
One day, a new trainer at the gym called me into his office. I didn’t realize he was trying to drum up business for himself. And I wasn’t sure what was going or why I went in there. It was probably my people pleasing and wanting to be liked by everyone.
This trainer started asking me about my workouts and what I was working on. I don’t remember everything that I said, but I probably said something self deprecating about my lower body. Then he told me to stand up, and so I did. He said, “Turn around.” And I did. Then he said, “Oh, yeah. You need a lot of work back there.” Mind you, I was in my 20s. Even if I wasn’t a skinny barbie doll, I was a size 5/6 and I looked pretty damn good.
In that moment, I felt ashamed of my body and myself. I felt the waves of shame wash over me. It started slowly from the moment I’d sat down in this trainer’s office. Then I went numb, shut down, and just let the tidal waves of shame wash over me.
To this day, I can’t believe that I even walked into that office and followed his directions. That man was trying to shame me into buying his personal training services. It was humiliating, but what I was most upset with was myself.
Why did I even agree to walk into that office? Why did I agree to turn around for that man?
Why Talk About Body Shame?
It was so painful. I allowed him to take aim and hit a deep, old wound of mine. I guess I am writing about this thing that happened over 20 years ago because this kind of stuff still happens every day to other women across the country and around the world. Sometimes it’s so subtle. Advertisers are smart folks. They know where to hit your pain points and how to exploit our personal shame. Very few women feel tall enough, skinny enough, or pretty enough.
Advertisers tell us we’ll lose the love, the guy, the job, or the success if we don’t look good enough. Even when we know intellectually that this is untrue, our psyches don’t always absorb it.
My dad sent an article to me when Bruce Jenner came out as Caitlin. It was a fabulous editorial about welcoming Caitlin to being female, and how her looks would be up for discussion by all sorts of people and how one’s worth as a human being was directly connected with if whether you are considered beautiful.
I love being a woman, but I feel torn. Do I worry and obsess about my looks and my butt? Yes. We’re all allowed to be a little vain at times. I’m grateful for that vanity, because sometimes it is what drives me to get up and go to the gym when I don’t want to. Sometimes vanity trumps wanting to be healthy.
This experience changed my worldview about body shaming and beauty. It is very different from healthy living and exercise. The truth is, you are beautiful today, tomorrow and yesterday. Whether you are a size 2 or 20, have curly hair or straight, or whatever else advertisers and shamers are trying to sell.
Share your body shame story with me on my Facebook Page.