How to… Lose the Body Judgement

Published April 11, 2013 by sleepydumpling

I don’t know if you have seen it yet, but Bethany over at My Arched Eyebrow has written an excellent piece on the amount of body snark, judgement and fashion/wardrobe policing that goes on in the comment threads of plus-size clothing Facebook pages.

I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself, all those comments about what fat women “should” and “should not” wear, exclamations over garments not being “flattering” and that “fatties don’t want to expose their [insert body part here]“. Not to mention whenever there is a non-model shot (either a customer photo or a staff member usually), all this judgement comes out of so many commenters about their bodies, or what bits of their bodies aren’t “flattered” enough. Yet the same commenters usually whinge and complain whenever model shots ARE posted that they want to see the clothes on “real women”. Gah!

I was thinking a lot about the self hatred that so many women project on to others on these comment threads, either individually or fat women in general, and what really strikes me is that we’re never actually taught how to NOT judge people. From the minute we are born, we are taught how to judge others. Our parents and family, the media, school, our friends… everywhere we look from our earliest connections with the outside world, we’re conditioned to make judgements about people.

Sometimes judgement is useful. Sometimes it’s your subconscious giving you useful messages about situations – telling you when you are safe or not, letting you know whether someone is familiar to you or not, or generally just helping you communicate in the world, after all, up to 60% of communications are non-verbal. But when it is negative and based on arbitrary measures like someone’s body shape or size, it is actually of no use to you and is usually just deeply ingrained cultural conditioning, rather than actual learnt information.

One of the most liberating things I have ever learned is to undo that cultural conditioning and let go of judging people based on their appearance (among other things). Walking around the world without that mist of negative judgement on people’s appearances has meant that I’m not carrying that negative judgement on myself. It has also meant that I can approach life unfettered by all of that useless negativity and focus on the things that really matter, like how people behave, how they treat me and who they actually are. And in no way has it left me open or vulnerable to harm – it is something that is really unnecessary and has no real benefit to us.

It’s not easy. Every where we turn someone is telling us, particularly we fat women, what we should do, what we should wear, how we should eat, what to do with our bodies. So generally we naturally reflect that on to the world around us. It takes a definite, conscious disconnect at the beginning to undo the bombardment of messages we are hearing, to learn to filter out the garbage and focus on what is actually of use to us.

I have a few exercises I do when I find myself getting judgey in my head and I’d like to offer them up here for all of you to try and work on.

  • Start by setting yourself a goal. Tell yourself you are going to try to go one month without judging anyone negatively by their appearance. If you don’t think you can do a month, try a week. If you can’t do that, try a day. If even that is a stretch, try the time you walk to work or are in a shop or any measure that you think you can work with. When you master that timeframe, expand it.
  • Consciously try to find one positive thing about every single person you encounter’s outfit. Maybe they are wearing cute shoes. Or you like their earrings. Or the way they’ve styled their hair. Pick any one thing that is NOT part of their body, it only works if it is part of their outfit, and acknowledge it to yourself.
  • When you’ve mastered that, pay them a compliment. Remember, you’re not to comment on their body, it has to be something they are wearing. And keep the compliment simple. Smile and say “I like your earrings.” or “Cute shoes!” Try doing this for more and more people throughout the day. Start with people you are comfortable with – friends, family, colleagues. Expand upon the number of people you compliment every day. Try it with staff in shops, or the waiter in a restaurant, someone in the lift (elevator). As often as possible, pay people compliments on things they are wearing.
  • By this stage, you’re probably noticing things you like about people’s outfits more and more often. The more time you consciously spend doing this, the less time you spend passing negative judgement.
  • Something else starts to happen when you do this… the people you are regularly around start to return the compliments. Usually they don’t know they’re even doing it, they just tend to reciprocate. I’ve actually discovered that I’ve unconsciously trained a huge chunk of people in my workplace to notice positive things about each other. I’ve got people whose only interaction with me is that we bump in to each other in the lift complimenting me now before I get to them. People who I would never have interacted with before now smile and say hello, and we usually trade compliments!
  • You can even practice on the photos on plus-size clothing Facebook pages! Look at each photo and find something you like about the outfit. Even if it is just the colour, or the hemline, or the accessories the person is wearing.  Leave a comment saying so.  Remember, no body judgement!
  • Important caveat though – you don’t have to compliment anyone who is rude to you, who you don’t like or you can’t find anything you like about them. It’s good to try, even just in your own head, but it’s not going to ruin the experiment if you just let those people go.
  • If you do find yourself thinking “They shouldn’t be wearing that.” or something along those lines, ask yourself why. Is it hurting anyone? I mean REALLY hurting anyone, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it is “offending” you because you don’t like it. Ask yourself if anything is taken away from you by someone wearing something you don’t like, or in a way you wouldn’t wear.
  • When you are next out shopping for yourself, and you see something that you like but you’ve always considered it something that you “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” wear, go try it on anyway. Grab a couple of things that you would wear and mix and match it in the fitting rooms. If you decide that you really don’t like it, put it back. But give it a try.
  • Wear one thing a week in a different way to how you would usually wear it. Wear a top tucked in or with a knot in it. Wear that sleeveless top/dress without a wrap or cardie (you can take one with you if you are really worried). Pull the waist of a skirt up higher (under a top) to make it shorter. If you can’t bring yourself to be in public, at least practice at home.
  • If you genuinely don’t like something on a plus-size retailer’s FB page (or similar), then say so, but try doing it without placing judgement on what other people “should” wear or on bodies.  State what you don’t like about it, acknowledge that others might like it, and tell them clearly what you would prefer.  Eg: “I really don’t like waterfall cardigans at all, even if they are popular.  It would be great to see you have a line of plain block colour cardigans with round necklines and elbow length sleeves.”  See… no commentary on anyone’s body, and constructive criticism.  Easy!

I would like to offer you all up the challenge to try the things above and see how you go. Even if you’re well seasoned at avoiding being judgemental about people’s appearances, you can still have a go. It can’t hurt and I find it makes me feel good. Not just about myself but about the people around me. Once you notice the changes that it brings, challenge other people to do it. Don’t allow people to spread their negative judgement on appearance around you.

Have a go… you may just find you like it.

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22 comments on “How to… Lose the Body Judgement

  • I love, love your blog! Have just found it and am about to rummage through the archives. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and I love how you love you to help others love themselves. You’re a woman after my own heart!

    This post is marvelous and you offer such good, practical advice. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if everybody did this regardless of body size, shape, ability or colour. What a wonderful world that would be.

    • Thank you Tez, and welcome! You know, I don’t believe in utopia, but I do believe that those of us who want to make things better, can. We’ll never see it perfect, but better is a good goal to aim for.

  • This is great, Kath. It’s really time people realised they’re not actually entitled to only see people whose appearance they find aesthetically pleasing.

    • Yes! The whole idea of someone’s appearance being “offensive” really gives me the shits. Yet I used to do that myself, before I learnt how crappy it is. I hope to teach others what I have learnt.

  • I’m feeling like the phenomenon – of people criticising non-model shots then complaining that they want to see the clothes on “real” people – comes down to an expression of self-hatred and the endless quest we’re all meant to be on to find The One True Garment which will, basically, make us not look fat?

    So people say, “well that’s a model, she’s already got an acceptable / attractive / rare / definitely small-end-of-the-plus-size-scale body type” – and they’re right – but they still want to believe that somehow that top or dress or pair of jeans *will* make them look like the model. And then they see a “real” fatty and feel confronted by the fact that no, a non-model in a non-photoshoot setting is just not going to magically appear thin and conventionally gorgeous and just-like-the-model if they find the perfect outfit.

    My brain is trying to say it’s kind of like the Fantasy of Being Thin from Shapely Prose: it’s the same kind of hope we’re programmed to cling to, in this case that the right combination of consumer goods will stop people realising we’re fat.

  • Hi! This is great advice. I have always been a complimenter. People in San Francisco (all races ages sex id’s and body types) are often a bit surprised by a complete stranger telling them they have cute glasses (top, dress etc). But they are certainly pleased! And it leaves me with a nice feeling from seeing them smile. Those little shots of positive energy throughout the day are Highly recommended!

    • I think people everywhere are a bit surprised Raven, since we live in such a culture of shaming and judgement. It’s a delight to see someone lifted by a moment of kindness.

  • I’ve been doing that compliment thing for a long time now, and I’m here to say it’s brought no end of joy into my life. Whether it’s a super cool hat or an awesome color of nail polish or a skirt that has a cheerful swing to it, I love telling people I noticed something cool about how they present themselves. So many people walk down the street with a wary air just waiting for negativity. It’s fun to surprise them with a happy thought.

    And as you say, Kath, I find that many of them compliment me back in some way. They love my hat, or they want to know where I got that great purse, or they are curious to know what that book I’m carrying is.

    Little connections with complete strangers turn into something positive, and it’s powerful. Yes, there are still assholes who yell filthy things from across the street at me. Yes, I still turn on my computer or my TV and see piles of ads telling me how I’m nothing if my waistline is larger than it was when I was twelve. Yes, the magazines still scream at me from the checkout stand that I don’t dare wear a swimsuit or a sleeveless outfit because, ZOMG!, I clearly don’t know how fat and revolting I am!

    The difference is that when I have these one-on-one encounters with people who join me in not judging our bodies negatively, it’s like a suit of armor against the crap we wade through every day. Sure, it gets pierced. That happens with armor, sometimes. But it deflects a lot of the negativity, and it deflects more and more as time goes on, because I know which messages are more important to me, now.

    I’ll hold onto the memories of complete strangers who took the time to tell me they loved my laugh or thought I was wearing a really cool necklace over someone spewing random, unfocused hate in my general direction any day of the week.

    Speaking of which, Kath, every time I look at that pic up top here, the combination of your hair, boa, and fabulously infectious smile makes the happy just bubble up inside me. Also, I think I may need a boa. Boas are fun.

    • Twistie I don’t blame people for being in public and feeling wary, especially fat women. I know I do. Because I’ve learnt that I *HAVE* to be. The minute I relax and let my guard down is when someone really sideswipes me with some vicious fat hate. That’s why when someone is nice, I light up!

      But yeah, it does get easier to deal with as you get more practiced at it, and learning not to judge others yourself is one of the first ways I have found to make it easier.

      And thank YOU for the compliment! I do have to admit though, that is just a regular old knitted curly scarf… nothing so fabulous as a boa!

      • Clearly we both need to get boas. But you wear that scarf as it if already were a boa.

        Attitude can make quite ordinary things fabulous.

  • Insightful as always! I used to be obsessed with “What Not To Wear” so much so that I wouldn’t even wear black (apparently it’s not very flattering on most skin tones–pffft) or anything that didn’t hide my “problem areas,” which, they would have you believe, for a fat woman is every area. I also used to look at everyone and make them over in my head. Honestly being around fat acceptance/body acceptance bloggers has made me do a 180 on my thoughts. Now I genuinely find most people’s styles interesting. Okay, I need to work on cringing at the whole khaki-sweater-set suburban look, but I’m working on it.

    • I used to LOVE “What Not to Wear” before I had my eyes opened to how douchey it is!

      You know it’s OK not to like stuff. For example, I can’t stand the current trend of skinny jeans that have the crotch really low on dudes. I just find it really unattractive. But hey… those dudes aren’t wearing the skinny jeans to please my eyes, they are wearing them because they like them… and that’s a good thing! It doesn’t make them bad people, it doesn’t really give any reflection of who they are as people at all… except maybe that they’re very comfortable with tight jeans and waddling with their crotch down low!

      It’s when you judge the people who wear that thing you don’t like negatively for wearing that thing you don’t like that the problem starts.

  • What a great post! I have only just found your blog, and the whole world of accepting your body for what it is ( if only I had known this as a younger woman, but I guess now I do know this is my chance to do better!)
    I like your suggestions, I did something last year along similar lines but for a much more selfish reason. I realised that part of my struggles with my own body, were that I had such a narrow idea of beauty…so I made myself look at other women and notice something beautiful in all of them. It did work, and the biggest gainer in the whole experiment was myself.

    • susannahc61 – if only we’d all known it as a younger woman!

      I don’t consider those selfish reasons at all. The very first benefit from trying an experiment like this should be exactly that – the fact that you expand your own mind and are less harsh on yourself!

      • So reading this blog entry has really stayed with me, and I am now actively working through your points! I should say that my biggest challenge in this is all that my mother taught me as a little girl, i.e, that two things were important , being thin and classy ( I’m British ) Even though I seem outwardly to have moved away from my upbringing, I am happily married to a working class man, and I am a fat woman , I still hear that voice………
        So yesterday I was in the carpark of a retail park. A way off in front of us was a thin woman in high heel boots, skin tight jeans, and a teeny tiny spaghetti top in vibrant colours. It wasn’t that hot of a day and she was kind of eye catching, so both me and my husband had turned to look slightly…now I might normally have let slip a slightly snarky comment, but I stamped on it firmly and said outloud ” Great colours”, she was too far away to hear me, but I felt like I had acknowledged her positively….babysteps, babysteps!

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