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.