When I think back, I’m embarrassed at how I used to behave and think. I used to do it all the time, without giving it a second thought. I assumed that “Everyone does it, it’s fine.” I never did it publicly, or to anyone’s face, as if that made it excusable, ok. If I ever did it out loud, it was only to trusted friends, the people who also thought it was ok.
But it’s not ok.
What am I talking about? What was the shameful behaviour that I used to engage in? It’s judging other people by their appearance, be it the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, or the shape of their bodies.
We have ALL done it. A lot of us still think it’s ok to do it, so long as you don’t do it to someone’s face, so long as they don’t know.
But it’s not ok. Ever.
Take this quote from Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby’s book Screw Inner Beauty*:
“At some point in your adult life, you’ve probably walked into a party and felt a frisson of relief upon discovering at least one woman there who was fatter, uglier, and/or dressed more inappropriately than you. We sure have. But if you want to have any hope of making peace with your own body, you need to knock that shit off.”
You’ve totally done that, haven’t you? I know I have.
And here’s the real kicker, I still do. There are still times I catch myself doing it. But knowing it’s not ok has me doing something else. Thanks to people like Kate and Marianne, and others who’ve shown me just how fucked up it is, not just because it’s nasty, but because it does me damage in the long run too, something else happens now when my mind goes to those thoughts. A second thought tacks right on to that judgmental one, and it’s “Stop that shit.” It’s becoming automatic now, the minute the synapses trigger in my brain that give me that kind of judgey thought, the next ones are “Stop that shit.”
Why? Because I know it’s bullshit. I know that every single person in this world should have the right to look, dress, and appear however suits them. I also know that I have absolutely no right at all to judge another human being on their appearance. And finally, I know that it only poisons me in the long run anyway. More from Kate and Marianne:
“We’re not even telling you to stop just because it’s nasty, petty, and beneath you to judge other women so harshly; it is, but because you’re not a saint, and neither are we. We’re telling you to stop because it’s actually in your own self-interest to stop being such a bitch. ‘Cause you know what happens when you quit saying that crap about other women? You magically stop saying it about yourself so much, too.
Judging other women negatively creates a constant stream of nasty thoughts in your head. It is inevitable that you will end up applying those same standards to yourself. We think we’re building ourselves up when we do this but, really, we’re just tearing other people down to our level. And we hate to go all Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on you, but tearing other people down isn’t really productive. It leaves you in the same place you started, which is full of loathing for your own body.”
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
But most of all, I know I hate it when people do it to me. When people judge me on the size/shape of my body, the choice of clothes I make, the colour/style of my hair, whatever, it really hurts. So why the hell would it be ok for me to do it to someone else?
I still see it though, and done overtly too. From people who consider themselves liberal, progressive, campaigners for social justice. People who call themselves feminist. Others who will fight against body politics in one arena, but then snark about someone’s hair, or clothing style soon after. I even saw someone who calls themselves feminist post a photo they’d taken of a couple of strangers in a car park simply to snark at how those people looked. And don’t get me started on the appearance-based snark that went on with the UK Royal wedding last night. How can that be considered ok?
It doesn’t matter how weird, ugly, dorky, strange or just plain “gross” someone looks to you. So what if someone dresses strange, or doesn’t hide their body as society rules they should, or even how you think they should. So what if someone is “weird” or “dorky”. So what if someone’s appearance or hair is outdated, unfashionable. How are they hurting you or anyone else in any way, just for looking the way they do?
Nobody has the right to judge another on their appearance. Assess people based on their behaviour, their attitudes, but appearance is arbitrary and gives no indication of the person behind it. And ask yourself, how do you feel when someone judges you on your appearance? When someone deems you “gross” because you’re fat. When someone suggests you’re low class because you don’t have the same fashionable clothes as they think you should. When you’re judged on your appearance simply because you’re a woman, when a man doesn’t have to meet the same standards. How does that make you feel?
If you’re going to fight for the right of people to be treated with respect and dignity in one arena, then you have to accept that you have to treat all human beings with respect and dignity in all other arenas, regardless of their appearance.