One of the lovely, but slightly scary, things about blogging and having your blog audience grow to a fair size is that people start asking your advice about all kinds of things. It’s lovely and awesome, to be seen as some kind of fairy fat-mother, but in the same time, it’s kind of scary. I mean, I’m not an expert on anything by any stretch of the imagination, and in my day job, I’m an IT librarian. I want to get things right for you guys when you ask my advice, I want to help. But I am a human being and I can only give my own thoughts/opinions and hopefully that helps.
I get a lot of questions from people who hate their bodies. Or they hate something about their body or appearance. I get a lot of questions about people (usually young cis-women) who are ashamed of something about their bodies/appearance, and don’t know how to change that. Or want to know how to hide the thing they’re ashamed of, or who to talk to about that shame. Sometimes it’s about being too embarrassed or ashamed to go to the doctor to talk about something that worries them.
Mostly, it’s a whole lot of shame and fear about their appearance.
Every time I get a question like this, there are two things I want to do. Firstly, I want to hug that person and tell them that they’re perfectly ok as they are. But I also want to give them something to set them free of that shame and fear. I don’t quite know what that is yet though!
One thing I do know, is that fear and shame often make the issue seem a whole lot bigger than it is. That’s the nature of fear and shame – it festers away in our heads growing bigger and bigger and bigger by feeding off itself and each other. Think about when you were a kid, and someone told you a scary story, or you watched a scary movie. It was terrifying, wasn’t it? But then when you go back and watch it as an adult, often it looks silly and cheesy, rather than scary.
Well it’s the same with our bodies and our appearance. That scar we obsess over, those stretchmarks, the wobbly arms we hide away, the round bellies, the hairy legs… whatever it is we attach shame and fear to. We stare at them in the mirror, or poke and prod at them as we get dressed or bathe… and we look at them in every minute detail. You’ll never know a body as intimately as you know your own. We practically go over ourselves with a magnifying glass, looking so closely at our supposed flaws that we are afraid other people will see, that we usually fear those flaws far bigger, far uglier and far more dramatic than they actually are.
Sometimes douchey people pick up on those things, and they use our fears and shame against us. They are perceptive of our vulnerabilities, so they will hone in on that and ridicule or point out those things because they know they can hurt us with it. Thus the person who has that ridiculous habit of bellowing “You’re so fat!” or something else about our appearance, or in my case, posting troll comments about how I’m fat, hairy or ugly.
I do understand those fears and the shame though. I lived with them my whole life until just a few years ago. I’m fat and hairy. I’m kind of a tall hobbit really. I tried EVERYTHING to hide my fat, hairy self. I avoided those topics in conversation. I wore clothes that I thought disguised me. And worst of all, for many years I let so many people hurt me so deeply by pointing out how fat and hairy I am. Sometimes the barbs still sting for a second, but not like they used to, and it’s rare that it does actually sting any more. Because it’s a pretty sad person that has to highlight other people’s supposed faults or belittle someone because of their appearance to make themselves feel better. Seriously… it’s a bit hard to give them any power to hurt you when you stop and think just how pathetic that is!
What we do, is turn our flaws into Voldemort. Yes, I am a Potterfile, stick with me here. Through most of the Harry Potter series, everyone is SO afraid to even think about “The Dark Lord”, they can’t even name him. He is You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Even the name Lord Voldemort isn’t really his name, it’s the name he’s given himself to appear even more frightening, because he knows that not speaking the real name of something you fear, keeps the fear growing.
J.K. Rowling actually said it in the first Harry Potter book:
Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 1997.
We do that. We speak of fatness in hushed tones. We don’t mention being hairy, or having acne, or stretchmarks, or skin problems, for fear of uttering those names will conjure them up in front of us, or put a huge neon sign over those “flaws” we have.
When really, most of the time these things aren’t Lord Voldemort, they’re just boring old Tom Riddle, and can be defeated, or at least reduced to something so much easier to deal with, simply by not fearing them any more.
Letting go of that fear and shame is not easy. But that’s the hardest bit – letting go. Taking that first step. Opening the door. Once you take that step, and set off, it really does get a whole lot easier. That doesn’t mean you never stumble, or you never have the overwhelming urge to run back in and slam the door shut behind you. That still happens. But I think once you’ve taken that first big step, you can often recognise the fear and shame for what it is. You’ve given it it’s real name, rather than hiding away and never mentioning it.
So… how do you feel about fear and shame in the context of your body and/or appearance? Is there something you think you could let go of to make the wolf look smaller? To lessen the grip that fear and shame have on you?
Or have you been able to give something it’s real name and chase that fear and shame away?