The “Body Shame Game.” Can We Stop Playing It Now? It Sucks

The “body shame game” is a behavior many of us are familiar with.   The game can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, consist of any number of players, and take place anywhere and everywhere.  The only thing that’s consistent about it is that absolutely no one walks away from this game as a winner.  Everyone loses.  It’s the worst game ever.

So what is it?

The game usually starts with a group of girls catching up.  Things are cordial for a while.  Banter and jokes are flying around, people are smiling and laughing, the night is looking pretty good…and then someone decides to make the first move.  She looks at one of her friends and goes:

“Oh my god…you look so great!  Have you been working out?  Ugh, I have no time for it anymore, I’ve gotten so fat.”

The table will get silent for a second.  The friend, not sure what to say at this double edged sword of a compliment will think for a second and quip something along the lines of, “Oh no, I’m actually so out of shape at the moment.  I mean…that’s why I’m wearing pants right now, my thighs are like cottage cheese!”

Anxious to get involved, another woman quickly thinks to herself and goes, “You have great legs! I mean, I would kill for your legs.  Mine are super short…I look like a penguin.”

And thus the game begins.  When it’s your turn to speak, you have two choices:

Say something positive about someone ELSE

 OR

Say something negative about yourself 

This game is quite frankly…pretty gross.  And like I said…no one wins, no matter how many cards you have to play.  This game is what causes so many of us to look at our bodies every day and see it as a combination of problems to be fixed.  This game is what causes us to take a healthy, functioning human body and view it like this:

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To be fair…I loved my calves

I mean…seriously…what the f*ck.

We need to quit this game, and we need to quit it now.  Your body is not a problem…it is the one thing you are guaranteed to have until the day you actually freaking die, so it’s time to start honoring it, and all it does for you.

Now look…We all have that little voice that speaks to us every time we look in the mirror or see a photograph of ourselves.  That’s where the “body shame game” starts: at home…in our own heads.

This voice sneaks up behind us and says: “Hey…you’re not actually happy with what you’re seeing here, right?” It points out our thighs, the texture of our skin, our rolls of body fat.  It does this so often, that when it’s time for us to actually talk about our bodies, those are the only things we have to say.  We define our bodies by what is wrong with them…so I think it’s time we start re-defining what we view as problems:

Stretch marks:

Yes…I have them.  They are a result of a dark shameful  period in my life where I put A LOT of weight in a short amount of time.  The doctors called it puberty.  I called it hell.

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Before puberty: The “no stretch mark” glory days

And that’s all stretch marks are… signs of growth and change.  They show us how adaptable our bodies are.

Did you have a baby?  Did having the baby leave you with stretch marks?  Now you don’t want to wear a bathing suit because you don’t want people to notice them? I completely get that…but…i’m sorry…I may have trouble noticing them because I’m busy being in complete awe that you GREW A HUMAN in your body.  Where there was NO human…you made one…and now it’s here… walking around and talking and stuff.  That’s amazing!  And your stretch marks…they are a badge of honor that show everyone that you loved someone else more than you loved yourself.

Did you lose a lot of weight?  Now you don’t want to wear a bathing suit because of your stretch marks?  I completely get that but…no.  No wait, I don’t get that.  You freaking FOUGHT for your new body.  Blood, sweat, and tears for this new body.  Those stretch marks are your battle scars for winning a war most people never even have the balls to start.

Body Fat:

Yes, I have it.  I also have the luxury of eating food everyday.  I have the luxury of not having to walk miles for my food. I have the luxury of never knowing what it’s like to have to be hungry.  And If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re like me.

We don’t know what it’s like to have to be hungry…so why do so many of us spend our time time trying to starve ourselves?  Why do we try to convince ourselves that body fat is something we are supposed to eradicate?

Bringing up body fat is ultimately the Ace of Spades in the Body Shame Game.  Girls and women love to bring up the fact that they need to lose weight.  Please don’t play that card.  And if someone you know needs a way to feel good about their body fat, please remind them that their fat rolls are the only thing that will help them survive the next famine.  Seriously.

Thick thighs and thick arms: 

Instead of trying to make these body parts smaller, can we please just try to make them stronger?  Get off the elliptical and get onto a pull-up bar.  Stop with the crash diets, and go and get to know the squat rack.

And if you don’t want to do that, at least acknowledge and thank your body for giving you arms and legs that work.  None of us have any…freaking…reason to ever shame the body parts that allow us to get from point A to point B and allow us to pick up and hold people and things that we love.  None of us.

Faces: 

My face…I used to hate how it looked when I smiled.  Im assuming a lot of women feel this way (would explain duck face). I would hide my face when I smiled or laughed.  It was a cool time in my life.

But then I found that a lot of people in my life made me smile and made me laugh, and I didn’t want to shield myself from those experiences by putting a hand up or turning away.  We all need to live life by putting our best face forward.  And your face…well…it’s your best face.  And it’s wonderfully your own.

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Just smile

So, the body shame game.  Needless to say, I don’t play it anymore.  When I look in the mirror, that little voice that used to dominate every view I had on my body has no choice but to say, “sure…I guess you look good.”  It’s not easy at times, sometimes, after a hard day or experience, that voice still has a lot to say.  But just like a drunk friend at a bar, I let it talk at me, but not to me.  I let it ramble and rant until it has nothing left to say, and then I get on with it.

I don’t play this game when my girlfriends bring it up either.  I don’t even try to re-assure them about their bodies anymore, because by doing that, all I’m doing is validating that “voice” in their head that is speaking for them. And I don’t want to talk to it.

 I don’t shame my body anymore.  And because of that, when I look in the mirror, I’m able to see a true reflection of who and what I am on the inside…someone who is happy and healthy and loving life.

So ladies…honor your bodies.  You would not let someone else call you fat or ugly or thick…so why are you letting yourself talk to yourself that way? If you don’t like something about the amazing vehicle you have been given, you have two choices: accept it or change it. Don’t shame it. 

And ladies, gentlemen, who ever is reading this still.  I want you to stop talking to “that voice” in your head.  Stop giving it power over you.  You are valuable. We all are.  And no matter what that voice is saying, whether it’s telling you that you’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough… whatever it says, please just know one thing…

It’s lying.

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Disclaimer (read if anything slightly upset you in this post):

I KNOW body fat is a huge issue for so many people.  We all need to honor our bodies by keeping them healthy, and some people do NEED to lose body fat to be healthier versions of themselves. Im not talking about that type of body fat.  I’m talking about the “shame game” version of body fat  where we agonize over things like having a slight muffin top when we don skinny jeans.

Also…this is not a “woe is me” post.  I’m aware that I have no reason to feel bad about my body.  But then honestly, neither do you.   We ALL struggle with these issues.  No matter how we look to other people, it’s ultimately how we view ourselves that define us.  

And for over a decade, I didn’t see what a lot of people may see when they look at me…I saw a girl with gangly wrists, a fat tummy, and oddly placed knees.  The purpose of this post is to show you that for a long long time…I did struggle with body issues.  It wasn’t easy for me, and realistically… it should’ve been.  It should be easier for all of us.

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Why This “Girl’s Girl” Owes it All To A Nurse

I promised myself when I started this blog (a whole three weeks ago) that I would keep my posts universal, relevant and humorous (when needed).  I’m not sure this post will meet any of these criteria, but this needed to be written.

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Miss Colorado

I needed to write this because  I thought this morning that maybe, miraculously, the nurse/ medical assistant I’m writing about will recognize themselves in this story.  I wish more than anything I knew her name.

But this probably won’t reach her. So, hopefully and more realistically, this will at least be read by a few nurses or medical assistants, that often never get to hear what they so often deserve: thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

For those of you who don’t know, during the Miss America pageant last week,one of the contestants (a nurse)
performed a monologue that she wrote about her profession.  It later came under scrutiny by a talk show host, and has caused quite a few people to share their experiences with the awesomeness that is nursing.

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So here it is: 

To A Nurse,

I’m a doctor’s kid.  In fact, most people in my family are doctors, or surgeons.  I understand the fascination people have with them, the way we tend to glorify them… They are Gods amongst men, the healers of the sick, the fixers of broken bodies.  In TV shows and movies, the doctor is the one who takes the special interest in the patient and makes the breakthrough that changes the course of their patient’s lives.

So I get why people feel that way about doctors, I do.  And honestly, I think we all tend to think that because very few of us know what it’s like to be really really sick.

I know what it’s like.  When I was 18 (so twelve years ago) I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…a bad…but highly treatable form of cancer.  At 18, I was shuttled from doctor’s office to doctor’s office, out of one scan into another, injected with all sorts of dyes, liquids, chemicals, to see how “bad” my cancer really was.  I met a million doctors, was poked, prodded, asked a thousand questions, and was scheduled to start chemo all within in the span of a week.  My life, as I knew it, had ended.

And then I ended up in a room with you.  In what seemed like the basement of the hospital.  You were supposed to take one of my “baseline” tests (to like make sure my lungs didnt melt or something during treatments, I don’t know really).  You took my blood pressure, listened to my breathing patterns (with your stethoscope!) and gave me a tube I needed to blow into.

You handed it to me, and said, “ok, honey, take a deep breath and just blow sharply into this tube…let it all out.”  So I took a deep breath, held onto the tube, and did exactly what you said…I let it all out.  I cried.  Inconsolably.  It was just so quiet in there and you were just so nice, I needed to let it all go.

You didn’t look away like my friends would do.  You didn’t “give me a minute” and leave the room so I could get myself together.  You sat there, and you listened to me snuffle and sob, and you waited until the hysterical teenager in front of you finally quieted down.  And then you took the tube out of my hand, and put your hand on mine and said:

“Hey…look.  I see people come in here all the time.  I don’t know what your prognosis is, or how long you’re going to have to come to this hospital, or how things are going to go for you.  But I know one thing…

I know that one day, years from now, your doctor is going to say to you that you’re done.  That it’s time to start living your life.  And that’s what you need to do.  Take your time…be sad… but when the doctors tell you it’s time to move on, promise me that you will.  Don’t be one of those people who is constantly looking over your shoulder and thinking about this part of your life…forget about this place, and just promise me, you’ll move on.” 

I nodded my head, wiped my nose, and you handed the tube back to me and said, “Ok…let’s get this done now.”

And that was it.  I went on with the treatments, lost my hair, got my hair back, went to my follow up appointments, finished school, and then five years later, in March, I was done.  My doctor said I didn’t need to worry about coming in anymore, and that it was time to move on.

And that, dear Nurse, was when I remembered what you said…what you said about moving on and not looking back.  And I listened.  I really think you would be proud.

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Life’s been good

People who know me know what I’ve been up to, but I’ll give you the Spark’s Notes version: I live overseas, I work a job I love, I travel and meet more people than I ever imagined, I’ve learned empathy and compassion from the empathy and compassion you and others have shown me, and I almost never think about those days when I was really sick.  I do, however, think a lot about you.

Anyone who ever asks me how I ended up overseas, has heard about you.  You’re nameless in the stories, and I hate it.  I’ve rarely cried about cancer since then, but I’ve often teared up thinking about what you said, and how I would never get to tell you to your face, because what does an 18 year old really understand about the impact our word’s have on others?  So I’m sorry.  I wish more than anything you knew in that 30 minutes you spent with me, you changed the course of my life.

With eternal gratitude,
Sonia

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So, if anyone who worked at, or is still working at Medical City Dallas, remembers an 18 year old girl in 2003 wearing a shirt that was entirely too low cut, and crying all over your equipment…please know that I owe much of who I am today, to what you said to me.

And to the chemo nurses, the medical assistants, the people drawing blood and the guy who operated the PET-CT scans (yes I remember you)..all of you were my angels at Medical City Dallas.  I have innumerable stories from that time I spent in your good graces, and without you all, your jokes, your sincerity, your all around bad-ass-ness, I don’t think I would’ve been able to move on from it like I did.  I mean…one guy saw me run into a bathroom crying, and waited outside just to make sure I was okay…really…he had a job to do, and he did that instead.

And to ALL nurses…if you think you remember the one or two patients who stood out to you, please know that numerous people hold your faces and your words in their hearts, even though they may never know your name.  Keep up the good work, I just wanted to drop you all a line.

And to anyone still reading this, nurse or not…your kind words matter.  Say them.