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Family and Weight Shaming By: Stephanie Hoover

From my teens to my thirties more often than not people in my family have thought it their rightful place to openly comment on my weight. If this sounds familiar or you are guilty of openly commenting on another’s, more likely a beloved friend or family member’s, weight then I urge you to read and share this article. Throughout my research on body image in my undergrad career I found that it is not in fact the media which is the most damaging and toxic in regard to body shaming, but it’s those who are closest to us, our family and friends, who are. This is due to the fact that friends and family think they can “be honest” with us where other people may not feel they “have the right” to speak on such matters; they don’t know you “well enough.” And it’s not just shaming another’s body that’s harmful, but self-shaming as well. For instance, if I were to talk about how fat I thought I was and how I think I shouldn’t eat this or that and how I’m always trying out new diets to “lose 10lbs” I could be reinforcing those same harmful dieting and body shaming behaviors onto my siblings, kids, and other loved ones. They may think starving themselves, working out until they break, and body shaming themselves are acceptable behaviors if they see you doing it to yourself. However, promoting healthy dieting, exercise, and body observation is something that should be modeled.

If you’re not exactly sure what I’m talking about let me paint a picture. I’m genuinely surprised that I never developed an eating disorder. My mother has been skinny for as long as I can remember, and aside from my baby-fat baby stage, so have I. However, that’s not what I was told when I was in my t[w]eens. I was constantly told that I was fat, my thighs were talked about regularly for their thickness, and I was even told that I “had no friends because I was fat.” I also went from a size 3 to 5 to 7 rather quickly in high school, which I was reminded about constantly. Fun fact, my body is deceptive –I’ve always been told I look thinner than I am. Meaning when a girl in high school needed to borrow a pair of black pants and I told her she could borrow mine and she thought there was no way she’d fit into them; she could not believe I was a size 7 because I didn’t look it. Still to this day I look thinner, most of the time, than my pant size reveals. –And that’s a whole nother story, pant sizes, and how they greatly differ compared to how men’s sizes run and how greatly they differ according to the designer and the store. For instance I’m a small to medium at Old Navy, but I’m a medium to large pretty much everywhere else. Oh, and I’m a large to extra-large in boys!

Now, whenever I’ve visited select members of my family they’ve deemed it necessary to comment on my weight, but always with how much I’ve gained. I don’t know how I’m so resilient to their remarks, but I’ve always just rolled my eyes and brushed it off until now. I’m 32, with a 14 year old, and as of last fall I was working in an office job full-time and going to grad school full-time. Both of these required an immense amount of sitting and little time for anything else. In fact, I remember quite a few sleepless nights and none of them involved being able to put in minutes to hours of working out let alone sleep. I’m currently 5’2” and 150(ish) lbs. I have a bit of a tummy, lovely lovehandles, and thick thighs; size 13-14 pants and medium to large shirts. Aside from having to buy new clothes, which requires money, I haven’t been too bent out of shape about my recent shape shift. I’ve been trying to exercise more and drink more water, but I don’t mind my body size too much -and neither does my boyfriend. However, a recent trip to see family lead to someone thinking they had the right to voice their discomfort with my body due to her discomfort of what may or may not happen to hers in the coming years. –Well, here’s some advice, don’t get a full-time office job and go to grad school full-time. You should be okay otherwise!

Let’s just say that one side of my family has some bigger people. So us kids have all kind of known what was swimming around in the gene pool…that could alter our, jeans, -ha. It’s been in the back of my mind from time to time, but again, I never really cared –not as much as my sister anyway. In fact, the straw that broke the camel’s fat-back is the fact that she said to me, “I wish I could take you to work so that people could see that while I am skinny now why I worry about my weight,” or something along those lines. Apparently my body is her worst nightmare; being chubby, but not fat, but not skinny. Well, I think there are far worse things to be than chubby, or just not super lean. (Many of my friends would kill me for even calling myself chubby –that’s how not fat I am, even as a size 13.) My trade off to “being skinny” was a great job and expanding my intellect. I wasn’t going to do the two forever and I can always lose weight –if I want to. And I wasn’t even initially mad at her for saying so because I knew what she meant. However, throughout my trip other things arose to where I was told I was rude and needed to learn manners. This from the girl who had remarked on my weight along with others so openly and didn’t even care how I felt about my body and never thought about how damaging they could have been to my mental health regarding such matters.

Giving your opinion on such matters can be much more harmful than you think. Even so, despite having an opinion on everything does not mean that you must give your opinion on everything. Some things are better left unsaid and some things do not concern you no matter how much you think they do. –See my article on “Opinions” for more clarification.

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