Julie and I sat in front of our plates of eggs sardou and cups of Café Du Monde coffee cataloging the ever-complicated details of our purgatorial relationship. Tucked away in a quiet corner table of the quaint 1900’s house turned New Orleans style breakfast and lunch eatery Lucille’s, in Boulder, CO, we paused our processing long enough to be taken with how little everything in the restaurant was. The tablecloths, teacups, saucers… all of it, tiny. Except for us. We were big. Likely the biggest women in the restaurant of 80 or so diners. We might have been discussing this observation when I overheard the conversation of a table full of young university girls seated across from us. It is difficult for me to filter out the conversations of others. I am always catching snippets of the cousin that died last week or the doctor’s appointment that was slept through, the shopping plans for later in the day. I hear everything even when I am trying not to which means I am unfortunately often privy to an endless stream of body shaming commentary. I am far enough along in my radical self-love journey to know that diet talk is a toxic sludge folks seemed committed to wading in on a regular basis and even though I have managed to ex-communicate such dialogue from my own conversations I am constantly reminded that this topic is par for the course in the larger world. Body shame is on surround sound all the time. I have gotten pretty adept at filtering out the noise but today I could not. And so, it was that I got to hear the full details of this table full of thin young white girls, discussing their attempts to lose weight. Julie and I raised our own voices in conversation, hoping we might suffocate the sound of the girl’s body shame banter until one of the girls declared loudly, “I would kill myself if my kids were fat.”
Sandy Hook had not yet happened, but Columbine had. Trayvon Martin was still a small alive boy but Amadou Diallo had long ago been filled with 41 bullets and buried beneath six feet of sod. “Me Too” had already sprouted from the mouth of Tarana Burke but had not yet become a Hollywood rallying cry for sexual assault but Sandra Fluke, a then law student had been called a slut and a prostitute by major television and radio personality Rush Limbaugh. A distinction which landed her on the receiving end of a presidential phone call wherein a black president apologized for the vicious and cruel things a white man said about her. Rush Limbaugh, Eric Klebold, and the four officers that killed Amadou Diallo were all within popular consciousness. They were terrifying avatars for what one’s child might become if left to the wiles of this world and yet this young women’s biggest fear was not that her child might grow up and murder an innocent man or become a raging sexist or unleash a torrent of bullets on their unsuspecting classmates. No, this girl would kill herself if her children were fat. And this fact was so clarion and acceptable to her that she said it aloud in a crowded restaurant with not a single impulse to censor herself.
In my new book, The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love I ask the reader “Who in your life is most impacted by your body shame?” I ask this question because we treat our bodies and our ideas about them like an island only inhabited by us, acting as if the waves of self-loathing don’t lap onto the shores of all we neighbor. Not only was this young girl preparing to despise the potential bodies of her not yet conceived children, she was simultaneously here in a breakfast café sharing with me all the ways that she would rather be dead than to even be related to someone with a body like mine. This is the contagion of body shame. It is transferred over dinner tables, dressing room stalls, employee breakroom conversations. We tell people how much we hate their bodies simply by sharing how much we hate our own. I wrestled with my own discomfort. What was I to do about the vitriol that had been inadvertently lobbed toward me, without any consideration of me?
Today, my sense of dignity dictates my tongue, demands I speak up on behalf of my own humanity no matter how uncomfortable. And with that as the girls prepared to exit the restaurant I stopped them. “Hey, I overheard your conversation about how you would kill yourself if your kids were fat. I am fat and hearing that statement was deeply hurtful. It felt no different in my body than had you said you’d kill yourself if your kids brought home a black person. All of it says you would prefer death than any proximity to my body. I just needed you to know how painful that was.” She stammered and stuttered and apologized. I briefly shared about my work and invited her to spend some time at our website where we practice making a world for everybody and everybody. Who knows if she ever visited our site. All I know is that each of us is infected with the virus of body shame and hatred. The most powerful act you can take up to halt its spread, is to heal it inside yourself. The only known antidote is radical self-love.