“This (pointing to a candy in my hand, makes this (poking my belly)”
I was 19 years old when this was said to me. My great aunt was known for her “say it like it is” lack of self-editing candor. She had a lot of redeeming qualities, but this was not one of them. People just blindly accepted her as she was because “she’s not going to change.” But I carried that shaming comment (and many others) with me for years. It was one more ball thrown against the walls of my glass house. And it broke me (just a little). I’m not going to get into my (now understood) narrative or how it’s served me in both helpful and unhelpful ways. But I will say this. Words matter. They have an impact. And the words that grate against our values that we “brush under the rug” because “they’re set in their ways” or “we can’t change them” aren’t ok. Not speaking up implies complacency or worse, acceptance.
If I could speak up now, this is what I would say: “This is my body, and how I choose to feed it is solely up to me. I know you are well meaning, and I love you, but I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t comment on my choices.” And you might think that sounds harsh, but the bottom line is that it IS my choice – my body, my choices – your commentary isn’t necessary or welcome.
We all have a “great aunt” like this. So what do we do?
Speak up. When someone says something that perpetuates old norms say something. Educate them. You don’t have to be rude, but kindly help them see the other side of the coin. They may not hear it in the moment, but they will digest it, possibly even percolate on it. Let me share an example.
A friend recently shared this story with me of a visit with her 70-year old mom. Throughout their recent visit friend had “caught” her mom several times making derogatory comments about her body. My friend corrected (gently) her mom & asked her not to be so unkind to herself. By the end of the 2-week visit her mom was catching herself and even though she’d still make the remark, she’d stop, acknowledge that “she wasn’t supposed to speak that way to herself anymore,” and move forward. That’s progress!
And consider this. That child on the playground that you stick up for when you correct that bully? THAT may make all the difference to that child. That may be a defining moment for them. If you were ever bullied as a child – consider how it would have felt to have an adult step up for you. #micdrop
Stand up in ways that feel comfortable to you. Speak up if you can. Start with simple things like opening a conversation with people. Watch a documentary that tackles the issue (Embrace is a great start). Have a conversation. Be a champion of great messages and powerfully positive thoughts – in your life and the life of those around you.