I’m sitting propped up in bed as I write this, my eight-year-old daughter sound asleep beside me. As always, she’s a charming mix of rough & tumble and feminine grace, even when she sleeps. She’s sleeping in the same running shorts and black t-shirt she had on yesterday. Her arms and legs are golden brown, thanks to the Arizona sun and hours in her cousin’s pool. The pixie cut she’s been growing out since January is now long enough to be flopping across her face, completely obscuring one of her eyes. Her breathing is deep and even, her mind no doubt dreaming up adventures that she’ll likely recount to me when she wakes up.
Like her three brothers before her, her very existence has made me grow, made me question, and made me think – about so very many things – in a whole new light. One issue that’s become increasingly important to me since I’ve had a daughter is that of positive body image. I feel like it’s one of my jobs as her mother to make sure she feels good about her own body, so that she can then go out into the world and accept other people’s bodies, exactly as they are, and truly recognize that beauty really isn’t one-size-fits-all. And it’s not that it’s not important for boys too, because of course, it is. It’s just that there’s such a disturbingly high amount of girl-on-girl judgment and shame and ridicule out there when it comes to our bodies. Everything from fat shaming, to “feed that girl a sandwich” thin shaming, to taking covert pictures of unsuspecting naked women in a health club shower, for the sole purpose of making fun of them and posting them on social media.
Dani Mathers, a model whose name I’d never heard of until a few days ago, was in an LA Fitness locker room recently, when she decided to take a picture of a naked woman in the shower, paired it side-by-side with a selfie with her hand over her mouth, captioned it “If I can’t unsee this, you can’t either,” and then posted it to all of her followers on Snapchat. Her defense was that she didn’t understand how Snapchat worked, and that she thought she was sharing the picture in a private conversation, as if that somehow made it better.
What she did was horrific. I don’t think that’s even up for debate. She took a naked picture of an unsuspecting stranger who was just trying to use the locker room, and she publicly shared it to ridicule her. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find what she did completely deplorable. She’s been (rightly) banned for life from all of LA Fitness’s locations. The situation is (rightly) being investigated by authorities. I hope there are pressed charges. I hope she genuinely feels remorse.
But here’s the thing.
I think it’s far too easy to hear things like this and get too comfortable in our moral high ground. We get self-righteous, and sort of… smug. “That’s horrible! I’d never do something like that!” And absolutely, I can tell you with confidence and certainty that I’d never take a naked picture of a stranger and post it on my Snapchat. But am I any better than she is because of it? Of course not. We’re all humans here, making our human mistakes.
And when it comes to body shaming, am I completely blameless? I wish I could tell you that I was. I wish I could tell you that I’ve never ever disparaged my own body, or that I’ve never ever made a catty comment about someone else to a friend, or that I’ve never ever made a judgmental double-take at someone’s choice of clothing (or lack thereof), or that I’ve never ever laughed at a photo on People of Walmart. But I can’t. I’m guilty too.
I think that most of us know the right thing to do, and the right things not to do, but that there’s sometimes a disconnect between the knowing and the actually putting it into practice…. for all kinds of reasons, but often just because we’re fallible and we make bad decisions.
The fact is, I’m still learning too. And things like this never fail to remind me that I could do better. That I have to do better. For myself, for the people around me,
and most especially for the innocent 8 year old by my side.