Shun the Shame Game
Maybe you’ve noticed an increase lately of reports – they sometimes masquerade as news stories – in which a person makes fun of another person’s weight. Often the person being mocked is a female celebrity who was formerly known for being thin. Such remarks have been tagged “fat-shaming,” and they range from the seemingly mild (“Oh, you don’t have to tell me you like chocolate.”) to the downright cruel (“She’s totally let herself go. It’s gross!”)
Maybe you’ve also noticed that these comments are not just limited to weight, nor are they exclusively aimed at celebrities. If you are almost thirty years old and single, then you are likely familiar with single-shame. If you’re over thirty, and single, and female, it can escalate to spinster-shame. Variations of the trend abound. You can be flub-shamed when you misspeak, fashion-shamed when you wear the wrong outfit, friend-shamed when you keep the wrong company…
And let’s not forget food-shame. Oh, no, I can forget that one. When I was in elementary school, one assignment we had was to write the instructions for how to do something. I chose to detail the steps for making a fried bologna sandwich. Hey, I was a kid from a lower-lower-middle class family in the South. It didn’t occur to me that bologna wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it certainly never occurred to me that something so simple could be so ill-received. But, believe me, I knew it after that day. I still remember the condescending look of disdain on the snooty substitute teacher’s face as she read aloud each of the steps I’d written. I was humiliated.
Looking back, thinking of that substitute’s response, I marvel. Really, lady? Really?? So you don’t like processed meat. Your opinion of it (a food!) is so extreme – and your estimation of the importance of this subject is so high – that you could not hide your contempt. A fourth-grader’s feelings be darned!
Isn’t that the essence of ____-shaming? “My opinion – NAY, my RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT – must be made known!”
But, wait just a mo… doesn’t that reek of intolerance? And aren’t we in America working to stamp out such narrow-mindedness? If that is truly our goal, we might do well to start by admitting that we all have such thoughts from time to time. Maybe it’s because, even though we might be quick to agree that there is no true “normal,“ we each have ideas of what normal looks like. And when someone strays too far outside of our standard, we might resort to shaming to try to punish that person into compliance.
Unfortunately, if change is the point, shaming doesn’t work. You can read more about that in the articles I’ve linked at the bottom of this post, or you can give it a Google. Or maybe, like me, you know it’s true from personal experience. I’d like to say that the bologna incident above was the only time I’ve been shamed, but that is *so* not the case. When someone launches snarky barbs at me, usually my first reaction is to get defensive. Maybe I make a mental list of the shortcomings I see in the would-be shamer, and I wonder who they think they are to call me out on anything. Sure, my feelings will probably be hurt, because we’re wired to seek acceptance. Perhaps I comfort myself by thinking that if they bothered to get to know me, they would understand why I do what I do. If the criticism becomes a pattern, you can bet I’ll start to avoid that person as much as possible. But I won’t change the shamed behavior. In fact, I might become more determined not to.
“But this person is just so ___. I’ve got to say something!” Well, remember that old adage: people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. If you’re just showing off, they’re not going to care. But if *you* care, let them know. Invest time in the relationship. Get to know the person. Perhaps, over time, you can help bring about positive change by your continued support and encouragement. Or maybe you’ll discover that they don’t need fixing, and they never did.
In any case, skip the shame game. Too many people are already playing – and no one is winning.