I'm a Fitness Writer and *Still* Get Body-Shamed When Shopping
Yes, even someone who tests workouts for a living isn't immune to the BS that is body-shaming.
I'm dripping sweat, pushing myself through the final few reps in my weekly boot-camp class when the cheeky energetic male instructor mutters something to the girl next to me that could have broken the hearts of some of the others if they'd overheard. "You look sooo skinny right now, go you." She couldn't hide her blushing under her flushed red cheeks. Meanwhile, I couldn't help but take it as a sort of critique about the rest of us. (Not to mention all of the other problems with a comment like that in a class that should be about getting stronger. Isn't it 2017?!)
True story, she was lithe, sculpted, glistening in sweat, and by any definition "skinny." But you know, I was feeling pretty good that day too, and I definitely didn't look like she did. Sure, this one male trainer's opinion shouldn't be the barometer of what anyone needs to achieve to feel good about themselves. But this kind of perspective has been drilled into women's heads for decades, probably centuries, and it's part of what perpetuates the self-inflicting emotional wound that who you are is not good enough. (Related: The Science of Fat-Shaming)
If I'm being honest, I've always been keenly aware that I'm not a "skinny" girl. While I'm not overweight and haven't ever referred to myself as "fat," I pretty effortlessly check off "athletic" or "curvy" on those body type surveys. I'm not very tall, I'm short, I'm muscular, and I have hips and curves, which makes it hard to wear certain kinds of clothes. As a fitness writer, I like to work out, I'm into powerful exercises, and lift heavier weights. So not being considered super skinny is kind of a no-brainer in my world-and I've always just felt like that's perfectly all right with me.
In fact, even as a young girl, I couldn't be bothered with having a not-so-thin physique. I took karate classes with my brother three days a week and loved how strong I was-and how I was the only girl who karate-chopped, kicked, and punched with all the boys. With this attitude, I never turned to a scale. I rarely had any idea about how much I weighed and preferred to keep it like that. If I felt good and liked how I looked, then shouldn't that be what matters?
I've been able to uphold a good level of body confidence into adulthood, too. As I saw friends struggle with weight throughout the years, I always kind of floated through. I guess I even gave myself a pat on the back that I wasn't one of those girls who obsessed over her weight and put so much stock into the number on the scale. If I wanted a burger, I was going to have a burger, and if I felt like eating a salad then that was great, too. I maintained an active lifestyle by running, lifting weights, and later competing in triathlons, half marathons, and even a marathon. And I have my strong capable body to thank for that.
But when I had a baby, I experienced a shift. I became more aware of the need to get back to my pre-baby weight (well you know whatever that number was-there's a first for everything!). And while breastfeeding and daily walks with a newborn helped, I had to put real time in and focus on my eating habits to get back to where I wanted to be. Fast forward to today, raising a toddler (#trying) and homeownership woes, and I've put on a couple pounds that seem harder to shed. For the first time in my life, I was starting to feel a little insecure about it, too.
With my college reunion approaching, I knew I needed to find something that made me feel good again. I tried on more than 30 dresses (sigh), but nothing was giving me that this-is-it vibe. Without an LBD tucked into the back of my closet as a plan B, I was feeling frantic as the date crept up. Hopping over to a high-end department store one afternoon a week before the event, I remembered a designer I had discovered when I visited Paris a few years back-her designs were chic, sophisticated, and trendy. And so just like that, I was standing in the middle of racks of mid-length, short, long, tight and flowing styles of my inner French girl dreams. One cocktail dress caught my eye immediately-it had a tight waist with an A-line skirt above the knee, and was perforated holes, gold grommets, and pockets (yes, pockets!).
When I managed to get the aloof salesgirl to notice my interest, she slowly-oh but surely-looked me up and down and unapologetically exclaimed, "We tend to run really small, I'll have to see what we have for you in the back." She clearly had no intention of selling something to me. Sure, I felt a little softer and not as toned as my pre-baby self, but why shouldn't my size medium, 6 to 8 figure be good enough? Suddenly it dawned on me: I was in the throes of one of those body-shaming incidents that I've so often read about. I could have easily let this moment turn me into the kind of woman who became obsessive about the scale. But in a split second, I had a different kind of "aha" moment. I realized it felt way better to say, "I'm sure you'll do just fine" as I pushed her on her way.
If we're so #sorrynotsorry about loving Ashley Graham and all of her curves, dimples, and cellulite, then why do we have such a problem with an everyday girl who wants to rock a teeny tiny LBD that doesn't fit the mold of the designer's consumerist dreams? Whether it was the fashion brand I was dealing with, or simply a bad attitude from a judgy salesgirl, I was fired up. I wasn't bestowed with runway genetics, but I did have confidence-and that's even better IMO. (Just look at Amy Schumer, Lady Gaga, or Danielle Brooks.)
I'm sure you're wondering if the French dress was ultimately "the one"-I did buy it because it fit just right and I was on a time-crunch (maybe it was a bit of a revenge buy too). As soon as I left the store, a dress in another shop caught my eye, and I knew this one was the LBD that would stay in the back of my closet for years to come. A few days later when I returned the French dress, I reveled in explaining "I found something better" to the salesgirl as I proudly turned my back and walked away.