When Imogen Ker was invited to a housewarming party by one of her guy friends, the last thing she expected was to be body-shamed.
The 24-year-old model and doula from Los Angeles was standing in the kitchen when the host walked in and began introducing her to another man. "He was telling this stranger how wonderful and amazing I was, and then out of the blue said, 'Imogen would be perfect if it wasn't for her body,'" she recalled to Shape. (Related: People Are Taking to Twitter to Share the First Time They Were Body-Shamed)
Yes, you read that right. "It was almost like in his head he was complimenting me, but the insinuation was...because I was physically unappealing to him, I wasn't good enough as a person," she says.
Naturally, her immediate reaction was to tell him off and stand up for herself but then a strong (and understandable) feeling of embarrassment took over and she felt exposed and vulnerable. "I felt personally attacked in front of a stranger by someone who was supposed to be my friend," she says. "Also, women are taught to let things like this go, and initially, I did."
But she says the comment haunted her for days. "It was all I could think about, so I finally decided to text him and get what I was feeling off my chest."
Screenshot provided by: Imogen Ker
While her friend did end up responding, he blamed it on being drunk—something Imogen says that after knowing him for some time, she doubts. (Related: This Woman Had a Realization After Being Body-Shamed for Wearing a Swimsuit)
The model admits to years of hard work to learn how to practice self-love and feel confident in her skin. "It has taken a lot of work, and is still a work in progress, but is not always easy," she says. "Most of the time, I want to love myself. Other times, the brainwashing of the media takes over. That brainwashing has trained me to pick apart my flaws, which is exactly why my 'friend's' comment was so harmful. Because he was saying out loud the words which I fight so hard to rid my mind of every day, 'I would be perfect if it wasn't for my big body.'"
Imogen says that like many, she has struggled with body image most of her life. "As girls, we are taught that being small is cute and desirable," she says. "We are programmed to take up as little space as possible. So I slouched and covered up my belly as much as I could."
Comparing herself to other people had a damaging effect on her self-worth, too. "I had skinny, petite friends growing up so I always felt like the ugly duckling of my friends group," says Imogen. "None of our guy friends ever liked me or wanted to date me. So I carried this idea that I was too large to be desired with me into adulthood." (Related: Katie Willcox Wants Women to Stop Thinking They Need to Lose Weight to Be Loveable)
That's why Imogen feels it's so important to speak out and take a stand against body-shaming bullies, intentional or otherwise. "If you find yourself in a similar situation, tell that person they're not allowed to make comments about your body," she says. "I know that the first reaction for some is to shove it down because of shame. That was my first instinct—to let it go—but I couldn't. That's why we must stand up for ourselves...because we can't rely on the hope that someone else might do it for us."