Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It's a Shame

That's me at 13, in the middle.
I remember, back in junior high, running for PE class. Scrawny-skinny, I had bad skin and permed hair. I liked running and was in decent shape for a thirteen-year-old, since I walked almost an hour to school every day, but I was on a medication (for that bad skin), and it made my face look almost moon-like in its roundness. This particular morning, we were running laps on the blacktop, and a “real” runner girl, coming towards me, smirked and said through laughter, “I can see your cheeks jiggle when you run!” Not knowing what type of response I was supposed to give, I laughed back and said, “I know; I can feel them!” She gave me a funny look and ran past me.

I wasn’t self-conscious, but it was a moment in my life that (obviously) has stuck with me for many years. What if I had been self-conscious? What if I struggled with the way I viewed myself, viewed my body? With how I felt treated by my peers? If cell phones were available back then, would a slow-motion image of me, cheeks wobbling up and down like Jello in a bra, have been plastered on some social media page? Captioned with a snide remark? Would that image have been a turning point in my life, making me feel isolated and humiliated? I don’t know. But I certainly wouldn’t want to find out. Even with a healthy sense of esteem and body-worth, a public ridiculing would be hard to take. What kind of person does that to someone else?

Of all the ways people can interact with each other, why would anyone choose shaming? Whether it’s about weight or parenting, lifestyle or whatever. Why does an outsider have any right to take a superficial glimpse at someone and blast them on a random, split-second judgement? How does a stranger have any background knowledge on this person’s life or situation? Plainly, the stranger doesn’t.

Me, now, with my own 13-year-old daughter.

My junior-high-self learned an important lesson, one that I have hopefully passed on to my children: I never want to make a person feel bad about who they are or what they look like. To me, it makes much more sense to find something positive to say, to boost someone up, and keep them going strong. The world is a tough place, and you never know what someone is facing. Why spread negativity?

A really cool thing happened a while back. I am a “real” runner girl now. When I run on the track at the gym, I pass people. It’s a small track, and I can pass them a lot, which can be disheartening—I know I don’t like getting lapped. So, ages ago, I started making comments as I passed, like: “You’ve got great form; keep it up!” or “You can do this; you’re doing awesome!” I wasn’t sure if the comments were appreciated in the manner I intended, but I meant for them to be supportive. Well, I was out one day and a woman I didn’t recognize approached me and said, “You’re the girl who runs at the gym, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” I answered.

“Oh my goodness, I just have to tell you, you always seem to come around the track when I’m about to give up. I keep going because of you. Thank you for cheering me on.”

So simple, to help people find their own strength. Something that shaming will never accomplish. If someone is not as toned, muscular, or svelte as you—or appears in any way different from youguess what? You have two choices. Mind your own business or go over there and say "Hi." Make a friend. Connect with someone. Because what a person looks like doesn’t matter at all, shouldn’t even affect you—but how you act can change their world.

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