by Melissa Milne, author of The Naughty Diet
The other day, my friend Samantha texted me: “Jeez, what is it with these dudes?” She was talking about the Amy Schumer incident, in which Instagram commenters called her fat and ugly after she posted a bathing suit photo.
“Dudes?” I texted back. “Check the comments—they’re not just from men, they’re from women.”
And they were. I knew they would be, before I even checked, because I’ve seen this before, with Adele, and Selena Gomez, and Emma Stone, and Hillary Clinton, and Carrie Fisher, and Kate Middleton, and Star Wars star Daisy Ridley—all criticized, not for their performance, but for their appearance. And they weren’t just criticized by douchebag “dudes” typing with one hand. Other women piled on, too. They always do.
It could be Ibiza or Indianapolis; Dublin or Des Moines; Athens, Greece, or Athens, Georgia. The place doesn’t matter. The language doesn’t matter. Neither do the faces and names of the women involved. Wherever women gather together, the conversation is likely the same.
“She’s not fooling anyone with that shirt. If she got any more muffin top they’d have to call her Cornbread.”
“Seriously, those thighs are so skinny, how does she stand up? She’s like an ostrich.”
“Did you see those arms jiggle? What’s her blood type, con queso?”
Put a group of us together, and we so often turn into an attack squadron. We fly in formation, set our sights on an enemy target, and we fire away.
But in the end, every mission becomes a suicide mission.
“Oh, my arms jiggle worse than that! They’re so flabby!”
“No, they’re not! Look at mine! Total handbags!”
I myself have spent a life being slim-shamed by women—and shaming myself—and the essay I wrote about it generated nearly 2,000 comments from others who have been, too.
Our self-esteem is constantly under the gun, and not just from the forces around us. We love to compare ourselves to others, to see where we fall in the hierarchy of body shape, to inflict maximum damage on the competition. But of all the injuries to our ego, the worst are the ones that are self-inflicted.
I wrote The Naughty Diet to call for a ceasefire.
WOMEN, ON BLAST
As part of the book, I interviewed 10,000 women to see just what was happening with us all, and found that across America:
Nearly two thirds of women say they have been body-shamed by another woman for being too fat or too thin. And nearly 50 percent of all women admit to having consciously body-shamed another woman for her looks.
Nearly 70 percent of women feel pressure from female friends to be thinner or “the thinnest”—more than double the number of women who admitted to feeling pressure from men to lose weight or be thin.
More than 95 percent of women admit they’re more judgmental of other women’s appearances than they are of men’s.
And when I asked the source of a negative body image, “other women” proved to be the culprit—more than three times as influential as men, and twice as responsible as the media.
This went against every supposition I’d made going into The Naughty Diet, and against every “women’s studies” class I’d ever taken. Aren’t we women the victims of an oppressive, sexist society ruled by the patriarchy? Are we really doing all of this to ourselves? Are we all just a bunch of hardwired mean girls?
WHY WE SHAME OURSELVES
I got on the phone with Dr. Alexandra Corning, director of the Body Image and Eating Disorder Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. I shared my survey results, and asked her the burning question: Are we women eating ourselves alive?
“Melissa, this is about women and social comparison,” she said.
All humans have an innate desire to evaluate their own success. We do this with everything, from grades to salaries. And appearances, too. But unlike hard dollars or solid scores, there’s no objective, definitive measuring stick that tells us how close or how far we are from a beautiful, desirable body ideal. Sure, there are images in the windows of Victoria’s Secret, but they don’t represent our real lives or our social circles; those women aren’t our competition. Comparing our curves to Miranda Kerr’s gives us no more information than comparing our IQ to Einstein’s. The only way we can truly judge ourselves and our place in the pecking order is to constantly measure how we look versus the other women in our lives.
Consider: Only 30 percent of women say they would like to look like those women featured in magazines.
A whopping 80 percent disagree with the statement that “celebrities and models are an important source of information about body and beauty ideals.”
Women like Amy Schumer—who looks more like most of us—become easy targets.
“We all have a tendency to compare, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” said Dr. Alexandra. “Social comparison can be a positive motivator for self-improvement. But what’s going on with women right now—what is problematic—is what we’re chronically comparing.
“It’s not a part of our DNA to run around comparing our bodies and our diets to other women,” she continues. “It’s because we’re constantly bombarded with messages from the media that suggest we should; that beauty is the center of the universe. What I’ve found particularly interesting in my research is that women who express symptoms of eating disorders tend to be chronic comparers. Almost everybody has found that people who struggle with disordered eating consistently have lower self-esteem.”
She adds that if you’re already struggling with body image or engaging in restrictive eating, you’re probably, statistically speaking, more prone to compare yourself to other women. “It becomes this vicious bidirectional downward spiral,” she says, “the more you compare, the more you diet; the more you diet, the more you compare.”
STOP THE SPIRAL
I meant to write "good morning trolls!" I hope you find some joy in your lives today in a human interaction and not just in writing unkind things to a stranger you've never met who triggers something in you that makes you feel powerless and alone. This is how I look. I feel happy. I think I look strong and healthy and also like miss trunchbull from Matilda. Kisses!
Before we can demand respect from others, we have to respect ourselves. I filled The Naughty Diet with strategies to free yourself from shame and guilt—and be happy in your own body—so we can all stop the chronic comparing and just eat. And live. “This is how I look. I feel happy,” Amy wrote her trolls. “I think I look strong and healthy.” You do. She does.
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