I went to dinner tonight and sat there for the majority of the evening starving. I’m talking about the “Everyone at the table is focused on conversation, while I’m mentally counting calories and thinking about how I can get away with ordering another plate of fried chicken” maniacal kind of hunger.
I didn’t do this for any good reason. Other than the fact that I didn’t want anyone at the table to think - better yet, know - that I… well… I love eating. And since I’m not a size 2, the “Rules” say I have not earned the right to love my food. So, instead I chose to starve tonight, because shame.
Truth is, I am not the first woman in this lifetime to have felt really embarrassed about actually wanting dessert when the waiter comes back around. And I won’t be the last.
But for some reason shame has become so pervasive - especially when it comes to women’s bodies and relationship with food - that it has trickled down into the lives of reasonably healthy women, forcing them to hang their head and hold in their stomachs. Because being viewed as a “never too hungry, always eating just enough to be cute” chick is more important than literal salvation.
If my dinner behavior was a trickle down effect of society’s persistent body shaming, then full-blown bloodbaths of shame must exist in so many other areas of our lives too - swallowing us like unexpected waves crashing at our lonely backs. Beyond hiding from the truth about our bodies, some of us probably don’t want anyone to know who we truly are inside either.
Messages about how we should be - strong, successful, maternal, well-traveled, sexy but family-friendly, wife-material but independent, always smiling and generally gotdamn perfect - permeate our lives. And they manifest as rolling waves of shame. Shame about our childhoods, families, upbringings, habits, relationships, careers, mental health and emotions. Yet, we suffer in silence, while tsunamis of shame tear through us.
And that is what makes me sick to my stomach.
I realized how many conversations I’ve had with normal, healthy and usually downright inspiring women that have overflowed with shame. Here are a few examples:
“I just feel like I have to get over this,” said one friend, speaking of a recent death in her family. “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so sad? Why am I crying? Why am I even falling apart like this? It’s so embarrassing.” Gut punch. I still cry about my mom’s death, and that was more than 15 years ago, I thought.
“I don’t ever talk about this, but growing up, my dad drank - a lot. He is only just now getting to a good place with his alcoholism recovery,” said another friend over drinks. Wow. I literally had this conversation with two other friends, who know this friend very well. Wait, do they know that they’ve all been through this with their mom or dad?
“I’ve always hated my hair. To this day, it embarrasses me, because it’s just - not the manageable, cute curls. It’s just a mess. So I just neglect it,” said the last person I would ever expect to say such a thing (her curls are amazing and a dream of what I wish my curls could be).
“We fought the whole way here,” one friend sheepishly whispered after arriving late with her boyfriend to a double date. Funny enough, we did the same, so she should be less embarrassed than she currently is…
“I. am. a. terrible. mom,” was uttered between loud, thunderous sobs. “I can’t give my kids what they need.” She’s far from the only one who feels that way… there’s this little thing called Mom-shaming, I mentally noted.
Pattern after pattern, conversation after conversation, it dawned on me this evening after dinner-gate: we have a problem.
We are all experiencing the same things - having a meaningful shared human experience - and yet, there’s so much shame that most of these experiences are whispered in shadows and then braved alone. One woman wades past another, while both hold the shame of a story untold. A similar story that could easily transition to a lighter load if we dared to disregard our shame - if only for a second - and share.
So, I’ll start.
- I’ve always been ashamed of my hair - being relentlessly teased in predominantly white schools and hearing stylists telling me I could never go natural because it would be “impossible” has left real scars.
- I worry about people and their comments about my relationships - when I will get married or why I stopped talking to a childhood friend - because I wonder if they think I’m a bad person for my (secretly empowered) choices.
- I fxckin love food. I don’t care. I said it. I work hard to keep my body healthy but if my belly is slightly rounded and not rock hard, oh well. The fish tacos and margaritas were damn good and I’m willing to pay the small price of having a NORMAL body. I hate being ashamed about having a balanced relationship with my body.
- And yeah, I cry. A lot. Sometimes in the bathroom at work; sometimes in the middle of a party. Because I feel pain about a lot of things and it comes in waves at random times. I cry from losing a parent to struggling with depression to feeling genuine emotion when I don’t feel beautiful or successful enough.
These are my truths, and often times, my shame. But I hope that by deciding to stop being so ashamed long enough to tell my sh*t, you’ll give yourself permission to release your shame. If only for a second, I hope that this time you’ll ride out this wave with me.