I’m a personal trainer who used to be “morbidly obese.” In 2014, I got hundreds of emails and comments in response to a piece I wrote called 5 Things I Miss About Weighing Over 300 Pounds. (Pictured, the author, before and during Before & During—which, for Kelly, feels way more accurate than “Before & After")
Most of the feedback was positive. The rest…. Well, it was a seething cauldron of rage:
"Who the hell are you kidding? This is bullshit."
"What a joke. There's five minutes I'll never get back."
Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I was able to look up most of the folks who left insulting, angry, hateful comments. And what—or rather, who—do you think I found?
Well, basically, me.
A lot of the people who left the most unforgiving comments on my very personal blog post were women who looked—and were living—a helluva a lot like me.
Of them, most were about my age and about my size. Most were white and had kids. Lots of them were fitness professionals who'd lost a bunch of weight. And here they were, my sisters from another mister, bashing me against the walls of the internet like a throw rug after a dust storm.
Like many of my most outspoken haters, the more of myself I see in someone else, the more harshly I may be prone to judge her. Of course, not all women operate this way—heck, sometimes even I go whole days without passing judgement (ha!). If you can relate, how’s about we explore this together?...
Besides ourselves, who do we spend the most time judging? Oftentimes the answer is women who’re a lot like us. Maybe our female colleagues, or gals with similar responsibilities, or women who look like us, talk like us, or act like us (Hi, Mom!).
Sorry if that last one stung.
It happens in the gym, too. We might catch ourselves judging other women for how they choose to exercise, for the weight they’re using when they lift, for the clothes they’re wearing, for their makeup or lack thereof, for being too old, too fat, too young, too cute, too fast, too slow, too friendly, too bitchy, too trendy, too… You get the picture.
Why do we fall into this judgement trap, wasting time, headspace and emotional energy in pointless judgment of other women?
The answer for many of us—myself included—boils down to shame
Shame. The idea that there's something wrong with you. If you carry shame, odds are it has informed so much of your experience and so many of your thoughts and decisions that it can be hard to recognize it at all.
Shame can drive most—if not all—of our destructive behavior.
Sometimes (ok, most of the time) we direct our feelings of shame in on ourselves. We hate on our bodies. We sabotage the commitments we make to ourselves and our health. We roll our eyes at ourselves every time we have the audacity to hope that tomorrow might be better than today.
Sometimes, when we feel shame, we can project it out unto others—particularly other women. Some of us may perceive ourselves as broken, damaged, or fundamentally wrong in some way. If we do, it makes sense that we can end up taking it out on the folks who remind us most of ourselves (Hi again, Mom!), pouncing on those gals like ninja kitties on speed.
Stop me if you’ve lived this one, too: Have you ever caught yourself focusing on another woman’s imperfections, minimizing or disregarding her accomplishments (no matter how great), or holding her personally responsible for things beyond her control? Have you ever expected another woman to be impossibly perfect, and then, when she made a mistake, ripped her to shreds in your mind?
That sounds a helluva lot like what we sometimes do to ourselves, doesn’t it?
So what can we do — not just for other women, but for ourselves, too — if and when we feel judgmental?
We can refuse to let shame call the shots, dictating not only how we think of and treat ourselves, but how we think of and treat other women.
If you carry shame like I do, you know what a cunning, baffling, and powerful force it can be. Positive affirmations and glittery memes on Facebook urging us to “be authentic" and to "love ourselves” might bolster us for a minute, but they don’t — they can’t — help us overcome shame.
We developed shame in response to the actions of others: when we were made to feel stupid, broken, less-than, unimportant, ugly, weak. We can only begin to heal shame by taking action ourselves: by treating ourselves and other people — especially other women — better.
What might that look like?
We can respect the choices other women make even if we think we know better or would choose differently for ourselves.
We can assume that other women are telling the truth, and that their motives are good.
We can invest time, money, and energy in each other’s dreams and visions.
We can speak up for each other — in the home and in public, from the locker room to the board room, and everywhere in between.
We can celebrate each other’s wins, mourn each other’s losses, and forgive each other’s mistakes.
We can support every woman's right to choose her own best path, and in so doing, nurture and empower ourselves to confidently make our own best choices.
Because when we lift other women up, we, too, are lifted up.
Imagine this: millions of us, powerful, intuitive, intelligent, creative, driven women, united in service to the common good, capable of achieving every bit of our greatness, individually and as a community.
How much more will we accomplish when we accept, are generous with, and support one another?
Sisters: We are—and we will always be—stronger together.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
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