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Although it seems like it’s been around forever, body shaming is a relatively new issue facing our young girls today. The age of social media and reality television has taken the act of critically looking at women’s bodies away from scouts of runway models and puts it into the hands of every person who has a smartphone. Even before this new generation of technology, women were praised looking a certain way, but the era of photoshopped magazine covers and edited Instagram photos have given us regular folks a false sense of what a person’s body – no matter their size – actually looks outside of staged shoots.
The Gaga Epidemic
The Halftime Show for Super Bowl LI was highly anticipated. Featuring Lady Gaga, a woman known for her strong stage presence, amazing talent, and totally eccentric outfits, viewers of the performance were sure to be in for something extraordinary. Initially there were talks of Gaga using the opportunity to make a political statement – something she hasn’t shied away from before – given our country’s current political climate. However, Gaga went the route that most Americans can appreciate: pure and simple entertainment focused on bringing together the nation.
Critics of her performance were pleasantly surprised by her raw talent in which she sang live, just danced, and performed like she was born that way. Several outfit changes and a fast paced track brought her to her final performance, and it didn’t take long for the body shamers to come out of the woodwork.
It’s things like this that make my skin cringe and make me want to shake the person writing this stuff. As the mom of three little girls, I am exponentially aware of body image consciousness. My oldest is only 5 years old and thankfully we have been able to keep those ideas of body shaming at bay. But it won’t be long before she can read these headlines and surmise what it means to have a “good” body. Her two little sisters will undoubtedly follow in her footsteps, looking to their older sister as a role model for what “really” matters. And is this what we are teaching our children that actually matters in life?
The body shaming that Lady Gaga has endured for the past two days is nothing new to our fast-paced world of instant technology, screen grabs, and social media trolls. Other women (and men, too!) – celebrities and regular old people like you and me – have experienced the Gaga Epidemic – where strangers think it’s okay to attack someone’s body, character, or lifestyle online. They have found themselves being ridiculed by perfect strangers about their bodies. Strangers who hide behind their screens and who apparently are the ‘Second Coming’ because they are self-deeming perfection in the flesh tell fellow humans that they are fat, have too much cellulite, and that they need to go to the gym. They will sit on their couches or in their kitchens, telling someone to eat a hamburger or that they are anorexic.
When did this become acceptable behavior in our society? When did we judge our fellow citizens so cruelly? When did we forget that the people in those Instagram photos are ACTUAL PEOPLE with REAL FEELINGS? When are we going to remember that these people are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who just want to be happy without thinking the Internet is coming at them with pitchforks?
Teaching Our Kids to Ignore the Haters
As the old saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.”
The mother in me wishes I could send the world into timeout until it’s ready to behave again, preferably before my daughters hit mid-elementary school (since that’s when the mean girls really start to make an appearance). But the logical person in me (which is slowly coming back after bearing said three daughters) tells me that that isn’t possible. The best I can do – that any parent can do – is to teach our children how to deal with the cruel words they will inevitably read online.
Because let’s be honest – it’s probably only going to get worse. When I started college, Facebook was brand new. Now there are more social media channels than I can list, each one with its set “rules” and uses, and each one giving ample opportunity for someone to say something mean. If my daughters are anything like me, they will play into what is cool at the time. They will want to take pictures with their friends and they will probably say stuff they will regret. And inevitably they will read things that others say about them that are hurtful, degrading, disrespectful, and painful.
The haters aren’t going anywhere. They will all produce offspring that will see their parents glued to their phones, making snide comments to the television or to their partner saying “OMG did you SEE that?!” And those offspring will grow up to be the haters hating on our children behind a keyboard. But we can counteract that level of mean by teaching our children not to play into it. After all, as the first generation of social media, we have extensive experience on how best not to feed the trolls. It’s our job as parents to relay this knowledge down to our children like:
- Ignore them – Don’t respond. They are looking for a reaction, so don’t give them the satisfaction of doing so.
- Respect yourself – Know that what these people are saying comes from a dark place. There is no reason to take it to heart, because it doesn’t come from their hearts. Respect yourself enough to let go of those words out of your heart.
- Have confidence – If Lady Gaga has taught us anything, it’s that she doesn’t care what the haters say. And you shouldn’t either. Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself OUT LOUD that you are badass. Because you are.
- Sometimes it will hurt – Sometimes, despite your best efforts, people’s words will cut you to the core. They will hurt, sometimes for days. Sometimes for months. Even years later you may think of those words and feel the sting. But don’t carry it like a weight forever. Let yourself be hurt and let yourself be mad. But then brush yourself off because the best revenge is not letting them get the best of you.
I have yet to explore the treacherous waters of pre-teen and teenage years (or even the years where my kids can read headlines efficiently and coherently) but I’m already mentally preparing myself for the days when one of my daughters comes home in tears because of something someone said to her about her body. I have already started to show my girls what it means to be confident in yourself. Sometimes I fail at this but that’s part of the learning process, too – to get back up again and keep moving even when you feel like you can’t because the words are weighing too heavy on your chest. The Gaga Epidemic can’t hold me down, and I sure as shit won’t let it hold my girls down either.
As a mom, I want to shield them from the Gaga Epidemic. I’d like to place them (or at least their phones) in a little troll-free zone where all nasty comments disappear into the land of jack-assery never to be heard from again. But again, the logical part of me knows I can’t do that. I can only help them live by the adage of “haters gonna hate.”