The culture of shame


“To a nice person. Heavy, but nice.”

Those were the words a classmate wrote in my yearbook in junior high. That underhanded compliment has stuck with me for more than 40 years, as have many other comments made during my childhood, adolescence and younger adult years.

I was often labeled “chunky,” “chubby,” even flat-out “fat” as a young woman. Looking back at pictures from that time in my life, I can see I was nothing of the sort. At 5’2” and just under 140 pounds, I was no petite flower. I was an early bloomer with the proverbial hourglass curves, a flat stomach, small waist, and fairly fit, firm physique. The Commodores’ “Brick House” could have been written about me. I was what nowadays would complimentarily be called “thick in all the right places.”

But it was ingrained, embedded and etched into my brain, my psyche, my self-image that I was the fat girl.

Fast-forward many years (and many pounds) to the present, when I am decidedly overweight, albeit a more confident, secure and self-loving woman. I don’t blame the insults of my youth for my now being fat, but I DO blame society for making women ashamed and self-conscious about their bodies. I am infuriated by what continues to be done to young girls and women, making them feel inadequate, “less than” and unworthy because their bodies don’t fit a mold designated as beautiful, as supposedly perfect.

When you joke about your daughter being able to take down her male cousins because she outweighs them, it’s not a compliment. You’ve just chipped away at a piece of her soul.

When you shame your already self-conscious niece for eating too much (or not enough) because you’re “concerned about her health,” you’re laying the groundwork for an unhealthy relationship with food. Oh, and your concern? A) There are ways to care without being cruel; and B) Not your kid, not your business.

When you advise your naturally thin friend to “eat a burger, for crying out loud,” or say jokingly, “Ugh, you skinny witch, I hate you,” you’ve not only revealed the ugly side of who you are, you’ve made her feel just as ugly.

A good friend summed the matter up succinctly: “As a general rule, we all should probably just stop commenting on each other’s bodies, period.” Girl, YES. Say it louder for the people in the cheap seats!

For Pete’s sake, people, stop. Just STOP. Grow a conscience, have a heart and get a clue. Stop damaging our girls and turning them into damaged women.


Belinda M. Paschal

Guest columnist

Belinda M. Paschal can be reached at [email protected]. Read more news, features and sports at

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