Who Benefits from My Body Shame?

Pondering this question provided some of the fuel I needed to burn down my relationship with my body and to start over with her, offering grace and compassion and respect rather than shame and control.

Years ago, when I was still teaching fourth grade, I discovered media literacy, which was a movement to teach people how to deconstruct media messages so that they could be savvy media consumers and producers. Messages come in many forms: advertisements, social media posts, billboards, commercials, videos, speeches, and more.

Media Literacy Questions

Media literacy offers five questions to consider when analyzing a message:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. Which techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people interpret this message?
  4. Which lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented—or missing?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

Students loved the assignments where we explored Happy Meal boxes and sugary cereal boxes to reveal the marketing messages embedded in them. Parents (and students, too, surprisingly!) raved about our Toy Ad unit when we took a deep dive into holiday ads for hot toys and determined that many of them weren’t going to live up to their marketing hype.

I hope that my students held onto those lessons and now view media messages with a more critical eye. I know that I do.

Media Literacy and My Body

When I began to rebel against the narratives about my body I’d swallowed wholesale, I used curiosity as a lighthouse beacon. I tapped into the little girl inside me who could ask fifty-seven questions in two minutes without taking a breath. And I let myself believe that there had been a time when I didn’t hate my body.

From there, I laid down more breadcrumbs. If there was a time in my existence when I didn’t hate my body, when did that change? And why? What messages did I receive that shifted my perception?

Those questions tugged at my media-literacy memories. If body shame was a message I’d started to believe, then maybe it was a message I could deconstruct. And if I could deconstruct it, would I be able to rewrite the narrative about my body in a way that made me feel like a Wonder Woman version of myself?

I contemplated these questions:

  1. Who created the message that my body was a hateful source of shame?
  2. What techniques were used to attract my attention and to entice me to believe that there was one perfect body I should strive for?
  3. How do different people receive messages about our bodies?
  4. Whose bodies (and what values) are represented in mainstream media? Whose are missing?
  5. Why are messages of body shame being sent?

Who Benefits from My Body Shame?

The answer to that last question led me to one more: who benefits when I hate my body?

  • Other insecure people who need to push people down to lift themselves up.
  • The misogynistic patriarchy.
  • Greedy companies who care about money more than people.

Certainly not me! And not you either.

The more I contemplated hateful people and oppressive systems getting a boost from my body shame, the madder I got. My anger gave me the push I needed to rebel against the notion that my body needed to look a certain way to be worthy, for me to be “good.”

Whenever I bump into a body insecurity now, I can still have a big emotional response, which I meet with compassion. But then I take time to think about what message I’m responding to. Is it true, at least for me? Was it created for someone else’s gain? What circumstances led me to this moment? Often, I can uncover the source of the storyline and realize that it’s not one I’m willing to buy anymore.

This partnership between my mind and my body allows me to walk right past a lot of BS media messages about bodies without getting tripped up. Maybe it can help you too.

The next time you find yourself in a body-shame spiral, ask yourself who is reaping the benefits of your pain?