We Are Not Spared: The Shapes And Sizes Shame Game.
In tradition of my previous post of building trans women up and decentering cis folk’s oppression of us for a while (as well as avoiding the stress inducing shitstorm of anger toxicity that I get when I let rage consume the fuck out of me, as I have been doing lately), I’ve been working on finding ways to do a little healing magic for my sisters instead of engaging in mortal combat with the cissexists.
Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of us with swords taking them down a notch. But it’s time to tend to the wounded for me.
Let’s talk shaming. Specifically self shaming. Body shape and size is a source of much consternation among all the womenfolks (although I feel reasonably safe in virtually guaranteeing you that we fuck with ourselves way more than cis women on that area) and self shaming is especially a problem, as the source provided says. After all, when you self shame based on characteristics shared by other people, you are implicitly shaming them as well. The post and video is size orientated specifically (and prolly cis orientated simply through the assumed default for women) but is certainly applicable to us and can be extended to so much in terms of body type than just size.
Let’s get trans specific now because cis girls already have a support net and medics running into the fray. When it comes to body size, a lot of us get hit fairly hard. Often artifacts from the circumstances of our birth and testosterone will contribute to bulking certain areas. Larger hands, wider arms, wider rib cage. Stuff like this doesn’t usually change with estrogen (especially the bone things) and are often viewed (when not being turned into cissexist weapons to degender and misgender us) as elements of undesirable body shape. Whether it leads a trans woman to call herself fat, or ugly, or even just possess a generalized dislike of her body these elements of physical structure are used to create shame. Even when they’re used in a misgendering fashion, they’re still hits against body image, self esteem and self love. The really sad part about how these aspects are used to misgender is actually how fairly common they are in cis women. Testosterone and estrogen levels in even cis women are not deeply set in stone the way a lot of folk like to assume. The developmental paths triggered by all sorts of things (far more complex than just XX and XY) result in so many different body types that even the words female and male as a binary of physical structure is a tad bit… broken (this is why I write the basics down first. I can always link back to the 101 and 211 material to keep things simple. It’s nice.)
As a note, I’m separating the concept of bodily dissonance and gender dysphoria from the concept of self attack and self shaming for having a different structure. Bodily dissonance is an internal thing, a confusing, painful rejection of the body as foreign. While some may confuse that for feeling ugly it’s not something that can be traced back to self shaming attitudes regarding body type. It is especially nonresponsive to self affirmation and is even worsened by it quite often as the self affirmation acts as a reminder of that feeling of foreign wrongness. Self shaming can actually be combated by self affirmation and building others or yourself up and removing bodies being constructed as the only valid option. This won’t work for my dissonance definitely and I feel safe betting that it won’t do shit for most other trans women who possess stand alone bodily dissonance or even really bodily dissonance built from pure self conceptualization conflicts.
So there is, quite simply, multiple layers of shame, self attack and implicit shaming based on constructed views of acceptable women’s bodies. These layers range from intensely cissexist, to mixed cissexist and heavily sexist. There are even layers in there that are distinctly racist and especially drop like a half ton bomb on trans women of color. I wouldn’t say I’m in a good position to speak on that, being that I’m white and of European blood, but it’s something to certainly keep in mind.
The fact is, the message in that video is perhaps even more applicable to us than it is to cis women. We shame the fuck out of ourselves and each other. Constantly. On things that a fairly good portion of cis women don’t really attack themselves and each other on anymore. Like clothing styles, self expression and etc. But the physicality is where it gets really nasty. Pretty much every trans woman I know has attacked her own looks, her own body and her own shape and structure (bar maybe two, and I feel safe betting that they’ve said such outside of my presence). I’ve done it too. I’ve attacked my breast size, my hip size, my facial structure, my rib shape and such in the past, before I really worked hard to fight those instilled notions of what’s the “right” sort of body to have. And that’s even with someone who’s actually fairly close to the form constructed as ideal by society for women, sans the whole lack of uterus (I assume, never checked that one out, but I feel it’s highly unlikely that I’m IS) and presence of penis part. This isn’t just the media that I went over in my blitz post linked way far above. The very same concept of passing and stealth that permeates our community creates these intensely damaging standards for body type. Taken far beyond the concept of blending into the woodwork so we can avoid being murdered in horrible ways, passing and stealth often take the form of a body hierarchy, much the same way beauty is over the entirety of women, affecting cis, trans, tab/m (temporarily abled bodied/minded), pwd, woc, white, poor, affluent, and etc and all the combinations you can think of (plus many you can’t). This throws an even worse bit of pressure on trans women, because now, we’re not only dealing with beauty being constructed into something that is unattainable by 98% of the population (even cis women, whom the standard is made in mind of with our erasure) we’re also dealing with an in house standard of validity that goes so far as to even degender us through the efforts of our own.
Not surprisingly, things like this get internalized.
So here we have trans women even wondering if they should bother dealing with their bodily dissonance and/or gender dysphoria because they don’t want to be “ugly women”. We have this plague of body image damage, not only built by the media blitz but also built by our own systems of self protection, built from a system of forceful and damaging assimilation and stealth. And of course, we’re our own worst critics more often than not. Just like sizeism and calling yourself fat is damaging to all women around you of different body types and sizes on the thin and fat spectrum, such applies to internalized cissexism, passing based self attacks and attributing ugliness to one’s own body shape and type. When we shame ourselves for our proportions, looks, shapes and bodies, we shame all of the trans women we know, any one of us who can receive the message said. We’re not only hurting ourselves when we play the shame game, we’re hurting our sisters too.
None of us should feel ashamed of our rib cages, no matter what shape. None of us should feel ashamed of our size, no matter what height we may possess. None of us should feel ashamed if we have body hair or facial hair. Or if we have a penis and don’t want to get rid of it or don’t care to. None of us should feel ashamed for our breasts, no matter what size and shape. None of us should feel ashamed for our body shape (returning to the linked inspiration and expanding on it), whether curvy, needle thin, round, blocky, or etcetera. Every one of us needs to make a solid effort to stop the self attacks, to stop self shaming. It will save us from so much damage to ourselves and it will also save our sisters.
It’s hard, I get it. Self shaming is a habit that is backed up by society, pushed on us from all ends (even the ends that cis women can depend on to protect and shield them) and enforced by the more vicious of our own. Largely it comes down to the concept of repetition and self training. The fun thing about social engineering is you can actually use it on yourself. In fact, by self shaming, you are already using it on yourself but in a very self harming way. So change the tide. Fight those internalized elements. There are a lot of methods to combat internalized self shaming but the best way to start is to break the cycle. Don’t let yourself self shame. When you catch yourself saying something awful about yourself or your looks, restrain yourself. Say, “no. I’m not going to do this to myself. I’m not. No.” After you’ve stopped the cycle (even if temporarily) it’s time to fight back. I used self affirmation. Tell yourself something that counters your brainwashing long enough and you start to break the brainwashing. I told myself I was beautiful continuously. Even when I felt like I was lying through my teeth to myself, I still said it. In front of mirrors, with my partner, under my breath and sometimes loudly. And bit by bit, it chipped away at that shame. Eroded the toxic coral growing on my self esteem. Much in the same way that the toxicity eroded my self esteem previously but in the opposite direction.
One of the really nice things about self affirmation is that it also puts an air of confidence into you. You feel better about yourself, moving with confidence and self love and people can see that. They react better to you (provided other issues aren’t in play. Self confidence isn’t gonna make a cissexist treat you better) which in turn builds your self esteem. Now that’s a good cycle to have.
Other methodologies include selective self vision. Often we do this in the wrong way, fixating on the things we don’t like about our bodies. One of the ways to fight this is to find at least one thing we love about ourselves and then talk about it. Affirm it, talk it up, let it fill your thoughts about you. Concentrate on the things you love about you, the things that you feel make you beautiful or awesome or snazzy. If you start fixating on the features that you like you’ll be less inclined to judge the entirety of your self based on the things you hate. You may even slowly start judging the whole package positively, finding self confidence, self esteem and self love coming from those parts of you that you truly like.
So no more shame game. Accept that you’re beautiful and stop undermining the self esteem of yourself and others.
Filed under: activism, personal | 5 Comments
Tags: body image, cis, expectations, feminism, gender, identity, kyriarchy, self esteem, self expression, transgender