Yes, This Subtle Behavior Is Still Body Shaming & It Needs To Stop

Illustrated by: Norah Stone

Welcome to Unprofessional Advice: a column to help you handle problems of all kinds. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I will take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous, obvs). Got a question? Email me at unprofessionaladvice@refinery29.com.

Dear Kelsey,

What's the line between being body positive and being honest when something really doesn't look great? I really struggle with being "too superficial" sometimes and wanting to tell people that, while I appreciate their confidence, maybe a certain style of clothes really doesn't fit their body type or maybe a certain color lipstick really isn't great with their skin tone. I tend to be the girl in the dressing room at a store that will say things like, “TAKE THAT OFF NOW AND BURN IT. NO ONE SHOULD EVER WEAR IT.” When in doubt, or if I can tell they like it but are unsure, I'll resort to a neutral question: “Would you wear it out of the store, RIGHT NOW?” But where is that line between body positive/supportive and brutal honesty?

Sincerely,
Just Being Honest


Dear Just Being Honest,

Whenever I get a letter like this, my mind jumps right to the caveats: Maybe she says these things in a funny, friendly way. Maybe she’s exaggerating. At least she’s trying to find the right thing to say. But you seem to be a fan of brutal honesty, so I’m just going to be honest. This behavior is pretty unacceptable.

I appreciate that this is something you struggle with — and more than that, I appreciate that you are struggling with it and not just saying, “Oh well, that’s who I am!” So, I really do hope this helps. If you can dish it out and take it, I give you major credit. Okay. Here we go:

This is not about finding the line between being body positive and being honest. In a nutshell, body positivity is the premise that all bodies are equal and should be treated as such, period. It’s very simple, but we complicate it with messages, like “dress for your body type,” and emphasize the need to find clothing that “flatters” you. Those are framed as positive terms, but really they’re just saying, “Hide the bad parts and play up the good parts” — and therefore, there are “bad” and “good” parts. You see where I’m going here?

A while back, I did a story about VBO (Visible Belly Outline), in which I wore clothes that actually made my belly visible, rather than hidden. I had literally spent my entire conscious life trying to make my belly less visible, so doing something like this was a massive, terrifying leap. And it was one of the best things I ever did for myself (and for everyone who’s had to deal with my insecurity). I wore a pencil skirt and the world kept spinning! Society didn’t banish me to exile! No one ran up to me on the street screaming, “TAKE THAT OFF NOW AND BURN IT.” I guess it was a good thing you weren’t in the neighborhood that day.

I don’t wear pencil skirts all the time now, but I don't avoid them. Above all, I’m not scared of them. I’m not scared that if I wear the “wrong” clothing, I’ll become the subject of ridicule and so-called brutal honesty.
Illustrated by: Norah Stone.
So, I suppose it’s admirable that you’re considering body positivity at all, but really this is just about rudeness. People can and should wear whatever the hell they want. It’s just none of your business to police them. Your idea of attractiveness may not be theirs. Furthermore, they may not be considering beauty to begin with. And hey, what if they’re stepping outside of their comfort zone and try something new? The problem is that you’re assuming your opinion is the truth and therefore sharing it is being honest. It’s not. It’s being judgmental.

Okay, time for caveats. Look, if someone asks for your opinion, go ahead and give it. (Here’s a caveat to my caveat: Know your audience. If it's, say, a friend who really struggles with self-loathing, maybe don’t feed that beast.) But don’t do so thinking that you’re giving anything but that. You’re not right or wrong — you just have a stance.

I think your neutral-question approach is probably your best bet, in any scenario. But really, do your best to make sure it’s actually neutral when you say it. In fact, if you’re really concerned about body positivity, then practicing neutral responses is a great practice. I do it myself. We’re all so used to judging and flattering ourselves and each other that it’s become a knee-jerk response. Responding to bodies with neutrality is one of the most powerful things you can do.

But unless you’re specifically invited to comment, just stay out of it! If they say they hate it, don’t back them up with reasons why you hate it, too. If they seem unsure, let them figure it out. If they like it, let them like it! If the clothes are on their body, then it fits their body type (because there is only one type of body: body). If they’re into the lipstick and you’re not, oh well! Who cares?! It’s clothing. It’s lipstick. This is not a reality show and you are not the designated Mean Judge.

If you can appreciate someone’s confidence, that speaks well of you both. So, when in doubt, go with that. Whether it’s a friend or a stranger asking, “How do I look?” it is never a bad thing to say, “You look confident.”

Honestly,
Kelsey

More from Sex & Relationships

Sexting was never my thing, and I sure as hell never thought I would even consider cybersex. I knew myself — or at least, I thought I did. I’ll get too ...
Historically, women in West Africa have not had a voice. Men decide if their wife or wives can use birth control or have access to money; fathers decide if...
Foreplay often doesn't get enough credit — not to mention time or attention. In one study of heterosexual couples published in the Journal of Sexual ...
Amber Rose doesn't do "off days." "I always feel confident," she tells us. "I never allow myself to not feel confident. I wake up and say, I’m going out ...
Aside from encountering creeps and starting conversations that just don't go anywhere, one major problem online daters face is catfishing. According to a...
A version of this story originally appeared on Shape. When it comes to female pleasure, there's enough misinformation out there to fill a book. One of ...
This article was originally published on December 18, 2015. According to stereotypes, men are the sexually voracious cheaters and women are the ...
(Paid Content) You don't need a degree in common sense to know getting involved with a coworker is a bad idea. Yet, we probably all know someone who has, ...
We're great fans of accessorizing in the bedroom. Au naturel stimulation is wonderful, but sex toys can do things that people just can't. The sex toy ...
Even as the sex toy market continues to expand, there remain a few vital "firsts" for the industry to tackle. This week, with the arrival of the Buck-Off...
The Halloween-costume-planning frenzy is officially in full swing, and we still have so many questions. Is our costume idea clever without being obscure? ...
This article was originally published on April 2, 2015 and has been updated throughout. Lube is a little like masturbation. It's a big part of most people...
It would be an understatement to say that a lot of us love superhero blockbusters. Luckily, there's really no shortage of them, but should you ever need ...
The following is an excerpt from Asa Akira's recently released memoir Dirty Thirty. Another year of wasted eggs because I chose to whore instead. “Do ...