When people want to dominate, control, and silence women, they shame their bodies. This is often effective. Body shame shuts down women. Why does this happen?
Women receive messages all the time that their worth as a person is directly tied to arbitrary standards of beauty that someone else decides for them.
Women receive messages all the time that they are only valuable if other people (mostly men) find them attractive, alluring, and useful.
Women receive the message that there is something gross and disturbing about their most natural processes and intimate parts.
They receive the message that their periods are gross and disturbing. That their moods are irrational. That pregnancy and aging makes their bodies undesirable.
That cellulite is bad. That voluptuous, abundant curves are a moral failing and a continual temptation to others. That there is something shameful and disgusting about being feminine.
Women receive the message that they should never think about themselves and that what they think about themselves and their body is irrelevant.
Women receive the message that life is one, long beauty contest and that anyone and everyone has a right to judge and critique their bodies.
We must not imagine her happy.
Malignant Messages Everywhere
These messages are not occasional and anomalous. They are everywhere.
The messages appear in media when women are portrayed primarily as existing as an appendage to men, and only extremely thin or extremely curvaceous women (or women who meet a very narrow set of arbitrary beauty standards) are considered desirable appendages.
The messages appear on the streets and in the workplace when anyone and everyone, even complete strangers, feel the liberty to rate women on scales of attractiveness. To comment about the size of women’s bodies. To discount their feeling or opinions. To use them as a means to some end rather than valuing them as human being with their own beautiful visions and projects.
These messages appear in toxic churches when, directly and indirectly, through distorted religious teachings, women are told that only men lead. That women are only allowed to fulfill certain roles in life that are forced upon them. That women’s worth is directly tied to men.
Being-for-Others, Negging, and Shame
These messages are constantly repeated, reinforced, and displayed in pretty, subtle packaging. Most of the time, women do not even realize we are receiving these messages, but we feel these messages in our body and blood.
We hate our bodies. We are ashamed of our biology. We are devastated by the natural and beautiful changes that occur because of puberty, childbirth, and menopause.
Most of all, we feel devastated and deeply ashamed when anyone says anything critical about our bodies or appearance. We shut down.
It is no wonder. If we have been socialized to believe that our opinions about ourselves do not matter and that our worth is directly tied to what other people think about our bodies, criticism is devastating. Women are told that they only have Being-for-others (mainly men), and so when that Being is shamed, we feel like we have no Being at all.
We fall into a dark abyss of negation.
There are many men (and women) who know this consciously or unconsciously and use this knowledge to dominate and control women.
The most pernicious example that I have heard about lately of men controlling women through body-shaming is something called negging, which a guy (I don’t really want to promote him) wrote about in a book (I don’t really want to promote this book either), which details the art of seducing women.
When men neg women, they insult their appearance in some way in order to control them. Insults often lower women’s confidence and make them more vulnerable to control. Negging appears commonly in pop culture– Barney on How I Met Your Mother is a master of negging and regularly subtly insults women in order to hook up with them.
I personally have experienced men criticizing my appearance and then trying to initiate some kind of liason with me. In retrospect, it was very clear that either consciously or unconsciously these men were trying to control me through shame. I have heard other women and men speak about this, too.
This brings me to the President who clearly negs to control women. Whenever women challenge or criticize President Trump, he refuses to engage with their arguments and, instead, attacks them personally—specifically he attacks their female bodies. He did this when he disparaged Carly Fiorina’s looks during the republican debates. He did this during the presidential debate when he said that Megyn Kelley had “blood coming out of her wherever” after Kelley challenged him. During his presidential campaign, he randomly criticized Heidi Klum for “no longer being a 10.”
When candidate Trump rebutted rape accusations, his response was not that he would never rape a woman. He said instead, “Believe me, she would not be my first choice”, specifically criticizing the woman’s appearance. When journalist Mika Brzezinski criticized Trump, he once again responded by body/appearance shaming. He dismissed Brzezinkski’s current remarks by referring to some past event in which, apparently, Trump thought she was “bleeding badly from a face-lift”. President Trump is the Commander-in-Negging.
The President has a weird fixation with women and blood, but it is not just some random fixation. President Trump habitually uses negging to control and dominate women, and he regularly negs women in a way that is intimately related to women’s femininity.
What better way to control and belittle women that to make them feel ashamed for a natural, monthly, bodily process intimately tied to their femininity—like menstruation. The president has also negged women for having to use the restroom and for breastfeeding.
President Trump is cool with women as long as they do not criticize or challenge him; as long as they are sexually available to him, and as long as they meet his standards of attractiveness. In other words, President Trump is cool with women as long as they stay small and fit in the nice, little box he has designed for them.
Making Women Play Small: Emotional Footbinding and Corsets
President Trump regularly attempts to make the women around him play small, and when they don’t play small, he is threatened by them.
Here is the thing. The President can get away with trying to make women play small because the country around him tries to make women play small all the time.
Historically, people used footbinding and corsets to make women play small—to make them feel fragile, defenseless, unconfident, and weak. Today, we do not technically use footbinding and corsets, but we still try to get women to play small through body shaming. We use emotional footbinding and corsets.
There are a lot of people invested consciously or unconsciously in making women play small. Women are wise. They often value relationships over production and community over competition. Women often value people instead of things and understanding and teamwork rather than domination and aggression.
The more women, and their allies, gain leadership in our country, the more they are likely to demand that our country and the world in general change into a more gentle, nurturing and humane place. The more they are likely to demand that we treat people as people and not as cogs in a machine. This is perhaps why the Dalai Lama recently said that “The world will be saved [by women].”
There are a lot of people who are threatened by change like this. There are a lot of people, like the President, who have made a lot of money and gained a lot of power through our current system. These are the kind of people that want women to play small and neg them any way they can.
To all of the girls and women in the world:
Your bodies, whatever size and shape, are powerful, perfect, and amazing, and what is most important is what you think of them, not what other people think of them.
You have a purpose, and you make the world a better place by loving and embracing your femininity.
You have a beautiful light in you, and whenever you learn to love yourself completely and unconditionally, you subvert all the people who try to control and dominate you through negging and all other forms of physical and emotional violence.
You never have to apologize for the space you take up in the world—no matter how small or big it is.
Your job is not to be un-beautiful or beautiful or big or small or curvy or not curvy. Your job is to be YOU. The world needs your light.
You are beautiful and powerful at every size, shape, and phase of your life, whether you are young, old, or somewhere in between.
To All the Awesome Men in the World Who Love Women
I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by men—my husband, friends, and family members–who regularly call out behavior that belittles and dominates women. I want to say personally to all these men: I love you and greatly appreciate your support for all women. You greatly help me and the lives of all the women around you.
Lastly, I want to encourage all women in the world to subvert body shaming by embracing and loving yourself unconditionally. I write a lot on my blog about self-love and body love. One of the reasons I do this is because I actually believe that self-love is a subversive act that protects us from violence, domination, control, and fascism. At a very deep level, self-love is a politically subversive and healing act. Self-love is a superpower.
If you know a fabulous, kick-ass woman who you think might be empowered by this post, consider sharing it with her.
What ways have you experienced people trying to control women through body-shaming?
In what ways have you experienced self-love serving as a protection against such control?
If you would like to read more about body love, you might enjoy these posts:
 Thankfully, there is a growing number of shows that have vibrant female leads who have their own clear sense of purpose and mission that is not ancillary to the men in the show. I deeply appreciate the new Wonder Woman movie because of this aspect of it.
 It is my opinion that any religious message that makes women ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of being women in any way is a distortion of the underlying message of all major world religions: that every single human being is a frickin’ amazing ray of God’s Light.
 I am borrowing the phrase “Being-for-Others” from Frantz Fanon’s ideas in Black Skins, White Mask. I feel somewhat trepidatious in doing this, as Fanon uses this phrase to explain the psychological experience of a black man living in colonized Martinique. The black indigenous people of Martinique were not allowed to have Being-for- themselves. They only existed in reference to the white colonizers. I beg Fanon’s pardon and hope he will permit me to use this very helpful idea to describe the way women often feel as though they only have Being-for-men.
 Thankfully, this has been an extremely rare occurrence.
 While his attack on Mika was not directly about menstruation, the fact that he has insulted two women (not men), within the space of a year, with reference to blood, suggests that he is using blood as a symbol to shame women for being women.
 Thanks to my friend, Joseph Trullinger, for this insight.
 I think there are a lot of men who do not intend to control women or make them play small but have unconsciously adopted these violent behaviors just from living in the culture around them. These men may even love and support women in theory but regularly neg them through habits they have inadvertently developed.
 His Holiness technically said “The world will be saved by the western woman.” I happen to believe that all of us women together, with our male allies, are going to save the world.