The Anti-Body Shaming Movement Makes Me Question My Culture

I read this article on body shaming last night and I was immediately agreeing with it. I was “guilty” of many of the points in the article and, by the end, I was swearing to myself that I would do better.

Then something very strange happened. I noticed a distinct feeling within me. It reeked of nostalgia. I felt like I was once again the girl who ran around the bay area, dancing naked on beaches, spinning fire in Golden Gate Park, and eating vegan treats at hot tub parties (this was before the gluten-free trend started up). The feeling struck me so firmly that I was able to stop and wonder if I have really changed, and what about this article brought up that past self.

I will start with the obvious. The article was posted on facebook by someone from the bay area. Of course it was. As far as my contact with it is concerned, the anti-body shaming movement radiates from the bay area. It fits in with the culture there. The ideals of radical acceptance, and an evolution of a young crop of burning man lovelies learning to love themselves. Having been there for years I can still give the, “right answers,” when it comes to questions about appearance, self-acceptance, and inclusive communities. It is something that has been ingrained in me, so when I read an article like that I can sit there and agree without really ingesting the thoughts behind it. To me, it is fluff that supports the dominant culture of that time and place, pretending to create new culture because that is part of the ‘value of progression’ that we crave.

That much is clear to me only because I have been away from the bay area for quite some time. I lived in Tucson for 3 years, and now I have been in Bulgaria and Turkey for four years. That is 7 years since I have been in that area, communing with those people, living that golden life of ‘love.’ But facebook does a pretty good job of making me feel like I am still connected with those people, ideals, and places. I wouldn’t say that I still feel like I am part of that community, but I feel like I am still sharing culture with them. This realization made me think about the culture I am in now.

I still skate on the surface of Bulgarian culture. For the two years that I was in Peace Corps I tried to dive into culture, and while I was moderately successful I was still holding onto the idea that I was temporary. Being temporary in a place makes me only semi-permeable. It is the open-ended possibility of forever that actually allows me to change. I have only been living in Bulgaria with a forever mindset for the past year, and in that year I have been rather holed up with my husband and his family. I definitely have no handle on Varna’s culture. However, I tried to imagine what people in Plovdiv or from my village would have said about that article. Would it bother them? Would they agree with it?

In Bulgaria I have gotten used to everyone I know giving their two cents about what I should eat, or shouldn’t eat. They ask about my exercise. They definitely comment when I lose or gain weight. Older women are the worst about this. Most of them make wonderful food and then feed it to me until I pop, not allowing me to decline. All of this seems normal to me now. It doesn’t make me feel bad about my body when people comment on it. I just accept that bodies are more public property here (as far as the gaze is concerned) and weight and size are acceptable topics of conversation. Then there are girls who are living on coffee and cigarettes, and the occasional piece of cake, so they can be a size 0. Is that a problem caused by body shaming, or by the influence of western media? Do Bulgarians see body shaming as a problem? Is it a universal problem, or is it culturally embedded?

With the idea of how people should interact with others becoming more and more globalized I wonder where the lines of culture are drawn. ‘Shaming’ is a hot word, but is everything in that article actually shaming, or does it only cause shame when taken in the sensitive context of the hyper self-reflective bay area, and American culture in general?

This is one of those questions that I don’t have an answer to. It is new. It is something to think about. I am not trying to make any point in this post. I am definitely not saying one culture is better than the other. I am simply making an observation regarding my own cultural boundaries, triggers, and experiences. Maybe in a while I will come up with some theories, or at least a more coherent thought on the subject. 

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