I’d forgotten to pack pretty much everything when I went on location to film in Chicago recently. My eyeglasses, an umbrella, sandals, the small cross-body purse which provides a more challenging obstacle for muggers, and, sin amongst sins, any of my Cubs paraphernalia. It was a wonder I’d remembered to pack any underwear, let alone the fifteen pairs I did pack, considering I was only in town for eight days, and my cycle had ended a week prior. Therefore, it was hardly surprising when I had nothing suitable to wear to a fundraising benefit my friend had invited me to that evening.
In a bind, and needing something cute, affordable, and fashionably acceptable enough for a photo, I strolled over to Rush Street where a Madewell sat with its doors dependably open. The Sales Associate was like my own private stylist, knowing the potential of a garment far better than I, and insisting I try it on, despite initial reluctance. Though it wasn’t my style, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the print and silhouette of a dress I never would have picked out for myself. Thirty minutes later, I was eating my own words and a slice of Lou Malnati’s pizza and rushing up a street named after the same adjective to get ready in time to catch the El.
Looking back into the hotel room’s full length mirror, while inserting an earring and giving myself the once over, I thought to myself, “I did pretty well! This would be the perfect opportunity to take one of those fashion selfies I always see celebrities post.” So, I grabbed my iPhone and took a shot. Now, I’m aware I have a long way to go before I’d ever consider myself a celebrity, or might ever feel comfortable referring to myself as one, but as if taking the picture with only one earring on wasn’t indication enough, I still have a pretty long way to go when it comes to Instagramming like one, too.
The photo posted a few days later and I was anxiously waiting to see who might notice the earring faux pas. It had become an inside joke with myself that I desperately wanted someone else to be in on. I scanned the comments looking for the person or people who that might be. Instead, I found a slew of comments addressing something else entirely.
Because they’ve been deleted by the coward who posted them, regrettably, I can’t share the comments with you verbatim, but I can certainly relay the sentiments. They said things to the effect of: my chest being so flat the bones underneath could inflict damage to someone, that I looked like a POW, that I needed to eat something, etc., etc., … same old, same old things I’ve been hearing about my body since I was a child (you can read one of those stories here). Frankly, I’m bored by the lack of creative comments I’ve heard since childhood and continue to hear to this day. Anyone looking to get under my skin isn’t going to find their way through that armor.
Yes, I am physically tiny, but that says nothing about my inner strength (or my diet for that matter!). After all, I’m an Irish-Italian from Chicago who found my way into this world taking both my mother’s uterus and bladder along for the ride. So believe me when I say I’m a fighter with a firm grasp on what I’m up against. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve learned behaving like Fiona Gallagher isn’t exactly acceptable in cities like Los Angeles, especially now that I’m in the body of grown woman living in both pretend and real worlds. Hence the reason I curtail my passionate reactions, saving them only for causes I truly believe in fighting for. Body image and body shaming is one such cause, as these are not choices, these are simply how we were made.
I immediately confronted the issue, handling it in what I considered to be a poised, albeit cheeky fashion, and beamed with pride at how I’d conducted myself. Though, it would have been better written "I know small chests aren't everyone's thing, but luckily they have been for them men I've dated...sort of like how small dicks aren't everyone's thing but they have been for the few girls I'm sure you've dated." I digress... Ever since I created How Bitches Are Made, I’ve been forcing myself to live as the same woman I’m asking and encouraging others to be. How can I ask them to be something I’m not? - despite the fact I’m sure people do that all the time. The actions I took, fighting for my own honor, speaking up when I should, and appropriately holding another accountable, felt not only instinctive, but necessarily responsible.
Suffice it to say then, I was quite shocked to discover, shortly thereafter, my actions were met with concern and poor advice from my inner circle. The common sentiment was “Just ignore them. You can’t give internet trolls so much power or attention.” The tones with which phrases like this were delivered carried a different kind of shame that actually did effect me, and in a way, felt far more damaging than the initial comments on my Instagram page were intended to be. Here, the people who truly know me, love me, supposed to understand me and what I stand for, were encouraging me to put the tape back over my mouth, roll over in the wake of wrong doing, and “take the high road” by ignoring a problem. To me, ignoring small problems is like ignoring cracks in the foundation - they worsen over time until threatening the stability of the entire structure. And I’ve always thought the fatal flaw in taking the high road lies in the fact you have a lot further to fall once your bedrock is shaken.
For a brief moment, I contemplated listening to those around me and removing my responses, when I saw the most horrifying thing of all.
“I don’t know how you tolerate this shit, Rachel.” I read that comment, struggling to digest the fact someone was seeing me as a person who “tolerated” anything. I immediately wanted to respond, “I don’t tolerate it! Neither should you! Neither should any of us!” but, I know actions speak louder than words - even though action on social media most often involves words. So, against the “better judgment” of others, I simply left my initial comments for all to see and continued on my crusade while obnoxiously tagging the ignorant posters in every #bodyshaming, #skinnyshaming, #feminism post I could find, encouraging those Instagrammers to follow suit in an effort to further educate my perpetrators on such topics. That was after I blocked them of course, making it impossible for them to respond.
I felt great. I’d followed my heart, stayed true to myself, and was overwhelming pleased with a new wave of social media friends, and the support I managed to find from strangers all equally interested, passionate, and concerned about the same issue.
So, while most believe internet trolls are not worth the time of day, I believe there are some that always are - the ignorant, assuming, negative person who posts rude, ugly, abusive, malicious, or hurtful things. They need to be called out, especially if what they post touches upon, pertains to, or speaks against a certain cause or social issue you hold dear. You should abso-fucking-lutely say something, and you need to. Every single time. Not just so the offenders know their actions are not without consequence, and not just for yourself - you do it for the occasional bystander who might come across it needing inspiration, defending, validation, or the courage to follow your example when navigating their way through their own life or similar struggle.
What if I’d resorted to inaction? What kind of person would that suggest I am? What kind of message might it send to others? What change would it incite in the world? These are questions we should and could all be asking with regard to so many relevant issues. I know inaction saves time and energy. I’m aware it’s safer to: “take the high road,” “hold your chin up high,” “keep your nose clean,” “keep the peace,” “not sink to their level,” and/or “turn the other cheek,”. But, it’s my personal belief that no one who ever made a difference did so by playing it safe or by keeping their mouths shut. Sometimes, doing nothing can be just as harmful, if not more so, than doing something. You never know whose life you might affect or impact for the better simply by standing up, showing up, and speaking up. Of course, not everyone will agree of course, but that’s okay.
The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care. And should you choose to be a wolf, remember they don’t listen to the opinions of sheep.
All bodies are beautiful. All bodies are different. It’s the person inside that determines one’s beauty. Stay beautiful.