Well, I’ve had a very interesting month. Never in the wildest depths of my imagination could I have thought that a slightly sarcastic comment and funny hashtag on my Instagram would lead to a campaign against body shaming which ended up in the media around the world!
In case you missed it, a random troll made a comment on my Instagram that I was disgusting and should “eat less cake”, and in return, hundreds of women around the world ate #CakeWithCashmerette and took lovely photos of themselves enjoying it. What’s better than seeing women having a delicious day from the US to the UK, Germany to Brazil, Australia to Vietnam?
It was a truly startling and surprising time, and not always that comfortable for me personally – I never signed up to be a global spokeperson for this! It did however crystalize a few things in my mind, that I’d only started to realize before.
First, that women all around the world are really and truly sick of body shaming. It’s not only larger women who feel like this – the number of comments and emails I got from women of absolutely all appearances, from “perfect” in the eyes of society through to “imperfect” made it really apparent that body shaming has little to do with “objective” appearance. Particularly on the internet, there’s so much aggression towards all types of women, and so often it focuses on our bodies, as something to be judged and shamed, regardless of what we might be talking about, or why we might be highlighted. Ironically, the image on Instagram that the troll originally commented on wasn’t even a photo – it was a sketch of a swimsuit! I think that the universality of the experience of being shamed was what made the story go viral.
One joke I made during the week it was blowing up was that it appears that for many people (mostly men), the internet is their personal “hot or not” page: that regardless of why a woman is portrayed in the media, or the context, the main question for them is “would you, or would you not, like to have intimate relations with this woman?” I now have literally thousands of opinions from men all around the world, whether in comments sections, or on email, about what they think of the sexual attractiveness of my body. As body positive as I generally am, I can’t deny that it was a jarring experience, and an unfortunate reinforcement of the fact that many people are judging you, even if you’ve learned to mostly shrug off the judgement yourself.
But finally, it certainly wasn’t only the men. I’ve noticed more generally – and even on the Curvy Sewing Collective – a new culture in comments sections on newspapers and blog sites. In real life, if you don’t like what someone has said, or what they’re wearing, or you think they could do with advice, the first thing you’d consider is whether to even share your opinion. Is it helpful? Did they ask for feedback? Do you have something worthwhile to add? Would the person appreciate it? And if it could be, there’s a nice way to give criticism – like “I found your piece really thought provoking, but I don’t agree for reason X, Y, Z, what do you think?”. Instead, there’s a new trend of meanness and anger directed towards people who are sharing their often uncontroversial thoughts online, and a jump to judgement, personal attacks, and flamboyant “taking of offence”.
I’m not quite sure who the people are who do this – whether they’re that angry and vitriolic in their personal lives and it’s erupting everywhere, or whether it only comes out under a veil of anonymity online. But it’s insidious, because not only does it upset people unnecessarily, but it stops people who may be newer or more uncertain from sharing their opinions, or blog posts, and fundamentally stifles the positive debate that sites like this can foster. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Pollyanna and I certainly don’t think people shouldn’t debate things or share criticism online. But I do think there’s a mature and compassionate way to do that, and I hope that people can reflect on how their words and actions might affect others. Believe me, that when public discussion of you becomes a global and viral phenomenon, it makes you more aware than average!
I’ve come out of this “15 minutes of fame” experience somewhat bewildered that it even happenned, somewhat disheartened about what it’s taught me about anonymous commenting culture, but mostly really happy at how much the body positivity message resonated with women literally all around the world, and at how incredibly awesome the sewing and blogging communities are. So, it’s never too late – eat some cake today!