A lowdown dirty shame

Is pointing at someone’s body and shaming them about it really a good motivator for them to lose weight? What if it’s Gwyneth Paltrow shaming you?

“I never noticed it when you were heavy, but you’re actually petite. In fact, your build is downright slight!”

I know she was trying to compliment me. The tone of her voice, the look on her face, her body language. Everything about her said she wanted to say something positive, but positive is not what I heard. In fact, just one word of what she said echoed in my head, over and over.


I was in the depths of a full-blown eating disorder, though I hadn’t yet hit rock bottom. No, rock bottom was months away, and involved a hospital.

However, I HAD, in a very short amount of time, gone from a substantial girl who wore a size 14, to someone described as “slight”, and a size 0. Instead of concern, I got compliments. But they were always just slightly backhanded toward the old me. Things like “You look SO much better!” or “Doesn’t it feel great not to have to wear big clothes, anymore?” Things that motivated me to continue my destructive behavior because, holy cow, the old me must have been thoroughly disgusting!

I lived in fear of old me, the one who made people uncomfortable, making a comeback, so I kept her down with binging and purging. And with much encouragement from the outside world.

— ∮∮∮ —

Ross Mathews, a comedian who is a regular panelist on E!’s Chelsea Lately, and formerly known as Ross the Intern on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, recently lost 40 lbs and gave an interview to People magazine about it and you’ll not believe who motivated him to make some healthy changes. Gwyneth Paltrow!

“We were taping a Chelsea special, and she pointed at my tummy and said, ‘What’s going on here? I love you. Get it together.”

Let’s get two things straight: 1) I can’t find any evidence, anywhere, that Ross and Gwyneth are friends, or had even met before that taping. It seems that she meant “I love you” like how she loves all creatures, great and small and 2) Let’s don’t forget that Gwyneth Paltrow really understands the plight of overweight people because she once put on a fat suit for millions of dollars and shot a movie about how even fatties are beautiful inside if you look through all those rolls. SHE GETS IT.

But, even disguised in love and ranch dressing, one comment like hers can be devastating. Especially coming from the world’s most seemingly together woman. Though Ross started “making good choices”, including eating right and exercising, did Gwyneth really think he didn’t know what he looked like? I’m certain the Martin-Paltrow estate is made entirely of mirrors, but I suspect even the Mathews flat is equipped with one or two. And is pointing at someone’s body and shaming them about it really a good motivator? If so, my junior high school classmates should have banded together and written a series of best selling self help books.

I’m not blaming anyone for my eating disorder. I now know that obsessive compulsive disorder plays a big part in my kooked up relationship with food, as well as many of my other kooked up relationships. I’m not even saying that Gwyneth Paltrow was wrong to care about Ross Mathews. What I am saying is that people’s bodies are very personal and sensitive business. You wouldn’t point at someone’s large nose or small breasts and comment, why would a big belly be any different?

I think a good rule of thumb is: When in doubt, STFU. And, when it comes to other people’s bodies, ALWAYS BE IN DOUBT. If you really love someone, and are concerned for them, take them for a lovely walk. Cook them a healthy dinner. Or why not try loving them for who they are? Shame, even coming from Hollywood royalty, says more about the shamer than the shamee, and never ever has positive results. Love, though, love works wonders. Well, love and ranch dressing.

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Kimmy on said:

    With beach season upon us there has been an overabundance of folks in the media lamenting that they have to look at fat people.since I’m all grown up,I can handle it but when I was growing up those kinds of things were powerfully destructive. Sticks and stones my big,a$$,it is the words that often leave the most lingering scars.

  2. Isabelle Taylor on said:

    Thank you for writing this article. I also suffered (suffer?) from an eating disorder for the last 14 years. Although I was never told I was overweight, I’ll never forget some of the particularly awesome foot-in-the-mouth comments from people when I was at my worst (that being 103 lbs and 5’7’). They included a man I was seeing at the time telling me he “liked that I was so small and watched what I ate” (should be noted this was said after I had just gotten over a near-fatal bought of pneumonia). And even health professionals haven’t been immune (pun-intended) as I had one nurse first ask me “which one anorexia was? The one where you starve yourself or vomit?” After I told her it was the one “where you starve yourself”, she responded by saying. “Oh man, I wish I had that kind of will-power!”….Sigh.

    My point in saying all this being — for god’s sake people, Ms. Checkout Girl is right. Unless someone asks you for help — STFU.

  3. Julie on said:

    I’ve learned to use humor and preemptive response as a shield to deflect the hurt of people’s opinions. I’m not sure if it’s a wonderful, healthy coping mechanism, or an unhealthy means to suppress reactive feelings on the subject…but I learned sometime around adolescence that if there is a possibility that others might notice a fault of mine, then I have to point it out first, to show that it and therefore THEY have no power over me. If others might laugh, I have to laugh first and loudest. It’s like no one can hurt me if I lop off my own head before they get a chance. I don’t know, but it always seemed to work. What’s weird is that when we’re tweens/teens, our flaws seem to imprint upon us–to the point where even if we wind up being beautiful, awesome human beings, we still live under the shadow of that acne ridden, awkward bodied, braces sporting freak thing we may have once been. I may not have any particularly destructive behaviors towards myself, but how’s this…I get furious at my husband for admiring my physical appearance, because I’ve placed so much of my self esteem in the value of my mind. I learned long ago that my looks were sub-par, for him to admire them means he doesn’t know me, or see what’s “really important” about me. I find compliments on appearance impossible to accept, even hurtful. Our society sure has a way of messing us up, doesn’t it?

  4. Did he point back and ask her if she was getting implants so she wouldn’t look quite so pear-shaped? Or would that have been disgusting body snarking over a physical shape that is mostly determined by genetics?

  5. ughhhh….I have the same problem Julie! …and when I look at old pictures I am so sad about how I felt back then, how I missed years of loving and appreciating my body.

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