Women Talk About the Worst Body Shaming They've Experienced

"I've been told that I look like a reptile and that my skin is repulsive."

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16 April 2018, 8:45am

This article originally appeared on VICE Greece

Society isn't shy about setting unrealistic beauty standards – especially for women – and harshly judging those who stray too far from them. The pressure on many women to conform is constant, regardless of whether they'd be able to change anything about their appearance, even if they wanted to.

I spoke with five women about the ways in which they've been body-shamed – for having had a mastectomy, for a skin condition or for not losing weight. We talked about how it felt, how they dealt with the judgment in the moment and about the effect it's had on their lives.

Theo, 27

VICE: Hey Theo. What part of your body is under most scrutiny?
Theo: I get a lot of comments on the self-harm scars on my hands and shoulders. People think they're just an immature cry for attention, but I did it at a time when I was young and struggling emotionally. I didn't know a better way of communicating those struggles. I used to be ashamed of the marks, but after getting help from a therapist I realised they're just a part of who I am. I no longer feel the need to hide them from ignorant people – I would encourage anyone going through the same thing to seek help.

What sort of comments do you get?
People tell me how ugly the scars are and that I should hide them to avoid putting people off. Those sort of comments usually come from guys, while women want to know the details of what happened to me, which can be just as annoying. I now know to just ignore what people say, to the point where I actually feel sorry these people are filled with so much bitterness.

How have the scars affected your personal and professional relationships?
I'm lucky that I have the right people around me. My current partner and my exes have always been fine with them. My friends are supportive, and, in general, my family are great – although there are a few exceptions.

Sadly, it can be harder professionally. When I was working in a restaurant, I was told to always wear long-sleeved shirts so I didn't upset the customers, even when it was incredibly hot. I decided to go with it because I didn't want any confrontations at work. And, to be fair, the managers were strict about everything, especially tattoos, so I didn't feel like they were just picking on me.

Fotini, 29

VICE: Hi Fotini. What part of your body do people criticise most?
Fotini: My skin, which has been covered in psoriasis since I was 16. It's an autoimmune disease that can be triggered by stress and other psychological factors.

What sort of comments do you get?
The most annoying thing is that people think it's contagious. Then there are the looks of pity and disgust, which, after all these years, I've learned to tell apart. Finally, the comments – I've been told that I look like a reptile and that my skin is repulsive. The comments usually come from women – men often just stare disapprovingly.

How do you feel about your body now? Are you comfortable going to the beach, for example?
I'm comfortable enough with it. I haven't fully overcome all of my insecurities, but most days I feel fine about it. Therapy has helped a lot – it's pushed me to come to terms with accepting that this is my body and that I should own it. And even though it bothers other people, and even myself sometimes, I've grown to love it.

How has it affected your sexual relationships and friendships?
I know guys have rejected me in the past because of it, even though they haven't said so explicitly. But my friends and partners have been a great source of strength because I know they see me and not my condition. Because of them, I can now handle comments a lot better than I used to. In the past, the slightest remark was enough to upset me. But now I won't give someone else the right to decide what is normal and what is not, when it comes to me.

Despina, 33

VICE: What sort of things do people say when they discover you've had a mastectomy?
Despina: I've had people joke about how nice it must have been to have had a "free boob job". I've had colleagues literally telling me to put my "cancerous breast away" while I was trying to apply some post-radiotherapy treatment in the bathroom at work.

How do you deal with comments like that?
It was shocking at first, but over time you kind of get used to it. And how I see it now, nobody is immune from cancer – it could happen to anyone. I've learned to accept it and love my body.

How has it affected your personal and professional relationships?
One side-effect of the chemotherapy is that it's pretty much killed my libido. But on the positive side, I would be completely lost without the support of my partner, my family and my friends. I'm especially grateful for them because I know that so many people in my position don't have a strong support system.

Elina, 28

VICE: What part of your body is shamed most often?
Elina: I've been struggling with my weight over the past few years, and I usually get specific comments about the size of my thighs and bum.

What sort of comments do you get?
It's not just the comments, but the looks. Basically the first thing my parents do when they see me is weigh me with their eyes. That normally leads to a fight with them about how much they think I've gained or lost. I've also had colleagues tell me that I should lose weight if I want to get promoted, while some of my friends insist on reminding me that I won't be able to find a boyfriend until I get thinner. Generally, men tend to focus on making fun of my thighs and bum, while women try to convince me that I'll be a happier person if I just lost some weight.

The comments and looks obviously make me feel even more insecure about my body, and I've developed a sort of complex about the whole thing. But I have no problem confronting people if I need to. Once I was eating when a colleague came over and said that I should share some of it with him for my own good. I made it clear that what he said was inappropriate and he backed off.

How has it affected your personal relationships?
I've started to consciously hang around people who make me feel comfortable and won't judge my appearance. That includes sexual partners who don't shame me into losing weight, but show me how much they love my body. But of course I still feel insecure sometimes. For example, if I go to the beach with a group of people I don't really know, I'll wear something that completely covers my body.