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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Bodies » My Body, My Business

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Author Topic: My Body, My Business
Haleigh H
Member # 103145

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My body, my business right!?!

I go into a lot of schools. At least four times a week I'm at an elementary, middle or high school. Sometimes the same schools, some times different schools in different parts of the city.

On several occasions young girls have commented on my body in ways that were intended to be compliments. Ms. Haleigh your skinny, your pretty. Ms. Haleigh, your small and cute. etc. First, the young women equating skinny/small with pretty/cute breaks my heart.

But maybe even more than that their comments make me really uncomfortable. I know they are trying to be nice but I feel like it's my body, it's my business and you never have a right to comment on someone's body even if it is intended to be a compliment.

Agree, disagree? Have something similar happen to you? How do you handle it?

Suggestions for how to respond to my students in a way that challenges/empowers them?


Posts: 176 | From: Kansas City, Missouri | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
That Strange CT child
Member # 104246

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I agree because how often does someone compliment someone else on their body? To me it would mean i am ugly and peeps r just tryin to make me feel better abt myself

It is my hope that what i ask here is answered for me and anyone else afraid to ask the same question :)

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Haleigh H
Member # 103145

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It's an interesting thing to think about. Why do people/friends/family/strangers feel that they have any right to comment on your body? Where do we get this?


Posts: 176 | From: Kansas City, Missouri | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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I disagree that people have no right to comment on others' bodies. Everyone has the right to express their opinion, even if it's a negative one. (To the people who express those opinions, my reaction generally ranges from a shrug to an icy stare.) Of course, this doesn't mean I go around telling people everything I hate about their bodies, and it doesn't mean that I try to compliment everyone I see. I don't disagree if you're saying that it's awkward (and socially frowned upon) at best and rude at worst if it's someone you don't have any particular connection with making those comments aloud, though.

I do think, however, that people (non-doctor people, anyway) have no right to tell me what I can and can't do with my body. And really, even doctors can say all they want, but it's up to me to follow through on any advice as I see fit. (I usually do, because my doctor knows what she's saying, and she tends to give me nicely-worded advice that I know I should heed, anyway.)

I hate that people use words to hurt, and that appearance is a common target. I hate that appearance is such a highly valued thing in our society, or at least that we have a supposed "standard" of beauty that very few can ever actually attain.

However, I've needed words about my appearance to help build my self-esteem. As much as words have caused insecurity for me, those have honestly been rooted in my own insecurities and fears. But when I started feeling better about myself, part of that was stopping caring about what others say. I don't mind being complimented as long as my body is not the be-all-end-all of things.

I understand that it's the girls equating your looks with ideals that upsets you, and I'm not entirely sure what to reply in order to challenge and/or empower them. I suspect you don't want to come right back with "You're so [physical description], you're cute/pretty", because you'd rather they focus on other things that make them feel empowered, so maybe start there?

I guess I just don't really know your other reasons (if any--it sounds like there are, but maybe I'm wrong?) for being so uncomfortable that these young women have and/or express these thoughts. That's not to say I don't understand, but knowing why it makes you uncomfortable would probably help in crafting an effective response. (This isn't something you necessarily need to share--it's just hard for me personally to give more specific feedback without knowing.)

In response to CTChild: I honestly do not understand the mentality of "I don't find you attractive but I'm going to compliment you in order to make you feel more (or less) secure in your appearance." I'm not saying that it doesn't exist, but it's pretty horribly convoluted logic. Perhaps it's just that I've been around people who mean what they say all my life, and so I know that, regardless of how I feel about myself, they're being sincere. I think part of it is that we're told that we need to be humble, and so many people take that as thinking that they're not actually deserving of compliments when, in reality, they totally are.

[ 04-06-2013, 06:17 PM: Message edited by: CSandSourpatch ]

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I think it sounds a bit weird for a stranger to comment on your body, wouldn't it be more polite to say that you have nice eyes or something like that? But between friends I think it's more okay, depending on how close you are of course, I don't mind getting compliments.

On the other hand, I've noticed that most of the time when people have given me compliments about my body it's because they've wanted to point out something that they're unhappy about with their own bodies :/

[ 04-06-2013, 06:29 PM: Message edited by: blueberry ]

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Patricia H
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Hey Haleigh,

I'm sorry that you feel uncomfortable about this, and I can understand where both parties (you and the young girls) are coming from. For one thing, for lack of better words, they likely don't know any better, because up to the current point in their lives, the sources and role models they look up to for social acceptance have taught them that a woman has to look a certain way to be considered attractive.

That being said, perhaps you are the chosen force to initiate the change in their understanding. You mention that you go into a lot of schools, but not what you do, but regardless, I would believe that you have some responsibility/investment in the education of these young girls. And what better opportunity to present itself for you to be their new role model?

I'm going to spew out a couple ideas that could perhaps serve as food for thought for you. Depending on how much time you get to spend with these girls, you could simply tell them that you're sorry, but you're just not comfortable with their words because of reasons x, y, and z. Or, you could turn it around by being gracious like thanking them for their compliment first, and then telling them how you think they are pretty and beautiful in their own way, too, because it's not how a person should look on the outside that makes them pretty, but rather how they act and are as a person on the inside. I hope that made sense. [Confused] Or you could do a combination of both.

The key of the matter that I'm trying to get at is, rather than allowing these young girls to perpetuate what they've been passively indoctrinated to believe about women and attractiveness, perhaps you could do your part to stop that by actively engaging them. Maybe ask them why they think being skinny is pretty, or that being small and cute is a good thing; ask them where they learned such things, or who told them so, and why they place so much weight into those sources, as opposed to coming up with their own conclusions about what they think should be beautiful, like confidence, intelligence, and/or a wickedly delicious sense of humor.

Personally, as an individual with an academic background in medical science, I find the human anatomy quite beautiful. While I don't get compliments from children about my appearance, I do get a good amount from adult men and women my age and older when I'm out and about on the street. I can't say that I'm bothered, for while I don't actively seek out attention, I do enjoy it when it is given; but at the same time, if I do meet someone with a graceful neck, beautiful eyes or gorgeous fiery hair, it's not in my nature to keep such comments to myself. That's not to say that I'll gush about their features to the point of embarrassment, but rather just something simple, straightforward, and honest. I appreciate beauty, and more oftentimes than not, I've found that such a compliment can change a person's mood for the better. After all, we are who we present ourselves to be when we are out in public; and even if we take the time to make ourselves look and feel good before heading out the door, will a compliment from a stranger really take away from all that?

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. - Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Posts: 234 | From: Hawaii | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Executive Director & Founder
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On several occasions young girls have commented on my body in ways that were intended to be compliments. Ms. Haleigh your skinny, your pretty. Ms. Haleigh, your small and cute. etc. First, the young women equating skinny/small with pretty/cute breaks my heart.

I'd also pitch into this -- love Patricia's suggestions, btw -- that it might not be that they are equating the things they are the way you're thinking.

It might be they think YOU are pretty and cute, and would think so even if you weren't thin and small. In other words, it also may just happen to be that the teacher they like a) is thin and small and b) they find to be pretty and cute. And it may be they'd be giving you those compliments even if you were a larger person, or someone who looked radically different than you do.

I'm not sure I personally understand the notion that people don't have a right to say things like your students are saying. I think people all tend to be natural observers and notice how people and things look, and will tend to compliment people on things they either find lovely -- be it someone's clothing, their eyes, how they look in general, the sound of their voice, etc. -- or think the other person would appreciate having complimented.

That doesn't mean, of course, that you have to like it, nor that you can't ask anyone -- be it a student or someone else -- to please not talk about how you look with you, because it makes you uncomfortable.

I'm just not getting where it's about rights, but perhaps there's something I'm missing?

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Posts: 68290 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scarleteen Volunteer
Member # 41699

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I kind of get what you're getting at here. There was a conversation on a blog entry on captain awkward that went down recently, with a lot of people expressing their discomfort around compliments on the physical, and why that is.

The way I see it is less about people having "the right" to comment on ones body, and more about the politics wrapped up in those kinds of compliments. As patricia mentioned, the idea that women must look a certain way to be attractive; the focus on women being about their looks rather than their abilities and achievements. So I know a lot of people who find that compliments on things about their bodies ties into the idea that women's looks are most important, and I get why that might make them feel uncomfortable.

I also know that some people are wary of physical-characteristic compliments because of racism being wrapped up in that. Like a lot of POC women I've met don't appreciate people going oooohhaaaaahhhh over their hair because it's exoticizing and othering, even if people only mean it in a kind way.

And because of those politics being all wrapped up in it, quite a few people seem uncomfortable with any kind of comments around physical characteristics, and I get that. There's a lot of politics tied up with people's bodies, so in some ways it'd be a lot simpler to focus on only complimenting things someone has control over (fashion sense, funky hair colours, band t-shirts) to avoid any of that. Although I don't imagine the general public shifting to that any time soon [Razz]

Posts: 1311 | From: Ontario, Canada | Registered: Dec 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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