I caught a snippet of The Today Show this morning. I gave up watching that show years ago but it did pop up on my screen this morning briefly as I was starting my workout DVD. The hosts (who I didn’t recognize) were discussing something they referred to as “skinny shaming”. From what I gathered, it was in reference to a GAP ad in which a very gaunt model is depicted in a plaid dress. Apparently the Twitterverse responded adversely to the photo, making disparaging comments about the model’s physique. She is too skinny, apparently.
The comments stand in stark contrast to the last major episode of public body type shaming I can recall. In that case, it was Jessica Simpson who was being called out not for being too thin, but for weight gain. It amounted to a public “fat shaming,” if you will. We Americans, it seems, are nondiscriminatory in our shaming.
It’s a disturbing trend to say the least. A random sampling of Tweets would surely reveal ugly comments aimed at people of every size, every sexual orientation, every race. Not that the thoughts themselves are anything new; mean people have always thought mean thoughts. The difference in modern times is that now mean people have a microphone and a global stage from which to spew their blech. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Here is why it disturbs me (and why it should disturb you, too): the generation coming up now and those that will follow are subject to these rampant criticisms all. the. time. Short of burying their heads in the sand, they’ll be hard-pressed to escape the constant stream of judgmental people exercising their freedom of speech.
A friend and I were recently talking about how much harder it would be to grow up with Facebook. Imagine if we had access to the comments people made about our bad yearbook photos. For impressionable young people who are so desperate for acceptance, those kinds of comments could be terribly hurtful. People don’t seem to understand that whether they’re typed or spoken, words have a lot of power—both to build up and to tear down.
Screens are similar to cars in many ways. Think about it. How quick are you to honk at (or make hand gestures to) a fellow driver? The separateness of being in one’s own car seems to take away a degree of humanity, doesn’t it? Consider how much more kindness we extend to neighbors at the grocery store, when we’re behind the wheels of shopping carts as opposed to steering wheels. Screens seem to have the same effect on us. We type words onto a keyboard and—for whatever reason—we forget that there are real people out there reading our words.
For years I’ve been telling my kids this one thing: words matter. This society of ours would be a much kinder place if only people would consider that before they type their next 140 character tweet. When in doubt, consider whether you’d say what you’re about to post to the face of someone behind you in the grocery store checkout lane. If not, I offer some wise words of wisdom from my grandma: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.