During the two-weeks I ran Facebook ads for a recent launch, I experienced body shaming online so intense that I wanted to shove my six-year-old daughter back into my womb! For I fear what she, as a young woman growing up in a culture that has no problem weaponizing women’s bodies, is likely to encounter as she and her peers come online over the next few years.
Let me back up, for a moment, though, and give you some important context.
Every coaching program launch has its own flavor. And while this most recent one, in the end, couldn’t taste sweeter given the quality of the women and men who have enrolled in the Accelerator, the lead-up was… other worldly. And not in a good way.
Launching during a Mercury Retrograde is dangerous business.
But while the numerous tech glitches, including a program sales page that was taking over one minute to load (and almost caused my team and me to delay the launch) definitely produced anxiety, none of those inconveniences compared to the emotional cost of reading the hateful comments posted on several of my Facebook ad images.
In case you are curious, here are a few of the highlights.
You are a horrible example to women, and if you have a daughter you should be ashamed of yourself.
You are a modestly okay looking woman who thinks she’s a Hollywood starlet or stripper and pretends to show women how to speak when you are all sexuality. Grow up. Heal already. Your business is bad for humans!
I’m not sure I’d want her as a coach as she is underweight.
Now, here’s the thing.
I’ve had a significant online presence as an entrepreneur and thought leader for the last 6 of my 12 years in business.
When I run ads, which I do a few times a year, I’m used to some spam comments.
And, when I speak up about issues in coaching, leadership, speaking, and in the world – I’m used to people disagreeing and critiquing my beliefs and worldview.
But, I’d never been attacked before for my clothing choices or my weight.
And… I’ve never experienced body shaming online – or offline – by so many other coaches, consultants and experts whose businesses and social media presences profess to be committed to women’s empowerment and social justice.
I have zero regrets about using any of the seven photos I chose during my most recent ads campaign. (And, wouldn’t you know it, the three triggering the most abusive feedback were the ones that were highest converting so it made good business sense to keep them up!)
What I do regret is how many people in my profession felt that what I wore or the size of my body had an impact on my character, my parenting or the business results I’ve achieved for myself and my clients for over a decade.
While, as of this writing, I’m only a few weeks out from the experience and my heart is still feeling like a bruised peach over it all, here are a few ways I (and my family) responded.
What I hope you will take and apply from my experience with body shaming online:
1. Remind yourself that hurt people hurt people.
I have no doubt that many of the women (because every comment was made by a woman) were responding from their own traumas and projecting their own stories onto me and my body. I hope you remember this if you go through anything similar as you step more into visibility.
2. Give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings and talk about them.
I never pretended I was “above the criticism.” Being present with the fluttering in my heart, the stabbing pains in my stomach, and the tightness in my pelvis allowed me to use my mindfulness tools to bring peace to the parts that ached each time another body shaming attack happened. Plus, speaking openly about my feelings with Steve, my team and even my daughter (more on that in #6), enabled me to feel fully supported and protected.
3. Bless each comment, and then delete it.
Nothing restored my personal power faster than forgiving each commenter and wishing for her peace and prosperity each time I read another body shaming comment.
4. Engage when the person critiquing provides evidence of an open mind and an open heart.
We each are entitled to our opinions, and we all engage in prejudice when we make identity-based assumptions based on our own filters and experiences. So, when someone asked a question about my clothing choice or we had dozens of shared social media connections, which led me to conclude we had more that united than divided us, I’d speak back. In one case, a coach explained she presumed I had an eating disorder and apologized for causing hurt. These little moments of transformation definitely kept me going.
5. Don’t take down images you are proud of.
The images eliciting vitriol were taken during my TEDxWomen talk and on the day my current cohort of women in the Spotlight Speakers Collective filmed their speaker reels. The speaker reel photos were taken by my husband, Stephen, while my ladies were in hair and make-up. I hadn’t felt that beautiful and alive in my body in I can’t remember how long.
It felt (feels) great to see that after 17 years together, Stephen still brings out and sees my spark. Taking either photo down would have been like not speaking out about my sexual abuse when those in my family threatened me.
I didn’t shirk my responsibility to speak up at four. And I certainly wasn’t going to do it over three decades later!
Moxie is not showing up and speaking up when it feels comfortable. It’s stepping forward when it’s the least comfortable but most important act of courage and self-love we can perform.
6. Use body shaming experiences to have daring conversations with children.
I spoke candidly with my daughter about my own experience with online bullying. Now, I didn’t share the exact language used in the comments with her. I didn’t want her learning bad grammar or profanity! However, I talked openly about how I was being judged and attacked for what I wore and how my body looked.
She shared with me comments she has already heard her friends make about their bodies (may I remind you she is in Kindergarten?!) and how she had been picked on for having long arm hair.
After swallowing my mounting ire, we had a beautiful conversation about how each of our bodies is perfect. I taught her a self-gratitude mirror exercise I use with clients. We made a pact never to speak cruel words about our own bodies or the bodies of others, and I reminded her I’m a safe harbor to dock at if anyone ever makes her feel like her light has been dimmed or her self-worth compromised.
7. Read Lora Cheadle’s outstanding book, FLAUNT!
A member of my 2018-2019 Spotlight Speakers Collective, I got to ride shotgun as Lora birthed her beautiful book, signature presentation, workshops and retreats giving women permission to flaunt all of themselves – their brains, their bodies and their beliefs. A former lawyer turned women’s empowerment expert, Lora’s book helps readers express their truest selves with self-love, sass and joy. (You can learn more about FLAUNT! and grab your copy here.) I re-read several chapters of FLAUNT! during my body shaming experience.
8. Ensure your speaking, business and leadership development work addresses the mind-body split.
The mind-body split is so endemic in our society – even in seemingly transformational spaces.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I read, at least a dozen times, a woman telling me to cover up my body and focus on talking about speaking.
This makes no sense.
Our voices come from our bodies.
And not just from our throats.
So much of the voice comes from the neck down.
Our voices live in our chests, in our arms, in our hands, in our stomachs, in our sexual organs, in our hips, in our legs and our feet… wherever there is life running through us.
Authentic presence is about having full body awareness and excavating our voices from every region of our bodies as we speak up and out in the world.
9. Tell the truth about your experiences with body shaming and online bullying.
As I say in Step into Your Moxie, everything that happens to us has the capacity to happen for us – if we let it. For me, sharing what’s going on behind what’s visible in my business with you feels like noble, important moxie work.
10. Speak up and out when you see others engaged in cruel or shaming behavior, and resist a myopic vision of what women’s leadership looks like.
During the two-weeks the ads were running, I spoke out online against a harsh, inaccurate review of a friend’s brick and mortar business. (She had turned a child away from receiving a service until he was healthy because he had a communicable disease.) And, I’m also spot checking myself and members of my tribe for giving themselves passes to denigrate those with opposing political opinions.
Let’s critique beliefs and actions and not appearances, irrespective of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability, age or any other identity marker. And when we do critique, let’s do it from a place of compassion with a goal of transforming thinking and behavior – rather than as an excuse to engage in slut shaming, judge others’ bodies or to stoke latent anger.
If you agree that there is no place in coaching, business, in our communities and in our families for body (or any other form of) shaming, I’d love for you to join me in creating content for your audience that addresses the topics raised in this newsletter.
(And please tag me @AlexiaVernon across social media or use the hashtag #saynotobodyshaming if and when you do.)
Thank you for joining me in co-creating a world where to be moxielicious means using our voices, our messages and our bodies to bring people together rather than to divide us apart.